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Wrexham AFC: The fastest growing club in the world
The name Wrexham may come as a mystery to football fans across the globe, but this Welsh city located in the borough of Wrexham county is quickly making a name for itself globally.
In a city of blue collar workers, they all share the same passion – their beloved Wrexham Association Football Club. A club that has some of the richest history that you will find across any sporting codes around the world. Founded in October of 1864, Wrexham AFC is the oldest Association Football side in the world. Nicknamed the Dragons, they are the heart and soul of this Welsh community and the football team competes in the National league, the English fifth tier.
The name Wrexham may be ringing a few bells in readers’ minds by now. The Dragons have rapidly rose to the top of football news tabloids across the globe in the past two years after its high profile sale to Hollywood Actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds in November of 2020. This created much noise around Wrexham, but what was to follow could not be imagined.
Whilst News outlets and football media pundits were debating the intentions of the club having American ownership, Wrexham was working tirelessly behind the scenes to put themselves back on the map. The rich history of the club, which includes the home ground of Racehorse Ground, is the world’s oldest international football stadium. The potentially bright future for the Dragons is one of the reasons why Reynolds and McElhenney jumped at the opportunity to buy at a price tag that cost the pair £2million ($3.32 million) in total.
With high profile owners, comes equally high profile opportunities. Disney+, the online streaming platform home to a whopping 221 million subscribers, saw the potential in the Wrexham AFC story – arguably one that is only just beginning. The documentary follows the club’s journey through the 2021 National League season in their pursuit to gain promotion into League 2. Reynolds and McElhenney have both stated that the goal for the club in 2022 is to be promoted to the next tier, with their long term vision for the Dragons eventually making a top flight appearance in the English Premier League.
Disney+ has done a compelling job in capturing the excitement and optimism surrounding the club. The ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ series paints the picture of a true underdog trying to survive and battle their way to the top. With the show’s episodes being released weekly in the midst of the club’s season, it has generated massive amounts of interest both domestically and internationally. A large focus has been tapping into the international markets and bringing Wrexham’s story to the world. In the United States, Wrexham merchandise sales spiked following the release of an episode. To measure the direct impact the documentary is having on its US viewers, a data science team from global e-commerce firm Pattern analysed consumer demand for Wrexham AFC merchandise on Amazon daily for the year to date. They found that merchandise sales skyrocketed by 47% on average the day after an episode is released – with Wrexham football shirts being the most in-demand item with an average increase of 113%.
With such an interest in the club, many new fans are asking the question of how they can watch Wrexham games. This is a key area of focus for Reynolds and McElhenney who both recognise the need for streaming of games being based in North America themselves. In a bid to capitalise on club interest, Wrexham approached the National League bosses with a proposal to stream Wrexham matches both domestically and internationally. The proposal was shut down which Reynolds described as ‘truly baffling’. Instead the National League is looking to create its own streaming service for the league.
Wrexham’s proposal to the National League was the idea of free international streaming to lure new fans towards the club and league. Domestic fans would pay £10 ($16) to stream live matches with all streaming profits being given to the National League. It’s obvious Wrexham’s new owners are trying to maximise the club’s growth by getting more eyes on the Dragons through live streaming matches.
The ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary has shown the power and reach of streaming to a global audience. Reynolds and McElhenney’s focus is on connecting fans of the documentary to the club’s live matches, giving fans full access to their journey. As mentioned earlier, the revenue will come with growing interest in the club, and the spike in merchandise sales is a sign of that growth.
Psychology and sport are mixing more than they ever have before. With the advent of the internet and the increased pressure that has caused for athletes, sporting clubs and teams are now having to utilise sports psychology to get the best out of their players.
Dr Christopher Mesagno is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Victoria University. He has over 20 years of expertise in the field and has dedicated much of his research to exploring the effects of stress and anxiety in sport. His predominant focus has been in the phenomenon of ‘choking under pressure’.
Following the Matildas’ record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup run, Dr Mesagno provided Soccerscene with some key insights into what mentally might have been happening for our girls as they progressed through the tournament.
What might the Matildas have been thinking and feeling during the tournament?
Christopher Mesagno: Generally, they would be feeling excited and nervous all at the same time. It is very individual for different players as some players become very excited, while some people become very nervous and don’t like the anxiety of the experience.
If they do go to a sports psychologist or if their coaching staff knows a bit about sports psychology, they would have tried to train for that amount of pressure as much as possible, which is very difficult to emulate in a practice situation. They would at least have run though that situation and the possible experience they might have. They’ve also probably played enough to be able to deal with that situation.
As the highest viewed sport in Australian TV history, how might this pressure have affected the players?
