How can England prepare for the final? A sports psychologist’s view

‘How should the England football team prepare for the final?’ It’s a question I keep being asked, and in my view, we have been preparing for the final of Euro 2020 for the last 55 years. Setback after setback; critiquing, perceiving, refining, losing matches, winning, missing penalties…

So much adversity has made us a resilient nation watching a resilient team, our team, all intrinsically connected in pursuit of the same goal – to win the competition.

To prepare for a final, the England team would have had to prepare effectively before the competition started. This weekend, the preparation should be like any major match; where all controllables are managed and the build-up experienced many times, making this another opportunity to represent a passionate nation.

In my work with professional football clubs there are four steps to consistent preparations that can be applied to any environment, which I call the ‘four Ps’: Performance mode, Perceive, Plan, and Persevere.

Step 1: Park any negativity, remove distractions and turn on ‘performance mode’. 

This is an opportunity to learn from past experiences by acknowledging what went well, and what did not go to plan. For every England football team for 55 years, each player has inherited, as Baddiel and Skinner say; “years of hurt” (NB: most of the squad were not born when the song was released).

Therefore, the first step is to learn, adapt, refine, share ideas, and park any unwanted thoughts by giving attention to the task (and only the task) at hand. This removes thought distractions and allows the player to enter what I call ‘performance mode’. Only at this point can the next step be taken.

Step 2: Perceive each outcome of the match; a win, a loss, or penalties. 

From there, assess how will those outcomes be reached? What are the possible eventualities during the match that could occur? To examine the eventualities, the England team will need to perceive how Italy will play by analysing the opponents’ key strengths and weaknesses. More importantly examine the distinctness of this England Team – we are in the final because this is an excellent team who have played well consistently. Once your opponent and self-analysis has occurred, you then move onto the planning phase.

Step 3: Plan for each eventuality and ensure the team is aware of the plan. 

The plan should be broken down into smaller parts with detailed role clarity based on time and score line. By planning in detail nothing is left to chance and every part of performance (where possible) is controlled. In my work with professional football players, we would plan every detail, including if any player was to take a penalty, exactly where in the goal they would target the ball. We found that by planning in this detail, players were more confident and performed better especially when under pressure.

Step 4: Persevere with the plan. 

To do this, communication levels will need to be high, as fatigue during the latter stages of the final has the potential to lead to mistakes due to mind wondering.

Mistakes undoubtedly will be made, and we all know things rarely go exactly as we picture them, but if players could then cycle back through the four P’s: park the mistake, perceive what happened, plan for what’s next, then persevere by sticking to the plan, they’ve got every chance of success.