I’ve been aware of Dan for a while now, and having read his free e-book on sports psychology, I decided to take the plunge on his brand new book. The book itself, entitled Soccer Tough, details many different ways on how psychology can improve your sports performance. I found it an intriguing read, and as such, decided to get in touch with the man himself and ask him a few questions…
Jon: Hey Dan. What first inspired you to become a sports psychologist?
Dan: When I was younger, I was a terrible professional golfer. I was better at 17 years old than I was at 23 – this was largely down to my mindset. I worked my backside off but didn’t know how to practice effectively, build my belief and confidence, focus correctly and perform freely under pressure. After my dismal playing career I moved onto coaching and it was when I was helping others that I really fell in love with the brain, mindset and performance psychology. So I headed for University and completed 2 degrees in psychology.
Jon: What experience have you had with professional football clubs?
Dan: Plenty. I cut my cloth in non league and worked at several clubs over the course of a couple of years. One included Fisher Athletic playing in the Blue Square South. Wayne Burnett was the manager. He’s a great coach and assembled the best ‘playing’ side in non league. 7 of the lads we had moved up into league football the following season. I’ve delivered at about a dozen league clubs and have just completed a 2 year contract at QPR where I was primarily working with the academy and development squad. So I’ve been around.
Jon: Interesting, so can the mind-set of a player really have an impact on an individuals performance on the field?
Dan: I’m not one of these psychology types to say, “It’s 90% of the game.” That’s ridiculous. Technical execution, tactical understanding and physicality are the forerunners to high performance. But how high high is – and whether that is displayed consistently and under pressure is, in my opinion, determined by the mindset of a player. If a player loses a little confidence, speed of thought will slow. Awareness will lessen and so anticipation is slower. Decision making slows or becomes indecisive. These intellectual qualities mediate the technical and tactical execution of the player – all starting from a lack of confidence, a lack of certainty. I ask coaches to watch players with their brain in mind. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Where are they placing their focus?
Jon: Why do you think football players suffer a loss in confidence? What instigates this loss in confidence?
Dan: The brain is always scanning for problems. It’s the way you and I are designed. It has a negativity bias. Once a problem is found (e.g. referee makes a bad decision, I’ve just made a mistake that’s led to a goal) the brain can release a hormone called cortisol into the system which supresses performances and can increase ‘internal chatter’ causing anxiety, doubt and worry. It’s a chain reaction if you like happening in milliseconds. If you combine this with the nature of the game, the fact the game involves human error and hinges on seconds and inches, it’s a wonder anyone can play at all! There are far more players than you’d think that struggle with this process of dealing with the functioning of the brain – I work with players whose careers have been severely damaged because of it.
Jon: Sports psychology is often over-looked by the average football player, why should amateur players be looking to improve this aspect of their game?
Dan: As I say in my book Soccer Tough, you can improve without sweating. How good is that? Chill out on the sofa, have a cuppa, read my book and you will come away with ideas, playing philosophies and techniques that will help you play better. Let’s not kid ourselves, even for those who see football as a social thing and turn up a little drunk from the night before want to win – stick to the ideas in Soccer Tough and you certainly give yourself a better chance of playing well.
Jon: If you could have any one player’s mentality, who’s would it be and why?
Dan: Perhaps a boring answer but Messi. I genuinely think he’s a class above when it comes to thinking the game. Chapter 4 in Soccer Tough is dedicated to him. It’s called the Messi mindset and is about how he couples his great ability with great thinking. Here is a kid who had a growth hormone problem but shrugged that aside and just kept playing, learning and improving. You can see this mentality on the pitch as he plays: “Come beat me up, but I’m gonna keep coming back at you. I’m gonna keep moving, running and finding space.” Awesome! The chapter teaches people how to see tough times as confidently as is possible.
Jon: Finally, tell us a bit more about your brand new book, called Soccer Tough?
Dan: Well I guess I’ve already started, but let me tell you more. I wrote it to bring the subject matter alive for everyone involved in football globally. I want everyone to become passionate about improving their game (and helping other improve their game) by using football psychology. The book has stories about the mindset challenges of Messi, Maradona, Rooney, Zola and others. It tells the stories of some of my clients including how I helped Carlton Cole go from forgotten reserve team player to England international in just 18 months. It’s a fun, upbeat and I hope informative read that will help anyone connected with the game of football.
We’d like to thank Dan for allowing us to ask him some questions, and I personally found it a very interesting insight into the psychology that goes into being a professional footballer. If you’re interested in purchasing Dan’s brand new book, Soccer Tough, it is available to buy from Amazon for £12.99. For now, leave your thoughts in the comments section below.