Stina Blackstenius believes she cannot be in a better environment than she is now at Arsenal, despite the season being personally “quite challenging sometimes”.
The forward spoke exclusively to Sky Sports as adidas launched their spring/summer 2024 campaign. Their ambition is to help disarm negative pressure in sport for both elite and grassroots athletes, focusing on the impact it can have on performance and how best to manage it.
For Blackstenius, she has faced her fair share of pressure this season. The Sweden international has found her WSL game time limited after starting in 20 of the 22 league matches in the 2022/23 season.
Blackstenius has started just twice, featuring in 11 games overall, although has contributed with four WSL goals. It marks a change for a player who was relied upon when Arsenal suffered a number of injuries to their forward line last season – especially key players in Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema.
“It’s been quite challenging sometimes because you want to play as much as you can. But you also need to accept that we have such a strong squad, it’s so competitive and you really need to be at your best to play,” Blackstenius said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports as adidas launched their spring/summer 2024 campaign.
“But you need to find that role, be ready when you get the chance to play and I’ll give what I can to the team – no matter if it’s 10 minutes, starting the game more or being on the bench for the entire game for us to win. It’s always up to the coach and also my performance.
“When I’m coming into games, I can use my qualities in a good way, and that could give me chances to score. I feel like in some games, that has been good for me.
“We also have so many different players in the team. Maybe my quality is good in one game and then we have others who are so much better in other parts of the game. We need all the qualities that we have, but in different ways.”
One of the reasons behind her drop in game time is the summer arrival of Alessia Russo from Manchester United. She has started in all 12 WSL games this season in the No 9 role – the position Blackstenius prefers.
But ever level-headed and complimentary of her team-mate, the Swede believes she is still able to contribute to the team.
“I enjoy being with so many good players in our team and Alessia is one of them,” Blackstenius said.
“She can give something to our way of play, she can bring her qualities. She’s so confident with the ball and without it and she helps us to win games. It’s been good being with her in training and she’s such a good person as well.
“I try to take every training with the girls to use it for something good because I don’t know if I can be in a better environment than I am now.”
adidas partners with neuro11 to to help disarm negative pressure in sport
adidas’ campaign has revealed that grassroot athletes can experience up to the same amount of negative pressure as those at elite level, but are less equipped to handle it.
To understand the physiological effect pressure has, adidas partnered with leading sport neuroscientists, neuro11.
From tactically using time to regain focus in basketball, revealing the optimal area of a goal to strike a penalty, to reducing dwell time on putting in golf, adidas is releasing a neuroscience-powered athlete guidance series.
Dr Niklas Hausler, co-founder of neuro11, said: “While pressure looks and feels different for everyone, there is a scientific sweet spot in the brain that all can reach – the optimal zone, commonly referred to as “being in the zone”.
“We study athletes’ brain frequencies to establish how often and how deeply they enter this optimal zone during pressure moments, as well as what contributes to them falling into ‘too low’ or ‘too high’ zones for performance, all with the intention of teaching routines that they can implement.
“Building on this, and in support of adidas’ mission to help everyday athletes realise their potential, we have created practical guidance that helps enhance performance, when it matters the most.”
How Blackstenius has improved at Arsenal
Alongside Blackstenius’, adidas and neuro11 have also worked with athletes like World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, Ryder Cup 2023 champion Ludvig Åberg, eight-time WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogwumike, and golfer Rose Zhang to further understand how sporting pressure can be dealt with.
The forward’s shoot for adidas’ latest campaign sees her using these techniques to register neurological data in an effort to understand more about how her brain works under pressure in an elite sporting environment.
“It’s really interesting to learn more about how the mental part can be a big part of football,” she explained.
“Pressure is there all the time and you have to handle it. I think it also depends on the competition, what sort of game it is, how big the crowd is as well because you always want to perform at your best.
“For me, it can be finding things I like to do before the game, to try to find the calm feeling and deal with pressure in that way. It could be a ritual before the game, listening to music, things I do in the warm-up or in the changing room – lots of different things.
“I’ve got to learn so much more about focusing on what I’m doing and how I can put focus into what I actually want to do and what I want to achieve. In this case, it was penalties. I’m not really comfortable with penalties, so I think I had a lot to learn and get some tips.”
When Blackstenius first joined Arsenal in January 2022, she was keen to improve at the club overall – something that neuro11 will have had a helping hand in, alongside her coaches.
Offering her own insight, the 27-year-old said: “I know that my technique is not my best quality so I think I need to work on receiving the ball and taking care of it.
“I feel confident in the deep runs to get behind the [opposition] team and being in the box, but I also want to be part of how we build up the game.
“I want to be an option if they need me central to play up to the No 9 and then take care of the ball, set it back and things like that. So that’s something I’ve been trying to work on.
“Last season, I played a bit more and maybe we played a bit different. Now, I feel like we have played a lot of games against a low block – that also affects my role and where I am on the pitch.
“But it’s also something that we have been talking about – that I need to stay central and try to be in the box as much as possible and not get too wide. We already have great players in the wide areas and I need to be ready for passes or crosses.”
‘Chelsea and Spurs are the highs and lows of football’
Of course, one of Arsenal’s biggest mental tests this season came in the final two WSL games before the winter break – an emphatic 4-1 win against title rivals Chelsea was swiftly followed by a first-ever north London derby defeat to Tottenham.
They currently face a similar situation, having suffered a shock 2-1 loss to West Ham in the WSL on Sunday.
“It’s very high and low in football,” Blackstenius added. “Against Chelsea, we had a really good game and we love to play at the Emirates, we really feel the support.
“When we play at home, we play with a lot of confidence. We know what we can achieve and how good we can be when we are at our best.
“But the next week when we played Tottenham, it’s a completely different game and we need to be able to handle that as well, which we maybe didn’t do.
“It’s hard to explain and it’s hard to understand sometimes why it is like that – the highs can be so high and the lows can be so low.
“After games like that, it’s sort of like you want revenge and you want to be back playing a game, getting a new chance. So in terms of that, it would have been good to keep playing and leave for the break with a better feeling than we did.
“But it also gave us a fresh start that we can leave that game behind, have a break and be away from football for a while, then come back with new energy.
“We know we have a lot of important games coming during the spring. The loss against Tottenham wasn’t the end of the season so we will have our chances back.”
Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!
You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!
Find out more here.