Expert says Norwich City must treat derby successes with care

The mental aspect of the derby will be key, says Dr Victor Thompson.

The mental aspect of the derby will be key, says Dr Victor Thompson. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City would be taking a risk by drawing too much inspiration from their recent East Anglian derby dominance.

That's the view of leading sports psychologist Dr Victor Thompson ahead of the Canaries' Championship play-off semi-final duels with Ipswich Town.

The boys from Norfolk have won four matches on the bounce against the Tractor Boys, including clashes home and away this season.

But Dr Thompson feels care needs to be taken in emphasising the importance of those memorable triumphs going into the first leg at Portman Road.

The London-based specialist, who has worked with various amateur and professional sportsmen, women and teams, said: 'They (Norwich) can certainly play on those good experiences from before and try and repeat what they did to help win those matches.

'If the staff were to do lots of what they did before it should help the players feel more confident about what's going to come up or happen this time. If you over-hype that (winning run) too much though you can get some players starting to think it's going to be the same again, a walkover perhaps.

'If the players are not prepared and focused well enough and they get off to a bad start they can be taken a bit by surprise. It can then take a while to recover from that. That's sometimes why you get upsets in sports like football.'

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The man behind knows a thing or two himself about dealing with the big stage.

He, as an amateur, has competed in four triathlon world championships and made three appearances at its European event.

So he is only too well aware of the need to deal with the external factors that will need to be controlled as a by-product of stepping into a massive sporting occasion.

'I'm not going to say psychology can make someone twice the player,' said Dr Thompson.

'But if you don't manage the mental side it can make you half the player.

'It can really get in the way of a player's performance and make them have less of an effect on the outcome. Much of it is down to how much they (the players) are exposed to the pressure and how much they take on board the fact it is a do-or-die game or the most important one of their lives.

'For some, that will excite them and they will think 'yee-ha, bring it on, this is what I play for', while others will think 'oh no, what happens if it goes wrong? What happens if I or the team don't perform?'

'That's the negative impact of what can happen but the positive outcome is if the player then believes this is a special day and they see that pressure as a great opportunity to succeed rather than a threat of failing.'

One of Alex Neil's and Mick McCarthy's roles, along with their colleagues, will be to ensure their troops are fully prepared for the mental and physical battles that await.

Fans of both clubs will have been gearing themselves up for this afternoon's clash at Portman Road from the moment the derby dates were sealed with Norwich finishing third and Ipswich sixth.

Yet far from watching on with a feeling of helplessness, Dr Thompson insists the supporters – especially those who have travelled to enemy territory – can do their bit too to try and help their heroes claim a famous victory over two legs.

Dr Thompson added: 'It's different for the fans. They're observing it from their own perspective, a huge game, and they're not able to influence it in any big way. Fans will be feeling the same as the players in some ways. It'll be just as exciting for them that they've got the opportunity to make the most of this big derby.

'They can do that by supporting the team if they go a goal behind, keep encouraging them when they're doing well, and getting behind their players. That can be done on social media in the build-up to the game, by signage at the ground or chanting to try and show good support to maintain any positive momentum.

'There's no getting away from it being a massive game. The build-up, the noise, the media and the fact it's a derby. They're a bit like turf wars. Manager and players know that but they just have to do the same as what normally leads to good performance.'