Pressure blog two

Pressure with Michael Vaughan:   From Jessica Ennis Olympic Poster Girl to the penalties at Turin  A review by Floyd Woodrow/Richard Cross of Five Live Part Two  of three

The last blog looked at pressure in cricket and included interviews with English Cricket captain  Andrew Strauss and  Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden. This flows on with a question from Eleanor Oldroyd  to Michael |:At a point when you are coming in and have lost early wicket and as number three you are aware that the eyes of the world are on you how do you deal with it? For Michael it comes back to preparation and having a routine. I ’m sure it comes back to countless sports. Players that perform well in any sport have routines. Cricket is a tough game because you have so much time to think. It’s very similar to golf, so much time over the ball and between balls; you have a lot of things that can get into your mind. Those that do well have routines and deliver those routines. It just becomes another ball, just keep repeating the routines. You’ve done your preparation, you have been doing  it for years and you’ve just produced good performances when you do that.’ And the point is added  Eleanor when you have lost form you have elves on your shoulder, whispering in your ear and that’s pressure.

As Andrew says you’re trying to ensure people they experience it well beforehand. . Floyd and I have been working in Loughborough with a group of coaches putting the players under as much pressure as they can get under  in a training environment so that when it comes to the big event they have been here before. They understand about stepping back out of pressure, they have their routines ,they know how to perform in the pressure zone and what that do is they move up to different levels of performance. It gives them a series of tools that they can use whenever it gets tough.

As I also explained the most important thing is to make sure people have the tools to cope with the pressure.  So technically and tactically they are trained in the skills they require. Then they are put into a pressurised environment where they have consequences so we ramp up the pressure and they have to learn to deal with it.  The consequences could be a further skills session or physical session which is difficult to say the least (my five minute test for example). They are then tested without any support. Right the way through you are giving people the realization that this is important I need to prepare , I need to perform well otherwise this is going to be a pretty unpleasant experience.’ What routines am I talking about, Visualising the perfect performance, seeing yourself performing the task, thinking about the opposition, what you need to do in different scenarios.  Ensuring you have a positive mindset-your internal voice is yours and it is given you a focus on the opportunity and how good you are, remembering past performances and the behavior that made you strong, powerful, motivated (I recently worked with an aspiring footballer and I asked him how he prepared for his best ever performance.  He simply said I saw the game beforehand, I knew the game plan and how to adapt it, I arrived totally focused and even though my family were in the crowd I never even thought about them. The opposition came out to warm up and I didn’t even look at them I continued with my own warm up going through my routines, during the match I didn’t have to think about anything I just trusted myself to be in the correct position.

Having power words to call upon also help you.  Words such as (courage, determination, focus). Ensuring you stay in the now, don’t think to far ahead of the game.  Remember to trust your instincts and commit fully to each skill area.  The key though is ensuring you practice as you would expect to play. Every practice session should be high quality and played at the same intensity as a match.

Michale Finnegan likened the  Aussies approach  to a form of mental bullying. Do some go out of their way to do this.? According to Finnegan they were the greats at this no question . In South Africa there were two players they would never try that  on Jacques  Kallis  and Mark Boucher. Along with Sean Pollock and Herschelle Gibbs they were the mentally strongest people . They knew exactly what they were doing. It was part of their weaponry, they enjoyed doing it.

Again I try to control the controllables  but the best people are influencing the uncontrollables. That’s through physiology, dealing  with  adversity, these things give you an edge because at the highest levels there are fractions between the best . I’d also add that those who control the controllables and influence the uncontrollables through their optimistic, opportunistic  as well as flexible outlook and networks create their own luck.

