What is your most valuable possession? There are a number of different responses possible. Many will identify family and friends, some might describe something of sentimental importance or significant personal worth. I am reminded of the scene from the TV’s ‘Modern Family’, and the comical response from the brilliant character ‘Phil Dunfy’. Here’s the exchange:

Jay: “If I could only save one possession in a fire, probably my first set of golf clubs. My old man gave ’em to me.”

Gloria: “The engagement ring that Jay gave me, that changed my life.”

Mitchell: “Lily’s adoption papers.”

Cam: “I was gonna say adoption papers. So I guess, then, I would say my mom’s recipe book.”

Phil: “All our family photos… Which I keep on my iPad, so my iPad.”

A middle-aged man’s affection for tech aside, when you think about it, ‘your most valuable possession’ is obvious. It is one that perhaps we don’t spend enough time looking after; one that is with you every second of every day; one that controls each moment that you spend on this earth; one that can prove the difference between success and failure, between health and illness, between life and death. Your most valuable possession is your mind.

So, the obvious question is, how do you look after your mind? We cannot keep it under lock and key. We can’t care for it like a precious engagement ring, or valuable adoption papers. How do we keep our most valuable possession safe? In one way, the answer is simple.

You mind’s ability to deal with life and everything it throws at it is extraordinary. From breathing, to complex speech, to understanding relationships, to keeping you healthy, safe, and growing. It is charge of what and who we love, how we love, how we go about our day to day business.

And then of course there is the part of the mind that we train. Not just to carry out our job, and everything included in that process, but even what we do in our spare time; driving, sporting pursuits, music, dance, being a good partner, parent, friend. Your mind has learnt all these things and it allows you to perform them without a great deal of thought. All of that knowledge and understanding is housed in the mind.

If our mind is over-stretched though, then things get more difficult. I talk at length about how things like stress can affect the mind and then subsequently cause a lot of issues for you. Not least with your health. But of course, if our mind is weighed down by too many cumbersome thoughts, too much intense activity, then other things get affected. You aren’t as good an employee, golfer, cook, piano player, spouse, parent, friend if you have a lot on your mind. And we really want to be all of these things because positive affirmation in each one of these roles brings us happiness. And I think we can all agree that whoever we are, at whatever stage we are at in life, we all want to be happy.

In short, we need to get out of our mind’s way. This is a simple sentence to write but not a simple task to carry out. We need to learn how to let our mind do what it needs to do and remove the interference we can be responsible for.

This is probably best explained by describing something you probably do already. Have you ever had something on your mind and ended up going for a walk? Maybe it was a problem in your social life, or a difficulty with work; maybe a complexity which needed solving in some way. Now, more often than not, that walk works. You end the walk in a different state of mind than you started it and very often with a possible solution to the problem. Walks are great for that. And there are particular reasons why it works. Walks are, in a way, an accessible example of how getting out of your mind’s way can allow it to work all on its own.

Your mind is an incredible piece of kit and sometimes, I am afraid to tell you, humans aren’t great at looking after their own minds. We over-think, over-complicate and generally overuse certain parts of our minds to our own detriment. We actually have a part of our mind that gets very confused as to what its there for. It gets involved in things it shouldn’t and makes life much more complicated and difficult for you. Getting this relationship healthy is one of the most important steps you can make.

Looking after your mind isn’t as tricky as it sounds. It takes a little bit of time and focus, the deployment of a few tools and tricks, but it is very possible. I have people who come to me and say that they don’t have a huge amount of time but that is something of an illusion: we all have the time. And indeed, learning how to think about the way you think, isn’t an addition to a workload, rather than a change in the way you work.

The benefits are huge. Through the realisation of what you can do with your mind, your life changes. Your mood changes, your appreciation of everything around you changes, everything gets a little bit better.

Notice I haven’t said easier. I can’t flick a switch and make your life easy. If I could, I would be the most important person on this earth and paid accordingly! But what I can do is get you to think about the way you think and, slowly, day by day, bit by bit, get you to recognise the control that is possible and the way your mindset can end up making a big difference.

And your most valuable possession is worth that. It is very much worth looking after, because ultimately, it is looking after you.

Get in contact.

