Kevin McManamon: Embracing sports psychology is a ‘no-brainer’

Dublin footballer Kevin McManamon has described the use of sports psychology in Gaelic games as a “no-brainer” and claimed that critics of the process are “naive”.

Kevin McManamon: Embracing sports psychology is a ‘no-brainer’

The four-time All-Ireland winner, who has completed a master’s degree in the area, has his own sports psychology business and works with various clients across different codes.

The goal-poaching attacker is following the same path as former Armagh defender Enda McNulty who has worked as a sports psychologist with some of Ireland’s most successful teams and athletes.

McNulty has been criticised on a number of occasions by pundit Joe Brolly who has stated that sports psychologists generally “have no concrete skills to offer”.

McManamon said he himself has benefited from thinking differently about the game, particularly in the last three years.

The St Jude’s man, who has consistently broken Kerry hearts in giant Championship fixtures, hit out at unnamed commentators who believe sports psychology is akin to selling snake oil.

“It’s absolute nonsense,” said McManamon. “It’s people who don’t really deeply understand what they’re talking about. When you talk about the difference between winning and losing, everyone doesn’t say ‘that team was stronger or fitter’, they always talk about how they performed under pressure. They always talk about confidence, the intangible stuff. So why wouldn’t you train it?

“I think it’s naive to bash it and I don’t think (some of the criticism) was as simple as bashing sports psychology, it was bashing positive thinking which is another area altogether. There’s that part of sports psychology where there are probably people who wouldn’t be as well trained as they should be working in the area, which is where some of the issues lie, but working on your mental skills is a no-brainer for me and I wouldn’t be still playing for Dublin if I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had if I didn’t do it, so it’s a no-brainer.”

McManamon hit crucial Championship goals against Kerry in 2011 and 2013, and conjured some of his best football for Dublin as a regular during last year’s All-Ireland win.

A poor performance in the drawn All-Ireland final appeared to cost him an All-Star award, though before that he was being spoken about as a potential player of the year.

“I feel I was a much better footballer (in 2016), I was able to deal with the pressure of playing in big games a lot better which, over the years, I hadn’t done very well, particularly early in my career,” said McManamon. “The first couple of years I got very stressed before big games.

“There was always that bit of performance anxiety that I didn’t understand, I didn’t know anything about it. I understand it a lot more now and I’m a lot more relaxed going into games, a lot more confident. That was one of the big steps forward for me.”

McManamon believes that critics of sports psychology exist because it is an inexact science, with gains difficult to quantify. “People know that if you get a strength and conditioning coach, they can make the team 10% stronger or 10% faster and they can show that with testing,” he said.

“Whereas it’s very hard to measure improvements on the mental side of sport. So I think that’s why people are slow to embrace it. But it’s a no-brainer for me.”

McManamon, whose father, Maxi, and brother, Brendan, both played for Dublin, said he has learned not to beat himself up about poor performances.

“I was traditionally very hard on myself, I thought it would be a source of motivation, that if I was hard on myself I’d try harder in training,” he said.

“Without realising it, I was basically just chiselling away at my confidence.

“I give myself a lot more love now when I review my games rather than spending days... like, you speak to athletes who score a hat-trick in a soccer match, then they miss one and it’s all they can think about. It’s a very natural thing to do but I’d be spending more time thinking about the hat-trick if I was giving them advice.”

Meanwhile, Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham has raised the prospect of a number of rising stars playing senior hurling at Croke Park just months after representing the minors there.

Donal Burke and Cian O’Sullivan are among a crop of newcomers who have played for Dublin in the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup having helped the 2016 minors to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Dublin open their Allianz League campaign against All-Ireland champions Tipperary at Croke Park on February 11.

“Tipp will love the challenge of playing in Croke Park but it’s a great opportunity for some of our lads to, potentially for some of the minor lads who played in an All-Ireland semi-final there last year, to come back a couple of months later and play there as seniors,” said Cunningham.

  • Kevin McManamon and Ger Cunningham were speaking at the launch of Dublin GAA’s car partnership with Subaru

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