Positive self-talk your only man when there’s seconds left and the All Blacks are coming

Top performers should study how to unlock the potential deep in individual and collective minds


“There’s no athletes on the field for Alabama, they got all fat guys”. My most memorable moment of 2013 is certainly the comeback of the year – but which one!

The All Blacks’ 90-second horror show (from an Irish perspective) is up there, so too the amazing comeback in Stade Aimé Giral where once again Munster defied all things natural.

Not to mention All-Irelands in Croke Park, the Lions winning in Australia, Connacht’s heroics in Toulouse, the many wonderful victories for Leinster and Ulster, or the infamous Lance Armstrong “confession” on Oprah’s worldwide exclusive.

None of these make it for me as two other sporting occasions had me most exercised and neither involved rugby; in fact one didn’t even have a ball! However, there is commonality in all my great sporting occasions of 2013 and there is a reason why I’m attracted to these specific occurrences.

What gave those facing lost causes the urge to keep going against ridiculous odds? Put simply, the mind.

When I’m convinced it can’t be achieved and it subsequently is, then I’m enthralled. Hence my admiration for Munster in France, for the Saints in the Aviva and for Connacht in Toulouse.

Rugby, like almost no other field sport, is a mixture of unique skills and body shapes but primarily it is an emotional endeavour of the mind.

In Franklin’s Gardens Northampton Saints were nowhere emotionally and were consequently lost with Leinster in full flight. One week on, this competent side focused the mind on the physical.

Their warm-up was extremely telling. The last thing practised before kick-off is the coach’s priority. Northampton rehearsed the very lineout maul drills that created George North’s try five minutes later.

The second best two-horse race was the America’s Cup series in San Francisco in October. That Emirates Team New Zealand were 8-1 up and needing just one more victory and lost to Oracle Team USA on the 17th and last race made the rivalries at crew, skipper, owner and country sensational.

Add to that the crazy catamaran boats sailing at three times the speed of the wind. You think we were devastated losing to the All Blacks: check out the effect of loss on Emirates Team New Zealand’s skipper Dean Barker ( google “Campbell Live talks to Dean Barker”).

Although with Oracle chief executive, billionaire Larry Ellison, money does talk. When speed is lacking, money can get everything moving quicker but there has to be something more, which is what fascinates.

With England’s Ben Ainslie’s late arrival Oracle had the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winner of Olympic medals from 1996 to 2012 (four golds, one silver). What did he bring? Not money, speed or size but a mind.

That said, the best comeback of the year was in college football in Auburn this November. When Alabama freshman kicker Adam Griffith struck the ball there was one second on the clock and the score stood 28-all against the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl.

To get that chance Alabama had just conceded a touchdown, drawing the game but giving them possession.

Alabama’s running back TJ Yeldon carried to Auburn’s 38 yard right on full-time. Unhappy, Alabama went upstairs (sound familiar?) to discover that as Yeldon placed his foot out of bounds there was one second remaining, giving Alabama one last play!

Starting kicker Cade Foster had missed three howlers to that point. Alabama ignored the “Hail Mary” option and plumped for rookie kicker Griffith to attempt a field goal. Advantage Alabama?

The ball sailed 57 yards only to fall short and into Auburn cornerback Chris Davis’ arms. He was a full 109 yards away from the opposition goalline and the clock was dead but then the CBS commentator noticed “all fat guys”. Davis is just over 14 stone and set off!

I know the best view is the one you’ve earned, which is particularly apt for American Football’s stoppages, so check out that closing one second to end the battle for glory, unreal! (google “2013 Iron Bowl ending HIGH DEFINITION Auburn beats Alabama”). What won it for Auburn, the mind?

As a new rugby chapter opens up for us in 2014 there is no doubt that over the past 18 years professionalism has enhanced our physique and skill set no end. But what made Clare corner back Domhnall O’Donovan drift upfield to score Clare’s 25th point on September 8th, ensuring an All-Ireland hurling final replay against Cork? The greatest area of potential is deep in our individual and collective minds - whether prop or seasoned goal-kicker. That is where consistency is found, where lost causes are turned into causes and then winning ones.

In those moments what can we tell ourselves that we don’t already know? Studies show the act of giving ourselves mental messages can help us learn and perform at our best ie talking ourselves into success.

Going far beyond internal messages like “you can do it” researchers have identified the most effective forms of self-talk – what you should say when you need it most (google “Self-Talk and Sports Performance A Meta-Analysis”). Can you imagine the power of 15 rugby players simultaneously focused on a running commentary, called “instructional self-talk”.

This is especially useful when carrying out a difficult or unfamiliar task such as the last 90 seconds against the All Blacks. Christmas homework: Google “Splitting of the Mind: When the You I Talk to is Me and Needs Commands”.


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