This Saturday 18 May, the Watford FC manager, Javi Garcia, will lead his team who are the underdogs against the Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team. The fact that the Hornets have not been in a major cup final since 1984 will add a layer of vulnerability to the Hertfordshire team as they face a team that has won 8 major titles in the last 8 years alone.
So how will Watford cope psychologically with the prospect of potentially lifting the FA Cup trophy? One can only imagine the excitement and anticipation that the Watford players are going through as they count the days down to the Final at Wembley Stadium.
In a recent interview with Betway, sports psychologist Dan Abrahams explains, the referee’s whistle signalling the start of a career-defining game and is a feeling that any player will relish and perhaps be anxious about.
“The implications of the different atmosphere can bring performance anxiety, which can be crippling,” says Abrahams, who works on a consultancy basis for AFC Bournemouth and Swedish top-flight side Ostersunds, having previously worked with the FA, PFA, LMA and a host of Premier League and Championship clubs across his 19-year career.
Every second of the game matters in these fine margin games, it has to be a give it all mentality and focus non-stop for all the Watford players, especially against a winning team like Manchester City who can destroy you if you fail to anticipate their next move.
Abrahams adds “as the name performance anxiety suggests, players can experience psychological anxiety and physiological stress response,” he continues: “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.
With the 34-year-old Watford defender José Holebas now clear to play in Saturday’s FA Cup final, after his red card against West Ham was rescinded. There is no doubt Garcia will count on his maturity and experience, but there is no doubt that other physiological factors come into play, according to Abrahams “there’s an increase in bloodflow to the front part of the brain and a greater amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing around your body,”.
He adds that “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. Obviously those are the kind of things you want.”
Should Watford be able to surprise everyone with a win against City this Saturday, there is no doubt that overcoming the psychological barrier will be one of their greatest feats.