On the day of the FA Cup final, the players turn up at Wembley to get changed in a huge dressing room they’ve never been in before.
The players stand for a rendition of God Save the Queen and talk to Prince William as he shakes everyone’s hands down the red carpet.
The stadium is full, 90,000 fans all there to witness a FA Cup final feeling tense and creating an extremely unique atmosphere. They’re performing in a venue four times the capacity of Watford’s home ground: Vicarage Road.
For many fans, the idea that the club could win a major trophy is something they could never imagine and this is a chance they hope they won’t mess up.
For other fans, it’s just another day in their club’s forever-expanding history.
Manchester City have won eight major trophies in the past few years and are used to being in big games such as cup finals. Whereas Watford last reached a cup final in 1984 and have never won a major trophy, they’re not so used to being in big games.
Two of Watford’s players have been in relatively similar positions, Heurelho Gomes made an appearance in the UEFA Champions League semi-final in his time at PSV Eindhoven over 10 years ago. Roberto Pereyra came off the bench for 10 minutes against FC Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League Final in his time at Juventus.
Talking to Betway, Sports Psychologist Dan Abrahams explained that the referee’s whistle which signals the start of a big game can be overwhelming and too much for many players. Abrahams works for AFC Bournemouth and Swedish club Ostersunds after previously working for the FA, the PFA, the LMA and numerous Premier League and Championship clubs over the past 20 years. He also said: “The implications of the different atmosphere can bring performance anxiety, which can be crippling.”
It’s noticeable all the time in different games, many players struggle to live up to the big occasion and their performance proves it. They play well below the standards of which they’re used to. They make poor passes, poor crosses and miss easy chances that they’d usually score. They also develop what’s called tunnel vision where they don’t see a 360 degree view of the pitch which makes them feel tired and sluggish on the ball.
The players can also become slower in their anticipation and decision making along with having a worse first touch than usual.
However, there is a way to combat the side effects of a big occasion like a cup final, such as Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup win back in 2013.
Although Wigan were relegated just three days after the FA Cup final, they were on the winning side of one of the biggest FA Cup shocks of all time beating Manchester City 1-0 after Ben Watson headed the ball into the back of the net in injury time which gave them their first ever major trophy.
Abrahams says that players need to achieve a composed state of mind before they take to the field. He says: “Sticking to your normal routine is really important, you’re trying to help players perceive the game in the same way they perceive every game.”
He uses psychological techniques to help players overcome any nerves that they have on the day and says: “Self-talk, breathing techniques and directing your focus and attention can help. A player can manage their stress levels by speaking to themselves: “OK, stop. This is a big game, but all I’ve got to do is stick to what I usually do. I can’t force a great performance or guarantee a great result. I’ve just got to focus on what I can control.”
The players need to approach the game with a rational mindset, they should ignore the idea of winning or losing and rather they should concentrate on what they can control which is giving a good performance.
“Players need to, in pressure situations, focus on themselves as that’s their responsibilities within their role, their mental skills, having a consistent personality on the pitch, playing with positive intention and at the right intensity. It’s easy to say these things, which seem small things and throwaway remarks but, ultimately, these can make or break a player’s performance,” he says.
It’s unlikely that this psychological help could bring the ability of Watford’s players above Manchester City’s, however, it’ll give them the best chance to win their first ever major trophy in an opportunity which only comes every half a century.