FOUR years ago Donegal footballer Colm McFadden was playing - or should I say trying to play - a football match against Cork and was withdrawn from the action after a somewhat inadequate performance. As I watched him taking his seat up in the stand he was laughing while putting on his tracksuit top and didn't seem to have a care in the world. It was strange behaviour from a man pulled out of a big match because of a sub-standard performance.
Fast forward to September of this year, and McFadden was an All-Ireland champion and arguably the best footballer in Ireland in 2012. So what changed? This is the burning question.
Did McFadden's team manager change him? Did his teammates change? Did his mindset change? No matter what challenge a player faces he has to be in the right mindset in order for him to excel in his game. Did Colm McFadden rise to the top of his game in 2012? He most certainly did.
Mark my words, it was McFadden's mindset that changed. It simply had to. If he had any dream or mere hope of being the Colm McFadden he was in Croke Park last September he had to think differently; certainly move away from the devil-maycare guy who chuckled to himself after a damning siubstitution.
How many times have we all been in conversation with someone, talking up a player we think could make it at county minor or under-21 or senior level but then, almost without pause, we are told that the player won't make the cut because the player won't listen or is too negative, on and off the field of play. If it is already known the player has the skill set and fitness required to play at such high standards but simply does not have the attitude to go with it, then by this stage it is almost impossible to change his way of thinking, let alone expect the player to form a winning mindset.
In my opinion, coaches need to focus in on the younger players in creating a winning mindset for the player to be successful both at club and county level.
Take Dr Crokes for example. They are the creme de la creme when it comes to creating a winning mindset in their players from a young age.
Let me be very clear, however, that creating a winning mindset at a young age is not about submitting young players to sports psychology. In fact, it could not be further from it. I recently attended an underage coaching session in rugby, and from the moment I entered the grounds to the second the session was complete a winning mindset was being instilled in the players without they even realising it was happening. The encouragement and direction from the coaches involved was a joy to behold.
It is not a coincidence that rugby players have a winning mindset from a very young age and this carries through to be developed as the player matures. A winning mindset in rugby is part of the coaching structures DNA. A winning mindset is created and instilled in the player from a young age and the outcomes are successful.
How many times have we seen the great teams in sport play with a winning mindset - Dr Crokes, Manchester Utd, the All Blacks - they all play with style, conviction and do it with an automatic swagger about themselves regardless of the opposition, venue or the occasion.
It is clear in Kerry that we have not won an AllIreland title at minor level in a very long time. It has been far too long in fact. However, I feel this is all about to change.
Recently I spoke with five players from different clubs who played on Kerry minor teams in the last number of years. I asked each player the same question: what is it that is missing? What are we not picking up on or is it as simple as we are not good enough? All five answers were similar in that all the players felt they played with skilful players, but amazingly all five players spoke about the lack of heart and courage from some players when the so-called chips were down. They spoke of players' self doubt and players losing confidence when the matches were very tight.
I went on and asked all five a second question: Was there a winning mindset within the group of players they played alongside? Their answer was fascinating and again all five answers were similar. They felt that some players had the winning mentality and some had not. One player, in particular, was convinced that a team mate of his was the most skillful player on the pitch but felt his attitude during the match was the worst he had ever witnessed.
I repeat: Dr Crokes, Manchester Utd and the All Blacks have all got one thing in common - a winning mindset. It is part of their make-up and is a major component in being successful in their chosen sports.
It is necessary to create a winning mindset in a player from a young age, as it has been proved that a winning mindset and a high skill base can be a lethal combination.
Muhammad Ali once chanted at fifteen years of age "I am the greatest" and so he was.