This is a really good exercise to do with athletes and performers who are feeling a little overwhelmed. We all have lives that can, at times, get on top of us. It leads to a feeling of helplessness and confusion. Young athletes trying to balance school or college work with performing in top teams can most definitely feel the pressure created by workloads. By conducting this exercise with them, you can make life simpler, less complex, and, in turn, increase their confidence.

action activity adult athletes

It takes around thirty minutes to complete, is owned and led by the athletes themselves, and can have a profound affect on how they see and think about what they are trying to do. It borrows some thinking from the bestselling book by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga ‘The Courage to Be Disliked’, which, in turn, leans on the philosophy of Alfred Adler.

You don’t have to be involved in sports to benefit. I have used it with parents and business people. Whatever you do, this exercise is a great way to focus your thoughts. It creates clarity, control and, subsequently, confidence. I hope it helps.

The below is written in terms of a team exercise, but it is also easy to do this with an individual athlete or performer.

1. Create a list

Ask the group to write a list of responsibilities they feel they have. What things are expected of them in order for them to do their job? These should not be position specific or in-game roles, rather standards or expectations they have to meet, whatever part they play.

The list should not be limited to a certain number of entries, it could be as many as the team decide, but I feel any decent sporting outfit will be able to create atleast ten. Concision is key here, don’t let them repeat themselves or split tasks down. If one phrase can cover things, let it.

Ask them to write things down on their own for one or two minutes. Then turn to the person next to them and share ideas. After five minutes or so, you are going to come back together and pool the ideas.

The sort of things you are looking for are listed below, but you should not help them shape it. It is really important that they come up with the words and phrases to engender ownership of the list. The below isn’t ‘a correct list’ but can act as a guide for the sort of thing you should see.

There shouldn’t really be a hierarchy for the list, although once you have it up on a board, let them talk about which of the responsibilities could be seen as most important. I would hope they all carry equal importance.

  1. Punctuality and preparation of kit and belongings
  2. Maximum effort when playing and training
  3. Be in the right mindset – a ‘can-do’ attitude
  4. Positive tone – supporting each other with our words and the way we say things
  5. Clear, concise and honest communication
  6. Hydration and Nutrition – making sure we are looking after our bodies
  7. Accountability – being big enough to recognise when things go wrong, taking responsibility, owning up to mistakes
  8. Being kind to each other – empathy – understanding how others might feel
  9. Physical preparation and recovery – keeping ourselves strong and healthy
  10.  Commitment – applying ourselves to the cause, to the mission, to each other
  11. Trusting one another – trust that everyone is trying to achieve the same thing
  12. Enjoyment – don’t forget to enjoy training and playing

2. What it takes

Once you have the list agreed, and you can give the team or individual a fair amount of time to think about it and edit/add to the list, you should ask the group three questions:

  1. Is hitting the targets on this list easy or difficult?

The answer we want to hear here is ‘difficult’. The tasks outlined will involve effort, focus and commitment. You want the group to agree to this.

2. Will keeping to these responsibilites take up a huge amount of time?

Again, you are looking for the group to concede that it will not just be effort spent, but also time. If you hit all of these marks on the list, there will not be a lot of time for much else. Being part of this journey is a consuming and time-intensive role.

3. What do you think of a team member who doesn’t keep to the list?

Hopefully you will hear a negative reaction towards a player who doesn’t hold him/herself to these standards. To be effective, we need to be equal in our approach to these sort of challenges. Interestingly, none of the things on your list will take any talent. They are things anyone can do, regardless of their sporting ability or skill. Anyone in the team should be able to meet these targets.

red and blue football jerseys

3. What’s not on the list

This is the kicker. This is where this exercise really has people thinking and reflected on how they do things. Having ascertained the qualities you need, we are now going to look at things that won’t be on the list. However, they are things that, if we’re honest, we spend time doing:

Why isn’t winning on the list? The simple answer is ‘it’s not our job’. It is a bi-product of us doing the things on our list really well. Winning (and indeed losing) is something we should not spend any time or effort thinking or worrying about. It’s out of our hands. Our list is most definitely in our hands. There should be a freedom in that thought.

Thinking about what others think about you
The book’s title hints at this. The courage not to care what others think. We spend a lot of time worrying about what others think; is that your job? You don’t really have time; doing what you have set out on this list is too difficult and time-intensive to do much else. You shouldn’t get pulled into opinions on social media, in your friendship groups or families. This is not your job. Just focus on the things you can do something about.

