In a recent post on All-Black culture, I discussed some of the value systems that have been put in place. The All-Black culture puts the needs of the team above that of all individuals. The challenge is for each individual to leave the jersey in a better place than they found it – to add value to it.
Upon their return from a bad beating by South Africa in 2004 at a time when they struggled to fulfill their potential, the team management along with performance psychologist Gilbert Enoka, captain Tana Umaga and vice-captain Richie McCaw went about changing the pervading culture over a 3 day conclave - the result being a transference of positive leadership from the coaches to the players.
This is what we have too often.
This is why the pros played as kids!
Evidence based report's suggest that about 25% of people in Britain (NHS 2008) and Ireland (OECD 2010) are obese with levels of growth estimated at about 1% per annum. It indicates a drastic rise from 1993 levels, when just 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women reported to be obese. Scarily, huge volumes of 4-5 year old children (24.5%) in Britain (NHS) reported to be obese in 2008. This does not account for the massive population of children that are just overweight, not yet obese but will be by the time they reach adulthood. If the growth rate continues at the present pace, over 50% of people in these countries will be obese by 2050.
In 1997, Earl Woods was there to greet his prodigal son when he finally fulfilled his dream to win the Augusta Masters. 22 years later and 14 years since his last, after much controversy in his personal life, a long hiatus from professional golf and four back operations when many thought he was past his best, he was there to win his 5th Masters - this time to be greeted by his son Charlie, daughter Sam and mother, Kultida. How the tide has turned.
Let The Kids Play
He stands there in his jersey,
fulfilling all his dreams,
Representing club and family,
and he is on the team.
The ball thrown in, the game is on,
there is movement all around,
some parents shouting frantically,
as the ball’s played up and down.
Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho recently after two and a half years in charge. It was reported that senior figures at the club were unhappy with a lack of progress in form, style of play and development of their younger players. The club felt they had sufficiently backed Mourinho with £358.7million in the transfer market on 11 players during his time in charge and that they expected a greater measure of progress within that time-frame.
He was relieved after a poor performance against Liverpool, where Liverpool had 36 attempts at goal to United's 11. United lay mid-table with a goal difference of 0 almost halfway through the 2018/2019 Premier League campaign. The United players were believed to have wanted a change of manager as far back as September 18 and were said to have felt very restricted with the rigidity of team structure imposed on them by Mourinho.
Sport psychology is often used as a support within a high-performance sporting structure. As its benefits and merits are ever more recognised and respected, some amateur clubs are on the lookout for ways in which they can use such support – often in an ad-hoc capacity. With little knowledge or helpful information available, many are unsure where to go or who to look for to provide such a service.
In fairness, there is very little regulation of the area presently and it is a little bit of a minefield in finding someone that can add value to your team or organisation. This article is written in the context of an Irish sport psychology setting.
International rugby place kickers Jonny Sexton and Beauden Barrett place the ball, set themselves, say something to themselves and mostly go about their business and put the ball between the posts.
So what exactly should they be saying and why?
In what is considered to be one of the greatest acts of sporting humility, Sonny Bill Williams gave his winners medal to a young child after he was tackled by a steward when he ran onto the pitch to greet his heroes after the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
People all over the world were mesmerised by the act.
Everybody has anxiety! We just all experience different levels of it with some people more pre-disposed to it than others. It is a topic we hear a lot about recently - a mental health issue that often went undisclosed and unspoken of in times of yore.
Typically, anxiety can be categorised into 2 levels;
1. Trait Anxiety
2. State anxiety
We all have a natural level of anxiety. We call this our trait anxiety or the level of anxiety that we are normally predisposed to. This can vary between individuals with highly anxious individuals experiencing a high level trait anxiety.
Numerous accounts of high profile athlete's suffering from depression have surfaced in recent times. This openness and honesty is both refreshing and healthy as it normalises issues that affects the majority of families at some level in some shape or form. Previously, people suffered in silence, almost ashamed to reveal their reality to the people around them. Truth be told, it is extremely common, normal and most importantly, very treatable! Unfortunately, some still choose to keep their struggles to themselves due to a perceived stigma around mental health and some unfortunately take it to the next level - often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
The nervousness started the night before the game. A former team-mate, with whom he shared a room in the early stages of his career, once called his attention to it. "He said he did everything he could to try to fall asleep before me. Before games, my right foot would twitch so hard that the entire duvet would rustle. It drove him crazy. I never noticed until he said it to me"
How often have we seen golfers do erratic things at the most inopportune times? Ernie Els made a six-putt at the first hole in Augusta a few years ago. Such poor skill execution can often be seen in golf – known as “the yips”. This often occurs when golfers feel under pressure and anxious during performance.
Why was Alex Ferguson so successful?
