I start focusing the week leading up to the game. Then I switch to concentrating on my role and visualising what I want to achieve. I give myself clear messages like ‘Keep positive’, ‘Be strong in the air’ and, if I’m playing against so-and-so, what I’m going to do to win that battle. I’m fully focused on being committed and it really helps. I also listen to music before the game, which helps me relax. A lot of players listen to hard stuff but I’m the opposite – I like to listen to more mellow stuff like Lionel Richie.
More after the break
Hydration is vital. You need to be hydrated to the maximum level, not just for the sake of energy levels, but also because it helps with muscle repair during recovery. From the minute I wake up on a Saturday morning I’m constantly drinking. Roughly 40-45 minutes before kick-off I’ll start easing off. A good guide to hydration is the colour of your wee. If it’s clear, you’re hydrated.
Lead by example
Lay down a marker at the start of the game. You want to come out with fire in your belly – how you start the game sets the tone for the rest of the match. I try to play my natural game and I hope it helps to inspire my team-mates. When I see my mates giving 100 per cent and flying into tackles it has an effect on me. If you can start the game positively, it will help motivate the team to kick on and get a result.
When a game is going badly I often think to myself, ‘What exactly am I doing?’ I’m playing football and there are probably a lot worse things I could be doing. This helps me realise I need to keep going and enjoy it. There are times during a game when you get frustrated and angry, but it doesn’t help – if anything, it makes things 10 times worse. I try to stay calm and keep doing the right things. Forget mistakes straightaway, otherwise you’ll become anxious and it will affect your performance. It’s about having clarity and perspective.
Encourage and cajole
If a game is not going to plan and your team-mates are having an off day, I don’t believe in getting on their back – I believe in encouragement. This is what would motivate me. Obviously if they’re making the same mistake three, four or five times then you’re going to have an issue, but to get the best results out of someone you have to be positive and talk to them about where they’re going wrong. Your team-mate is not intentionally making mistakes. I can understand that in the heat of the moment it can be frustrating, but I try to keep cool.
Recovery is crucial. After a hard game I take at least two days to recover. During these two days I relax, stretch and concentrate on doing light sessions, then I pick it up midweek with some interval training with short, sharp sprints of 15 yards, before tailing off again towards the end of the week. Recovering right is just as important as training hard.