Complaining about form or performance
Let’s all agree it is not your job to complain about the performance of others. But it is also NOT your job to moan about the way you performed, or how things could have gone differently. This list is designed to affect the future; stop whining about what was and start working on how you can change what will be.

Getting involved in other people’s jobs
A contentious one but at its coldest, you can’t get involved in anyone else’s job; your own is enough of a demand on you. Don’t advise others, don’t do anyone else’s job for them, don’t make excuses for others, just focus on getting through your list. Anything else is a waste of time.

ladies forming a circle

4. Making things simpler, less complex

There may be other things that you can identify that are not on the list. But these four are pretty significant. I’d be interested to hear if there are other things that your athletes can identify.

If you ask them what this process does for them, the answer is often that it makes things less complicated. And with that simplcity comes more control, and with that control, we can feel more confident. The things that aren’t on the list bring worry and anxiety, doubt in your performance and that of others. If we just align ourselves with achieveing the positive messages of our new list, we don’t have any room for doubt or uncertainty. We trust in the agreed idea that even if we don’t win, yet hit the agreed targets, we will have learnt and improved. That has to be the main overarching aim.

As a heuristic, ‘Do your job’ can now exist within the team. Hopefully written on lockers or bedroom walls. Not as a mode of chastisement but as a way of reminding the team or athlete what they should be focused on.

I spent some time with Tommy Freeman last week. For those who don’t know, Freeman is a prodigious talent. Capped internationally over the summer for England, his club rugby is played for Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership. He is a favourite at Franklin’s Gardens because of the way he plays: intelligent and fast but most importantly, he seems incredibly gifted at producing outrageous pieces of skill when seemingly most needed. Within just a couple of seasons, Freeman has firmly set himself into East Midlands’ hearts.

a coach looking his soccer players
As a coach or teacher, how much information do you give?

We talked for the well-known rugby publication ‘The Rugby Journal’ about his rugby journey and making his international debut this summer. One part of our discussion linked especially well to my work as a Mind Coach. We discussed how he best performed out on the field. Amongst the disorder and the fury of a top-flight game of rugby, he revealed what worked for him to access his best self. He talked about his mindset and revealed how top coaches had recognised the way that his mind operates and how they have changed things to suit him.

We want to make sure that teachers receive the same sort of performance mindset coaching that elite athletes do. At the bottom of the page, there is an extract from an article in The Daily Telegraph where George Ford, the England Rugby player, details how he uses MP3 recordings to get him ready to perform. I want to create that sort of thing for teachers.

We hope you enjoy them; they can act as the catalyst for you to take greater care of yourself and your mind. I split them up for ease, although you can also download them as one long recording if you would prefer. They work best listened to with headphones, perhaps at a time when when you can just focus on yourself and your thinking.

Audio Recording 1 – You the teacher, your monkey and control

Audio recording 2 – Your superpower and clearing the street

Audio Recording 3 – Being ready for the next child and the best version of your teacher

All audio recordings as one

The extract from the national newspaper – this is how top performers prepare

I had a bad dream last night. One of the reasons that I am so invested in looking after other people’s mindsets is that I was, once, pretty beset by anxiety dreams. One returned last night. I now know what to do; how to deal with the subsequent feelings and thoughts I experience. Within a few moments, it was gone, dwindling like a match to its charred end.

The imagery is crucial here. Thoughts are very much like matches. If they are used in certain ways, they can start fires. Incredible, powerful, life-changing fires. Every great idea in the world started as a thought. These thoughts can propel you to achieve almost anything; feats of endurance, strength, ingenuity, passion, love and peace, all owe their existence to thought.

The flip side is the same as the match. A single match can be deadly. It can light a fire that spreads, engulfing almost everything in its way. A bad thought infects others, twisting your mindset into negativity and if unchecked, leads you down a desperate and destructive path.

Life’s challenge is about choosing which thoughts (or matches) to use as a catalyst and which to let burn out. Notice the idea of choice here though. You are in control of these things. That’s probably something to bear in mind.