The culture you are in also helps this. I worked in an elite environment all of my life and there is not doubt in my mind that we influenced the uncontrollables all of the time. Having like minded people around me also took away a lot of pressure and gave me a positive outlook all of the time. It gave us an edge and continues to do so.
The Pressures of being Olympic Poster Girl
Someone who has had to confront bad luck  and adversity is Jessica Ennis,  Britain’s star heptathlete and Poster girl  for 2012.In May  2008 in a routine meeting in Götzis, Austria, she suffered three stress fractures in her right foot. Her Olympic hopes were ruined.  As Michael commented in his introduction to her interview relative to the Olympics  four years preparation is required  for in some cases nine seconds.  In Jessica Ennis’s case she has two days to deliver an outstanding performance to get a Gold medal.  As he noted every time he go’s to a petrol station her face is there . There’s a huge  amount of pressure on her. Ennis confirmed her view .’There’s lots of different pressure, there’s pressure from not being able to take part in the last Olympics, the pressure of being put on a pedestal with it being h a home Olympics. But I’m enjoying it.I t’s a great time to be a British athlete. I’m enjoying it so I can deliver next year. In a funny way losing world championships does it help?  I have to look at it in a different way. Winning gold I’d like to have won leading into Olympics but it’s not such a bad thing. It’s given me so much more drive and motivation to make sure I’m back on top .It’s refocused me and  I’m using it in a positive light and hoping it will help me deliver the big one next year.’ Asked what  or who puts her under the most pressure by Michael ,Ennis was clear.’I put myself under the most pressure,  obviously there are other external pressures around, people’s expectations and how the public expects you to perform at competitions and championships, not so much family or friends, more people probably within  the sport, coaches, head coaches , but the pressure that I feel the most is probably myself.  I want to achieve the most I can achieve. That is quite a bit of pressure.’

This is again so important there is actually no pressure until you interpret the situation.  All pressure is actually self induced.  It depends on how I see the situation as the whether I think there is a lot of pressure.  The problem is that the sub-conscious mind interprets things exactly as you want them to be interpreted. It does not do right or wrong or good or bad.

One of our greatest fears is the fear of failure.  The fear can be very limiting and affect our performance in so many ways.  Our ability to transfer this from a fear of failure to seeing it as an opportunity is therefore very important.

What about your body asked  Michael.’  I used  to feel physically sick as a player . For Ennis  everyone has their routine or ritual before a competition  and deals with it in different ways. I quite like the pressure. I find if I can channel it  and control it I can use that pressure and expectation that’s put on me to turn it into adrenalin to get a better performance for myself.  I quite like a bit of pressure but it’s controlling it and how you channel it. ‘ Asked how she controls it Ennis explained ‘when I step on track I always think about a couple of technical things I need to think about in each event . I keep my mind really focussed,  I don’t think about  the cameras or the people watching at home or in a crowd.  I go into a bit of a zone. It’s easy to keep focussing on what I need to block everything else out.  Missing out of Beijing was sad, I was looking forward to that pressure and when taken out of that  and unable to compete I learned a lot. ‘For Ennis sleeping a couple of days before the first day is most difficult so far as pressure is concerned. You have done all you can do in training. You can’t make any changes at that stage. You have to try and recover and rest as much as you can so you are as fresh as you possibly  can be. During the first and second day you are so physically and mentally tired .You’re straight out like a light, you sleep really well.  A week before I play over every event in my head . I’ll go through the hurdles, the high jumps, perfect scenarios, as to how I want it to go.’
Michael then bowled a  tough question – Because you missed  the last Olympics he asked,  how do you  deal with that possibility? In cricket you get a second chance whilst in the Olympics you get one every four years and you have two days to win Gold. It’s so tough, many  people don’t understand you do that training for those two days where everything has to be 100 per cent  right, injury free, healthy,  and ready to perform to your best . That’s hard I don’t like to think about the what if’s .You drive yourself insane if you thought about injuries and possible things that could go wrong.  It’s about training as hard as you can and putting yourself in the best possible position you can

Eleanor reflected on  injury you can’t control  and the  virtues of visualization I mentioned how  interesting it is that visualization  even if you are  injured can assist yourselves to recover for details University College London (UCL) study, published in the latest online edition of Cerebral Cortex , may help in the rehabilitation of people whose motor skills are damaged by stroke, and suggests that athletes and dancers could continue to mentally train while they are physically injured.

