Saturday 19 August 2017

Sports psychology saved my Dublin career - McManamon

Kevin McManamon at Parnell Park yesterday for the announcement that Subaru is to be Dublin GAA’s official car partner. Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon at Parnell Park yesterday for the announcement that Subaru is to be Dublin GAA’s official car partner. Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's been a long and winding road for Kevin McManamon to go from 'supersub' to starter, but without utilising sports psychology the dynamic Dublin attacker doesn't believe he'd be anywhere near where he is today.

The 30-year-old's county career came full circle last season as he finally shed his 'impact sub' role to nail down a starting berth and collect his fourth All-Ireland medal in six years.

On the outside his chiselled physique exudes confidence as his game-changing displays continuously steered Sam Maguire in the direction of the capital. But for so long there were doubts beneath the skin.

Paralysis by analysis of his performances left his confidence reeling and finding it difficult to control pre-game anxiety, his inter-county career almost went by the wayside until he focused on developing mental stability.

Always fascinated with the workings of the brain and how people perform under pressure, the St Jude's clubman gobbled up sports psychology literature but often found it hard to put into practice until years of dedication eventually "came into fruition".

And having completed a Master's in UUJ three years ago, he is now self-employed in the sports psychology industry; and after seeing his own mental progress he despises the negativity and bad press around the sector in some sections of the media.

"It's absolute nonsense, it's people who don't really deeply understand what they're talking about," he said.

"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, working on your mental skills is a no-brainer for me. I think it's because it's difficult to measure.

"If you get a strength and conditioning coach, they can make the team 10pc stronger or 10pc faster and they can show with testing. Whereas it's very hard to measure improvements on the mental side.

"That's why people are slow to embrace it. 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 for me."

Confidence

McManamon has learnt to give his performances "more love on review" and encourages individuals and teams he works with to build rather than break confidence. He also visits schools to talk about mental health, something which is close to his heart, and his activities have helped prepare him for the Croke Park cauldron with the Dubs.

"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, I got very stressed before big games. There was always that bit of performance anxiety that I didn't understand," he said. "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 so that was one of the big steps. The thing that I love so much is not just the winning. I've a lot of interests outside sport.

"I'm getting better at not being a 24-hour athlete. When I'm training I am intense, and putting all into it, but I'm getting better at taking time off, time-tabling to look at videos, prepare for the opposition," he said.

"That was one of the things I did last year, and it's something that was given to us by the manager, that when you're here you're here, when you're somewhere else you're somewhere else. It's not in your brain the whole time."

Parading behind the Artane Band was his 2016 goal but having just returned from their team holiday in Jamaica "nothing has been put down on paper yet". He's a firm believer that "there's always a bit more you can squeeze out of yourself" and McManamon testifies to sports psychology's power in this game of inches.

Irish Independent

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