8AM: Settle those nerves
Your stomach feels like it’s wrestling a chicken phaal and your legs have turned to jelly. “Fill your energy tank by listening to your favourite music,” advises Tom Bates, Brentford’s peak performance coach. “Think ahead and picture a successful performance – the exact outcomes and phases of play."
9AM: Jump-start your morning
You may not feel like eating, but if you want to cover yourself in glory you need high-performance fuel. Elite sports nutritionist Matt Lovell recommends 100g oats with 150ml of skimmed milk and one banana: “The slow-releasing complex carbohydrates in oats sustain energy levels for 90 minutes.”
11AM: Have a good rabbit
You’ve made your bed, packed and unpacked your bag three times and completed Candy Crush. What now? “Communicate to alleviate pressure,” says Bates. “Chat to team-mates to discuss responsibilities, the game plan and set plays. This will increase clarity and boost confidence."
12PM: The last supper
Before you go into battle, bring the team together for a feast. “Keep hydrated throughout the day and eat your last meal three hours before kick-off,” explains Lovell. “Load up on carbs with a chicken and wheat-free pasta bake. A cheaper option would be baked beans on granary toast."
1.45PM: Don’t forget why you’re there
Drink in the occasion, but don’t get drunk on it: you have a job to do. “Don’t take pictures and give the impression you’re just there to enjoy the experience,” observes League Cup-winning manager Alex McLeish. “Walk around the pitch to get a sense of the scale of the place. Check the surface so you know what studs to wear, and if the pitch is bigger than you’re used to, adjust your tactics accordingly.”
2.20PM: Gentlemen, start your engines
Keep the players focused with a simple, serene warm-up. “The players are going to be really fired up already so you don’t want to send them doolally,” says Jon Goodman, director of Think Fitness. “Make sure the warm-up is calm, so the players conserve energy. Start with some dynamic movements, go into accelerated runs, then some possession games, before finishing with quick feet exercises."
2.45PM: It’s just another game
"I played in a lot of cup finals so I drew on that experience in my team talks,” says McLeish. “Don’t say they may only get one chance to play on this stage – that may add to nerves – but if it’s their first final, remind them how they got here, say there could be more finals if they play well, and tell them not to come back into the dressing room with any regrets."
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