Watching and listen to Erik Sviatchenko’s maiden press conference as a Celtic player last week I was immediately impressed by the Danish defender. He spoke with confidence and honesty about his abilities and desire to constantly improve as a player; his life away from the pitch and off field interests that show his rounded and likeable character; and his comment about David Luiz being a terrible defender shows that he has an eye for a player. He held court with an eloquence and confidence – not to be mistaken for arrogance – that many young players in Scotland could learn from.
Throughout his press conference Sviatchenko spoke well about his family and interests away from the pitch – I’m a great believer that footballers need other interests in their lives to help keep them sane and that such interests can actually help maintain a healthy focus on their game. He also spoke well of his desire to improve as a defender; his John Terry, David Luiz anecdote showing that he has an eye for a player.
However, it was the line “I talked to my mental coach” that struck me most during that anecdote mainly as it was delivered so naturally, as if it were common place for all footballers to have a mental coach.
My initial reaction was to replay the video and listen again. He definitely said it. My second reaction was to allow myself a sly smile and think that we might just have a right good player on our hands here; and all from those few simple words. Thirdly, I thought that in about a week’s time I’ll get round to writing a blog about that, and here it is.
As a fan, both of Celtic and the game of football itself, I think it is great to hear a player talk so openly about his commitment to self-improvement and development. It shows a hunger and desire to succeed and a thirst to constantly become a better you; and that’s why those six small words made me smile. We’ve signed a winner.
What those words, and the rest of his press conference, say to me is that Erik Sviatchenko is a very switched on and intelligent guy. He understands his strengths and the need to master the basics of defending first and foremost, hence his desire to play like John Terry and not David Luiz. More importantly, he knows his limitations and where he can improve as a player. More important still, he is prepared to take steps to make these improvements happen. Employing a mental coach – or using one provided by his former club FC Midtjylland – to help improve certain aspects of his game and approach to the game shows that Sviatchenko is aware of the need to develop all aspects of his game and that having the correct mental outlook and approach can even, at times, compensate for not being the most technically gifted player. It’s an approach more players could note from.
Digger a bit deeper into Sviatchenko’s relationship with his mental coach at Midtyjlland, Rene Petersen, also suggests that it is not a fluke occurrence; instead it is one that Sviatchenko has gone into eyes wide open and with a plan.
The Dane was 19-years old when he first sought the help of Petersen to develop his mental approach to the game and, not unsurprisingly, to help him through the difficulties of growing up as a 19-year old football player; it actually can’t be that easy trying to make it as footballer whilst still trying to figure out who you are as a person. To do this he used the mental coaching to help optimise his mental awareness, thus giving him a better understanding of himself and an edge over teammates vying for the same position in the team. Alongside ‘regular’ football coaching, those like Erik who employ a mental coach hold an advantage over their rivals in that, not only have they physically prepared for a given situation, they are also mentally ready for it. The purpose of mental coaching is to assist in giving players the confidence and focus to handle any situation, whilst maintaining a level head and not allowing success to get the better of them, leading to arrogance. Mental coaching also helps players recover quicker from mistakes and disappointments, and helps create better professionals.
Sviatchenko’s four year relationship with his mental coach and proven most if not all of the above.
It has overseen growth from boy to man, given him the tools and experience to deal with numerous situations, and seen him become a first-class defender. It has helped prepare him for moves that never happened and to subsequently get over them by maintaining a positive focus and outlook. And, it has helped lead him to Paradise.
It’s also made him a role model for the young players at Celtic to follow. His determination to succeed and willingness to try something a bit different in order to make it to the top is something that should be admire and copied.
Another advocate of the use of mental coaches, and another Dane, is William Kvist; his story of self-development is even more admirable.
A midfielder by trade, Kvist was similar to Sviatchenko in that he identified early on in his career that he was never going to be a hugely technically gifted player. He was, still is, a good player and a good athlete but was aware of his limitations. Unlike most others, Kvist wanted to make the absolute most of what talent he had and went to fantastic non football related lengths to improve as a footballer.
Over the years Kvist has employed a mental coach, a freediver to help improve his breathing and mental balance, a hypnotherapist, and dieticians as he seeks to constantly improve every facet of his game. He also found time to write part of his Bachelor thesis during the 2010 World Cup despite being part of the Danish squad at the tournament.
He also had a plan to go with his self-development programme. By making incremental improvements through his extensive back room team Kvist set out a plan that would involve becoming a regular with FC Copenhagen, breaking into the national team, winning a move to the Bundesliga, and then moving the English Premiership. A lot of readers may not have heard of William Kvist until now, and for those who fall into that category, you might be surprise to read that Kvist achieved everything on his list. He may not have been the greatest midfielder of his generation but he has a career that many would be envious of.
His fully story can be found here in a fantastic on bundesligafanatic.com by Martin Kreg. It’s well worth a read.
As with Sviatchenko’s press conference there’s one line from Kvist’s story that really grabbed my attention “I didn’t become a true professional until I took responsibility for my own development”.
While hiring a whole team of experts might not be feasible for most players, an investment in self-development may very well pay off in the long run.
Thoughts and comments welcome.