The Borussia Dortmund phenomenon: A Sports Psychologist’s take on the issues at BVB

As reported by Sky Germany, Sports Psychologist Prof. Dr. René Paasch has analysed Borussia Dortmund, their mentality issues, and how this problem can be solved long term. 

“On the one hand, I always notice that Borussia Dortmund has difficulty dealing with pressure and expectations because they are of course very high in the Ruhr area,” explains Paasch. 

It goes without saying that BVB are the largest team in an area of Germany, which has many great, traditional teams, and therefore, the need to succeed is huge. 

“But if they don’t happen, I have the feeling that exactly the opposite will become apparent: no consistency, inner restlessness and coordination that doesn’t work on the pitch.”

This appears to be the case. Having failed to win the Bundesliga on the last day of the 2022/23 season has had an overbearing effect on both players and staff. Paasch also hints at a lack of identity within the team and how that can cause issues on and off the pitch. BVB has the ability to buy top-quality players, but perhaps not players who would have a good chemistry with the rest of the squad. 

“This is often neglected in football and at Dortmund. They spend a lot of money on great players. But I have the feeling that they do very little to ensure that this bunch develops into a team.”

A player’s attitude is usually considered within clubs before pursuing a player. These days, you’ll hear stories of managers wanting to know what a potential player is like off the pitch as well as on it. To see what type of person they are and what drives them. 

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case at BVB, according to Paasch: “I know that a colleague works there [in Dortmund]. But I also know that he doesn’t work there full-time. He is a contact person who supports things – but not sustainably.”

Paasch goes on to talk about mentality: “I always find it quite amusing. Everyone mentions it – but it is hardly or not at all trained. The majority of it takes place on the pitch. But mentality is a factor that has to do with the head. (…) And if I don’t work on it, then I can’t expect that there will be a fantastic network of people with the head level of 100 million neurons to develop some mental maps.”

However, Paasch also points to head coach Edin Terzić and his role in the mentality of the players. 

“But you also have to go one level further: the trainer’s leadership style, communication, the ability to be empathetic also play a big role.”

In the opinion of Passch on Terzić: “I still think he has leadership weaknesses.” 

Paasch then turned to the club’s manifested DNA. The phenomenon of losing when it matters didn’t just occur against VfB Stuttgart last weekend. 

“How can it be that they have been losing against Bayern, for example, consistently? That means that certain things are manifested – not only in the DNA of Borussia Dortmund, but also in the players and everyone else.” He continued: “If I have something like that in me, I communicate accordingly, I also behave accordingly, and we all know: If we behave accordingly, then we also have an attitude, and we see it on the pitch.”

He explained that BVB have adopted a “we can’t win against Bayern” filter. “If that is the case, we will not only behave like that in our thinking but also in everyday life.”

According to Paasch, the whole club and its philosophy need addressing in order to change the so-called BVB phenomenon. 

“I doubt that there is an expert [at BVB] who has an eye on organizational psychology, personnel psychology and sports psychology,” emphasized Paasch. “And that’s why we see the results the way we currently see them.”

GGFN | Jamie Allen

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