Michael made an observation that many Olympians aren’t going to use  the home advantage of going into stadium an seeing what it is. He noted how  in cricket you go onto a  pitch  beforehand and the   same in football beforw a big European match  . Jessica isn’t even going to do that.  Home crowd is there anything better  I don’t think so says Finnegan  Eleanor who has been to five Olympics since 1992  raised  a key question.  Don’t you think that you should take people through stadium you’re advising Olympians  In Canada they made a much of ensuring Canada had access to the venue beforehand-maybe the British team need to make more of that . ‘There’s a saying at Bolton  with Sam Allardyce we treat individuals; which was person first athlete second. Let’s get to know the person If we believe getting them to the stadium makes them better we should do it but what works for me or you doesn’t necessarily work for them. We do whatever we have  to do to get them in the right frame of mind. Interesting point raised by Michael F.   My view having interviewed the Canadian developer of the on the podium said that you do everything that is required.  I would also ensure that we use home advantage as every other nation would. The key though is that it will be based on individual requirement.

I was then asked whether everyone needs a certain level of pressure to perform.  Certainly but it has to be an appropriate level of pressure. The mind has to say be aware that this is a significant event therefore I need to perform. Once you have the appropriate level of pressure it is how you make decisions in that pressure zone. The preparation they are going to do for this Olympics  should be the same as for every event they are going to do.  You must however maximise home advantage it will give them an edge.

Eleanor Oldroyd asks about the home advantage – There’s a programme London prepares. How do you recreate the feeling. I know they are doing test events build up events.  Michael F suggests it’s a great opportunity.’  I’d leave it to the athlete. We want people to take responsibility . When we were at Bolton we moved Sam Allardyce from the touchline into stand. We want  the athletes to take responsibility. In athletics you’re not allowed on the track as a coach you are outside anyway. Get them used to being mature and making their own decisions and if that’ s what they want to do. Remember the end game is to get them  into the Olympics in the right frame of mind. I don’t care if they stand on their head, eat ice cream or whatever. Get yourself into the right frame of mind to make it happen you can do whatever you like but make it happen. No excuses let’s look at it positively, let’s not look so  much a about pressure let’s talk about opportunity, let’s talk about legacy . Let’s talk about  having your moment in the sun to show the world how great you are. I want to be really positive about this and let them have the opportunity to decide themselves.  ‘ Well that’s one perspective  but I came across one World Champion who flopped at the Olympics because of the pressure which also affected her coach . There I do believe the right experience can predict those likely to be adversely affected by pressure particularly those at the early stage of their career.

Michael then quoted the Romanian gymnastic coach  as saying says just go out there and do it. And asked my views . ‘What does he mean ? What are the behaviours? If you’re not taught how can you be expected to perform at a high level, how does the mind work under pressure, what decisions do we have to make. When we talk about positive behaviours what does that mean to me. We spoke about some cricketers who would advise just get a grip.  As for Michael the Rumanian  coach gave him a flashback to playing with Geoffrey Boycott and coaching Boycott style.  I was playing poorly towards the end of my career and Geoffrey says just play straight . I said to Geoffrey that’s the point what am I going to do. Under pressure I’m not playing straight I’ve lost that ability my hands aren’t moving right my feet aren’t moving , he said just play straight. It’s easy to say what to do but how do you do that. Under pressure sometimes you lose the ability of doing the simple things well. Finnegan suggests that’s why a pundit like Boycott can’t make a great coach. Michael adds he believes he’s the best coach in the world.. With Sam Allardyce I used to say we’re not all superhuman like you are, some are just human.  This is why it is important to understand the basic skills well and they we can replicate them consistently. One we understand them we also know when something is missing.
The Pressures of the Penalty Kick

