The FA Cup 2019 final is all set to be played between favourites Manchester City and underdogs Watford on Saturday at the Wembley Stadium in London. OyeChronicle.com brings you an interview with leading sports psychologist Dan Abrahams with a focus on how the correct mental preparation can help Watford cause a major upset in the FA Cup final 2019.
Dan Abrahams, in particular, talks about the power of pre-match routines, that can really help teams like Watford get themselves mentally prepared to take on stronger opponents right in front of a massive audience of nearly 90,000 without quite getting overawed by the occasion.
The possibility of clinching a major trophy is quite unimaginable for certain players and yet such an opportunity may not come again. For other players, it’s another big occasion in the growing history of their club.
Manchester City is no doubt mentally strong for the big day having bagged eight major trophies in the last eight years, which means that they are not new to the pressure that is associated with playing an FA Cup final. On the other hand, Watford last reached an FA Cup final way back in 1984 and are yet to clinch a major honour, or in other words, the club is completely new to the big match pressure!
As per the latest football odds with Betway, the Hornets are 9/2 to clinch the FA Cup 2019 final having been to three Championship play-off finals, of which two were at Wembley and the other at the Millennium Stadium. However, the FA Cup final 2019 could be a different game and the same can be said to their players.
Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes played a Champions League semi-final for Dutch club PSV, but that was more than 10 years ago. Argentine footballer Roberto Pereyra came off the bench during the dying moments of Juventus’ defeat to Barcelona in 2015 final, but by then the team was already 2-1 down and only trying to catch up in the game.
Sports psychologist Dan Abrahams revealed to Betway’s Insider that the referee’s whistle signaling the start of a career-defining game can be an overwhelming thing for any footballer to find themselves in.
Abrahams “The implications of the different atmosphere can bring performance anxiety, which can be crippling,” says Abrahams, who works on a consultancy basis for AFC Bournemouth and Ostersunds, having worked in the past with the FA, PFA, LMA and a number of Premier League and Championship clubs during his 19-year career.
Often during one-off games, players fail to cope up with the occasion and their performance levels fall down below the standards of their real potential. They end up misplacing passes, overhit crosses and miss chances they would otherwise score in any other match.
Abrahams says: “As the name performance anxiety suggests, players can experience psychological anxiety and physiological stress response.
“Players develop tunnel vision, where they no longer see a 360-degree view of the pitch. It will make them feel lethargic and flat, so they’re slow to anticipate and are slow to make decisions.
“Their first touch goes and their motor behaviour, which is essentially their technique, atrophies. Subsequently, what you see is a player playing worse.”
For Watford though there is a way to counter the incapacitating side-effects of such a huge occasion. The answer for this is with Wigan Athletic’s the heroes of FA Cup 2013.
The Latics, who were set to be relegated to the Championship three days later, came up with one of the huge cup shocks of all time to win the final courtesy of a stoppage-time Ben Watson header that helped them clinch their first and only major trophy.
Guess what? The opposition that day was none other than Manchester City!
The then captain of Wigan Athletic – Emmerson Boyce told the Daily Mail ahead of the team’s fifth-round match with Pep Guardiola’s side in 2018, that: “Things were very calm pre-match. No fear, no pressure.”
Getting to that composed state of mind just before hitting the field is where Abrahams, who was also a Lead Sports Psychologist with England Rugby from 2017-18 and England Golf from 2013-16, can help teams with.
Abrahams 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.”
Abrahams leverages specific psychological techniques to help players get over any nerves and engages them with this idea.
He 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.”
“It’s the controlling the controllables philosophy.”
From there, the players can disassociate the gravity of one of the biggest matches of their career with playing 90 minutes of football – something they are accustomed to do each and every week.
According to Abrahams, approaching the match with a rational mindset is the key. He further reckons that players should ignore the notion of winning and losing and instead focus on what they can control, which is only easier said than done given what is at stake for them.
Abrahams says: “Players need to, in pressure situations, focus on themselves.
“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.”
The sports psychologist claims that when someone engages in such behaviours, a biological reaction can be seen that can have a significant impact on their performance.
Abrahams explains: “There’s an increase in bloodflow to the front part of the brain and a greater amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing around your body.
“Players also release hormones such as testosterone and adrenaline – the building blocks of power, strength and speed – as well as dopamine – your interest chemical – and endorphins, which are your feel-good chemicals, in the appropriate amounts.
“That would result in a player being quicker to anticipate, make faster and maybe more accurate decisions. They will be quicker, stronger and more explosive.
“Obviously those are the kind of things you want.”
However, all said and done, it will only be naïve to think that this could lift the technical ability of Watford’s players above that of Manchester City. No, that wouldn’t be the case, but it will at least give them the best possible shot of seizing the massive opportunity of being just one win away from lifting the championship!