Christopher Mesagno: With some of their finals being the most watched sporting events ever, some of them would have been dealing with it and loving it while others might have been freaking out and feeling a bit anxious. But people are individual and its very much about the individual player.
When confronted with big losses, how should athletes best prepare for their next match?
Christopher Mesagno: I would suggest as a sports psychologist that they step away from social media. In sports there’s going to be mistakes and it’s not like they want to do them, but it happens.
Stay away from the social media hype and negativity. You don’t want to carry negative thoughts and feelings into the next match. Importantly, come back to your teammates and coaches as they support and trust you. Stick with the core group that already trusts you and block out the “keyboard warriors”.
What general tips can be recommended for players facing a stressful match?
Christopher Mesagno: Athletes sometimes tend to be worried prior. Music is a way to improve mood and calm down players. Stick with regular routines, whether it be something unique in the warm up or eating the same type of food. Then during a match, get accustomed to the environment and the game setting by getting warm and loose.
After the fact during post-game – be it a win or a loss – try and learn from your mistakes and get back to normal as soon as possible and relax. Especially with the hype of winning huge games you need to go off and reset. You’ve really got to come off even the highs and try and get back to normal and relax a bit.
What is a penalty shootout like from a psychologist’s perspective?
Christopher Mesagno: Research suggests that penalty shootouts are a bit like a lottery as they are so stressful that you may not even know what you’re doing. Those who can mentally regulate themselves and bring back calmness are best placed to succeed in that environment.
When you look at the shootout, there are distinct things that players do that show if they are going to score or not. Most players only miss by a small margin but with choking you see very large misses.
The lead up to the shot-making process is the point where some researchers suggest it is more likely for choking to occur, as players in that moment may be more pre-occupied with getting out of the situation than actually lining up and executing the shot.
One thing you to detect if the players are anxious is that they speed up their penalty kick prior to taking it. The idea of relaxing and taking a deep breath can really go a long way.
These insights are a great tool for players at all levels as stress can affect anyone. For a player, knowing how to control their emotions is a crucial step in high performance and it was great to have an expert lay out some clear and tangible steps for any players to use.
Once again, we applaud the Matildas for their efforts both on and off the field during this memorable and historic tournament.
Speaking directly about the Matildas, Dr Mesagno offered his personal insight:
“It was amazing to see how the girls lifted and with Australia as well, the further they got into the tournament,” he said.
“I thought the national expectations lifted them a little bit which was nice to see.”
The FIFA Women’s World Cup has got off to a great start, where it is fantastic to see the Australian and New Zealand communities get behind their teams.
It’s exciting to follow the journey of the Matildas, who with Tony Gustavsson at the helm are sure to do the nation proud.
A tournament such as the World Cup does of course throw up some challenges, where the mental and physical wellbeing of players and coaches is of upmost importance.
In this article, I will explore the key talking points from the tournament so far and how to create a positive mindset.
Sam Kerr’s injury situation and teammate impact
It is very easy for an individual to be really impacted negatively by an injury, particularly on the eve of a competition or event. You can also be disheartened and very frustrated – affecting an individual’s mental health and causing the individual to ruminate about negative matters and issues – many of which are often outside of our control.
It will be very important for an individual such as Sam to to apply mental skills to overcome the setback of her injury and to maintain her dedication to her rehabilitation, whilst continuing to be a leader amongst the team and not become inwardly focused.
As a squad, Sam’s teammates can also incorporate helpful mental skills and strategies to overcome worry and avoid disruption. Helpful mental skills include being able to purposefully maintain the positive culture and mood within the team by applying techniques such as mindfulness sessions, and positive psychology activities, including gratitude and savouring.
Teammates may also use cognitive reframing to overcome negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions – to foster positivity and to regain their focus upon the important things they need to do to be successful.
It’s key for them to draw upon the inner support network of coaches, staff, family, partners, their teammates, and others within the Matildas to really foster positivity and to overcome negative rumination.
Other helpful techniques players could use are using affirming sounds, music, images and comforting statements. I’m also quite confident in surmising that the Australian team most likely has some group messages and themes to draw upon that they have devised in their camps leading up to this event. Having these ways to foster positivity will go a long way to overcoming the setback of injuries.
Pressure to perform as the tournament progresses
There’s pressure not only on the players, yet also the head coach, other coaches and staff, particularly because it’s a home event co-hosted with New Zealand and it can be overwhelming at times, especially as we saw in the lead up to the opening group stage game against Ireland with the focus on the expectations of the home fans that Australia that will do well.
