Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

POSH Wobble Is Over, Unless…

One win in an almost meaningless cup game that was played by fringe players against West Ham’s youth team and POSH is back? The voice of Matt Kisby from the Yellow Block podcast is the one that I hear refuting my claim that the POSH are about to go back on a run. After just listening to their latest episode about Fergie In or Out, I had to put my thoughts out there. The decline in confidence amongst POSH fans is not surprising after a run of losses with 41% saying Fergie Out. However, those numbers will rebound before the end of the season as we push toward promotion.

Fans can be fickle and there are some that have a distaste for Ferguson regardless of the results. It’s hard to moan about a manager who is winning but one that goes on a string of losses, get out the torches and pitchforks. Despite those losses, Ferguson isn’t going anywhere. The owners believe that this manager is the architect for their club. His job is safe through wobbles. Only a complete collapse would be grounds for removal and that isn’t happening. The ship is already heading back in the right direction.

The win against West Ham is relatively meaningless other than the lineup. It was a game that required the lower half of the squad to play. The lineup was consistent with the others from the Papas Johns Trophy. Now it is up to Ferguson to get the players to believe that they are a squad again. The recent downturn in form is not a lack of talent. It is actually due to a squad that is full of talent but it needs to be utilized based on merit. Ferguson knows this and his salty interview is an indication of change to come.

Humans lead with belief and their actions tend to reflect it. Comfortable players do not give you their best effort. So a player who believes that his place in the starting eleven is secure will tend not give everything that he has. The flip side of that coin is that a player who believes that nothing he does will get him into the starting eleven tends to give less than optimal performance as well. Often this belief system will rear its ugly head when the bench player comes on late in a game. Not much time to impress makes every touch of the ball count. So the anxiety of the situation undermines the performance of a fully capable replacement.

The POSH players, both starters and replacements, need to believe that they are part of the equation. Mo Eisa needs to believe that he can contribute and has a chance when someone’s form drops. Sammie Szmodics needs to believe that the team scoring is far more important than him scoring and then goals will come. Ferguson’s frustration in the interview after Portsmouth came from his players underperforming and as Tim said in the Yellow Block Podcast, it is his fault. I truly believe that the team selection and result in the FA Cup caused a downturn in the squad’s belief that had already begun. A rotated squad for that game sends the message to the fringe players that they matter and to the starters that their position is not completely safe. Ferguson has proved time after time in his career that he knows how to strike this balance.

Although the psychology of each individual is important, a team or group also develops their own psychology based on the environment created by the leader/manager. The consistency with which Ferguson has gotten teams to perform at a high level lets me know that he can get this team to believe again. He doesn’t seem to lead completely with “fear.” Hitting that button too many times leads to players who resent their manager (Steve Evans). Whatever was said in the locker room needed to stay there, those who heard it most likely have gotten this message. The free passes are gone. None of us is bigger than all of us and we cannot wait for you to get it right. Unless I’ve completely misjudged him, Ferguson is going to get it right!

Up the POSH!

And listen to the Yellow Block! They’re good lads. (Can I say that as an American? Good guys is what I would normally say.)

Pete

Blogpost, posh

Uninspired POSH Need Last Piece of Ferguson Puzzle

For almost two decades, I’ve been supporting Peterborough United from afar. Despite the inconvenience of supporting a team that I rarely get to watch, I’m comforted by the fact that I know what to expect from POSH. Our chairman (or el presidente) will be on Twitter or his podcast speaking his mind about POSH or anything else. Barry Fry will be working the deals, although much quieter than in the past. Finally whenever Darren Ferguson is our manager, we’ll be close to promotion.

With the disappointment of last season fresh in POSH fans minds, the recognition that we need to amass as many points as soon as possible is plain for all to see. With the backing of the owners and other fortunate circumstances, most of the pieces are in place for us to withstand this marathon of a season near the automatic promotion places. The squad is made up of players who can replace one another with minimal dips in ability. Therefore the tight schedule will affect us less than other squads. The lack of crowds at the moment works slightly to our favor because our away form is usually a factor in keeping us from promotion. By the time that crowds are allowed back, our position in the league and the novelty of being at games bring great support to home matches rather than a fickle POSH crowd. Ferguson’s calculated approach will continue to produce consistent results that will have us in the playoff or automatic places as the season comes to a close. Despite the unique circumstances, this sounds like a pretty typical season under Darren Ferguson. Selfishly though, I’m looking for more.

