One Year of More Than Mind Games

You can blame it on the Russians and Oliver James.

Sport’s endemic superstition means that most hypnotherapists get to deal with sportspeople regularly. They turn up thinking you can hypnotize them into saving those extra ten shots on the back nine, and – if it’s me they’ve appointed as witchdoctor and guru – go away instead with what made them care so much about those ten shots resolved. Coincidentally, their new, more forgiving approach to their game will save them about ten shots per round. Funny old world, isn’t it?

That kind of thing is just stock in trade. More Than Mind Games came about because I’d been brought in on an TV production about Jose Mourinho. They’d also been talking to Oliver James, something I discovered when, over coffee and in a spirit of mischief, they asked me who I disliked most in my field. By coincidence.. and I so nearly said Andrew Samuels.. it was an enjoyable project, well suited to that long warm summer after a season in which Chelsea so nearly swept all before them. IMG sent people all over Portugal looking for JM’s friends and enemies (finding, and this might surprise some of my readers if comments are anything to go by, that even the enemies thought themselves his friends) and caught up with the man himself at one point, invading an awards ceremony to conduct a lengthy interview.

Some of the questions were mine – the first time I’d been able to test my ideas about football and psychology on someone both deeply involved and intelligent enough to understand the concepts.

It was deeply rewarding, and something I wanted to do again. Partly because of this site, I’ve been able to do so.

The original intention was to do something to raise sport psychology’s profile and intellectual viability, especially in relation to football. That hasn’t gone terribly well.

Quite honestly, having set out to improve other people’s opinion of sport psychology, my main achievement has been to lower my own opinion of it, dramatically. I’ve had to go out and discover what other people are actually doing in this respect, and, in most instances, I’ve been appalled. The reliance on nostrums, the misidentification of problems, the miracle cures and big promises, the sheer lack of intellectual curiousity, took me by surprise. You expect something of that, but so much?

Anyone who thinks, for example, that our national game’s attitude towards penalty shoot-outs isn’t embarrassing and inadequate and stupid just can’t be taken seriously on the subject.

I’ve come to feel that the whole thing needs to be approached from a completely different direction. Football, in particular, has an idea of its past (and thus of “what worked”) that is as accurate and helpful to its cause as is this to the future of the Labour Party:

Two words to that: adulterated flour.

You can take lessons from history, but you have to know what that history is.

In fact, there’s a lively football history industry in our universities, although little of what they do ever gets out into the wider world. James Walvin is the name most people are likely to know. But even there, I feel, nostalgia and class loyalties – loyalty to class myths in particular – obscure and distort on a regular basis. A good working class subject for good working class people..

Other sports are a great deal less problematic. During the 2006 World Cup, many of the most intelligent bloggers spent time reflecting on the game – and, in most cases, put their normal thinking selves aside. I won’t give links, but it proved one thing to me – comments that would in normal life be regarded as thick or bigoted are OK if they are about the footie. People don’t feel obliged to act the “passionate fan” (and it is an act, when put in writing) when talking about golf, tennis, cycling, cricket (cricket has a literature that literature qua literature might well envy). There’s a willingness to consider concepts beyond that “passion and commitment” thing that footballers think they are so caught up in.

It’s a long time since I even attempted to avoid using the site to reflect my own enthusiams and enjoyment – most of which come from a childhood of long afternoons spend in front of this kind of thing:

..with heroes of the calibre of Gary Player:

..and Muhammed Ali:

and I want to put a lot more of that enjoyment into this often dry and sour site over the next year. More of this:

And more of this:

The best More Than Mind Games moments of the year have all come via reader comments here and at other blogs. It’s been a privilege. Thankyou. Allow me to give you all – at last – what you wanted in June. England in the World Cup Final:

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