The fact that Sam wasn’t playing at the last moment would have caused enormous pressure on everybody. However, helpful techniques that individuals in the group can use are relaxation techniques, which might include meditation, and mindfulness – which is what I particularly recommend for a group – which helps players focus their attention on what’s important and to let go and diminish distractions and non-essential matters. Other helpful techniques to create calm and relaxation might also include breath control, and imagery.
Mindfulness has been demonstrated by research to be especially good at diminishing and interrupting distractions and help individuals focus. For example, in my previous work with the Western Bulldogs AFLW team as their performance psychologist, we would always undertake mindfulness pre-game as a group.
Goalkeepers bouncing back when they make a crucial error
As technical specialists who have their own coaches, goalkeepers train away from the main group, so it is very helpful for goalkeepers to have a unique set of mental techniques to apply when things inevitably go wrong.
I’ve done a lot of work in AFL and AFLW football with the forwards when taking set shots, and it’s the same concept with goalkeepers to be able to regain and switch their focus rapidly back to those skills that help them be very successful and not to become mired or to be lost in negative thoughts, feelings and emotions when things go wrong in a match.
Thought stoppage techniques are particularly helpful, and an example of that is where at training and before a game, players practise a technique where they’re able to stop unhelpful thoughts and focus on important one, which is called anchoring.
This is a mental exercise which helps individuals cope with stressful events such as a goal being scored against them. At training and pre-game, what a player does is recalls the times where they’ve played successfully when they felt hopeful, optimistic, and positive. At the peak of that experience, they undertake a particular gesture such as clenching their preferred hand into a fist, or it might be touching their right boots.
Whatever that gesture or action is, they develop an operant conditioning association between that action, and the feeling of being positive, optimistic, confident, and hopeful. We build an association / connection between a particular experience, and a triggering stimuli.
There was a very famous Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, who conducted experiments with his dogs. Every time he fed his dogs, he’d ring a little bell, and then feed the dogs. Very rapidly, his dogs learned that if you rang the bell, that food was forthcoming and they’d start to salivate. We can deliberately create the same phenomenon by this technique of anchoring, which like a ship’s anchor, connects a triggering stimuli, that can help us recall a helpful psychological and physical state.
For example, if a player in the World Cup uses the gesture of clenching her/their preferred hand into a fist whenever they practise their helpful mental state – in the game when something goes wrong, and they recognise that they’re starting to get upset, what they can do is they clench her/their preferred hand into that fist. And that triggers the previously established helpful psychological state, which helps her/them refocus and diminish negative thoughts.
Being composed and thinking clearly during a match
Another tool that I find works successfully with the Men’s professional football players I assist is time managing worries. That’s where we tell ourselves that when a game starts, we’re going to defer any concerns or worries to before or after the game. During the game, if inevitably a worry comes into his head, what we do is we tell ourselves, “I’m going to worry about this before or after the game.”
This is a thought stopping technique, which allows us to stop negative thoughts, and defer them to a helpful and convenient time.
This is where focus and resilience skills become very important. One of the helpful skills that I use with players and sportspeople is being able to master their self-talk. At times, they may start becoming worried or panic, or even becoming disheartened, and outraged. Whatever the unhelpful emotion is, and unhelpful thoughts are, it’s helpful to master their self-talk and focus. That’s where cognitive reframing questions can be particularly helpful, where players ask themselves helpful questions to diminish negativity and refocus.
Here are some example questions below:
How can I face this current difficulty in a way that’s helpful for myself and my teammates?
How can I interpret this setback as merely being temporary?
How can I become a better player into the future by facing this current worrying concern?
What’s within my control and influence?
How can I draw upon the expertise of my teammates, my coaches and others?
What this reframing technique does is it helps stop and interrupt unhelpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, – replacing them with helpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviours through focusing on:
Our control and influence,
How we can help ourselves, our teammates and others through our actions,
Recognising that we can become better and more knowledgeable by facing this worry, and
Most importantly, the difficult worries that we’re facing will often pass and then we’ll get through them.
My general tips for anyone competing in sport
Here are my five main tips to overcome setbacks and boost your resilience.
Mentally prepare for training and competition rather than merely just waking up on the day of the game.
Set goals for yourself. Research consistently demonstrates when we set motivating and challenging goals to help, motivate and inspire us, it really helps us focus and perform.
Build your resilience and mental toughness to face whatever challenge comes your way, for example using positive and affirming self-talk and having belief in yourself.
Practise an activity to create calmness, relaxation, and focus – such as meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing or yoga – whatever your preference is to diminish stress.
Create positivity and savour it. Surround yourself with positive and beloved people, undertake enjoyable hobbies, listen to music, be around animals, enjoy nature – anything and everything that creates positivity, and then really immerse and savour that positive thought, feeling and emotion to bolster your morale and mental health.