As I’ve stated prior, I am a huge Ferguson supporter. He has been the manager for a good portion of my time as a POSH fan and enjoy watching his teams play and the way that he conducts himself. However it seems that he is missing one piece from his managerial arsenal. Based on my observation, POSH teams tend to start games slow and only “turn it on” in the second half. There could be many reasons for this but as a person who believes heavily in the emotional side of the game, I think it is due to a lack of emotional priming.

Most of my coaching career has been spent at the high school and college where the tactics and techniques are important but usually in close matches, the emotional side of the game wins. The professional level definitely requires a more steady approach to the management of players’ emotions. However that does not mean that it is not important. As the son of Sir Alex, I’m sure that the halftime resurgence of POSH teams is partially due to a few “hairdryer” treatments. While this has its place, training players on how to manage themselves and especially to “prime” themselves for a peak emotional state at game time is crucial.

This is the last piece to Ferguson’s puzzle. His tactical awareness and man management on a longitudinal basis seem to be spot on. The place where POSH fizzle at times is their ability to start the game on the emotional front foot. A combination of confidence and desire to do what it necessary. The difference between last season’s team that looked like a juggernaut going into the late part of the season and this season is the lack of an emotional focal point. Ivan Toney (the only thing I’ll give Steve Evans credit for getting right) allowed the players around him to play with confidence and joy because he was going to give them a chance to win regardless of how they played. None of the players at the moment has that power. So it needs to be taught to all of them. The POSH team of this year will only dominate this league if each and every player comes to the field with his best mindset available. Expecting 25+ goals out of Clarke-Harris, Dembele or Eisa seems unlikely. So the squad must do it and cannot continually take the first half at half capacity.

Developing a system of emotional priming is not outside of Ferguson’s skillset, he did it beautifully leading into the promotion push from years ago using the video with the Adele song. However this work needs to be done a much more individualized basis. This work cannot be done to the players, it must be done with the players. Dan Abrahams, who has worked with several teams and individual athletes, has players create a persona to bring out their best attributes at the crucial moments. His work is not the only possibility for priming athletes but having heard him speak a few times, I’m a fan of his work.

So the question is not whether or not POSH have it in them to win this league, they do. The question is whether or not they can consistently demand more from themselves physically, mentally and emotionally than their opponents. The difference between this and any other POSH year may come down to the players being trained on how to turn on their own fire without the “hairdryer”.

Up the POSH!

Pete

Blogpost

The POSH Pilgrimage (Recap)

My son and I returned safely from our trip to see the mighty POSH and another team based in Liverpool.  Compared with most of my other trips abroad, it was basically incident free.  That was of course by design because while traveling with a 13 year old, it is probably best to play it safe.  Despite that lack of crazy happenings, the trip was extremely enjoyable and gave us many things to ponder and remember.

Can’t Buy Me Love!

IMG_4315The Beatles may have been right by saying that  love can’t be bought but the purchase of a new jersey of your son’s favorite team does help.  Our first stop was in Liverpool for the Everton vs Manchester United match.  We had a day to tour around the city a bit but most of our time was spent at the club shop and taking photos near the two stadiums of the city’s rival teams.  Despite leaning toward Liverpool in the past, I had to stick with my son in his support of the Toffees.  It was not an easy thing to do since the first English player that I ever knew by name was Kevin Keegan.  Remember that I was raised in an era before the internet, so VHS instructional videos on soccer were my introduction to international soccer.  However keeping with my overall thought process, supporting Everton makes much more sense for me.  I tend to choose the road less traveled.  Regardless, on match day it seems that I made the right choice.  Everton pummeled the Red Devils from start to finish.  It seemed as though ManU was expecting the Toffees to roll over and die.  My son got the perfect introduction to live football in England, coincidentally 4-0 was the same score to the first POSH match that I ever attended.

We Lose If You Win!

Before and during the trip, I tried to impress upon Luke that football is taken very seriously throughout Europe but especially England.  During our train ride to Peterborough, he got an up close look at what I was talking about.  I had feared that we might end up seeing a clash between fans of opposing teams at some point.  That didn’t happen.  However on our trip to Peterborough, three Man United fans were having a heated discussion about who they would prefer to win the league.  The two older (around my age) fans were adamant that they would prefer that ManU lose to Man City in order for City to win the title.  Their historical hatred for Liverpool was so strong that they could not bare to see them win the title.  The younger man was not bothered by who won the title and only cared whether United sorted out their own issues.  It never looked like the conversation was going to turn physical but it was just enough of personal experience for Luke to see the gravity of support for one’s team in England.  We changed trains in Manchester and headed toward our next destination.  In the evening of Easter Sunday, we reached Peterborough.

Home Again!

One of my favorite quotes is “A man can never step into the same river twice because the river is different and so is he.”  This quote applies to my return to Peterborough.  Whenever I travel, I try to go for a run early in the morning.  It’s a great way to see a city before it becomes crowded with people, traffic, etc.  My first destination was London Road Stadium (The ABAX).  It had been almost exactly twelve years since my last visit.  The stadium much like the team seems to have been upgraded in noticeable ways but there is a core to both that have remained and make it seem the same.  I often wonder how fans of teams that have been bought and revamped like Man City feel about their club.  Having read the book by our chairman, I am quite comfortable with the methodical progress of the POSH over the past decade plus.  The success has come with sacrifice and resources that are not limitless which suits me perfectly.  The same is true of the city.  Peterborough is a small city that is not overwhelming.  It’s easy to feel at home there.

When In Rome!

IMG_4381 (1)With my young son in tow, I could not take part in everything that football culture has to offer.  I did take the time to visit the home of PISA at Eb’s.  We didn’t stay long and I only had one beer but I felt like I needed to show up and see what was going on.  I really should have coordinated better with some of the people on londonroad.net.  It would have been nice to put faces with screen names but this was a last minute decision because I did not know what to expect from the place.  It was actually the perfect place to go prior to the match.  The food looked and smelled good.  The memorabilia around the place was a good retrospective on some of the reasons why I’m a POSH fan now.

Close Enough to Feel a Part!

IMG_4398The match itself was preceded by a “First Time Fan” experience.  My son got the chance to sit in the team seats and high five the players on their way out to the warm-up.  For me it was an opportunity to be a few feet away from two POSH legends: Aaron Mclean and Darren Ferguson.  Although I must admit that I dropped the ball on getting photos with both.   As a coach I just couldn’t bring myself to interfere with pregame preparations.  Despite that fact, I still enjoyed the experience of getting down on the field level and seeing the players up close.

Our seats were great and the Sunderland fans were definitely up for the game.  During the first half, I was a bit worried by our play and support.  The team created a few opportunities but there seemed to be a non-committal feeling from the players and the POSH fans.  It was as if neither were truly ready to give their all for fear that they might be disappointed.  In the second half, that all changed as the players and the fans seemed to be fully invested in challenging a “big club” for the win on the day.  Although the Sunderland goal came first, it was at a point in the game where POSH were starting to cause real problems.  I knew we could pull level!

Then it happened!  Godden’s goal electrified the stadium (other than the Sunderland areas).  I don’t know exactly why but the combination of all of the circumstances culminated into so much excitement that I almost fainted.  Jumping, cheering and clapping, I could feel myself getting light headed.  The only thought that saved me was that if I passed out, my son would have to deal with it.  So I calmed myself down.  Godden had a chance to make it the perfect occasion but it wasn’t to be.

IMG_4404Prior to the match, the man who lead the “First Time Fan” activities had said to the group, “If we win, you need to come back because we won.  If we tie or lose, you need to come back to see a win.”  Although the game ended in a draw, it was still a great experience for Luke and I.  I would have preferred three points and a dominant performance like I got during my last visit to London Road but this was special in its own way because I was there with Luke.  We will will be back at some point and hopefully it won’t take a decade this time!

Pete