Thursday, 31 January 2013

Home or Away -what's the difference ?

Well this appears to be a simple question with some simple answers, could be as straight forward as the away team has just spent 2 to 3 hours on a coach not eaten properly and had their match day routine completely disrupted........for most teams, all levels, this is the case....simply not physically ready.

However, across all team sports, in the professional age with teams travelling the night before, sometimes days before, eating correctly, own chef/ nutritionist on board and having gone through a regular away match routine.....there yet still seems to be a 'Home Advantage'.......why? What is going on, even in World Cups where teams are away for weeks on end the host nation appears to perform better. Is it all in the mind, is it a self fulfilling policy....'' we are away today so not expected to win '' how much influence does the coach have, can the coach have ?

As an aside to those that coach no matter what level, have you ever been at a game with your team and before kick off, home or away, just had that feeling something is not right and today things were not going to go well.....I have. I used to muse over these moments and think it could be just me and my mood was/could influence the team in a negative manner.

So i decided when I felt like this the best course of action was to either get away from the team or get one of the other coaches who appeared very up and positive about the game to take a role closer to the team. In time I learnt to mask these feelings always staying close to the team, however it became clear that the underlying feeling was still present and it was mainly/mostly coming from the team....the body language, the aura ....something just was not right.

Now I cite this example because it dovetails into what I believe from my experience to be the core issues as to the '' Home Advantage" conundrum. These feelings did not just suddenly appear on match day they were most often a build up during the week. I can't give you answers but for sure during the build up during the week something had happened to allow these feelings to develop. Was it the words used to assess the forthcoming match...that is inadvertently giving too much praise or not enough to the opposition....putting too much emphasis on how we would tackle the match only to find on the day a key player to our plans was unavailable or the conditions changed or simply we spent too much time thinking about the game....or we had changed all the routines.

On this last point I can give you a clear example from my experience. 4 losing Cup Finals at Twickenham. They were a big challenge based on form but not too great. In my last year as coach
Nigel Melville took over the team half way through the season. The team once again reached the final and won. The preparation was the key. In the build up to the losing finals I would for some reason change everything, meet in a hotel the day before, fill in the greater available time with endless analysis and discussion about the game, basically not take focus off the game for one minute. I did this because it was expected, I should have followed my instinct, been stronger. I was uncomfortable with all this, so goodness knows what the players were like. For the winning final the players stayed at home the night before the match, arrived in branded taxis, mixed with supporters on arrival and were unbelievably relaxed and confident....and won.

As each final for me came and went I realised I should of known better. After the winning final the penny finally dropped when I related the experience to an earlier experience which had shaped the way I had prepared the team, week in week out, home or away, during the normal league season. I had not valued the way we went about things enough or recognised the importance of the regular preparation and/or the one or two particular things we did to combat teams with renowned home records "fortress this fortress that". During all those four finals I had made the team nervous, uncomfortable, less confident.

The most imposing challenge during my time coaching was Leicester at Welford Road. Over time I developed a special approach to these games which had evolved from a previous experience, on reflection this experience also helped get me to my penny dropping moment, simply pulling all my experiences ...on comes the light. It addresses several aspects of this home advantage conundrum.....not all for sure but certainly from my experience it has had positive affect.....key point here is playing home or away the team need to be relaxed but aroused, confident and able to deal with all the differences that an away match presents.

During my time as Wasps coach I was also lucky enough to coach England 'A' Saxons. Richard Hill was the Head Coach and thoroughly prepared the team, we had a strong squad and were set to play New Zealand midweek touring team at Welford Road. Now technically we had home advantage, but for both teams mostly it was an unfamiliar environment. Richard was confident, I was confident, the team vibe was confident. Now without looking it up I can't remember the result but this really is not the point....simply one team is most often stronger than the other and no other factors affect the result, here they did.

We had the Leicester home changing room. For those that know Welford Road this is situated at closest end to pitch exit whilst the away team is down the far end of a long corridor. Always a lot of talk about away changing rooms being small, difficult, painted in depressing colours all to emphasise that home advantage. I don't think this has much direct affect. What does have affect is sitting in your lounge at Home with guests around who start to control your TV remote, move your furniture around, bring their own chairs, switch your lights on and off etc.....basically take you out of your comfort zone, your confident zone, take ownership of your home.....ask yourself how would you feel, what would you do....would you be calm, controlled if a guest behaved like this ?

Well, whilst I was very happy to be in the Leicester home changing room, suddenly outside our door was an almighty commotion. Up and down the corridor NZ squad players were running up and down, officials were moving people out of the way, trainers shouting instructions....taking control of the space, the environment. Players coming out of our changing room were having to look left and right to check it was all ok, almost like being prisoners in our own changing room. Everyone was polite and smiling at each other but, but, but the game in affect had kicked off early and NZ were controlling it.

Next time I went to Leicester, down the end of the long corridor opposite the away changing room was a fire door. I opened it and instructed our players to use this to access the pitch and not walk down the corridor past all the Leicester officials, coaches etc. who blocked the way, made comments and seemingly asked for permission to pass by. Oh they did not like and safety....must close the door etc.......yes ....we were one score ahead ...We decked out our space, made it our own and maintained control...we won some lost some but most importantly performed well to the best of our ability. To this day I see teams either by design or not dominating space in and around the changing rooms, giving an early signal to refs and officials that we are in charge, playing with the officials minds and to my mind gaining an advantage. The actions by the NZ team may not have been manufactured but they had an impact.

We want our team to be confident, relaxed and aroused to the right level in order to perform well. I think if a guest around my house or your house, behaved in a fashion I described above you and I would react, but would this reaction be controlled, appropriate to purpose. Timid is no good and anger is no good.

Home or away, the 15 players are the same. The physical prep differences can be minimised. Get the feelings inside the heads of players the same home or away and the result should be the same. However, every word spoken, every gesture made, every written word and also the body language of players, staff, supporters during the week leading up to the game and on game day itself all contribute to the performance and hence the result. A change of tactics or selected players will have impact but much less so than the power of the mind set on the day.

A strong home record can be a positive but can quickly turn into a negative when the record needs to be protected. To much emphasis that the game is away can be the end of the game if this is presented as a negative and you are therefore not expected to you are giving the message don't worry if we's away.

There is simply no logical reason why playing home or away should be any different or have any impact at all on the outcome. I won't get onto refereeing and a feeling by the ref that the home team should win !!!! We all seem to believe that home advantage advice would be forget that.

No comments:

Post a Comment