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Winning mentality much needed whether by nature or nurture

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Jack Ross | 11:35 UK time, Sunday, 1 May 2011

How often have we heard a coach or manager describe his dressing-room as being full of "winners"?

What exactly qualifies a players to be worthy of such a description? Do they need a collection of medals from winning titles and cups, or just simply illustrate through their performances in training and playing that they have a fierce desire for success?

The answer is both, with the latter almost being an essential pre-requisite for the former. However, in my own experiences, all players possess a huge competitive nature that craves winning, but not all can transform this hunger into achieving tangible success.

The reasons for this might just be found in another similar football phrase, which talks about a "winning mentality". This is the strength of character that enables players to turn good seasons into great seasons and turn potential into prizes.

There is not a formulaic method for developing such an attribute; some players, I would suggest, have it naturally and it is what separates them as great players. Others may grow into it as a result of a transfer to a squad that is used to success and has plenty of individuals blessed with this winning mentality.

But what if a player falls into neither of these categories? Can he adapt his mentality, or can a manager encourage it within individual players and/or a whole squad? There is no doubt it could be achieved and one method of doing so has been the more common use in football of sports psychologists.

I have had several experiences of these experts during my career and would be honest enough to admit that, from a personal point of view, I never felt that any changed my mindset in a significant manner. In their defence, often in football, sports psychologists have to work with the team rather than on a one-to-one basis, undoubtedly making it more difficult to achieve results.

Despite this, I would have no reservations about using such individuals if I became a manager as I am sure that would be of benefit to some players. I would say, however, that part of my job would be to instil this mentality through my own methods to begin with.

At this stage of the season, when championships are decided, the need for the coveted winning mentality is greater than ever, and usually teams who rise to the top are those with players of this ilk within their squad.

Looking back over my own career, I have won a championship on the penultimate day of the season, lost one in the final game and suffered cup final defeat when the odds were stacked in favour of me being a medal winner.

Does this make me a player of a winning mentality? I am not sure, to be honest, as the facts provide evidence both for and against. If I had been asked the question early in my career, on reflection, I would say no - I did not have the required mentality to win silverware and yet later in my career I would argue that I did.

I did not follow any specific method to achieve this - rather, it arrived through a mixture of hard work and application and most definitely through a surge of confidence and increased self belief - even if, as part of teams, it just fell short of earning a First Division league winner's medal alongside a League Cup victor's one!

The dressing-room "winners" are not just those who are world famous and grab the headlines. The game is littered with players, such as David Bingham, who won multiple league titles at different levels of the Scottish game and who, without question, could be classified as having a winning mentality.

Finally, on the subject of winners, I want to pass on my congratulations to Dunfermline on their title success. I was working at Cappielow on Saturday and was delighted for the management, players and Mo Hutton, the kit man (he has been desperate for a mention in this blog!).

They are a fantastic squad of players with a manager in Jim McIntyre who is hugely deserving of leading them to the Scottish Premier League, where I am sure they will prove to be worthy additions.


  • Comment number 1.

    Congrats to Dunfermline on winning promotion to the SPL. As a Raith Rovers fan, i'm gutted that we won't have our big derby matches next season as they have all been great occasions this season. Four games against Hamilton Accies just doesn't quite have the same appeal somehow. Good luck to the Pars in the SPL next season.

  • Comment number 2.

    Very good and thought provoking blog Jack

    You seem to be both ambivalent about the use of sports psych's and supportive at the same time if that makes sense. I can see how in football they would deal with both team-level and individual issues (e.g. motivation, concentration in games, control and seeing yourself as being able to shape events on the park, coping with the stress of big games, etc) but I was wondering how you think a 1-2-1 approach would have benefitted your career, and whether you think the better managers/ coaches these days employ these approaches anyway as part of what is commonly referred to as man-management? Who do players in the game in Scotland regard as the best man-managers?

  • Comment number 3.

    another good article jack....a season full of on and off the pitch drama...I guess it may be now be remembered for some embarrassing situations with the Old Firm,but hats off to all the league champions. My sport is golf and when the big medals come round at the height of the season it tends to be a select few who arise as club champions and Open winners. I'm reading a book on golf psychology and it seems all the good golfers focus on success whilst us mere mortals focus on trouble or, watch out for the bunker or loch rather than home in on the green....I'm not sure how it works in football but I guess those teams which focus on success rather than fearing failure will tend to fair better....Hitting the practice range will surely sharpen your game but scoring on the day requires an instinct and belief way beyond a session on the range...I'm sure you'll be hitting the golf course soon enough and if you ever fancy a challenge arounf Royal Auchterarder just drop me an email - [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 4.

    Another great article Jack!
    The development of a winning mentality is like a Holy Grail for managers, and will often bring players, as much success as ability alone will, sometimes more so. It seems if a player has a winning mentality and a good attitude at a young age, the skills and ability can be coached. This is never more evident than when looking at the number of youth players being released across the country, it is often a poor attitude that convinces managers to move them on rather than some perceived lack of ability.
    Sadly this brings me onto that league cup final. How different could that day have been if St Mirrens players had a genuine winning mentality when Rangers went down to 9 men? Looking on from the stands, it seemed the team collectively froze when the second player got sent off, with a realization that you may actually win the cup. Surely a team with a greater sense of belief would have grown in stature at that point and made Hampden a very tiring pitch for their opponents?
    Even at yesterdays game St Mirren once again folded when the pressure was on, it seems to me that plenty of players can play but few can play under pressure and that is what separates winners from hard luck stories..

  • Comment number 5.

    Off course soprts psychologists work asked David James. Self actualization. But I would also argue that some people have a natural winning mentality which may sometimes be misconstrued as an aggresive streak. For example Neil Lennon. Go figure.

  • Comment number 6.

    Although you never played for the Pars Jack, you were still part of the team and surely your experience helped out with the younger members of the team etc. So take a bow from a Pars Fan and keep up the Good Blogs


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