London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”
The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.
So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.
The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.
- Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical and mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
- The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
- Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)
These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!
Up the POSH!