Joe Brolly: Feng shui, virtual reality and peanuts can make a county win again
At the invitation of a friend, I attended a senior county team forum last Saturday. It was a real eye-opener.
The point of the event, which included a series of presentations, was that if the county want to start winning again, they need to start upping their game. And, as it transpired during the day, they needed to start spending more money. A lot more money. Entitled 'Marginal Gains. Investing in winning', the event was very well attended with stakeholders from across a whole range of interests, including the County Supporters Club, the GPA and various sponsors.
First up was an interactive presentation from elite performance start-up company 'Performacon', who caused a stir amongst delegates with their virtual GAA pitch and interactive headsets. Described by their CEO as "a cutting-edge electronic Gaelic games system that revolutionises the delivery of tactics and strategic goals, mitigates the impact of injured players and improves the all-round playing experience going forward", it proved a big hit on the day.
The Performacon high performance system makes the tedious process of whiteboards/blackboards and print-outs for tactical work obsolete. Nor is there any longer a requirement for marking out areas and walking players through a strategy before beginning the laborious work of implementation.
When Jimmy McGuinness took over in Donegal, almost the first thing the players were introduced to was his tactical plan, marked out in meticulous detail on the ballroom floor in The Downings Bay Hotel. Now, players will simply put on their headsets and be walked through the tactics on a virtual pitch. The county chairman was invited on stage to demonstrate the headset and was overheard saying, "Jesus lads, I feel like a stormtrooper from Star Wars", which brought a chuckle from the floor.
The other benefit of the headset is that players will be able to bring them with them, so a tactical session can be done anywhere at any time. Also, as the Performacon people explained, if a player is injured, he will be kept up to speed with tactical work and strategy, so that his return to the team will be seamless.
The attendees also heard from a leading Feng Shui performance consultant, Sara Beddington, who has a background in sports science. Used by many squads, including Sky's cycling team, Feng Shui consultants rearrange living and training spaces, introduce carefully researched fragrances depending on the personality of the players and repaint the important areas, like the fitness suite, the meeting area, showers, canteen and changing areas.
In Sky's case, they travelled in advance of the peloton to each hotel or apartments where the team was staying to install beds, custom-made mattresses depending on the riders' physique and weight, hypo-allergenic pillows etc.
Ms Beddington explained that used in the right way, feng shui "brings elite players happiness, good fortune and wellness, allowing them to focus on performance without any mental obstacles." She told us that the "positive energies of feng shui become the squad's guide, creating balance, joy and total relaxation, which in turn leads to excellent composure and on-field decision-making." I was tempted to say, "whether or not you are asthmatic," but no one was laughing.
The chairman said it had been a source of discontent within the county for some time that Tyrone were so far ahead in this area. One delegate at the meeting pointed out that Tyrone's Centre of Excellence has huge portraits of Mickey Harte, interactive displays showing the winning All-Ireland teams, and an enormous Red Hand sculpted in iron as its centrepiece. "Meanwhile," he said, "we have a handwritten sign pointing towards the supporters' club shop."
The feng shui consultant's PowerPoint to the delegates, which we were given hard copies of in our information packs, includes the following paragraph: "To boost health and energy, I recommend we start by painting the walls of your changing and fitness rooms.
"It is vital, given the county's recent history of failure, that we choose colours which are optimistic, warm and reflect the core mission of the squad. Soft yellows, soft greens - colours that give a feeling of the sun and nature - will create a sense of new beginning, vitality, and new vibrations. These will ignite powerful energy shifts in your players and help to unleash strong positive forces."
After the lunch break, performance guru Dr James Seymour gave a fascinating presentation on his revolutionary 'Visual Awareness Boot Camp TM'. Dr Seymour, a retired lacrosse player, has worked with a number of leading teams across a range of sports. VABC was described in the notes as: "A series of online drills that measure reaction speed, spatial awareness, and decision-making by elite athletes across every sport. VABC measures the ability of an individual to memorise numbers and shapes that flash up on the screen in a split second. In ten minutes of training on VABC, an athlete can - without realising it - make over a thousand split-second decisions. Over the period of the ten-week VABC, the athlete will vastly improve hand-eye co-ordination without ever needing to be on the training field."
Seymour, who has written several papers on the subject, explained that sports teams "have forgotten about the importance of eyes." He explained that "eyes need regular workouts in exactly the same way as muscles all over the body, and this is provided by VABC."
The county players will be placed on an eye regime "that periodises the training leading up to the championship and sets out a clear regime for the players to follow."
Asked by one delegate to give a little more detail, the doctor told us that their 10-week regime will include the eyelash press (a tiny electronic fibre is attached to the eyelash and linked to a micro-weight), the alternate eye winking device, and the peanut challenge.
The mention of "peanut challenge" brought laughter from the floor but when a video presentation was shown of an international rugby team engaged in the challenge, the mood changed.
Described as "a classic hand-eye co-ordination test designed to greatly enhance reflexes and spatial awareness" the challenge begins with a seated player throwing a peanut into the air and catching it in his mouth.
Once the player can repeat this 20 times without error, then the group moves to stage two, in which peanuts are thrown randomly into the air by the squad members. When two numbers are read out by a computerised box, player one throws it in the air for player two to catch. In this way, "the players improve the subtlety of their throw, increase their awareness of distance and understand better the relationship between a moving object and gravity." The GPA rep asked how this would work for stakeholders who have a nut allergy. Dr Seymour confirmed that where a player suffered from a genuine allergy, M&Ms could be used without encroaching on the VABC copyright.
The doctor's PowerPoint presentation was surprisingly well received. One eye-catching passage was: "My system is virtually guaranteed to create freakish reaction times with your players, leading to increased numbers of interceptions, more effective blanket defending and better solo running."
The chairman expressed his confidence in the new system, although to the disappointment of local journalists waiting outside until late into the night, the cost was described as "commercially sensitive" and was not announced. One attendee angrily denounced the plan and asked the chairman "Will the clubs be expected to pay for all of this?" Happily, he was quickly removed by security, though not before he could shout, "Have you all lost your minds? What about the f**king clubs?"
The chairman apologised to the county team's commercial partners for the outburst and it wasn't mentioned again.
There are a number of other rumours going around which I can categorically say are untrue. Contrary to reports, Mr Myagi has not been hired by the board to improve the players' balance and co-ordination.
The chairman said this had been seriously considered "given the low cost of chop sticks, bluebottles and dishcloths." The treasurer added that hiring him would have been "a great way to clean the changing rooms and management team's cars for free (wax on, wax off, etc) but Mr Myagi made too many demands including that the squad be entered into the Californian Open Karate competition."
Sunday Indo Sport