Bill Beswick on sports psychology and the mindset of Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson

An interview with sports psychologist Bill Beswick by Callum McFadden for Wireless.

You worked as a basketball head coach and won a gold medal with your England team at the Commonwealth Games. How did you go from successful coach to sports psychologist?

“It was coaching that got me into psychology because I started to realize that the more I coached England, all over the world, some players responded well in pressure situations while others didn’t. didn’t respond so well.

“I started to question the performance and wonder why one player wanted to take a ‘decisive’ shot under pressure and another didn’t.

“These questions were unanswered in coaching for me at that time. Training at that time focused on physicality, tactics and technique.

“I quickly realized that the fourth dimension of coaching was mental and emotional. I became fascinated with it and attended a conference on sports psychology in America.

“I knew then that it would be extremely important for the coaches of the future.”

When did you first feel that a career in football as a psychologist was possible?

“It was to Mick Wadsworth who was the FA’s top coach in the early 1990s.

“He invited me to speak at a youth conference in Lilleshall and there were three of us invited to speak. Three different sports coaches.

“I was assigned to talk about what football could learn from basketball. For example, a lot of football players today talk about gegenpressing when we had been pressing all over the court for years in basketball .

“When I arrived, he asked me if I could offer something different to the other speakers, so I decided to talk about sports psychology. It went very well, especially with a young coach present.

“That coach was Steve McClaren. He spoke to me after the session and we connected.

“I had a lot of experience back then and was older than him. Steve was tough and open to learning. I first met him when he was coaching the Under-17s for chat, then he would call me once a week.

“He then asked me to recommend a book to find out more and I did. He had read it in three days and called to ask for another.

Jamie Carragher gave a glowing testimonial of your work saying that your book “Focused for Soccer” really helped him.

He said: “I’ve always been interested in the mental side of the game, and Focused for Soccer was the first book that helped me understand the power of attitude and how to get the best out of myself. .”

In your experience, have footballers and coaches always been open to learning and developing the mental side of their game?

“There was a huge reluctance at the start. I got into gaming during the old “macho” days where players didn’t want to be seen as weak by seeing a psychologist.

“However, foreign players arriving in the Premier League helped change that perception as they were more open to talk. Eventually that attitude spread through the game.

“More coaches then started to join me and be open to my work. It really took off from there because good sports psychology can basically help a coach in his ultimate goal which is to win as many games as possible. as possible.

“I have already spoken of a psychologist as being a ‘stretch’ rather than a ‘shrink’. Our job is to stretch performance and that is the nature of our role.

“I consider myself a performance psychologist because coaches appointed me to help them win. My job was to break down barriers to mental and emotional performance for the good of the team.

“I would look at individual players who were underperforming and seek to identify barriers that might impact their ability to perform.

“I managed to break down mental and emotional barriers by working in unison with players and coaches.”

You worked with Steve McClaren for many years with Middlesbrough, England and Twente among others. Can you describe how Steve works with it from a professional and personal perspective?

“Steve is a good guy. We became great friends and I admired his football philosophy.

“He said he would do what he does best – which is be a great coach – and leave the rest to me. It worked really well for us.

“Steve had the same problems as all head coaches and that’s the pressure. You have good times, bad times, and in-between times, but we had a great time working together.

“He respected me and gave me the opportunity to work with the team and the players on what I did best. He trusted me with the team and took my advice seriously. is the key to any strong relationship in the game.”

To what extent does your role as a team psychologist rely on the foundation of strong personal relationships with the players?

“Relationships are crucial. I’m so happy to have been a coach before being a psychologist because I knew the language of coaches and players.

“I knew what made them tick. I was immersed in training at different levels, so I had an edge on what engaged players.

“The main point of my career has been the relationship with coaches and players. For example, many of the coaches I work with now were players when I first met them.

“People come back to me for more advice and help. Honestly, I don’t think you can work on the emotional, personal side of someone’s game without having a strong relationship at the heart of it.

You worked at Manchester United with Sir Alex Ferguson. How did you work with him given the pressure on Manchester United to win the biggest titles in the game?

“Manchester United has been a wonderful experience for me. I would never have left if Steve hadn’t offered me the assistant manager job at Middlesbrough.

“I think I became the first non-player to become an assistant manager in the Premier League at that time.

“Sir Alex Ferguson was a great manager and United are a great club. I studied him during my time there and three things really stood out to me about him.

“He gave direction to the team, he gave the team momentum and he consistently set high standards of expectation and performance every day. He was in total control of the whole process.

“My time at Manchester United has been a wonderful experience to be able to work at this level.”

I also have to ask you about Roy Keane who you worked with as a player at Manchester United, but who was also a manager when he moved to Sunderland. What did Roy enjoy working alongside?

“Roy had an incredibly strong and competitive mindset. It was part of his nature. Both Alex and Roy shared the similarity of having a fighter mentally.

“Most people move between a mentality of fighter or victim depending on the circumstances. We are all weak at times. We all give in to pressure on occasion, but not these two.

“Both of them embodied a fighter mentality. They would fight every day, never give up or accept being a victim.

“Roy was in many ways a crucial part of Manchester United’s success because of the high standards he set every day.

“The other players had to reach them or Roy would tell them in no uncertain terms what they needed to improve. He was good at giving honest feedback.

“The view at Manchester United under Sir Alex at the time was that if we could set the highest standards from Monday to Friday then Saturday would become easier. This was often the case, as the results of that time.

You worked abroad with Steve McClaren at FC Twente. Have you noticed a difference in mentality between Dutch players and English players when it comes to their approach to football?

“Yes, there was a distinct difference in the English game being shrouded in media, or the illusion of the game as I sometimes call it. It can distort the game somewhat making it less ‘real’.

“While in Dutch football the game was really a player’s job. It wasn’t shrouded in media. It was simpler and less flimsy. Less susceptible to shocking horror stories.

“Being a footballer was considered a good job. Something you give your all five days a week and every time you play.

“The players on the pitch were smart about the game and loved debating their football. They looked for different solutions rather than just one solution.

“It was crucial for the success that Steve and I had. I really enjoyed the Dutch culture.

Finally, Bill, you refer to the success you and Steve had in the Netherlands. You won the Eredivisie title with FC Twente and beat historic clubs like Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV to do so. Does this achievement mean even more to both of you now when you look at Ajax’s dominance in particular over the past decade?

“I think so because we didn’t fully realize at the time how important it was. When you win a championship, it’s not just one thing. Not until Steve McClaren or Bill Beswick.

“It depends on a number of factors to ensure that you have consistent high levels of drive and momentum to succeed over a season.

“We had a good team with two exceptional personalities in the staff. Steve was at his best on the coaching court and we were strong in terms of injury management that season.

“We focused on performance and the wins came our way. We worked every day to make the team as good as possible and the championship came our way. It was a huge success.”


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