The Key to Career Progression

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

State of Mind v's State of Play

We have all been there, the person who has lost their shit, lost their way, lost their mind. For me it wasn't on a world stage like David Beckham, it was as a teenager playing as a school boy for Portsmouth FC. I found myself in tears as a 13 year old boy after realising I was on the bench and feeling like I was running out of time to gain the all important apprenticeship contract at Portsmouth. At that time wages didn't cross my mind, at £45 per week maybe they didn't seem like much of a prize. The prize was to make it as a Professional Footballer, no level, just to carve out a career.

Surprisingly, this state of mind was in stark contrast to the one I had few years earlier. From age 6-12 ish I wanted to play for England with the best in the country and any mention of anything other than me playing in the Premier League was considered an insult to me. Such was my conviction, it was factual to me, there was no other possibility. The interesting part is that no-one cultivated this idea in me, it just seemed to have evolved. I remember during a lunch time break we had a match going at Osborne Middle on the Isle of Wight and Michael Williams one of my class mates asked me,

"I want to be good at football, how did you get so good?", my answer was cultured..

"I dunno" I said.

This summed up the way I saw the game at that point and is something I always remember because it was something I had never considered. I had never planned or analysed. It seemed a ridiculous question at that point, I didn't even see that being good at football would matter, I just found myself immersed in the game when I played and it was a beautiful feeling. I thought everyone felt like this when they played the game. Good or bad wasn't a thing, at that point, to me, in the context of football, there were no constraints, no time limit and if stress was there it had no power to deter me playing the game. This was how I showed up to games at the time and it sounds similar to a young amateur golfer, who's name I never remember, being asked by a reporter after her first professional tournament...

"Were you nervous playing against the professionals in this tournament because it was your first time in a pro-tournament?"

She looked puzzled and replied "I don't understand the question"

The reporter repeated the question, because the reporter thought she could make the young golfer see what many consider an obvious perspective, she didn't realise that the young golfers state of mind was such that she never saw a connection between state of play (a professional tournament) and nervousness. If someone serves you up a lottery ticket, would it make sense for me to ask you...

"were you nervous after they announced your numbers?"

At some point between the two differing states of mind I had lived, one in line with the young amateur golfer playing in a pro tournament and the second like a stressed management team with time running out, the state of play had changed. I had been dominant in my local teams, school teams and in teams where I considered my teammates friends. I could play against players of similar levels one week for IOW and play great and then I could play against the same players for Portsmouth FC and be terrible. I was that bad I had found myself on the bench and eventually had to move to centre back from centre midfield. It was a big move for me but in hindsight it was the only one that would have made my career path start so well professionally in comparison to the kids I came through to professional level with. I'd have to thank my coach Sean North and Roger North for putting an arm round me and making that decision to give me the best opportunity to make it in the game.

My state of mind had changed and at 13 years old I was confused as to why?

I wanted to go and practice at lunch and after school but didn't, I knew I was falling behind but did nothing. I knew I was struggling to play in a team of people that I wasn't friends with but didn't know how to resolve that either.

Both my state of mind and state of play had slowed dramatically at a crucial point in my development and learning. At this point I was looking at the age old problem akin to that of International players not being able to perform to the same level in an England shirt as they do domestically or vice-versa.

There are variables there in terms of players, tactics, weather, cultures, travel, relationship etc but it is clear the individual level of performance is below par.

Fortunately, for me I had some coaches that saw more potential in me than I did, I was shocked to receive an apprenticeship. I thought I was a 3 to 1 shot at best, luckily I had managed to pip one of my best friends to the post by playing a few good games in his position when he got injured, we are still friends today but I know it was a big thing for him to miss out. In hindsight, I think our naturally competitive relationship could have been a real asset if we were given the opportunity to compete daily with each other.

As my state of mind raised my performance level built momentum too with the daily training and encouragement from Mark O'Connor our youth team coach. Before I knew it I was in the reserves with Neil McNab and then into the first team with Graham Rix (manager) and Jim Duffy (first team coach). I had lucked out with these coaches, they always had my interests above their own and they believed in me more than I did at times in myself. This period took me from one of the worst youth team players to one of the first names on the team sheet for the first team.

Playing in the first team at Portsmouth aged 17 with Peter Crouch and the other big boys (slightly smaller than him), I was beginning to bring that state of mind and state of play together, all stress and time constraints were lost again. Even with a great start, I of course never got a England cap or a game in the Premier League for that matter.

I had one big, innocent flaw, it was an accident waiting to happen and it was about to be exposed. I believed that state of play controlled state of mind and within a season this would be the single biggest misunderstanding that would bring my learning and development to a stand still.

Inevitably Graham Rix was sacked as all managers are except the odd one or two and I landed a problem, Harry Redknapp. The state of play changed, with an influx of Premier League/promotion quality players joining the club, I was back in the reserves quickly. This is the crucial point.

I believed my problem was Harry, the new level of performance, the lack of relationship I had with the new staff, their lack of belief in me, the culture. History was repeating itself. It was the same problem in a different disguise I had at age 14. In truth there was a big opportunity staring me in the face on Harry's arrival but I didn't see it like that. I couldn't see past my thoughts of how I wanted it to be, I wanted the old manager and coaches back so we could build steadily together, I had a vision and this state of play wasn't it.

At this costly point in my career I completely misunderstood state of mind, I no longer saw what the actual state of play was, it isn't about being stupidly positive or overly negative, it's about seeing the solution. The real state of play was that I had to up my game and I had plenty of time to do it at 18 or 19 years of age. I missed it, I had advice but it changed nothing, it was the right advice but I couldn't hear it. Instead I took my foot off the gas, started to go out too often and didn't progress, learn or gain ground on the new state of play

The question is why? Why do we miss the solution?

The answer is that we live in a point of time where society and culture in general believes state of play creates state of mind. We believe our workload and timeframe create stress, we believe that winning breeds confidence, we believe that pressure comes from circumstance, we believe that our history and our children make us proud, we believe money makes us happy (I fall for that one regularly still).

This was my biggest weakness as a 14 year old and again as a 19 year old. I believed that Harry Redknapp, my time restraints, the change in the level of performance required, the culture were in control of my state of mind. They never were of course.

State of mind fluctuates by the second but it is never determined by state of play, if you believe it is, then we need to talk!

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