Four matches, four wins – one of them a nine goal heart stopping Hampden thriller – and a trophy already in the cabinet – Partick Thistle’s season has got off to a flying start.
Firhill was quite literally buzzing on Saturday as the Jags opened their First Division campaign with a well deserved 3-1 win over Falkirk. It followed on from the pre-season ARR Craib Cup win – beating Celtic and Everton on the way – and two away victories in the Ramsdens Cup against Clyde and the Scottish Communities League Cup against Forfar.
Then there was that Ramsdens Cup clash against Queens Park at Hampden. Beautiful night, great crowd, 90 minutes of football that included nine goals – two last gasp ones that won the tie 5-4 for the Jags to book their place in the quarter finals – a nasty head wound for Sean Welsh (don’t worry he’ll be just as beautiful once the scars have healed) and just general this-is-why-we-all-love-football style entertainment.
The players look great and the fans are happy – all in all the signs look good for the season ahead.
What happens on a matchday when the players cross that white line is obviously what determines how successful a team’s season will be, but more and more managers are now placing a greater emphasis on what the players do off the park – something which is of great importance to Partick Thistle gaffer Jackie McNamara.
Over and above the daily training ground regime, match analysis and the rest and recovery sessions which are at the heart of every players weekly routine there’s other aspects to take into consideration like diet and nutrition, hydration and – perhaps the most crucial of all – mental agility.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘Healthy Body – Healthy Mind’ but the reverse ‘Healthy Mind – Healthy Body’ is also very true.
For Jackie McNamara, it’s about finding the correct balance for his players between the two and that’s why he turned to Performance Coach Shona Duff.
He explains: “We felt that last year the boys were too inconsistent. They’d play well one week then the next game their standards would drop – it was especially noticeable if we had a midweek fixture. It seemed like they couldn’t recover properly in time for the next game and we wanted to get to the bottom of why it kept happening. Shona had a look at things and discovered that the problem was they weren’t eating properly and so their bodies couldn’t physically recover adequately.
“She looked through their diets and put them on the right track. Now, with the backing of the board, we’ve addressed the problem from the start of pre-season and they’re getting the proper food so they’re properly fuelled up. They’re getting fed at the club after training and they know the correct foods to be eating when they’re at home. We also realised a lot of them weren’t drinking enough water, but that problem is solved now. Clearly having macb water as our main sponsor is a big help on that front.
“At the moment, she’s working with the whole first team and doing evaluations with our younger players too because we have to make sure that, first and foremost, our players are healthy enough to play football. It’s easy for players, particularly the younger ones, to fall into bad habits so we have to make them aware that what they put into their bodies affects their performances.”
It’s not just their diets where Shona’s having a healthy influence on the players. As an Optimum Performance Coach she knows how to identify any mental barriers the players may have and how to help overcome them. Whether it’s as group or a more personal one-to-one session, she’s showing the players how to come out on top when it comes to mind games.
Said Jackie: “We could tell that some of the boys were going out there on a matchday and playing with fear, and when that happens you won’t get the best out of them. So Shona’s been working with them to ensure they’re free of any fears or worries once they cross that white line and can focus fully on their jobs, particularly on match day when you need everything to be positive.
“I’ve been working with her too and I can see the results not just with me, but with the players. She gives them the tools to block out negative stuff that affects them and how to get rid of any fears or worries. Players don’t go out there to make mistakes, but if they do then you don’t want them being badly affected by it to the point where their heads to go down. You want them to be able to go out there and express themselves freely and be full of energy.”
The gaffer is delighted with how the players are shaping up physically and mentally for the challenge that lies ahead this season. No-one at Firhill is getting carried away so early in the campaign, but there is a renewed confidence and belief within the Jags dressing room.
“There’s not point having a fit body if you’ve not got a fit mind,” said Jackie. “Through Shona we’re giving the players access to stuff that will help them not just in their football careers, but in life too because no matter what you do it’s important you look after yourself physically and mentally.
“They’ll notice it when they leave here because no other employer will care about them and nurture them in the way we’re doing right now with Shona’s help.”