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25th Oct 2017

Top performance psychologist shares fantastic tips on how to improve your game

Wise words

Patrick McCarry

15 minutes chatting with Gerry Hussey and you’re ready to give your all for the cause.

The performance psychologist has worked with the likes of Munster Rugby, Galway GAA stars and the Irish boxing team in recent years and has been credited with bringing an extra level out in a host of our nation’s top sports stars.

Hussey spoke about his work with Munster on The Hard Yards podcast [from 35:00 below] but his thoughts and tips on how to improve performances and mentality can be applied to a whole range of sports.

“My drive as a psychologist,” he says, “is, ‘What is it that gives the human mind the ability to overcome adversity and believe in itself when others mightn’t, and somehow see opportunity rather than problems?'”

Hussey deals with sports stars on the up and ones that are going through rough patches, on and off the field of play. The first thing he does with someone low on confidence, he says, is simply listen to them. “In every situation, you can look for the quick fix or the real fix. I’ve always been interested in the real fix.”

Getting athletes to focus on themselves first and then addressing performances later is the first port of call. In talking about a ‘hole in the soul’, Hussey believes it is vital for sportspeople to connect with themselves rather than seeking to fill any gaps in their lives with medals or trophies. The person you see in the mirror is one you must be willing to fight for and one that you want to see grow and develop.

For Hussey, that extends to the team ethos. He believes the team that truly cares for one another is the team that will go further to ensure they win.

He outlines a dressing room conversation he has had – in different settings – with teams gunning for Heineken Cups, All-Irelands and boxing titles. Hussey says:

“I sit them in a circle and I say, ‘Lads, we’ve one question to answer in this session and it’s – What is the one thing that is stopping us from winning? And before you answer it, I’m going to give you a clue – it’s not outside this dressing room. In fact, it’s sitting in this circle right now.

“‘If we can identify it and be big enough, humble and vulnerable enough to say it and name it, then we can change it. And if we change it, we can win anything we want to win’.”

Gerry Husey (left) with Galway manager Kevin Walsh in 2015.

In an age where training sessions are being recorded for video analysis – including drone footage – the pressure is really on for young sportspeople. However, Hussey has some great advice for those looking to improve their game without getting too stressed. He says:

“The important thing is deconstruct your performance. Don’t deconstruct yourself.

“So when you’re analysing your game, you can talk about your exit speed, breakdowns, handling, kicking, your decision-making, but all of those are things that I do. They’re not me.

“They are skills that I have or I don’t have. I can develop them. I can tweak them; enhance them.

“You need a real strong sense of identity about who you are. Right, my values are kindness, confidence, I’m a good team player, I turn up every day for myself. And this game is what I do.”

When he is talking to young people, Hussey sees that so many associate themselves, as a person, with the sport they excel at. “Suddenly,” he says, “instead of having that multi-dimensional inner-growth, that growth is all around [their sport].

“The more that your identity is linked to what you do, the more that deconstructing what you do deconstructs who you are.”

To Hussey, who you are and what you do are two completely different areas. One covers your beliefs and values while the other is a talent or profession.

His main goal is to help athletes find a sense of self, where they know and live their values. Team selection is not always in your control, Hussey adds, but what we can control is how we handle ourselves on a day-to-day basis.

“I do get to control how I turn up for training every day, how I speak to my teammates and, more important, how I speak to myself. My values are present in how I prepare, how I take feedback, connect with my teammates.

“People know who I am and as long as people know who I am, I don’t mind them commenting on what I do.”

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