Michael a football fan all of his life has the mentality that as soon as it goes to penalty I’m sorry we’re losing. Like many fans his thought process is that if it’s penalties England are out. Fascinated by it- it should be the most simplest of skills you should be able to prepare for it he met Chris Waddle and  talked about Turin twenty years ago. Originally Chris Waddle was going to kick left in Turin 1990 ‘As I was watching it I decide I’ d go that side. When Stuart Pierce’s went down the middle I though the best thing is hit it as hard blast it  as I can and if he save sit good save. I didn’t look at the goalie  I was oblivious to the atmosphere I just put it down walked back and smashed it as hard as I can and if he saves it I thought he’s going to have to save it and if he saves it it is going to have to be a good save. Sometimes you wished you’d scuffed it but I did hit it very well. Unfortunately it went over the bar. As for the pressure you probably don’t know what’s going to come afterwards because you get it every week of your life. I also thing Stuart might think I’m glad someone else missed I’d hate to be the only one. He had a chance to redeem himself in ‘96 against Spain. Stuart was a penalty taker .I know I should score – with the ability I have I should hit the target at least. That was my third penalty in life. It was a hell of a penalty to take.  But when Bob Robson got us round in a circle I said I’d take one- I was trying to get an advert for a tissue company at the time.  He  said Gazza can’t take one he’s in bits which we all accepted. When he said someone put the  hands up there were not may hands out up. I thought I enjoyed the game,  I’d take I was confident . I never thought I’d be going on about i t I knew Germany  were good at penalties – history showed that. ‘
What advice would Waddell give England? I think we’ve built it up so with the Euro before the tournament there will be mention of penalties. When it comes to the game where there is a penalty shoot out, the other country whoever we are playing will have a psychological advantage.  If we get a draw in this game the pressure is on them boys.  We have this syndrome we we’re if it comes to penalties the players go  not again and you can hear the atmosphere in the ground’. Even Micheal admits this as a TV spectator.  ‘In the stadium that echo’s round the ground ,here we go again. It’s not a big deal , you know Italy won the World Cup on a penalty shootout against France but the Italians never made a deal of it.  They said we’re unlucky and don’t make a story of it. There’s me , there’s Southgate, there’s Pierce there’s Batty. People can name them all. If you go to Italy and ask who missed they don’t have a clue. We make this massive scene. What the media don’t realise is that pitch side then players think Oh God I hope it’s not me. If they say let’s not bother about history it must transmit. Holland has been poor on penalties but we don’t see Holland talk about it. Spain have never been great but we don’t hear them talk about it. We have this thing about it and it puts pressure on the players which you don’t need. Unfortunately from 4- 6 our mentality is win – don’t care how you win but win. That is why we are stifled as a country .That is why we will never be world champions. ‘
Eleanor Oldroyd picked  up on this -negative of Chris, ( Interesting George Sik a psychologist   believes that  pessimists shouldn’t take penalty kicks or those who volunteer out of a sense of duty .Isn’t that fascinating the view we’re rubbish at penalties she commented.
I discussed how I had discussed this with two international footballers who as they walked to the centre circle ‘the doubts came into their mind, what will happen if I miss, the pressure, this is a £60m penalty, what will people think. Of course when they arrive and take the shot it’s completely different to anything they have done in practice. For me there are some great lines you can use as markers from the center circle to once you get across the eighteen yard line, that’s when you have to have made your decision which corner it’s going to be and then hit it the ball with intent. You have to do this in practice. Consistently to remove the fear.  How do you create that in practice? You can always do it with a little imagination. – Something where as the players are coming down they are barracking you . Where you have a lot of school kids  barracking them so no matter what happens you can blank it out, all I am going to do is hit that penalty into the corner  of the net.
As Oldroyd observed the great thing every time there is a penalty shoot-out there is an inquest into the failure.  Everybody says why do we never practice penalties and recreating it . (though Capello  did in the last World Cup ) Eleanor asked Mike how do you recreate that feeling of being in the World cup semi-final with eighty thousand Mike.  Finnegan   brought in some stats. ‘ Play for a team with no penalty experience at all you are 93% likely to score. Play for a team with positive experience recall the Germans last missed one in 1982  you are 89% likely to score play for a team with negative experience as England  you are 57 % likely to score. If when the direct consequences of a penalty kick are defeat as in Chris’s case 62% of players will score. When the shot is likely to result in victory 92 % will score. Of players who have already won a prestigious personal award  only 59% score in a shoot out.  Of those players who have won no award 72% score . Of those players who have won no awards but go on to win awards 89% score . As Finnegan notes there’s so much information in that that we can learn from . There always things you can do – You can get players taking penalties at half time, in front of the away fans. Why don’t we do things like that? We just don’t think about it until the event arises. There’s not enough intent on it. I can’t see how you can recreate eighty thousand fans.’

That may be the case but there’s some  interesting articles on  what Capello did for the last world cup and some recent research worth looking at. And here courtesy of Lucozade and Prozone  is the perfect penalty formula <>   with 91 per cent of penalty kicks taken by 21 year old players are successful! Other ‘player’ variables include, the position in which they play (75 per cent and 72 per cent of penalty kicks taken by strikers and defenders, respectively, are successful, compared to 61 per cent by midfielders) If nothing else, the formula reaffirms the importance of practicing penalties.

And some research from a different angle when eye trackers were used suggests  that when  penalty-takers were most anxious, they tended to focus more on the goalkeeper. The length of time their eyes were fixed on him also increased if the goalkeeper was using some sort of distraction technique such as waving or jumping around. When the kickers were anxious, 45% of their shots were saved by the goalkeeper. When they were calmer, that save rate dropped to around 20%.

Interestingly we tell cricketers to not look at the fielders but the gaps between the fielders  as that is where we want them to hit the ball. If they concentrate on the fielder that’s where they hit the ball.

That doesn’t mention the personality attributes of the penalty kickers either and certainly in rugby it’s fascinating that some of the most composed people are the hooker and the penalty takers, particularly the fullbacks. Kevin F commented that  having  worked with two assertive football  managers David Moyes a miracle worker  and Sam Allardyce for five years at Bolton they walk on the training field the atmosphere changes. ‘You can mess about with the assistants. When they walk on they’re that serious .I’d like to see them if they are that serious stood up .I also think that we Everton my previous club  where Phil Neville was a massive change agent . When you get leaders on the pitch like that . It’s the same in cricket with Trott and Strauss. Neville and Moyes did more to lift and raise standards than anybody else. I don’t think it’s getting school kids. I think it’s getting big leaders on and make people work. For myself it’s always about getting the basic things done well. Until those are done well or we are crystal clear  and defined it’s difficult for people to understand what they really are. All of these thing and techniques are basic skills that if you understand and practice them all the time will become habitual and therefore under pressure you can say to yourself I’m  going to do them exactly the same. It seems to me that this is what Capello was trying to achieve.

For Oldroyd perhaps the purest form of pressure in any sport is the golf putt. Mike F   worked with Darren Clarke and she asked  the secret of his putting which helped him win the open. Finnegan  replied ‘we look for a magic bullet  but with him we’re letting them  talk themselves into the right solution . With putting,  people become obsessed with techniques. Is my thumb in the right place? Is the blade square?  Darren was talking on the Wednesday before you know I have to think back  to when I was twelve and didn’t know about techniques such as the position of my thumb . I just looked at the hole and knocked it in without looking at the contact point of the ball. These people have so much muscle memory if they can get out of their own way they have the in built talent to do it. It was not only about reframing what he was thinking about during his putting but also about the bigger things what we are here to do. Let’s not bother about the thumb or the details, or the match we’re here to take the chance to create some history. This is our moment. It’s our time. I think you have to get your thinking right about the skill but you also have to get the bigger picture about the opportunity and the moment to step in the light to seize the moment.’

Asked about initials  ‘prove them all wrong’ –  he mentioned how people in the media had written him off, People in the sport felt he was a spent force. That point that came from Darren. He realised a major motivation for him at that time was to have his moment to prove some people wrong .There were two or three names he had in his head. For Mike F professional sport is the  hardest sport to work in. ‘Listening  to Ennis, bear in mind I’ve been working in sport and business for thirty years. I find the less money involved the more humble and ambitious the athlete. That’s a controversial statement. I see a lot of complacency in elite sport in the Premier league. Remember Clive Woodward could not believe Southampton.  Players were turning up to training in Ferrari’s. We get used to it .I’ve written down how hungry are you. That’s my toughest sport as I don’t see the real hunger.
Mentioning Clive Woodward Eleanor brought into the discussion   a great expression going through her  head ‘’Thinking correctly under pressure’.  That’s key how do you make decisions under pressure (and uncertainty) . He nailed it.  When you have  got the South African pack bearing down on you it was about unity of purpose so that you have one single mind.
On that a neat link took us back to football when Michael  treated us to a splendid  interview with Gordon Strachan former Celtic Manager who provided an insight into the ‘old firm game. ‘‘It’s so exhilarating it’s so disappointing at the same time. – the noise the colour the atmosphere and then you here chants that you should never hear anywhere  so it can be disappointing and exhilarating at the  same time. And that along with an interview with Chris Evans will be the subject of a third blog.

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