After sixteen games in the Championship, Ipswich Town have won seven home games out of seven. Fortress Portman Road. Away from home they have yet to register a single away win. It’s a problem that could well make the difference between automatic promotion and the lottery of the end of season play-offs.
So how does a team resolve such a dilemma. How do you develop a winning mindset away from home? Clubs often try to change their routine when they encounter away form blues. For example, travelling down on the day of the game rather than an overnight hotel. Invariably this doesn’t work. The key to improving away form lies in the pre-match preparation.
So often, when a team arrives at the away ground, say around one o’clock. the players troop out onto the pitch with their programmes and mobile phones. They wander around the centre circle for fifteen minutes then return to the dressing room. Acclimatisation over.
This is not the best use of this time. A better plan is for the players to thoroughly walk around all sides of the ground. Starting in one corner the aim being to imprint mental pictures of the ground. Looking into the stand. Looking at the pitch from the touchline. Memorising the adverts. Standing inside the net looking upwards and outwards. Mental pictures. Immerse yourself in pictures.
The purpose of the exercise is thorough familiarisation. So that nothing is strange. Thus when you start playing, your nervous system is settled. Thus you are settled. When the game starts you will see images around the pitch that you are already familiar with. It’s a technique Michael Jordan pioneered. He would arrive at an away venue and introduce himself to all the staff. He would then go onto the empty court and familiarise himself with the seats and the court. Thus by the time the game started he would be throughly at home in the venue. It had become his home. He had made it so.
So – when the walk around the ground is complete, then the players stand on the pitch in their respective positions. Taking mental pictures of their colleagues positions, against the backdrop of the stands etc. The players can make mental links between themselves, like chains of support. Building a web between them.
This process should take about twenty minutes. Thus when the game starts the ground looks familiar. Feels familiar. Because, by now, it is familiar. You the player, feel at home there. And when you feel at home, you can play better football.
It’s a formula Ipswich Town may want to try. After all, whatever they are doing currently isn’t working.