Fancy a bite? No

22/04/2013  -  10.32

By Andrew Lane, Professor of Sports and Exercise Psychology

Luis Suarez is an outstanding footballer. He can make a chance out of almost nothing, score goals with either foot, or shows tremendous determination to win which can inspire his team mates. In contrast to this are a number of disgraceful moments; a blatant handball in the world cup ¼ final; the Evra incident, and now two biting incidences. The latest incident occurred during the Chelsea game on Sunday where he bit Branislav Ivanovic’s shoulder.

Why does someone do such a thing? Everyone gets frustrated and angry from time to time. Frustration occurs when we try to do something or achieve something and things get in our way. We tend to get angry when we perceive a sense of injustice – it’s not just about being stopped from achieving a goal, because this happens all the time and people just work harder or smarter. We examples of how Suarez works hard in games when Liverpool are losing, chasing down defenders, making runs, and creating goals; in many ways, the intensity of Luis Suarez’s game increases when Liverpool are losing. And this fighting spirit is just what the supporters like to see.

All of the above says that people get emotional and emotions influence thoughts and behaviours.  However, most people regulate or manage urges stemming anger. In some professions, this is a key part of the job; particularly service industries – flight check in staff; restaurant staff, soccer referees! We teach children to control their anger and manage it appropriately. We tell them there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour and so when the child gets angry and thinks about lashing out, he or she also remembers that this will lead to some kind of punishment. We teach children that it’s not acceptable to bite or hit someone else in an argument. When children are calm, they agree that this is inappropriate and also tend to agree that they would not like to happen to them. And so when a child gets angry and frustrated and considers lashing out in some way, he or she anticipates the consequences and curbs his or her behaviour.

This leads us to the question: what happened in Suarez’s mind? We know that he has done something like this before (for example, at Ajax). He received a 7-game ban and so presumably this information was in the background of his mind at the time of biting. His decision to bite again tends to suggest he was not appalled when he reflected on this incidence.

It’s hard to believe, but Suarez, at the time of the bite, must have thought he was doing something that was “kind of ok”, a bit like all the shirt pulling that occurs frequently and is partially penalised. He must have thought that he was biting in a way that would not be noticed – which seems a strange or unbelievable way of thinking, but it’s hard to think otherwise.

What next? If this was a child who bit another child in the playground, he would lose his playtime.