Intoxicated On Euphoria

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It’s the division one play off and the City Ground, Nottingham is buzzing. Forest are eight minutes away from a Wembley assignation which history and destiny seem to demand. Rolling back the years, The Championship is within touching distance. Suddenly, Yeovil pull a goal back and panic sets in. Coach, Colin Calderwood tries to defend his now precarious lead, but it is too late. They have lost the initiative.

In extra time Forest are down to nine fit men. Exhausted and dishevelled they are ready to capitulate. Yeovil seize the moment and plunder a fifth goal. At the final whistle they rush across to their jubilant fans. The players’ shirts are off, they are punching the air, they are yelping, they are dancing.

But wait. They have another match to play. And it is in this moment that their chances of promotion have gone. Right there in front of their own fans. With each celebratory gesture they are draining their emotional reserves. Intoxicated on the thrill of it all, they are reckless. In sports psychology parlance, they are ’emotionally drained’.

The Emotional Peak

In many ways this reaction is understandable. They have won a game they were not expected to win; they have scored five goals at the home of the former European champions; they have given everything of themselves; they have reached an emotional peak.

However, the excess of celebration sends a distorting message to the collective subconscious; it corrupts the team ethic. And suggests that this is it. The fulsomeness of the celebration creates arbitrary limits, so that no more can be demanded.

To win this tie, Yeovil have gone way out of their comfort zone. But, remember, they are in the same league as Forest and should not have been so daunted by the task or so overwhelmed by the victory. They appear to think have broken through some barrier, the barrier of possibility.

To the players it feels weird. Somehow, they need to feel normal again. Discharging their emotions in front of their fans seems to do this.

All the emotional resources they have had to draw on to beat Forest are now being consumed. This is priceless fuel they are expending. They have mined precious emotional treasure. Now they are giving it all way like some imprudent philanthrope. There will be nothing left for tomorrow.

And play off final Sunday beckons. Yeovil are easily beaten by Blackpool, whose push and run style deny Yeovil access to the ball. The Glovers cannot get going. Manager, Russell Slade, suggests that it was one game too far for his team. He was right.

However, if after beating Forest, they had simply applauded their fans and walked off, then the final may have played out differently. To do that he would have asked his players to recognize the City Ground victory as expected. That it was a mere stepping stone to Wembley success. That it was normal.

Roy Keane’s decision to say no to an open top bus ride for his Sunderland champions was a smart move. It sends out the message that we are not surprised by our achievement; that there is much more than this to come; that the Championship title is within our comfort zone. It’s the least of our expectations. It keeps their emotional energy in check for tougher assignments ahead. It tells the club that, for Keane, who bestrode the European scene like a Cork Colossus, winning at the second level is hardly to be acknowledged, let alone celebrated. In the psychology of sport, the message is everything.

The Sports Psychology Summary…

If Yeovil make the play offs in 2008, the experience of the City Ground will stand them in good stead. An unexpected victory against the odds will not surprise them because, paradoxically, they will have learned to expect the unexpected. It is in their history. And it will enable them to leave the field calmly, knowing that they have unfinished business ahead.