The real reason why Jurgen Klopp wanted to train at Old Trafford and what we can learn from it to control nerves
So you’re probably thinking what has football and Jurgen Klopp got to do with your post competition nerves (unless you are a footballer) Well , it has everything to do with you if you want to control your pre match nerves. The great thing about sports psychology is the same principles apply to all sports. Also, a good way to improve your results is to look at how the exceptionalsports personnel get theirs
When Jurgen Klopp chose to train at Old Trafford on the day of the game he went up in my estimation. Klopp has a fantastic record as football manager but not every manager is tuned into the importance of sports psychology. Whether it was his sports science university degree or his experience as a professional player, training on the opposition pitch wasa master stroke
Call me cynical but I don’t believe for one minute that the reason given to journalists was the real one : “we want to treat it the same as any other European way game”. No, the real reason was that he knew that familiarising his players with the stadium as a forerunner to the match in the evening would give them a big psychological boost. This is why.
Familiarity is King- the studies
Sports psychology research shows that one of thebiggest advantage of playing at home is familiarity with the stadium (1) So what Klopp was seizing a real bonus for his players by familiarising them not only with the stadium butmost importantly, the pitch. He may have used the “It’s a Europa game” reason but the positive impact of his players trainingon the same turf , getting used to the size and feel of the pitch they were to play on later would have been immense. Whereas Manchester United players trained on their usual training ground away from the stadium, so not acclimatising themselves or psychologically preparing themselves in the same way. I am surprised that Louis Van Gaal agreed to it, unless it was a matter for the Europa League officials.
Why familiarising yourself with the venue is so important
Sports people perform their best when they are relaxed and comfortable. We feel much more at ease in familiar surroundings because they allow us to fall into our comfort zone. This is the opposite to the instinctive response we get when faced with new or strange environments which is one of danger because we are facing the unknown.
Conserving Mental Energy
Studies show that we all start the day witha finite amount of mental energyand when this teeters towards the empty mark (usually towards the evening ) we experience burn out and stress. This affects our physical state too by making us feel tired. (A signal to slow down and take a break)
When we are in a strange place we use up a lot more mental energy than when we are in familiar surroundings. Our mental system is on alert, taking in masses of new information, surveying and looking out for danger. Things that we would normally do on auto pilot now use up mental energy as we are having to make more decisions. This is why the first week at school or the first week in a new job is ten times as exhausting as the 20th week.
By familiarising yourself with the sporting venue before the competition as Klopp did, you are getting the “newness alert” and decision making over with. This is why many athletes visit the venue in advance so they can get this mental process out of the way. It calms the brain and makes it easier on the day when they will know where the facilities are, what the pitch/field/court/course looks like, and their brains have filed the eventunder “It is ok we have been here before.. We can now focus on our performance”
If they can’t visit the venue in advance then make sure you arrive early. You can then get the instinctive alert “I am in a new strange place” out of the way and plan for the day ahead. Jurgen Klopp’s players would have overcome this eight hours before the game by training at Old Trafford and would have so much time to soak in the atmosphere and surroundings.
Find out where everything is – drinks – refreshments – toilets – practise areas beforehand. You want to avoid the “Oh no where do I go” feelings which can escalate into panic.
Familiarity is the opposite of the unknown: rituals
Having a ritual or routine is also very important for getting into your comfort zone too. The mental and physical activity of the task itself will help blocks anxiety and our mind feeds off routines as they signal ‘all is well, I have done this many times’.
One routine I encourage my clients to follow religiously is preparing everything the night before. Organise all ofyour equipment, drinks, food , clothes, route to venue, alarm, play lists as this signals to the mind that everything is in order so the subconscious unease can turn off. It allows you to get up next day without having to stress about finding things, have I got enough drinks, enough time etc etc. All these minor irritations use up mental energy and our aim is to conserve this. One of my clients who suffered badly with competition day nerves said that “arriving late” was a huge stress for him. We planned how this stress factor could be alleviated by changing his routines and planning more in advance.
At the Venue
I discuss with my clients what exactly is going to happen, where they are going to wait before playing, and where and how they are going to re-charge their batteries particularly when the completion day is long and has breaks. Being familiar with the venue will mean you can plan in advance where you can go if you need chill time, time away from team members, the vital recovery time which is essential for good performance. Again, having a routine for every competition will not only conserve mental energy and encourage calmness, the more you do it the more you will operate on automatic pilot which will reinforce your feeling of being in control which keeps the nerves at bay. Remember ‘repetition encourages familiarity and familiarity is the opposite of the unknown ‘
Famiiarity with the stadium helps visualisation
Visualisation is an important part of the mental preparation process. It pays more benefits when the mental rehearsal includes as much detail and sensory information as possible. If you can visit the venue beforehand then make sure you put as much information into your visualisation practices that your pre-competition visit has given you.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jurgen’s taking training at Old Trafford gave his players an advantage that they wouldn’t normally have had. In sport, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt it breeds confidence.