Leeds Met psychologist assess mental pressures of peak performance
Contesting a major final in any sport can be an exciting yet sometimes daunting prospect for the players and coaches involved. The pressure of expectation from the supporting fans, the anxiety associated with thoughts about the negative consequences of not performing well on the big day, even the positive mental images of the victory parade promised to the winning team - all of these thought processes, if left unchecked, have the potential to influence the behaviours and decisions made by the players on the pitch. All this means that ahead of the Carnegie Challenge Cup final to be played at Wembley Stadium on August 25, both sets of players will be working hard to ensure that they are mentally as well as physically prepared.
In the case of Leeds Rhinos, it could be argued that the mental preparation will take slightly greater priority, particularly if they are still wrestling with the painful memories of two consecutive Challenge Cup final defeats. In 2010, the Rhinos were beaten convincingly by the same opponents they will face this year, Warrington Wolves. The following year, the opponents were Wigan Warriors and although the contest was a much closer affair, the Rhinos were unable to find that elusive Wembley win. Fortunately for Leeds Rhinos, these cup final defeats might work to the team's advantage provided the players are able to identify and focus on the positives that inevitably come from such experiences. For instance, the memories that the players and coaching staff hold about the previous cup final encounters will allow the opportunity for them to learn from any past mistakes and prevent them from occurring again.
Thoughts of the 2010 final in particular may help the team to fine-tune specific aspects of their strategy as they prepare to do battle a familiar foe. In addition, having been previously exposed to the intense pressure that comes with a Challenge Cup final appearance, many of the players can approach the event with confidence as they will know exactly what kind of performance environment they are likely to experience. This prior exposure can act as a sort of vaccine which can help athletes build up an immunity to the big occasion. By viewing their previous experiences through a positive lens, mental images of past defeats can be used as an effective preparation tool. Rather than relying on the hopes associated with "Third Time Lucky", the Rhinos can take action to ensure that they go into this year's final "Third Time Ready".