Southampton’s promotion this weekend has been a masterclass in positive self-talk. Despite varying results over the course of the season, the managers post-match interview has been consistent throughout. He is a clear advocate of positive self-talk, and believes in his own ability, and that of his team.
The psychology of a professional sportsman is paramount to success. The story that this always reminds me of is the great Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. Before Bannister ran under four minutes, nearly every supposed expert in the world stated that it was humanly impossible. Doctors were even saying that the human body would explode if subjected to that amount of sustained effort. However, Bannister believed differently and went round the course in superhuman time and the rest is history. But the incredible part to this story actually happened after Roger and his gang had all rode off into the sunset. In the year that followed, 37 different runners also broke the four-minute mark, and amazingly the year after that, over 300 broke it. So, what changed in those couple of years? The fact was that people began to believe it was possible because someone had already achieved it. The belief accompanied with the regular training and disciplines of a professional athlete meant that the bar was raised right across the field.
So, back to Southampton Football Club. For those that are not aware of my silver-winged angels that play in red and white, they were promoted last year from the third division, and this year they have been promoted from the second division into the top flight. Back to back promotions are very rare and an amazing achievement, but there have been some recent precedents. Manchester City achieved it a few years ago, and more importantly Norwich achieved it last year. This was fresh in the minds of the Saints players, and so it was much easier to believe that it was possible. We were playing against teams that had either just been relegated, who had failure at the forefront of their minds, or teams that had been in the division for years and lacked any winning momentum.
What Nigel Adkins, the manager of Southampton, did very well was install a belief in his team that it was possible to get promoted again. With every success along the way he reinforced this message publicly and privately, and with every setback he pulled the single result back into perspective and then reinforced the overall successful belief once again. Success breeds success because the more it is achieved the more it is expected.
Winners of all kinds have one thing in common, they nearly always treat success with more importance than failure. They see failure as a lesson that can be learnt from, and then forgotten about. As the phrase goes; there is no failure only feedback. I have enjoyed watching the manner in which we have achieved success this season, and the interviews with the staff consistently highlight the importance that they put on the preparation of the minds of their players. Next season will be a challenge but I am confident that the people in charge will ensure that we are prepared once again to defy belief, and keep the Saints Marching On.