There is a big difference between being motivated to win and having the mentality of a winner. People often confuse these things.

I recently had an interesting Twitter exchange with a coach who argued that mentality can be coached. He pointed at the work of sport psychologists and the fact that developing the psyche of players was in the football (coaching) curriculum. He didn’t agree with me, and I didn’t agree with him, and that was that. So, can mentality be taught? My answer is still a resounding ‘no’. Why? Let’s see.

A football psychologist is like a motivational speaker. His work isn’t specifically long term. It is more likely geared towards making you pick up some extra Adrenaline that would get the immediate work done and move you to the next phase. It’s about that 90-minute final. It’s about that 30-minute extra time. It can be effective when used right. It’s like preparing men for a battle. You rely on spirit or bond or anything that would suffice. In the case of an individual in the context of a team, he is worked on in that exact context. He isn’t being built in spite of the team; rather, as a part of it…because really, you cannot build a player in spite of the team, he does that himself.

Motivation is a bad foundation to build on. It will fade, and the catalyst is setbacks. The psychologist uses whatever works; screaming at the player while looking into his eyes, telling him to yell out and believe he is the best (even if, deep down, he isn’t convinced he is…he might believe it for a while) and many other methods. It could be steady work over time, building the confidence of a player so that he can see himself differently or train better. The psychologist gets his spirit up and tries to make him start feeling good (or that he is the best). The goal isn’t conviction, no. It is, mostly, to force self-belief down the throat of the person. It can be masked as many things, but it is what it is. And it goes in and does its job. For a while.

Mentality or motivation?
Leicester City were Premier League champions last season. Did they have players with a winning mentality or were they highly motivated?

But a problem usually arises; the player needs a new dose every time because the belief is built on the foundation of the psychologist’s words. He needs to keep taking the drug every time it begins to wear off. He needs to subscribe for when his data allocation expires.

The motivator refreshes the player. He screams. Or he manipulates him into believing in himself again. He raises him back to the level he needs to be to win. Rinse. Repeat. It’s not the player, it’s the motivator. And here lies the problem; the player is not the source. That is why, when setbacks come and things get scary, the player wilts. There is no depth and the foundation is not with the player.

Mentality is the characteristic way of thinking of a person. It is linked with the strength of character of a person. The person doesn’t learn character strength; he merely hones what he was allocated when he was born. External factors might play a massive role in how strength of character & mentality are grown, but they do no teach these to the person. It’s like experiences shaping how a person perceives the world.

The mentality of a winner is deeper than the mentality of a man merely motivated to win. It’s on him. The winner with his mentality is convinced beyond reasonable doubt about his abilities. No setback would permanently change that. He wouldn’t need a motivator to build him up again every time a setback breaks him a bit. He can take himself back to that level all on his own. Why? Because, with him, it’s the doubts that wear off not the belief. He does not really need anybody’s words to be recharged. He recharges himself because he already has the conviction that he is who he is, and he is capable, no matter how many times he loses.

This is why a player can get to the same level where he has lost twice or three times before and still get himself to keep going. He sees an opportunity to make up for all the times he failed. That is his focus. He isn’t focused on the circumstances at hand and the signs telling him he is going to lose again. And if he loses? He’s back next time. That is why a Cristiano Ronaldo can be humiliated at the FIFA World Player of the Year podium, go back and work twice as hard to be better, come back the next year to the podium and be the reason why everybody claps as he picks up the award. Did they learn it? I don’t think so. I believe it is built into the fabrics of their being by their own actions.

ronaldo
A natural born winner. He couldn’t hide his joy when he finally won the much coveted Balon D’Or.

Having a great mentality is more than being able to show passion. It is about being able to stand up at points where everybody expects you to fall. It’s about going head-to-head with someone clearly ahead of you in the pecking order and taking his spot. And you don’t do that by merely believing that you can, or by being motivated. You do that by having the mind-set of a champion. A champion who understands the value of putting in work/extra hours, in perfecting his craft. Great mentality is Frank Lampard always wanting to train. Great mentality is self-discipline.

Ronaldo De Lima is one of the most gifted players in the history of football. He had it in him to become the greatest. Despite his injuries, he hit heights many can only dream of. As much as a certain injury played a major role in messing up his career, he was just as much to blame. He hated training, Raul testifies. He refused to put in work to keep in shape. Ronaldo understood how good a player he was and had the conviction, but self-belief is never enough. A player without self-discipline has a poor mentality and his career will suffer. That is also Ronaldinho in a nutshell. There’s no way one could’ve taught these players to have a great mentality. It was down to them and the strengths of their character. Great mentality is keeping your head & discipline when you hit the heights. Again, it isn’t taught.

Verdict

Mentality is not teachable. If a player’s mentality is poor, it is his fault. He cannot go to school to learn these things. He cannot go to a coach or psychologist or a motivator to teach him. At the end of the day, a player’s mentality is his cross to bear. In Slake’s opinion, of course.

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