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The Empty Stadium Syndrome

The Empty Stadium Syndrome

I was reading Quarantine psychology, the new element of a cricket team’s arsenal by Emma John and was thinking if there’s was one thing that defines a sports match for me other than winning it’s the roar of the crowd. I miss it so much. I have unbelievable memories of great European nights at Liverpool, IPL, Ashes Victories, International Rugby etc. where I was privileged to attend both a coach and spectator.

Now due to new coronavirus restrictions, lots of sports games, are being played without any crowd at all. As a coach I know that performing in front of a crowd can be a great distraction to fatigue. Focusing on the crowd instead of the pain or exhaustion can be an effective strategy to help athletes when they are tiring, and about to ‘hit the wall’.  I also know from my coaching that in pre match Visualisation we plan and plot strategies on how to use the crowd noise/energy for both the individual performer and the team. From my own research on the topic of crowd engagement and performance I have found that spectators booing, cheering, or remaining silent can be addressed by positive mind coping strategies.

Now, with matches and athletic events taking place behind closed doors, it’s not just about intensity and fatigue, there’s also going to be an issue with stress. The work I do on mindset conditioning, which I call the 5Ms, is all about eliminating distractions, energising muscle memory and starts with a psychological MOT followed by different levels of intense mindset conditioning. Some sports professionals are motivated and energised by crowds— it gives them that extra five per cent– and some are nervous about playing in front of no fans. There are others who are outstanding in training all through the week, but as soon as the game starts, and the crowd roars they become filled with nervous apprehension. There are individuals who could look like world beaters in training but as soon as the extra element of demanding supporters come into play, they just can’t seem to replicate their clear abilities.

In this Covid world I see energy deficiency as the biggest obstacle for athletes to return to peak performance in an unfamiliar setting of no fans. A key part of my professional activities has always been presenting and motivating people in workshops and theatres, involving large groups of people.  Since Covid I have been running virtual Zoom calls instead of doing live performances in front of crowds and I have found it very difficult to maintain the intensity and passion over hours of motivational delivery without the physiological feedback that live performances give you. In my very limited athletic career involving half marathons and marathons, especially now as an older participant, I have to say the crowds on the closing miles do give me a buzz and energy to finish strong.

Sports people are natural performers and may suffer from a significant lack of energy during potential games without fans and they will have to address this issue by striving for more meaning and purpose from within. Athletes who were honing their mental skills before the pandemic will have an extra advantage. Athletes will have to find that vulnerable space and enable the brain to go ‘You know what, I’m going to show up anyway,’ The challenge, without that collective raw energy that fans bring, may mean it will be difficult for some to reach that flow state” — the psychology term for “in the zone,” without fans being present.

I personally miss the roar of the crowd, the sense of anticipation, the collective tribal warfare, the energy, the passion, the songs and the colour that fans bring to every game/event.

My job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

I coach people from all walks of life to achieve their dreams. I work with business leaders in developing their skills; ordinary people in fulfilling their dreams; sports people in achieving their success; politicians in shaping their stories.

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About Dr Maurice Duffy

Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.