Tuesday 28 January 2020

Fixing a head wrecker: Sports Psychologist Shanahan on how power of positive thinking can help Irish back to their best


DEJECTED: Robbie Henshaw following the Guinness Six Nations defeat to England. Photo: SPORTSFILE
DEJECTED: Robbie Henshaw following the Guinness Six Nations defeat to England. Photo: SPORTSFILE

There is nothing to 'wreck the head' as much as when someone has your number - and not in the good way.

The Irish will have the chance on Saturday to undo some of the psychological damage that was inflicted by England in the Six Nations.

Ireland haven't given a gold standard performance since putting New Zealand to the sword last November.

Along the way, Schmidt's admission that Ireland had been "broken" by what transpired last season can be best remedied by re-establishing their superiority over England.

Inspire Sport Performance's Richard Shanahan is a sports psychologist who has worked in team environments for Colm Coyle with Monaghan and for Pete McGrath with Fermanagh.

The greatest challenge and achievement any sports psychologist can have is to take a player or a team which is broken and rebuild it into a winner.

"The way I would go about it is to ask, what is confidence and self-belief?" said Shanahan.

"In essence, self belief is just a thought you keep having about yourself and, therefore, within your control."

There are three tools Shanahan would use to get Ireland back to their best at Twickenham.

"The first is goal-setting, setting good, specific, challenging goals.

"The second is controlling your self-talk or your thinking, the voice in your head, the stories you tell yourself.

Sports Psychologist Shanahan
Sports Psychologist Shanahan

"The third tool is visualisation or mental practice," he said.

"If I was working on the self-confidence of the Irish rugby team, for example, I would discuss the fact that we are all fortune-tellers.

"If the first couple of touches in a game are good, you know you are going to have a good game.

"That is why you hear players say, 'I got a good early touch and it got me into the game.'

"In this way, your mind is playing the role of the fortune-teller to increase or decrease the chances of playing well."

This is why the focus for every player is always on 'the next ball.'

"The player is in control of his thinking, his self-talk - the stories he tells himself - which in turn creates the internal images and belief about what will happen in the future - Saturday in this case."

This is where the role of the coach, Joe Schmidt for Ireland, is crucial in getting Ireland's players to the right physical and mental state for the intensity of Test rugby.

"When you tell someone not to think about a mistake they made, it has the same impact as telling them to think about it.

"When it comes to self-talk, I talk about picking your language clean. Get rid of the don'ts, won'ts, can'ts.

"What coaches often do is talk in the negative, you know, 'don't give away any silly high tackles, they have an excellent goal-kicker, so don't lose your discipline.

"They are the things the coach doesn't want the player to do.

"The use of language, in that way, means the players can't help thinking about the things they shouldn't be doing rather than the things they should be.

"How we feel will determine how we perform."

That is why professional sports people can talk post-performance how they didn't feel quite right.

The power of positive thinking can make all the difference in Twickenham.

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