DAVID PYE: Mind games are key to overcoming a crisis of confidence
11:00pm Friday 24th January 2014 in Sport
I’M a great believer in the power of the mind and the effect – both positive and negative – it can have on sportsmen and women.
It is only in the past decade or so that training the minds of top athletes has become as integral as honing their physical abilities.
Now it is an accepted part of the process with many football clubs and sports teams employing dedicated professionals in the psychiatric field on their regular payroll.
These days there are more Derren Brown types than Phil Browns on a club’s staff it seems.
If ever there was evidence needed how vital their roles can be, you need look no further than recent events in football and cricket.
The falls from grace of Manchester United and the England cricket team have been extreme – both teams that have enjoyed unparalleled success in recent years made to look less than ordinary in the last few months.
When there are such huge swings, the post-mortem is wide-ranging.
But whatever the whys and wherefores of new managers, new players, less intimidation for the opposition, for me you cannot look much further than the mental aspect and a huge lack of belief in both those sides.
It is the same with Wanderers at present, particularly on home soil. It’s as if they come out of the tunnel at the Reebok a goal down; hesitant and nervy when they should be relishing the backing of the Whites faithful.
Okay, so there have been squad additions in the summer but the vast majority of Dougie Freedman’s team is made up of the players who ended last season in such a rich vein of form and almost made the play-offs.
Manchester United, albeit under Sir Alex Ferguson, strolled to the Premier League title last season while England’s cricketers won a third successive Ashes series 3-0 on these shores last summer.
Neither side has become bad overnight so what is the root cause of their problems?
The answer is simple – confidence.
Watching the Ashes Down Under, you could see the trepidation in the eyes of every England player who walked to the crease as each defeat hit them harder.
It was the same watching those United players making the slow walk to the penalty spot in their Capital One Cup semi-final defeat to Sunderland on Wednesday after a torrid start to the year.
Both these players are clearly devoid of confidence and once you get into that rut, it is the same habit as a winning one. Instead of feeling invincible, you feel vulnerable every time you take to the field.
It is a test of character and the leadership of Andy Flower with England, David Moyes with United and Freedman at Wanderers is crucial. If all else fails, we could always draft in Uri Geller.