“A person with great dreams can achieve great things. Dr Bob Rotella

Notice also that my words are interchangeable. I started talking about ‘dreams’ and now it’s ‘thoughts’. That’s on purpose. They are exactly the same thing, originating from the same source: your mind. And yet, curiously, we dismiss bad dreams with more ease. We wake, perhaps startled, our heart racing, our brow moist, and try to catch a moment. In a few seconds, we realise that it wasn’t real; it was ‘just a dream’, and will often soothe ourselves back to safety. Later that day you may even struggle to remember what the bad dream was about. We are so good at releasing them.

But a thought? We can carry around bad thoughts for days, weeks, months, even years! A bad thought stays with us, we burden ourselves with it, ruminating on it, often deliberately, and it can be returned to and enhanced at will.

We convince ourselves that our thoughts are not in our control, that they are something we are given and have to deal with, despite the undeniable truth that we are responsible for them. We choose to think about certain things. We are not some passenger exposed to whatever the mind thinks, we are the one thinking it. We are driving and where we want to go is down to us.

“People, by and large, become what they think about themselves.” William James

It seems so ridiculously simple, almost fatuous: if you want to change how you feel, you must change your thinking; change what you think about and your feelings will follow. Because feelings only come from thoughts.

Let me try and explain what I mean. Imagine being in a queue for lunch. You know that lasagne is being served and it’s your favourite. It’s a very good dish and always delicious. When you reach the front of the queue, all of the lasagne is gone and you are handed a tuna salad. You take your seat crestfallen, the thought of being without has you feeling very disappointed. It is really not fair that you’ve missed out. You then think back to other times this has happened in your life; it seems to happen to you a lot and you fall further into your mood: disappointment moves to sadness and a feeling of victimisation. Your physiology is representing these feelings: your head is down, your shoulders are slouched, and your facial expression is not welcoming. Someone approaches the table to sit next to you and sees how despondent you look. Not wanting to get involved, they move elsewhere and sit down next to someone else. You see this happen out of the corner of your eye and it generates a further thought of rejection and loneliness. A greater sense of melancholy is achieved. One thought has spread like a fire and caused a fair amount of damage.

Now, imagine being in the same queue and the same thing happens. But you’re able to quickly extinguish that initial thought of disappointment and you sit and eat your salad, comfortable in the reflection that a bit of protein, fibre and plant-based goodness will be better for you today. Your physiology mirrors this and when someone approaches your table, they are happy to sit down next to someone that looks content and relaxed. They strike up a conversation with you and reveal that they aren’t able to go to the football match tonight and offer you the tickets they have. You take them up on their offer and visit the stadium with your son and have a wonderful evening.

It sounds like ‘sliding doors’, like a happenstance due to serendipity or chance. But it’s not. It’s down to mindset, and in particular, your ability to let thoughts go.

We cannot control what life hands us. But we can control how we respond. Most importantly, we can control the way we think about things. And in a way, as the ‘lasagne’ example shows, that affects how people behave towards us. We can see bad, unhelpful thoughts arriving. And, like the lit match, we can choose what we do with it. In this case, in the first instance, the thought of ‘no lasagne’ leads to a fire spreading and causing greater issue. But in the second, the match is extinguished and the danger is prevented.

“Winners and losers are self determined. But only the winners are willing to admit to it.” John Wooden, 9-time National Basketball Champion at UCLA

This is all very well and good,’ I can hear you thinking, ‘but in the busyness of our daily routines, it can be very difficult to step back and see things this rationally.’ Well, yes, it is. But it’s not impossible. And the only way we get better at something is to practice and the first thing to do in order to start practising is to spot it when it happens. Most of my work with people is about getting them to think about their thinking. Once you have that, a lot of the other stuff follows.

The next time it happens, see if you can intercept a bad thought. That’s the first step to owning a better, stronger mind. Intercept it and let it burn out. Metaphorically, even literally if you are using your good deep breaths, gently blow it out. Over time, you’ll get better and better at seeing them coming: better and better at letting them dwindle to their charred end. And in time, everything will just be better.

(The quotes in this piece are all from Dr. Bob Rotella’s book ‘Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect’. Dr. Rotella is the best-known golf psychologist in the world. Since 1984, golfers coached by Doc have won more than 300 Tournaments and 74 Majors! And one of the first thing he does with them all is what I’ve done with you here: he gets them to think about their thinking.)

Dr. Bob Rotella (left) with Open Champion Padraig Harrington

Parenting is the most difficult job in the world. There are numerous good intentions and a fair few bad outcomes. As parents, all we want is the best for our children, but in our pursuit to be helpful, we often become the opposite.

Nowhere is this more prominent in the idea Don Macpherson labels ‘Accidental Mind Coach’. This is when we affect the thinking or mindset of others in a negative way, without that being our intention. It is very easy to do. And while I’m not expecting you to be able to rid yourself of the problem immediately, just being aware of the idea could be the first step on the way to becoming a more effective person and parent.

The good news is that, in one way, the answer is relatively straightforward. And this links in neatly with another of my ideals, that ‘less is more’. We will not be looking to add, just take away.

As parents, we often fall into the trap of thinking our children need help. When what they really need is support. Now, to make my point, the language has to be pretty specific here, as support and help are almost synonymous. But, for me, in this instance, help is when you involve yourself in the problem they are trying to solve; support is when you remain separate, but provide other things that allow them to succeed on their own.

Let me put it like this: a ‘supporter’ at a football ground stays in the stand, making those on the pitch feel valued and appreciated, allowing the players to do their thing. A ‘helper’ at a football ground takes to the field as they think the footballers need physical help getting the ball into the back of the net. Imagine your child is a footballer: which one would they want – a supporter or a helper?

I wrote a piece for a well-known website about rugby players and their dads. I wanted to examine the relationship between players and their fathers; former players and their sons; and former players who had managed to create professionals in their offspring. I interviewed some of the game’s greatest names and the insights were fascinating. They constantly feed into my appreciation of this area of parenting. If you can, do give it a read.

One of the people I spoke to for the piece was Michael Lynagh. One of the most famous and successful names in Australian Rugby: a World Cup winner, a ‘hall of famer’, a record points scorer, and also now, the father of one of the most exciting names in Premiership Rugby. Louis Lynagh (pronounced Lewis) is a Harlequins superstar and destined for great things internationally with England. I was desperate to know what pearls of wisdom Michael had given during the formative years of Louis. A great player had begotten a brilliant young talent: surely there was some amazing parental advice to learn from; the answer was as surprising as it was enlightening.

Lynagh senior said pretty much nothing. He didn’t try and impart any of his experience or knowledge. He knew that Louis would find that on his own, via his own means. All he did was support. He often went to watch, stood on the sidelines and allowed his boy to know he was there. He praised his son’s efforts; he reminded him that he loved him and when things were tough, when they hadn’t gone well, he provided a safe and comforting space to recover. Very occasionally he would ask questions, but only as a means to see how and what his son was thinking. He didn’t advise, unless it was directly sought, which was very seldom. Other than that he listened, drove the car and smiled.

Michael Lynagh with son Louis and the Premiership trophy in 2021

Michael Lynagh made it very difficult for him to become an ‘Accidental Mind Coach’. We all have the capability to fall into the trap, the skill is limiting or eliminating the possibility; spotting it when it happens is a huge help. Let me give you a recent example of how I did some ‘Accidental Mind Coaching’: I was umpiring a game of cricket for the team I coach. Our bowler had bowled the opposition batters out with two successive deliveries and the team was facing a cricketing rarity: a hat-trick ball. Feeling the tension and wanting to help, I spoke: “Right boys, concentrate, you don’t want to be the person who drops the hat trick ball…”

You may be able to predict what happened. The ball flew skywards off the top edge of the bat, two players converged, eyes keenly fixed on the lofted cherry, bumped into each other, and the ball hit the ground with the sort of dull thump that represented all of our disappointment.

Why did I speak? I wanted to help. I involved myself in their world and drew their attention to a particular happenstance. That was my first mistake. The second was I placed the idea of a dropped catch in their minds. If I’d wanted to say anything, I should have said: “Right boys, let’s make a great catch!” then at least I’d be creating some positive visualisation for them. Or better still, I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have let them find their own way; supported them whatever the outcome; reminded them how amazing they were and just smiled.

Parenting is very difficult. But perhaps speaking less, is something you can do from now on. Children need to find their own way, develop their own relationships and make their own mistakes. Being a parent is about providing love and support so that they will give things another go.

Accidental Mind Coaching is just that, accidental. But fewer accidents will happen if we take care. And in this instance, refrain from thinking we need to help when all we need to do is just support.

