The 2010 AFL Grand Final: When the going gets tough

Anyone who watched Saturday’s AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and St Kilda will have an opinion about the outcome.  Some say it’s a travesty that there was no result on the day and some say that the premiership being decided by another game this weekend is the greatest test of who is the better team.

The fact that Saturday’s game was so close means that this is a premiership that will be decided based on which team is stronger mentally.  Both Mick Malthouse and Ross Lyon commented in their post-match interviews that whichever team is more mentally tough in the coming week is the one that will win next weekend.

So, who will it be?  Which team is tougher and which team can get the mental game right this week and finish the job next weekend?

When we are looking at mental toughness in football, especially in deciding this premiership, we are looking for a number of key factors.
Looking forward: The team that can take some lessons away from Saturday’s game but then put the game behind them and focus entirely on the next game is the team that will win this premiership.

Playing like it is THE grand final: The team that can treat next weekend’s match as “the” grand final and not as “another” grand final will win this premiership.  In order to win next weekend the players must generate all the motivation, determination and excitement that they displayed in Saturday’s game.  Some people will say that its easy to “get up” for a grand final but this will be tested next weekend.  It is almost certain that after next weekend we will be talking about one of these teams as not being able get up for the match the way they did the weekend before.

Unshakable self-belief: The team with the self-belief that is as strong next weekend as it was on Saturday is the team that will win this premiership.  On Saturday both teams showed that they believed they could win.  The team that continues to believe in themselves, backs themselves and takes their chances is the team that will win this premiership.  Confidence will play a huge role next weekend and the team that believes they can do it all over again, even after Saturday’s result, is the team that will win.

Routine – doing the little things: Since being able to focus on the game ahead will be so important, the team that sticks to their routine is the team that will win this premiership.  With no result in the ‘first’ grand final, it is even more critical that players stick to their usual routine.  They will have to go through their recoveries, stick to their nutrition and hydration regime, work with their strength and conditioning coaches, visit their physios.  This may sound very simple but in a situation like we are seeing now it is easier than we think to let the little things slip.  The team that is disciplined and doesn’t let go of the little things is the team that will be victorious.

One team not a group of players: Every player will feel differently to the outcome of Saturday’s game.  We saw a clearly unhappy Nick Maxwell after the game and he certainly wasn’t the only one.  The group of players who can be unified by a single focus and not have some players carrying a chip on their shoulder from last Saturday’s game is the team that will win this premiership.

It is mental toughness that will win this year’s grand final.  

As sport psychologists we work with many athletes in many sports to help them develop and build mental toughness.  But this is a very unique situation and I guarantee the team that can tick off every one of the factors above is the team that will win next weekend’s match.

Regardless of how the players and coaches feel about the current rules and regulations governing drawn grand finals the reality is that both teams knew the situation going in.  And the reality is that both Collingwood and St Kilda need to address the factors that we have just discussed if they are gong to win next weekend.

It is fairly normal for all players and coaches to feel upset, frustrated, or angry about Saturday’s game.  But “normal” won’t win premierships.  The team that holds themselves to a standard above normal this week is the team that will win the 2010 AFL premiership.

Mental Notes Consulting works with athletes of all levels and in all sports to help them achieve their goals in their sport.  For more information on our Mental Toughness for Sport Program or any of the services we provide visit our website at or send us an email at

Matt Ahlberg | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS