Due to Covid-19, Premier League and Championship teams have been forced to play behind closed doors with fans given the opportunity to view the live matches on TV so I thought it would be interesting to research how psychology is playing its part in preparing players for playing in empty stadiums.
The difficulty is to try to recreate the game day atmosphere. This buzz is drawn by the passion of the crowd.
It’s also built by sights and sounds, the songs of the home fans and the chants of away supporters vilifying the opposition, the sea of club shirts, flags being waved and banners strewn across the stands - these are the sights and sounds that hit the players on match day, that drives their excitement and anticipation for the challenge ahead.
However, players now find themselves playing in a very different set of circumstances.
Playing behind closed doors is a reality right now, and it threatens to affect and play havoc with the player experience.
Looking into sports psychology, it was interesting to find that feelings can help players ready themselves to compete in an environment lacking these usual external cues.
Feelings are hard to measure but when players are asked to describe themselves at their best they often talk in terms of feelings - “I felt focused” I felt strong” or “I felt confident”.
This I found led to a very simple psychological technique that takes advantage of the relationship between feelings and actions. Simply ask players to visualise their very best games and get them to describe them in detail.
Once they’ve done this ask them for a few action based words that resemble them at their very best. For example, ‘alert and alive’, ‘relentless and dominant’, and ‘calm and focused’.
Every player will pick different action-based words according to their personality and playing style.
These words have a powerful affect as they are drawn from their memory and from their personal experiences of competing.
This can create an on-pitch blueprint that players can use regardless of the conditions.
This mental technique can help players prepare to play behind closed doors and to deal with the complete lack of atmosphere on match days.
Leading into the match day, players should picture/visualise their chosen action words as part of their preparation, mentally rehearsing for competing in the style of their chosen words and executing their role on match days.
This process can help them feel mentally ready to compete and give them a better chance to summon up the performance feelings they usually experience during a match.
On match day, players can set themselves the goal of starting and staying with their action words no matter what.
They can talk to themselves as a reminder of their chosen actions and use their action words to enhance their performance as the game unfolds.
Despite the lack of atmosphere, players can draw on their chosen action words to retain the performance feelings they require to highly perform.
With this in place players have the opportunity to play with the performance feelings that underpin the qualities needed to produce the standards required.
The picture perfect? A silent stadium but the players ignoring the hush. Players competing in their chosen action words. Players brimming with high performance feelings and competing like nothing has changed.
During my playing days, part of my preparation would be to spend a few minutes on my own before games thinking about my father who passed away at a fairly young age - feelings leading action.
These moments gave me the positive mental approach and the extra and edge and focus to help my performances. Thanks Dad.
In all games everyone is looking at ways to gain that extra edge over their opponents, any small advantage that can make the difference and psychology is playing its part in player preparation and on match days - even more so today during this period of playing behind closed doors.
Stay focused and alert during these testing times - better to be safe than sorry.