Sports Psychologist Explains How Watford Can Use Pre-Game Rituals to Boost Chances of FA Cup Success

The curtain is just about to fall on another season of European football, with the odd league here and there still to be decided before cup competitions ​draw to a close over the next fortnight.

Some of the biggest games of the entire season are about to take place and, just like fans saw in last year's Champions League final, it will be a make or break scenario for some of the best players on the planet.

Loris Karius

While a player's general ability is already set in stone, sports psychologist Dan Abrahams has explained how certain pre-match rituals can help reduce performance anxiety – with Watford facing the biggest game of their season in the FA Cup final this weekend. 

"As the name performance anxiety suggests, players can experience psychological anxiety and physiological stress response," Abrahams told ​Betway.

"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. 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.'

"Players need to, in pressure situations, focus on themselves," he added. "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."

Abrahams went on to explain the science behind why big games can prove to be a fight-or-flight even for some best players, adding that the psychological effects can actually lead to physical improvement.

"There’s an increase in blood flow to the front part of the brain and a greater amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing around your body," says Abrahams.

"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."

Source : 90min