Tag Archives: Sports Psychology

Dedication’s what you need…..

…if you want to be a record breaker.

That is what Nigel Adkins is, on more than one occasion, and at a startlingly regular occurrence. Since taking the helm at Southampton, the history writers and record keepers have had their work cut out.

Currently on a run of ten consecutive league victories, dropping just four points from the last possible fifty seven, Saints under his leadership have won their first four league games for the first time in their football league history, and he simultaneously became the quickest Saints manager to reach one hundred points. He is currently on a 70% win ratio from his fifty games in charge, a staggeringly high number. So why when Adkins was appointed last year were Saints fans sceptical and underwhelmed?

Well, Adkins wasn’t and perhaps still isn’t a “name” and often us Saints fans can be guilty of thinking we are still a Premier League club who should be bringing in someone big, but also, Adkins footballing background lacks glamour, or for that matter much credentials. In terms of education, Adkins would seem well equipped, holding a degree in Sports Psychology from Salford University, but in football, rather ignorantly, bits of paper are often disregarded in favour of playing reputation.

Adkins, has a little known playing reputation. A goalkeeper for his local club Tranmere Rovers from 1983 to 1986 and then at Wigan Athletic until 1993, apart from a solitary season in the second division, he spent his entire football league career in the bottom two divisions. In 93, he moved on to Bangor City and the Welsh league, and was soon given the position of player/manager. Adkins led Bangor to two Welsh titles before changing tact in his career and pursuing his physiotherapy qualifications.

Adkins took the role of Physio at Scunthorpe United before eventually becoming their manager and the rest as they say is history. So why the scepticism from Saints fans, he has already proved it to be premature and won the Saints faithful round, but actually a look at some other managers should have taught us that football playing pedigree isn’t necessarily a key requirement to be a good manager.

A young Nigel Adkins heading for a bright managerial career. Picture courtesy of Tranmere Rovers Football Club.

In fact, we as Saints fans should feel pretty silly about our snobbery, as the manager who brought us the only major trophy in our history, Lawrie McMenemy had an even less remarkable playing career.

There is an argument that actually the top managers have come from the back of less successful playing careers. To be a good coach, you don’t need to have the the physical ability, but the ability to convey ideas, tactics and strategy. Whether you can play a ball to the right place at the right time, doesn’t mean you can’t instruct someone who does have that skill to do so. Some fantastic players have also had disastrous managerial stints, Bryan Robson, a great example. Of course there is no set rule to what makes a good manager and what doesn’t, but it is of course easier to get a head start in management after a high profile playing career, so for me it is, far more of an achievement for somebody that has to work their way up to be successful than someone who is handed a top job on a plate because of their playing days.

The most recent example of someone with big success in the coaching arena is Jose Mourinho, who along with the two other managers that have dominated the English Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, don’t have an international cap between them. The self titled “Special One” worked as an interpretor and backroom coach for years before bursting on to the scene with Porto.

Vanderlei Luxemburgo is widely regarded as the most successful coach in Brazilian football, and even found himself the manager of the national team, whom he led to Copa America triumph in 1999 and later as boss of Real Madrid, all this despite a non-eventful playing career.

Franz Beckenbaur and Mario Zagallo are in the minority amongst the World Cup winning managers, having also achieved such a feat as players. Take these two out of the World Cup winning alumni though, and the rest have less than one hundred international playing caps between them.

So why do some of the less successful players make such good coaches? Perhaps it is an added drive to succeed after not reaching the heights they might have liked in their playing days. There is definitely a case, that someone who has done everything they could as a player may have less hunger when that career ends, but like I said earlier, there is no set rule. Some players, successful or otherwise, just become students of the game, while others, no matter how well they can play it, don’t.

In Nigel Adkins, we very much have someone who became a student of the game, and now it is paying dividends, perhaps the next time we look to appoint a less glamourous named manager we will think twice before doubting them…

Chris

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris