CRAIG NELSON: Sport psychology issue is a mind game everybody is playing
Updated 9:17am Monday 10th March 2014 in Sport
I LISTENED with amusement as Chris Waddle derided the work done by sports psychologists and psychiatrists.
Asked what he thought of them on a BBC Radio Five Live phone-in, the airwaves fell silent before he turned the question back on the host, saying: “I don’t get them, what do they do?”
It was a serious question from a former England international who rose to the top of his profession without the need for “head-shrinking mumbo jumbo”.
The former Newcastle, Spurs and Marseille winger went on to question why a player deemed worthy to be picked for his country would ever need a confidence boost from anyone other than his manager.
It seemed a fair point, but was quickly countered by fellow former international Danny Mills.
His impassioned defence of the likes of Dr Steve Peters, who was appointed by England this week, highlighted the gap between the generations of footballers – the “haves” of Waddle’s era and the “have everythings” of today’s.
It’s a similar story in other sports, like tennis, for example.
Pete Sampras won 14 grand slam titles, predominantly in the 1990s, with one all-purpose coach and mentor in Paul Annacone, whereas modern players like our own Andy Murray have a team of experts in every field.
So why shouldn’t football be the same?
The simple answer is, of course it should, but Waddle’s closed attitude is not necessarily a thing of the past.
Just because England captain Steven Gerrard swears by the national team’s new mental guru, it doesn’t mean he will have a positive effect on everybody.
The England players cannot be forced to see him, as they were with Eileen Drury in Glenn Hoddle’s era.
When Ray Parlour sat down in her chair and was asked what she could do for him, he famously asked for a short back and sides – and never played for England again.
The current squad will have to have an open mind to the methods employed by Dr Peters before they can have a positive effect. But any doubters don’t have to look too far for testimonials, with Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton among his cheerleaders.
You suspect if England win the World Cup on a penalty shootout then this eminent psychologist may win a few more fans.
Roy Hodgson will not admit it, but polishing up our mental approach to spot-kicks must be at the top of the doctor’s to-do list.
Waddle would say it takes practice not mind-bending to score a penalty, but, then again, what would he know?
And if Dr Peters can give us an extra one per cent then it will have been worth it.