Playing the Big Game

“It’s a big game for a lot of players, especially me. But the most important thing is winning”
Clint Dempsey, Fulham FC

As we approach the football World Cup,  England fans up and down the country will be asking themselves whether this England team have the potential to win it or will they come up short again. It’s undeniable that England do have some very good players and that those players play against some of the worlds best in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Many of the England players have also featured regularly in, and in some cases won, the Champions League. So you could be excused for thinking that they may be in with a good chance of winning.

But it’s more complicated than that because  players will react differently to the excitement and anxiety that playing in big games brings. For some it will lift them whilst others will wilt. Many studies and theories have attempted to identify the causes and remedies for this problem and there is one common factor in all of them. One common quality exists that separates the winners from the also-rans. That quality is composure. When the technical ability and fitness levels of opponents are comparable, the winner will almost always be the one who has the most composure.

What exactly is composure?

“The state of calmness possessed by athletes who can remain organized and unperturbed regardless of changing circumstances. Athletes can learn to exhibit composure during the pressure of competition by developing coping strategies and appropriate intervention strategies”.
The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine.

Composure under pressure enables players to play their game, at their tempo and at their pace. Composure allows players to soak up pressure and anxiety without becoming rushed or panicked. Quite simply it leaves you totally in charge. It enables you raise your game to a higher level when the stakes are high, big questions are being asked and you face an onslaught from a determined opposition. So how do they do it? How do they get such cool composure?

It comes from a state of supreme belief. Supreme belief happens when a team has full and total confidence in themselves and their teammates. They trust each other. They trust their game plan. They feel secure in their role. They feel comfortable in their surroundings and they back each other up. They also love to be tested because that gives them an opportunity to show how good they are.

Want to develop your team’s composure? Here are some key tips:

  • Develop a detailed game plan and make sure all the players are familiar with it.
    Make sure all of the players are capable of playing their part in the plan and they have accepted their role in it.
  • Develop a pre-game routine that leads players into being relaxed, physically prepared and mentally focused on the game plan.
  • Familiarise yourselves as much as possible with the venue. Walk around all areas of the pitch. See it from every angle. Take in the surroundings and anything else that’s important.
  • Prepare a motivational pre-match talk and invite players to contribute on why they believe you can win.
  • During the game encourage and empower the players to play their game. Get them to look inside themselves for how to solve on field problems. This creates self-leaders. Players who can think on their feet and respond to the needs of the moment.

When playing with total composure performance seems almost effortless and creates an aura of complete confidence. The more you work at it the more you are able to do it and for some this generates an aura of unbeatability.

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