Ian Holloway's five-step guide to winning the play-offs at Wembley

Ian Holloway guided Blackpool to the Premier League in 2010 after a Championship play-off final victory over Cardiff
Image: Ian Holloway guided Blackpool to the Premier League in 2010 after a Championship play-off final victory over Cardiff

Ian Holloway's managerial career has been defined by his success in the play-offs.

He's been through five play-off campaigns as a manager, achieving promotions to the Premier League with Blackpool (2010) and Crystal Palace (2013) while also suffering final defeats with Blackpool (2012) and Queens Park Rangers (2003).

He has been there, done it, experienced highs and suffered great heartbreak - so, what's the key component for reigning supreme in this dramatic format?

Ahead of a weekend of Football League play-off final action, all of which you can watch live on Sky Sports, we asked him for a his five-step guide to winning at Wembley....

Holloway secured promotion via Wembley again in 2013, when his Crystal Palace side beat Watford in 2013
Image: Holloway secured promotion via Wembley again in 2013, when his Crystal Palace side beat Watford in 2013

This is the pinnacle of the whole season. Every mile every supporter has travelled will be worth it when their team steps out onto the Wembley pitch.

The play-off final embodies what football is all about and why it's such a monumental part of my life. I've lived through the ups and downs of probably about 1,000 lives. We all have to be able to dream. Go with what your heart wants.

Image: You have to go through dissapointment, to appreciate the ups, says Ollie

As a football supporter you shouldn't do it just because you want the good times - you should be there through thick and thin for your team. Trust me, there is no better place to be than Wembley when your team has just won. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. 

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How do you go about winning it? Well, here are five important things to consider. 

1) Manage your emotions

The play-offs have given me the best and worst feelings in the world - dealing with those emotions is the absolute key to achieving success in this format.

To quote Muhammad Ali, it's about the will, not the skill. That makes people champions.

You have to feel both sides of the coin to understand the play-offs.

I think I've got it sussed now. It's all about ascendancy and gaining it. It's like a tug of war, but an emotional one.

Ollie's Wembley predictions

Ollie's Wembley predictions

Which clubs does Ollie fancy?

I prepared my lads at Blackpool by explaining to them the feeling you get when you lose and the emotion you feel when you win.

Your players need to be like robots and not get too emotional on the play-off roller-coaster. That comes through extensive work on the training ground to programme their minds to deal with different situations.

When Blackpool fell behind against Cardiff in the 2010 final, it was all about putting the ball back down calmly and regaining the ascendancy.

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My message was: "We're 1-0 down, so what? How can we get at them? We can deal with the emotion of going behind, but they can't. That's our advantage."

In that play-off final against Cardiff where we kept coming back, Cardiff didn't get back into the game because they couldn't get over the negative feeling of falling behind.

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It's about being mentally ready for every single thing that can happen on a football field so you don't become too drained - that can then affect you psychically.

2) Don't tense up

Whoever plays how they normally do will come out on top. Rather than getting caught up in the occasion, it's key to stay on task, realise what got you here in the first place and do all the basics right.

The build-up and walk onto the pitch at Wembley is a test of nerve.

Highlights of the 2010 play-off final between Blackpool and Cardiff as Ian Holloway led the Seasider's to the Premier League.

Everything is relatively quiet in the tunnel and then bang, you hit this wall of noise. When you walk out, they've got those torches that go off that almost take your face off!

Everything is tingling then and although you don't want to show it, you're almost in a different state - like you're dreaming.

I wish I could get that feeling every day. It's like being at the top of a rollercoaster and then shooting down at 100mph - your stomach feels like it's somewhere else. If only you could bottle the feeling, you'd sell it for millions of pounds. 

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3) Mind games

You can get this wrong, massively. As a manager, you've got to be really careful what you say and do in the build-up and on the day.

No one will want to come across as nervous because that's something the opposition can feed off. It's all part of it. It does help to put a bit of pressure on the opposition when you can say you've been there and done it as a manager.

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4) A little bit of magic

You must have someone who can do something a bit special, like Charlie Adam did for me at Blackpool with a stunning free-kick against Cardiff. 

Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final second leg between Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday.

You need your big-game players to show up and do something magical. Someone who has been influential throughout the season has to deliver on the big stage otherwise your job becomes much harder. I've seen so many good players freeze on the day and not get into the game. 

Some players have a knack of perfecting their mental focus at this time of season and pushing them to the forefront is a real skill as a manager.

Curtis Davies is hoping Hull's previous Wembley experience will help with their Championship play-off final with Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

Some players can get mentally "on it" and their performance levels rocket. It's like this for all athletes, you need to get your mind in the right place to play the right game. If you do that then instinct takes over for you to perfect your skill.

DJ Campbell was brilliant at it, so was Adam. They both had that little bit extra to produce at the right moment. Kevin Phillips was the same. Was I worried when he stepped up for that penalty for Palace? No chance. He would have scored it 20 out of 20 times.

There's more than enough players on show to excite us this weekend, whether we're in the stadium or watching at home. 

5) Preparation

The build-up to a play-off game is wonderful. Everyone around the place is smiling in the sunshine and wishing you luck.

If you get past the semi-final, you've got 10 or 11 days to plan everything. However, it's crucial to get everything planned down to a tee immediately after the semi-final.

You can go and get your suits sorted, book hotels for the players and their families and make sure everyone that wants a ticket gets a ticket, knowing that your family are there is a massive thing for all concerned.  

With just five days to go before their League 2 play-off final with AFC Wimbledon, the Plymouth team have been getting suits fitted for the big day.

You can lose your focus as a manager or a player if you get caught up too much in the razzmatazz of the build-up and leave a couple of stones unturned. Suits, hotels and tickets can be a massive distraction if not sorted early. 

Preparation is everything. Just look at Middlesbrough last season. I'm in no doubt the fact their coach turned up late to Wembley affected the players when they lost to Norwich. They didn't look relaxed, they were anxious. Aitor Karanka would have been affected too, as he's so meticulous.

When we got the final at Blackpool, the club had done it before, so they knew how to organise everything, which took a huge amount of pressure of me and the playing staff.

It was magnificent and simplified everything. I took the same philosophy and plan to Crystal Palace and it worked a treat. We benefited hugely from such a simple formula, although I had to convince owner Steve Parish to wear suits rather than tracksuits.

Preparation is everything. Just look at Middlesbrough last season. I'm in no doubt the fact their coach turned up late to Wembley affected the players when they lost to Norwich.
Ollie on preparation

I wanted my lads to look and feel crisp when walking into Wembley. I thought it was important. It worked too as Watford showed up in tracksuits and looked scruffy. We were 1-0 up from that moment on - little psychological edges like that can make a huge difference.  

Watch every Football League play-off final game live from Wembley on Sky Sports. Find the full schedule here.

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