This long weekend in Australia it is footy heaven as the two biggest codes AFL (Aussie rules) and NRL (rugby league) stage their Grand Finals. The equivalent of Super Bowl or the FA Cup Final, they will determine the season’s champion club.
On Saturday, in Melbourne at the MCG, 100,000 fanatics will cheer on the Richmond Tigers and Adelaide Crows. It is 35 years since the Tigers appeared in a grand final and 19 since Adelaide, with no player on either team having previous grand final experience. The last time that happened was in the very first final in 1898 so the mental and physical experience will be broadly equal for both sides.
Meanwhile in Sydney on Sunday at the Olympic stadium, 80,000 will watch as the perennial favourites and marquee side Melbourne Storm challenge the rank outsiders and fan favourites the North Queensland Cowboys to play off for the premiership. Here the mindset is a little different, although just as important. Many of the players from both teams have recent experience on the big stage through recent grand finals and representative State of Origin (which is a similar pressure cooker occasion). The key for the Storm will be in their mindset to play their normal calm, composed, methodical game plan. Meanwhile the Cowboys will try everything to upset them mentally and physically to encourage mistakes where there are usually so few and in so doing get the crowd behind them.
To reach either final means all four sides are in superb physical form and so it’s likely their mental state becomes the difference between winning and losing.
Mental Toughness is “the ability to perform under stress and pressure whatever the circumstances”, including the white-hot atmosphere of a Grand Final.
The likely winners of each final will have the most players that don’t freeze or falter and are able to play their natural game.
The top players will use the techniques from the MTQ48 4C’s Mental Toughness framework to win control over their mind and stay as composed and secure in their own ability as they can. They will ensure that they stay as normal as possible and perform to their potential without making big mistakes or if they do, being able to recover quickly from them.
My Grand Final mental toughness advice to each player and coach would be:
Stay in control of your mind
The Grand Final buildup is so different to a normal week, starting with the Brownlow and Dally M presentations, followed by days of media spotlight and interviews and supporter hype at the open training sessions, and in Melbourne, Friday’s Grand Final Parade of the teams to adoring thousands.
On Match Day it continues with walking onto the pitch and adjusting to the noise and colour of the crowd, delay caused by the presentations and the anthem, accompanied throughout by constant thoughts about the size of the prize.
It is easier than normal to become distracted and over-awed by the occasion. If you do then you need to refocus quickly to avoid the negative thoughts (what if I fail, what if I don’t catch, what if I miss a tackle, what if I’m not good enough) that invade your mind and can disable and freeze your brain.
The first of the 4C’s is Control – so stay in control of your mind by concentrating on completing your normal routine throughout and not allow your mind to day dream or wander (or wonder!)
Stay focused by visualising your first involvement – get that successful pass, catch, tackle, kick, playing over and over in your mind .
Stay in the right mindset and focus on the job in hand. There is a job to be done. Stay calm but alert until kick off.
Once the whistle blows make it happen
In the Grand Final context the second C ‘Commitment’ is all about being resolute and committed to your task. It is about setting goals and targets and then making them happen again and again.
You have visulaised your first involvement and now its your time to make an impact doing the things well that you have been selected to do. Get involved as soon as you can to settle your nerves.
A tackle, a good pass, a well-executed kick – and another one – and another, all of which build consistency, momentum and confidence.
And if there is a setback; four goals down or two early tries conceded, have the resolve and determination to bounce back and focus on making the next five minutes the best it can be. You can’t change what has gone but you can change the next five minutes. Win the 50-50 moments so that you can change the momentum and regain control on the pitch and, if all goes well, the scoreboard.
Just do what you normally do. Everything will then start to fall into place.
Accept the challenge and adapt
The third C ‘Challenge’ is about striving to be the best you can be and feeling comfortable in new surroundings. There is no bigger stage for your talents than a Grand Final.
You are well prepared so don’t be scared. You are ready to succeed this weekend. Walk tall, run fast and tackle hard.
Stay positive and confident
The fourth C ‘Confidence’ is your self-belief. Due to your preparation you will be feeling positive and confident anyway, but to ensure no negative self-doubt creeps in, keep your positive self-talk on and active about what you are doing and need to do.
Give your teammates verbal support too by encouraging them at every opportunity.
Have the confidence to take risks and make things happen, as you would normally do.
Believe in yourself. You are more than good enough.
As a neutral spectator I’m looking forward to watching both Grand Finals and will be watching for signs of their mental toughness or fragility. May the best teams win. The mentally toughest most certainly will.