Wednesday 11 December 2019

O'Sullivan putting 'power of mind' to use on and off the pitch

O'Sullivan:
O'Sullivan: "You’re kind of your own guinea pig – practising on yourself, making mistakes, learning, growing. And you see other leadership styles from managers who have come in." Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Shane O'Sullivan appreciates the power of mind over body better than most - and not just because he's a Ballygunner veteran who endured plenty of scarring Munster defeats before last year's provincial club final breakthrough.

In his day job, the former Waterford hurler is a performance psychology consultant and coach.

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He understands the importance of an uncluttered brain and positive thinking, be it taking to the pitch for Sunday's AIB Munster club SHC final against Borris-Ileigh in Páirc Uí Rinn - or if you're a business leader seeking to maximise your company's potential.

One man opened up his mind to a subject that has now fascinated O'Sullivan for two decades: Liam Griffin, the last manager to lead Wexford to the All-Ireland hurling summit in 1996.

The connection came about after O'Sullivan and his fellow students from De La Salle, Waterford, attended a talk delivered by Griffin, who had been a boarder in the school many years previously.

"Derek McGrath was our teacher and trainer, so he brought us down to New Ross to hear Liam speak," O'Sullivan explains.

"He spoke for an hour … we were expecting him to talk about hurling skills, and all he spoke about was performance psychology, basically, we call it today.

"The power of the mind. Visualisation. How to motivate a team. How they (Wexford) worked - some players actually went in, one-on-one, like Billy Byrne and did visualisation sessions instead of being out on the field training.

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"I was just blown away, as a 14-year-old. And afterwards the teacher told me to go up and thank him as captain of the team. So, I thanked him and I plucked up the courage to ask 'have you any advice on what to read', because I was enthralled by it.

"And he told me to read 'The Inner Game of Tennis' by a man called Timothy Gallwey. So, in I went to the book centre in Waterford city and they ordered it in for me.

"I read that book - and never stopped reading about psychology and the power of the mind ever since. I just found it unbelievably beneficial and powerful - and so, so important in sport obviously but then business and life as well."

O'Sullivan's lengthy Waterford career had finished up before they embarked on their most recent run to an All-Ireland SHC final, in 2017.

"Performing inter-county wise, you're trying to get the edge all the time and seeing what works," he explains.

"You're kind of your own guinea pig - practising on yourself, making mistakes, learning, growing. And you see other leadership styles from managers who have come in.

"Justin McCarthy would have a different leadership style than Davy Fitz. And Derek (McGrath) would have a different leadership than Davy. And then Michael Ryan was there. So, you're learning all the time.

"I did the masters in sports psychology in WIT, and did the higher diploma executive coaching in the Irish Management Institute then. So, that brings you to what I work at today - a high performance coach, a leadership coach, in companies throughout the world."

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