Winning on the Road: Mental Toughness Tips for Playing Away Games
The home field advantage in sports can be a big psychological hurdle for visiting teams to overcome, but not such a big deal for athletes and teams that are mentally tough (Sport Success 360). Without question, home teams do hold a statistical advantage over visiting teams when it comes to on-field success — yet there are no real competitive advantages that explain this difference (meaning the home team doesn’t play on a different field or use different equipment than the visiting team). For this reason sport psychologists often ask why do home teams generally win more, and even more importantly, how can visiting teams level the playing field and play with better mental toughness?
When it comes to the “home field advantage,” there are two main reasons why home teams are generally more successful than visiting teams:
- Biased, energized crowds. The home crowd is generally very passionate for their team, and often manifest their energy into a slew of signs, chants, cheers, and various other signs of support While none of these things actually change the play on the field, these efforts do usually add a perceived extra boost of confidence to the home team, while often generating increased anxiety and loss of focus for visiting teams.
- Familiarity. Home teams are very comfortable in their own surroundings, whether it’s a familiar locker room, playing field, or simply having a better feel for the logistics related to getting around the venue. Visiting teams, on the other hand, often feel out of their element trying to get quickly adjusted to their new surroundings – which can lead to poor pre-game preparation, increased anxiety, and poor focus.
Great coaches know the challenges their teams face when playing on the road, and often remind their players of the following tips as a result.
- Players need to be reminded that the game doesn’t “change” simply because they are playing on the road. The field is the same, the equipment is the same, and the referees are unbiased.
- Crowd energy, even hostile crowd energy, can be perceived as a challenge just as easily as it can be perceived a terrifying threat. In other words, teams can use the crowd energy to get pumped up similar to how that same energy can be used to arouse fear — making positive choices about how to interpret the crowd makes all the difference.
- Pre-game routines should never change – regardless of where the game is played. If players have certain routines before games to help them get better centered and focused, those same routines should be used when playing on the road. The more athletes normalize situations, the better focused they will become (as well as more confident and less anxious).
While it may not be easy to win on the road, it is possible — especially when you think about how to use crowd energy in positive ways and normalize sport surroundings (even if they are different than what is commonly experienced at home). Sport psychologists can also be helpful by teaching teams about the importance of focus, confidence, and resiliency and how to see road games as healthy challenges rather than dangerous threats. Since most championships require wins on the road at some point, it behooves teams to do all that they can to become the best road team possible.
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.