So we recognise that Alex has been an inspirational leader in the football world for the past 30 years or more, winning numerous titles with Aberdeen and Manchester United. So many managers have come and gone in this time, many unsuccessful. So is there something that Ferguson happens to be good at? While he may not have realised the strength of its impact, his leadership had a direct impact on the reactions and performance levels of his players.
In 2007, the All-Blacks were set to win their first Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987. They led France 13 to 3 at half time in the quarter final. In the second half, it went a little pear shaped for them and they lost 20 18 in the process. Star player Anton Oliver likened the feeling afterwards to a death in the family. The expectation was so great, the result so damaging and hurtful. The players had choked due to the fear of failure – a crippling form of anxiety and performance stress brought on by huge expectation.
We are now looking looking at a situation in the western world where obesity is almost an epidemic. Reports suggest that over 35% of people in the USA (National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES)) in 2010. Reports also suggested that about 25% of people in Britain (NHS 2008) and Ireland (OECD 2010) are reported to be obese with levels of growth estimated at about 1% per annum. It indicates a drastic rise from 1993 levels, when just 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women reported to be obese.
Over time, we have seen how winning teams always seem to have a very positive team ethic and culture. While having a positive team culture doesn't necessarily guarantee success in the sense of winning silverware, it generally ensures that a team gets the most out of itself.
Very often, there is only a minimal difference in skill and or fitness levels between the top few teams in any given competition. As such, the differentiator between being successful and not is often influenced by the level of selfless work-rate that individual members of a team are prepared to take on during the course of a game.
Typically, this selfless work-ethic is directly influenced by the level of team cohesion among team-mates; and team cohesion and work ethic is directly influenced by team culture. As such, the culture that a team management sets around a team is critical to producing an environment where the players are willing to forego individual ego and work hard in the best interests of the group.
The story goes that the victorious Mayo team of 1951, while passing through Foxford during the All-Ireland celebrations, failed to pay due respects to a passing funeral. Enraged, a local priest cursed the county team, that while any member of the 1951 team lived, Mayo would never win another All-Ireland. It remains unbroken — despite the team reaching the Final on nine occasions since then. They have either completely collapsed on the day or been undone by a series of other unfortunate events. 66 years on, only two of that 1951 team remain.
Great athletes inspire. Kids make them their idols and dream of one day emulating them while adults thrill at the sight of watching the very best. Lesser athletes, through lack of ability may never become as good as the champions, but they strive to improve themselves copying their behaviours or what they know of them.
There is a group often overlooked however. Only a certain volume can make it to the elite, but there is a wide layer hovering below the line that are almost as talented (sometimes even more so) that we never hear of. These, we know generally as the “nearly men” – The ones equally talented growing up but fail to reach their potential and end up in the lower leagues.
So what is it about those that make it as opposed to those that don’t just quite get there?
A golfer puts the ball on the tee, scans the terrain and consciously makes a statement to self – “keep it away from the water”.
Research has shown an interesting thing about the way golfers often make the exact error they are specifically trying to avoid. When a golfer places the ball on the tee, he would often tell himself to aim in a certain direction while being conscious not to miss either left or right due to water hazards or bunkers. In a non-pressurised situation, a skilled golfer would invariably succeed in executing what they wanted to do with the ball.
I often get asked about how to get the most out of a group of players – from fitness, mental or tactical perspective. Some might ask about technical things such as various aspects of fitness or game plans while others might get frustrated about their players putting in sub-maximal effort. Many wonder what they should say to their players to get them to mentally “peak”.
The truth in fact is that most often, you don’t need to say anything at all – or indeed what you say is often of little importance in comparison to how you say it or how players feel treated in general.
As a practicing performance psychologist, I often get asked about how best it is to motivate a group. My answer often starts with a question or two!
“How do you relate to the players? What is it the group dynamic like? Does the management foster a positive social dynamic? Players most often play because they enjoy the sport. They turn up because they enjoy the sport and the challenge it presents.
They turn off it very often due to a poor relational or social dynamic – often fostered by inadequate managerial skills or through weak management facilitating or allowing a vacuum for dissent, player cliques or player unrest.
Stuart Lancaster is considered to have one of the best rugby coaching minds in the world. He has huge experience at the top level of professional rugby and has been involved in numerous successful teams.
He began his coaching career while working as a PE teacher in Kettlethorpe High School in England. The nature of a PE teaching role just naturally draws you into coaching through extra-curricular sports teams. He had plenty of success as a coach across a variety of sports including soccer and cricket at school’s level as well as rugby, the sport for which he became best known.
We have come to know the current Dublin football team as one of the greatest GAA teams of all time. They have overtaken Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry team of the 70's and 80's having just annexed the first 5 in a row of All-Ireland inter-county senior football titles.
They are obviously a very talented group, but there was always a talented group available in Dublin. They just sometimes they never realised their potential. Marshalled by Jim Gavin, this article takes a deeper look at the psychology behind their success.
Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport