Facing The Giants

2nd January 2007

It’s another David v Goliath match this weekend, as the minnows of Cheltenham Town take on Newcastle United at Whaddon Road in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. League Two team Cheltenham beat Chester 1-0 in the 3rd round reply only last week to take them into this 4th Round clash. For Cheltenham, it’s the stuff dreams are made of, but can they conquer one of the UK’s top Premiership clubs?

Roberto Forzoni, EIS Sports Psychologist, spoke to www.eis2win.co.uk about the psychological issues that are involved in a game of this nature:

Basically, for either team, there can be advantages and disadvantages, and it is a matter of where their perception lies as to how well each team might handle the situation.

From the point of view of the underdog, there are massive advantages. There are no expectations on them; players achieve what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity against a Premiership side. There are massive financial rewards to be had and this can all have a very positive psychological effect on the player’s confidence and self-esteem. On the flip side, the intense media pressure will be something the players are not used to, and this can add pressure and cause distraction.

The management needs to emphasise the fact there is nothing to lose but everything to gain. The underdog needs to have a game plan not too dissimilar to their normal game strategy, and they need to be confident that they can stick to this game plan whilst having a ‘plan B’ if the need arises (either taking the lead or conceding too early, for example.)

Most players will absolutely relish the opportunity. Others may be like rabbits in the middle of the road when a car approaches – frozen with the headlights focused on them. Again, a team strategy of enjoying the occasion and “giving it a go” may help relieve any anxiety. Players need to be very clear on their roles within the team and be confident that they can do what is being asked of them. Experienced players will lead the way here and be sources of inspiration and leadership to less experienced teammates.

Click here for our 8-step guide for dealing with playing the better team.

For the ‘big’ team, there are also advantages and disadvantages. Providing they play close to their ‘maximum’, the chances are high in their favour to get through to the next round. However, the massive disadvantage for the giants is that they have everything to lose – win the game, and it was expected; lose the game, and they are forever shown on TV replay shows of “what happened”. A huge potential banana skin. Concentration can wander because the perceived challenge is low (leading to a goal being conceded – particularly at a set play); confidence can be too high (leading to an arrogant display and possible errors with players not keeping their shape