College football mind-games

The Secret College Footballer mulls over the tactical battles of any given Monday

As any elite-level athlete will tell you, preparation is of paramount importance. Naturally, this is no different in the case of college football. Indeed, with their hectic academic, extra-curricular and social schedules crammed into Oxford’s eight-week terms, players are under immense pressure to ensure that they are in the best possible condition for every game. Managers in the so-called ‘professional’ game always complain about fixture saturation, yet they have never had to organise their week to accommodate a game, essay deadline, tute and bop. The ability of college footballers to integrate their pre-match preparation into an already busy schedule is a testament to their own professionalism.

Obviously, it is absolutely vital for players to keep their bodies in peak condition, so that even when matches are brought forward last minute, they will always be able to rely on their fitness. It is something of a trade secret that one of the most effective ways to prepare the body for 90 minutes of high-intensity sporting excellence is to oversleep on the morning of the game.

If the lie-in is long enough, not only does it aid recovery from the inevitable visit to Park End the night before, it also ensures that the journey to the sports fields is less of a walk and more of a slightly exasperated-looking jog. This provides players with a warm-up before they even reach the ground, giving them an initial physical edge and a subsequent psychological one, as their less conscientious opponents become disheartened by their evident preparation. To the uninitiated, this tactic might seem suspect due to the risk of missing the team warm-up, but the ‘en route’ warm-up has one clear advantage: it does not take place in full view of the opposition. Why persevere through a meticulous training programme just to let the other team know what you’re all about straight away? Some of the greatest success stories of college football have been built on a minimalist attitude to training.

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With so much to think about, mental preparation is just as important as physical. Despite the intellectual rigours of the tutorial system, preparing for a title decider is the toughest mental challenge that college footballers will face during their time in Oxford. It is important for players to maintain a high level of mental fitness for such occasions, and this can be achieved by performing certain exercises, such as thinking about college football at every opportunity. Any captain worth his salt will integrate these exercises into his daily routine, so that they hardly seem like exercise at all. Sitting in the library, apparently pouring over a problem sheet, their mind will in fact be occupied by thoughts on the next game. Or perhaps stuck at the back of a lecture, they might sketch out a couple of potential formations. To 4-3-3 or not to 4-3-3?

Beneath Oxford’s spires, the old adage that a game is won before the teams even step onto the pitch, certainly rings true.