A look at team psychology
Last week we saw a series of shocks in the Gaelic football world.
In Connacht, Sligo came in as underdogs but claimed the scalp of Mayo, comprehensively beating their more illustrious neighbours in the process. In Leinster, Louth stunned Kildare with a brilliant display of attacking football and, although less of a surprise, Westmeath put their recent troubles behind them to record a one point win over a fancied Wicklow team.
Dublin were lucky to survive against Wexford but in the previous weeks' three cases, the so-called stronger team were put to the sword. In spite of Mayo, for example, clearly having a stronger collection of individual talent than Sligo, it was the men from the Yeats County who prevailed. Why? A lot of winning and success in team sport comes down to the groupâ€™s collective mentality.
Across all sports we see teams that develop a knack of winning - Manchester United, the Kilkenny hurlers, the Liverpool team of the 1980s, the Kerry footballers of the 1970s and early 80s, the Chicago Bulls team of Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson.
Many will argue that the reason these teams were so successful was because they had the best players. This is true to a point. However, having the best players does not always guarantee you success. Think of different Real Madrid teams of recent years. They have boasted some of the best individual talent in the history of the game (Zidane, Ronaldo, Kaka, Raul) but they have struggled to perform as a team and, thus, have not been as successful as they might have been. What distinguishes a great team is the ability to bind the different individual components into a collective group.
The mentality of great teams also sets them apart. They seem to have the happy knack of being able to play detached from the scoreboard. How many times have Manchester United scored in the final minutes of a key game? They keep playing their normal game with the confidence that it will be enough.
A great team will respond well to setbacks. Last week, the Kerry footballers found themselves behind going into the final stretch of their Munster Championship game with Cork but they managed to fight back and salvage a draw. They did likewise in the replay and eventually took the win in extra-time.
Similarly, Cork started the first game poorly but responded in the right fashion to bring themselves back into the game, and went down fighting in the replay, losing by just a point after extra-time.
This is what sets these teams apart as being two of the best Gaelic football teams in the country at the present time. Every player seemed to know his role and if things went wrong in any way, the best players from both sides seemed to respond in the right manner. In the first game, this was probably best exemplified by Corkâ€™s young midfielder, Aidan Walsh.
Despite coughing up possession on three separate occasions in the opening eight minutes of his debut, he responded by having a storming game. A great example to anyone of what mental toughness is all about.
Kevin Clancy and Enda McNulty are Performance Consultants with Motiv8 (www.motiv8.ie)
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