Henry Shefflin – Winning review: the science of sporting success

The Kilkenny hurler digs into the psychology of winning – apparently, it’s all in our heads

Henry Shefflin and Shane Lowry in Henry Shefflin – Winning (RTÉ One, Monday)

Henry Shefflin and Shane Lowry in Henry Shefflin – Winning (RTÉ One, Monday)

 

Are you a winner or a loser? Is your theme song We Are the Champions or I’m A Loser? Would you like to change the tune and become a real winner? Then who better than Kilkenny hurling legend Henry Shefflin to give you the GAA guide to winning? Well, no one, obviously - he is one of the all-time greats of the sport. Okay, sending a multiple All-Ireland winner to find out how to be a sporting success is kind of like sending Brad Pitt off to find out how to be a Hollywood A-lister, or sending Harry Potter to learn how to cast magic spells. They already know how. Surely they should send a loser - or a muggle - instead.

Actually, Shefflin has no idea how he became a winner - all he knows is that it feels pretty good to win, and that’s what drove him on through his brilliant career. So he goes on a quest to discover the inner workings of success in Henry Shefflin – Winning (Monday, RTÉ One). Sort of like Superman trying to learn how he became the Man of Steel. Shefflin wants to know what goes on inside people’s heads when they’re winning, and what chemical reactions happen inside their bodies. Do the same reactions happen in other competitive pursuits, such as business or politics? Can success be broken down into a formula that anyone can apply, or is winning the preserve of the elite few who possess superhuman powers of self-belief? Sprint this way and we’ll find out.

Shefflin talks to various boffins, who reveal the role of such chemicals as dopamine, which stimulates the reward centres of our brains, cortisol, which feeds the fear of losing, and testosterone, which gets us all fired up to vanquish the opposition. He meets other people who have been successful in their sporting field, including rugby legend Paul O’Connell, Olympic runner Sonia O’Sullivan and golf international Shane Lowry. Yes, you need to train hard, yes, you need to develop your skill, and yes, you need to have the right mental attitude. It probably won’t surprise you to find it’s not rocket science. Search for the hero inside yourself, don’t stop believin’ and reach for the stars seems to be the (musical) message here.

Visiting the Phoenix Park to watch the deer rutting is probably labouring the point a bit, and the visit to Wall Street to see the stockbrokers squaring up was a bit surplus to requirements (we’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street), but we did learn that too much business success can create a “bubble” which will eventually burst and leave us all in negative equity, and that too much political power can lead to Enda Kenny thinking he’s god’s gift to the Irish electorate. But you can never win too many All-Irelands. Obviously.

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