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Sporting Bodymind

by John Syer

Over the past ten years our consultancy has worked with 29 different sports in Britain, the Continent and the USA. Despite a successful period with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club from 1980-85 it is our experience that in Britain the more traditional the sport the less the nature and benefits of mental training are appreciated.

With traditional sports, it is still the case that only the most imaginative of managers, coaches or captains realise that individual mental training will improve any athlete (not just an athlete seen to ‘have problems’) and that any team-building programme requires that he look at his own leadership style. These factors are far more readily understood by those in business.

Peter Roebuck batting towards a century 1989

Peter Roebuck: four more towards a century against the Australians in 1989

In 1987 I was invited to work with both Somerset and Glamorgan County Cricket Clubs. In the event, I did a pre-season stint for both and then continued on an occasional Sunday basis with Glamorgan throughout the summer. The four days at Taunton were not a conspicuous success. A few young players worked hard to develop their own initial two-week programmes of mental training exercises but despite Peter R0ebuck’s declared enthusiasm for the project it went no further.

Cricket, like baseball, is an unusual team game. The accent is put so heavily on individual performance that the question of leadership and the benefits of building a team are often ignored. Unfortunately a lack of team-building and coherent personal leadership will affect any team adversely, just as the individual player’s mind can hinder his performance unless he uses it consciously to improve. I believe Peter was as sorry as I that the original impetus to introduce mental training for both individuals and the team as a unit was lost, but other factors at that time came into play.

At Glamorgan, we progressed little further. Although I had good individual sessions with the likes of Alan Butcher, Colin Metson and Mathew Maynard, a time-honoured rigid routine meant that much of the (limited) time I was in attendance was wasted. Mental training for a team sport without the leadership team-building components lacks coherence and we were only able to hold such meetings immediately before the occasional Sunday match.

Nowadays our consultancy makes a contract for a minimum period of six weeks. This is carefully planned and costed in advance so that there is a clear understanding and commitment on both sides. Team-building and individual mental training progress simultaneously, the one thrust supporting the other.

After an initial talk with the team leader, we ask for the personal impressions of the current team climate and norms from each team member. We then present a detailed proposal that combines individual training with a set programme of weekly team meetings, many of which we would conduct in consultation with the captain or coach.

Individual sessions help the player to assess which physical, technical and mental skills he needs to improve at that particular time and which exercises (part analytical, part evocative) can best comprise a programme to make the necessary improvement.

Team sessions combine periods of facilitated discussion with exercises designed to improve communication between each and every member of the team and thereby to improve understanding, respect and eventually trust. The effect of such a coherent programme is synergistic.

The team progresses from a group of gifted individuals who each perform to their potential ability with varying degree of success to a team whose performance is consistently greater than the sum of individual ability would normally suggest. Each individual is drawn to produce his best performance with increasing consistency as he experiences the strength of the team as a whole.

John Syer played volleyball for Great Britain in the late 60’s and was National Coach and Director of the Scottish Volleyball Association for ten years. He trained in London and the United States as a Gestalt psychologist and has been co-director of the Sporting Bodymind consultancy with Christopher Connolly since 1979. He is co-author of Sporting Bodymind, Sporting Mind: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Training (1984, 1987) and author of Team Spirit (1986, 1989) both published by Simon and Schuster. Since March 1987 he has spent at least 30% of his time working as consultant on team building with the Ford Motor Company at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland he will continue his work as mental trainer to the British cycling team, giving particular attention to the team pursuit and team time trial time events. Information on Sporting Bodymind may be obtained from their website: sportingbodymind.com

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