Here’s something that was revealed to me by the brilliant Michael Neill, in his book and theory, ‘The Inside Out Revolution’.

It resonated with me and how my life has been. I think about the idea a fair bit and always look to try and find myself not falling into the trap. It is a cycle or process many of us will recognise. We almost get conditioned along this path from a young age. When I think back to my previous generations, my parents and grandparents, it was definitely an ideology handed down. And I’m sure you’ve heard it too.

“Life is tough.”

Just writing it, I can hear the voices from my childhood. The monologue would go something like this:

“Life isn’t easy, it’s a struggle. You have to put your head down and work hard. And that won’t be pleasant but it is something you need to do. You need to struggle, to sacrifice, to stress, because in the end you will be rewarded with success. And success, when you achieve it, will make you happy. So, let’s not complain, that is the deal, just get on with it and get used to the fact that life is tough.”

And so, this is what you do. Stoically, unquestioningly, apathetically, you just get on with it. Hoping that one day that promised land will be found and everything will become easy.

What they fail to mention, the sowers of these morbid seeds, is that success is not a destination. Success is like a moving target. When you achieve success, however wonderful, it isn’t long before your eyes are drawn further down the track, to some other success. Having achieved one thing, you immediately look for more. I talk about the addiction that many of us have to what I refer to as ‘achieving’, rather than ‘achievement’ in this blog, but let’s assume we all agree that success is not some stationary paradise that we will ever get to. And so, with it being a constantly moving objective and something we will always be striving for, we are destined for a lifetime of struggle. Seems a little daft, no?

As Michael Neill puts it – the sum doesn’t work:

Struggle/Sacrifice/Stress = Unhappiness. But our Unhappiness is withstood because it will ultimately = Success. And, we hope (or are reassured) that Success = Happiness. So let’s lay that out:

Struggle = Unhappiness = Success = Happiness

But any mathematician will tell you you can strike two of those factors out and the sum will still stand:

Struggle = Unhappiness = Success = Happiness

We are making ourselves unhappy, in the hope that we become happy.

How about we rethink that?

Fill your life with positivity and fun. Yes, work hard but do not chase success. Do not make it the be-all and end-all. Appreciate the journey you are on and do not focus on the destination. Practice, train, and aspire but remember that true happiness is found in relationships and connections with friends and family. Remove the unhappiness of struggle, sacrifice and stress and just be happy to begin with. Appreciate the small things, the moments in your life that you have and are thankful for. Enjoy the moments that go well and don’t spend too long chastising yourself when they don’t work out. Relish the challenge life hands you; don’t be motivated by money or title, be motivated by feelings of improvement and love.

Do this and things will start to feel better. Because the old way of accepting that ‘life is tough’ just doesn’t add up.

The Sky Sports Commentary team are waxing lyrical about Joe Root; England’s premier batter is showing his class once more. He has notched up his 10,000th run, in what seems like record time, and, relieved of the captaincy and under the new test match stewardship of Ben Stokes and Brendan McCullum, appears to be playing some of his best cricket.

Joe Root celebrating another century knock

But then something is said in commentary that really piques my interest: “Joe Root always seems to play well at this ground. And that’s definitely ‘a thing’: you turn up at a ground and you just know you’re going to play well.”

The ground in question is Trent Bridge. The scene of Root’s most recent test match century, against New Zealand in the June of 2022. And while this is an idea that is not new or unusual, whatever sport you are playing, it is worth examining more closely.

Is this an actual thing? Does Trent Bridge have some sort of inherent power over Joe Root’s batting ability? For a mind coach working with the performance of sportspeople, the answer is simple and complex; it is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

Let’s deal with the most logical and obvious answer: ‘No’. Of course it doesn’t; that is preposterous. Trent Bridge, like any other international cricket ground in the world, has no inherent power at all. It’s an inanimate venue with no magic or mysticism ingrained in any part of it. Trent Bridge has no idea whom Joe Root is because Trent Bridge doesn’t have the capability of thought, cognisance or basic recognition of anything. It is a passive entity. It is powerless.

And yet, and yet, many of you will have read those comments from the commentary box, or heard them at the time, and nodded to yourself. Many of us have played sport, some of us may well have played sport to a very good level, and all of us will have recognised the concept that is being put forward. In a way, Trent Bridge does have a power, because Joe Root feels good playing at that ground, and when he feels good, he plays well. But, and this is the most crucial part, the power does not exist at Trent Bridge, it exists in Joe Root’s mind.

