West Ham United

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It’s late into West Ham’s vital encounter with Tottenham Hotspur and the Hammers have managed to gain a 3-2 lead with minutes to go. Moments later, the visitors have plundered two goals to snatch the points. In the stands, Icelandic chairman Eggert Magnusson has his heads in his hands. Manager Alan Curbishley is aiming frustrated kicks at his water bottle. The fans are sitting dumb-struck in their seats. Like Newcastle United’s spectacular Premiership capitulation in 1996, it has all the hallmarks of a classic act of self-sabotage.

What Would A Sports Psychologist Do?…
With the Hammers staring relegation in the face, and reports of dressing room unrest and egomania rife, what would a sports psychologist do if invited to help in such a situation?

Firstly, for a sports psychologist to be invited into a club to offer constructive support, requires a recognition by management, that they may not have all the mental and emotional resources needed to transform a situation. This is not an admission of weakness, but a frank assessment of their strengths. It respects the need for a neutral, unbiased presence, at emotional distance from the in-house shenanigans, that can make frank assessments of both players and management.

The next steps for the sports psychologist…
The first and most important conversation would be with the chairman. Eggert Magnusson. His body language is of a man who doesn’t hide his feelings. His angst is visible for all to witness. Whilst this could be seen to be admirable, the role of chairman requires a coolness and sense of perspective that sends out a message to the fans. The message is, that despite current adversity, all will be well.

This clarity arises from a long term vision and strategy that has taken all eventualities into account. The chairman mindset is calm and steady. ‘On my watch nothing will faze me’, should be the message. That he knows how to turn this situation round. And that the fans know that he knows. It’s a sense of certainty that is born out of good experienced leadership.

The Wise Leader…
The chairman has to rise above the ebb and flow of feelings and emotions. Running a football club should not be a way of getting unmet emotional needs met. These emotional needs can range from the need to be loved, respected, acknowledged and appreciated. A wise leader will never seek to get these needs met in the public arena.

Failure to radiate a cool, certain presence sends out the message that instant success is critical to the future of the club. That any defeat has the potential to send the club spiralling into an uncertain future.This naturally increases the pressure to succeed. Players and fans become aware of the pressure and fear replaces calmness. Under pressure that fear leads to poor concentration and mistakes.

Sports Psychology Summary…
When the going getting tough, West Ham fans instantly turn to the stands to observe the chairman’s reaction. Thus, Eggert Magnusson inadvertently sets the emotional tone for the club. He becomes part of the story, embroiled in the emotional roller-coaster.

For the Hammers to break out of this cycle of self-destruction will require patience and a long-term strategy. It begins with the chairman.