THE message from the coaching staff to the players shortly after a gut-wrenching defeat can be decisive.
As the Cork City Women returned to their dressing room at Tallaght Stadium, distraught following their 6-0 loss to Peamount United in the FAI Cup final, performance coach Jess Lawton addressed the group.
“A lot of the time you go into the dressing room afterwards and you feel like you’re saying things and it’s not that they don’t want to hear it but they can’t hear you because they are thinking about what could or should have been,” she admits.
“But something I said to them in the dressing room afterwards was ‘You have three decisions now; You can leave it define you, you can leave it destroy you or you can leave it drive you’.”
With a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Waterford IT and a UEFA B Coaching Licence, Lawton was well-positioned to invoke the right reaction that will ensure the club grows from this devastating experience.
“That was the last thing I said to them,” she continues. “But we met recently on a Zoom call and they were all ready for road again, they want it to drive them.
“There will be players that still think about it but it is about having that outlook that we learn from it.
“They need to remember how it felt and the days where they don’t want to go out training because it’s raining, something is going on personally or they just don’t feel like it, remember how it felt that day and leave that drive you.
“Don’t leave something like that just destroy what you have worked so hard to get. They have worked tirelessly week in, week out so it would be a pity if they let that define what they are when they’re not, they’re better than that.”
Lawton was a regular on the right side of the City defence between 2012 and 2014 before a reoccurring injury led to her focusing on coaching and her studies.
Despite insisting that she would never combine her interest in psychology with her love of football, the opportunity to take up the unique role at her former club was too good to turn down.
“I always said I would never mix Sports Psychology with football because I was too passionate about it,” she adds.
“But I met with Rónán (Collins) and Chris (O’Mahony) a few years ago and they asked me to come in.
“I hummed and hawed about it but I said I would go in for a couple of months to do a few bits and leave it at that but two years later I’m still here.
“The whole idea of Sports Psychology and the performance coach, you don’t see very often especially at club level, I don’t think there is any other Women’s club that offers it but it was something they saw that they needed.
It has proved to be a decision that has benefitted both parties as City secured their highest finish in the Women’s National League since the inaugural season while also enjoying a memorable run to the 2020 FAI Cup final.
For that, the Cork College of Commerce Lecturer has deservedly received plenty of credit from her fellow coaches for the role she has played and she is hopeful the role of Psychology will continue to grow in sport.
“My idea is to look at the performance of the players and help them deal with anything that happens on and off the pitch,” adds Lawton.
“You could be dealing with players who lack confidence or suffer from performance anxiety so their performance decreases when they step on the pitch or they might just overthink things and can’t reset when they make a mistake.
“At one stage we were more likely to concede after just conceding or after just scoring because their concentration levels dropped so we worked to ensure that didn’t happen and they stayed motivated.
“They have a life outside of sport as well. What you can find is that things that happen outside of sport affect them when they’re playing. Overall we just want to look after their mental health and well being to make sure they’re all ok and they have our support.
“It’s a massive area and it is starting to take off. You can be as physically fit as you want but if your mind isn’t in the game, you’re not going to be able to put in the performances and that can be really frustrating and demotivating.
“Other clubs should look at bringing it in although I know it’s not easy. But in the future, I think it will become a big element in football.”