6 May 2014 | Football

Beginnings of Ends, Ends of Beginnings, Tortoises, Hares and all that…

 It’s not just a matter of timing, it’s about knowing where to start the timing from too.

Some years ago I had the privilege of meeting the athlete Roger Black. He had given a talk about his career and after the talk, I grabbed him and asked a few questions about motivation. After all, his lecture had pointed out that much of his career was spent on treatment tables and I figured that his motivation must have been extraordinary as he had admitted to having been physically, mentally and emotionally almost completely spent.


Given that Mr Black delivers his own programmes to great effect, I won’t reproduce them (everything you need is here ) but I will share one thought that is appropriate as the football season is finishing in the next few days.

The point he made is meaningful to me because it was not part of his presentation, but an answer he gave me in a private conversation afterwards. I wanted to know if he used visualisation techniques and if so what did he visualise? His response was really well considered and surprising. The words below are not direct quotes, but the context is 100% accurate:

Me; Roger, Did you use any visualisation techniques when you were recovering from years of rehabilitation?

Roger; Yes, but it may surprise you. What do you think I would have visualised?

Me; I suppose being first across the finishing line. No?


Roger; Actually, no! I visualised being on the starting line, hearing the gun and getting out of the blocks. I had broken down so many times when on the verge of starting a race, I knew that if I could start, I had the talent to finish well. I simply needed to actually get going!


The goal was starting the race, not finishing it.


As the football season draws towards its annual denouement, the most successful teams have a habit not of finishing their season well, but of STARTING THEIR FINISH WELL. Put simply, there’s no point in saving your high scores and clean sheets for the last game, you need to do it before everyone else gives it a ’last shot’. (Apologies for the avalanche of clichés in this piece, but it’s time of year that brings out this kind of writing behaviour!)


The best example to date is that of Crystal Palace in the English Premiership who for much of the season looked like they would be relegated. Then at the very end of March 2014, they beat one of Europe’s best teams, Chelsea and won their next four matches too.


What Palace managed to in this incredible avoidance of relegation was to know where their starting line was. It is possible that their excellent coach Tony Pulis only realised after they had beaten Chelsea, but nonetheless, he used it as a way of building belief and momentum for the next four games.


The key is recognising the moment when it arrives and that comes with intuition supported by a bedrock of experience and talent for knowing your people.


“You’ll think it’s tragic when that moment arrives

Ah, but it’s magic, it’s the best years of our lives”


Steve Harley, ‘Best years of our lives’