It's all in the mind
Hi, hope you are all well.
It is no secret that modern day football clubs leave no stone unturned in pursuit of success. The rewards, and conversely the penalties for failure, are too great for them not to do so.
Physical preparation is obviously a facet that is given most of the attention but there is an ever increasing amount of focus being placed on the mental preparation of players, both as individuals and as a collective unit.
What may come as a bit of a surprise to you is the fact that the manifestations of this through motivational team meetings or consultations with psychologists are not reserved solely for football's elite. They are also becoming more prevalent in the lower reaches of professional football.
While the goals for players who perform at different levels can vary drastically - from excelling amidst the pressure of playing in a Champions League final to trying to squeeze one more year out of the professional game - the methods used are very similar.
It had never really dawned on me until recently but some of the best psychologists are, in fact, the managers themselves - and I have to stress the word "some"!
At one time, I thought that all you needed to be a good manager were the necessary coaching badges, and the ability to pick the right side and sign good players. Job done!
While the fundamentals of this will always be true, the best managers are also able to get inside their players' heads, and have a great appreciation of how to handle them to get the best response.
Quite simply you have to know how to deal with people. I know plenty of good coaches and former players who you would think were destined to become good managers but could not make a fist of it primarily because they could not handle that aspect of the job.
Not counting my old man, I would point to Darren Ferguson and, obviously it goes without saying, my current manager at Notts County, Ian McParland, (remember I am trying to get back in the team) as the best man-managers I have encountered in my career.
A number of sports psychologists have become involved with professional football clubs and I think it is fair to say that the reaction to them among the players has been mixed.
This could be because some players may confuse psychologists with psychiatrists and are quite uncomfortable with the thought of people messing with their head, possibly seeing it as a sign of weakness.
In my own case, I have always tried to be very open minded about these figures - it would be very foolish not to in my view, given the thin dividing lines between success and failure in the game.
I have to admit, though, that I don't feel this sort of help has been very effective for me up to now. I would never try and put someone off attempting these methods. They definitely pay dividends for a lot of players - I just doubt they are for me.
This is not because I am from the old school fraternity who simply believes that the best way to toughen up a player mentally is by making him run until he throws up. I just put it down to the fact that after years of being on the football merry-go-round, I am beyond help.
From my own personal experiences, I would split the type of mental training I have had into two distinct categories.
There is the "close your eyes, relax , you are getting sleepy....remember you are brilliant" type of category. Someone much smarter than me told me that this technique is known as "creative visualisation" although I stand to be corrected.
Then there is the motivational team meeting scenario, where a lot of dialogue is encouraged, similar to the type of talks that are given for businesses.
Motivation is obviously a key element for success in any walk of life, football being no exception.
Over the years I have subjected myself and also been subjected to just about every motivational tool available in order to find that edge before competing in a match, be it in the form of a film, music or anything else you can think of, it has probably been covered.
One particular favourite of football coaching staffs up and down the country is to bring a copy of "Living with the Lions" (the documentary about the British Lions rugby union team on tour in South Africa) on to the team bus.
If you have not seen it, I would strongly advise you to watch it because it is brilliant. I think I am in to double figures in terms of the times I have seen it shown on team buses.
As a result, I now tend to groan when I see it being loaded into the DVD player but I still end up watching the whole thing anyway!
Another commonly-used motivational tool is the speech about "inches" given by Al Pacino's character in the film "Any Given Sunday". This is a particular favourite of mine; I have even got it on my iPod .
From time-to-time I often indulge in a bit of "Rocky" when I'm in need of a motivational boost. My own favourite is Rocky IV.
To me, those scenes of him training in the snow are fantastic. The soundtrack for the Rocky films is also a must for one's iPod as far as I am concerned.
Before an FA Cup third round tie for Hartlepool against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, I took the Rocky soundtrack CD on to the team bus.
Needless to say we were ready to fight the world when we got off, but we refrained from punching anybody and gave a good account of ourselves in a narrow 1-0 defeat in front of a 40,000 crowd.
If I have missed any films or songs that get you going for a match then please feel free to share them as I would gladly welcome some fresh material!
However regardless of what anyone suggests, I still feel that the greatest motivational line that I have encountered all too often in my career from various managers is "Strachan, You have got five minutes to start playing or you are off...!"