Kevin McManamon: I wouldn’t be playing for Dublin if I didn’t use sports psychology

September 18, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

ALMOST A YEAR ago to the day, Kevin McManamon sat in front of the media in Croke Park and outlined his very simple goal – to be in the parade on All-Ireland final day.

“It’s a big bullseye for me,” he said last year. ”I like a challenge.”

Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Up to that point McManamon had earned the reputation as Dublin’s super-sub. But his bold declaration worked, and the St Jude’s attacker started every one of Dublin’s championship games last summer, including both finals.

It’s an old trick of sports psychology, put your goals out there and then go after them. McManamon would know- it’s his profession.

“It is important that you put things out there,” he says at the launch of Dublin’s sponsorship deal with Subaru. “And it’s something I’ve actually learnt since, how important it is to put things out there.”

The 30-year-old graduated with a Masters in Applied Sports and Exercise Psychology from UUJ in 2014, and he’s put his studies to good use, both on and off the field.

McManamon set up his own business in the industry last year and works with a number of individuals and teams, including reigning national basketball champions Templeogue.

“I work with anyone who is trying to do something different in their lives, and I do a lot of work with schools speaking about mental health. And you’d have fellas saying ‘this is not for me’, then you’d have a five-minute conversation with them and you’d realise they’re naturally working on the tools that you’d give them.”

He has no doubt making it to the elite level of any sport is as much mental as it is physical. In his younger days he struggled with nerves before games with Dublin, but in time has witnessed the positive impact working on the mental aspect has had on his game.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“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 working on your mental skills is a no-brainer for me.

“Early in my career, I got very stressed before big games. There was always that bit of performance anxiety that I didn’t understand, 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 for me.

“When I started playing with Dublin I thought I knew it all, and I didn’t. It caught me a few times early in my career, in a few big games in Croke Park. So I just started working on it and over the last three years it’s come into fruition, all the work that I’ve done, the different things that I’ve tried.

“When you talk about the difference between winning and losing, no one says it’s the team that 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 for that?”

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Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Joe Brolly has been among the most vocal critics of psychology and its benefits, particularly when it comes to sport. Without naming names, McManamon feels most of the doubters don’t understand fully what it entails.

“It (the criticism) is absolute nonsense, it’s the people who don’t really deeply understand what they’re talking about,” he continues

“I think some people are critical because it’s difficult to measure. People know if you get a strength and conditioning coach they can make the team 10 per cent stronger, or 10 per cent faster. And they can show that with testing.

“Whereas it’s very hard to measure improvements on the mental side of sport. It’s hard, but you know yourself. It’s subjective really. So I think that’s why people are slow to embrace it. But again it’s a no-brainer for me.

“But I don’t think it’s simple as bashing sports psychology. It’s bashing positive thinking, which is another area altogether. There’s that part of sports psychology, where there are probably people who wouldn’t be as well trained as they should be working in the area, which is where some of the issues lie.

“So I think there’s a lack of understanding of the work that people actually do in performance coaching. It’s not sitting around chanting, or anything like that. It’s about putting a bit of tangibility, a bit of structure, on the things you find it hard to measure.”

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

These days, McManamon has a couple of techniques he uses to benefit his own performance. First of all he takes a positive approach to evaluating his performances.

“I was traditionally very hard on myself. I thought it would be a source of motivation, if I was hard on myself, that I’d try harder in training. Without realising that I was basically just chiselling away at my confidence. I give myself a lot more love now when I review my games.

“You speak to players that score a hat-trick in a soccer match, then they miss one, and it’s all they can think about. It’s a very natural thing to do. But I’d be spending more time thinking about the hat-trick if I was giving the advice.”

He also likes to completely switch-off when he’s away from the team environment.

“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.

“That was one of the things I did last year, and it’s something 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.”

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