Joe Root is a brilliant batter. Capable of scoring lots of runs at any cricket ground in the world. But on some days, at some venues, he bats better. And understanding why (or how) is the nirvana all sportspeople are trying to work out the route to.

The problem with sport is that it’s not easy. And the reason it’s not easy is that most sports have tricky technical aspects, which require many layers of skill and judgement. Sportspeople practice for years before getting to the levels we see on TV: Malcolm Gladwell in his seminal book ‘Outliers’ put forward the idea of 10,000 hours of practice before expertise is achieved in a particular skill. Many sports have numerous skills within them, and being professionally good at any sport takes a great deal of applied effort and time. Rising to international level, the skill level is almost incomprehensible.

Through years of practice, once you have conquered these particular skills, you are looking to ingrain that skill into your body so that you can perform them ‘under pressure’. Now, pressure is an interesting concept because, as we were alluding to earlier, pressure only exists in the mind. It is an internal force: yes, it is definitely a thing capable of ruining performances, but is only produced by the mind of the person attempting the skill.

But let’s park that particular idea and return to the idea of your body being so practised to do something, it can produce it on demand. In Joe Root’s case, hitting a bowled cricket ball through the covers for four. He needs to be able to recognise the delivery from the bowler, move all the different parts of his body (feet, body, legs, arms, hands) in coordination with each other to get into position, at exactly the right moment, to allow the centre of his bat to meet the moving cricket ball; with the perfect angle and timing, so that maximum energy is transferred into the ball to exert it, at speed, through the gap in the field, with enough momentum to cross the boundary rope 85 yards away. To do all this, is, without question, a physiological masterstroke. And to complete this, he needs his mind to be completely in tune. In fact, he probably needs his mind to get out of the way; allow the right physiological neurons to fire and let his body do what he has ingrained into the ‘memory’ of every muscle he possesses.

We need to agree something before we go any further: we perform at our best when we are free of internal tension. When I talk to musicians, dancers, sportspeople, speakers, business executives, parents, school children, they all agree that they are at their best when they aren’t tense. They achieve their potential when they move freely, almost without thought. A tense, braced, strained body will not move as quickly, as fluidly, as purposefully as a relaxed body. This is why we see athletes shaking their bodies down ahead of a race or event. They are trying to stay loose. So that they can react to any and all eventualities.

Tension in the body comes from thought. Pretty much every physiological response we have comes from a thought in the mind. Danger signals emanate from the amygdala and trigger a physiological reply. The only way around this issue is to not have those thoughts. And one of the best places to be to avoid those thoughts is in a place of comfort and confidence. Trent Bridge has become, in Root’s mind, a place of comfort and confidence. In opposition, another ground may hold for him a memory of a bad dismissal or poor shot and so, danger is present in the mind of Joe Root; it interferes with his body by producing unwanted tension, and he doesn’t play as well, adding substance to the idea that that ground holds some sort of inherent power over his ability.

Don Macpherson’s background in Formula One would see this phenomenon at particular circuits. “This is my favourite track,” the driver would say, “I always perform well round here.” And of course, they invariably would. Free from any tension, their body, trained over years of expert practice, would perform at its peak, allowing the fallacy to continue.

In conclusion, I can understand why commentators, sportspeople and members of the watching public believe this is a thing: that there are certain spaces, venues, stadia, courses, grounds where you perform better. But it’s not a power inherent in something else. It exists in your mind. The trick is identifying the concept, removing the thought, and recognising that your skill or technical prowess is yours to control. That your talent is performed best when you get your mind and its invasive thoughts out of the way. You are brilliant and can be brilliant wherever and whenever you need to be, you just have to recognise that it is all in your control.

You have the power, don’t give it to the powerless.

I am always looking to the world of sport for lessons in mind coaching and teaching. I’m constantly learning from all sport and I love to read about the way that various coaches and managers get better performances from their players.

There’s a coach at the moment who is making waves in football. Not for his overt management of a few multi-million-pound-a-year footballers, but for how he quietly goes about getting the best out of every player in his team. In fact, his club are becoming well-known for their ability to create very good players – taking players that other clubs aren’t drawn to, and making them a lot better.