Case Studies in Sport

Developing Mental Toughness with Legia Warsaw – Polish Soccer Champions

Background

Legia Warsaw, are a professional football club based in Warsaw, Poland. Legia is one of the most successful Polish football clubs, winning a total of 10 Polish Premiership Champions titles, a record 16 Polish Cup trophies and a record 4 Polish Super Cup matches. However it had not won the Premiership since 2005 when they decided to introduce a new element into their training and preparations for matches which proved to be decisive.

In 2011 and 2012 they won their 9th and 10th Premiership titles and acknowledged that the application of mental toughness has been significant in those successes as well as enabling them to deal with the challenge of participation in the European Champions League.

Team preparation whilst embracing physical training and tactical or technical awareness, now also embraced mental training. In 2009 they adopted a program called Mental Win which shapes mental toughness working with one of AQR’s partners in Poland 4business & people.

Patrick Sitek from 4business & people: “Today, everyone knows that to win you have to have a winning mentality. Not many know exactly what that means and how it can be measured and grown. Our partnership with AQR and Professor Peter Clough in the UK has given us the opportunity to fully operationalise the mental toughness approach. We started at Legia Warsaw with a Mental Win program based on the use of MTQ48 to explore mental toughness and an AQR training programme called “UCanWin”. Elements of this program had already been used in English Premier League clubs including Fulham & Blackburn Rovers” 

At the start of the program, the squad players completed MTQ48 which measured their mindset through factors such as the approach to challenges, a sense of control, commitment and confidence. Through feedback, this enabled the identification of specific situations in which players may be uncomfortable and which affected their attitude on the pitch, in training, as well as in life. This led to individual development sessions normally held once a week or so.

For the Club Directors and the coaching staff, continuing the mental training of players is one of the most important projects in the club.

CEO Leśnodorski: “Right after joining the club, Director Jacek Mazurek told me about the talks with the guys offering Mental Win. I knew that this involved some risk, but we are a club open to new initiatives and I was very positive about this.” 
Player X: “We are still young players, our career is gaining momentum, we won our first title and we are aware that the demands on us are increasing. Participation in the program helps us to focus on important things, realize and correct errors arising in the head. The programme combined with hard work in training definitely helped us to get the League and Cup double after 18 years” 
Dariusz Nowicki is one of Poland’s leading sports psychologists. He is responsible for the preparation of many outstanding Polish sportsmen including world champions. “Using MTQ48 to analyse strength and resilience in conjunction with a feedback session with a player, saves time primarily on the specific diagnosis of possible weaknesses in performance and behaviour.”

Case study by 4business & people

Using the MTQ48 with a Sub-elite Junior Table Tennis Player

The Player: Born 1998, the player was ranked in the top 12 in England for their age (11 years) in 2010.

The Coach:  The coach is a Level 4 and international table tennis coach and an executive coach/supervisor.

The Problem: It was clear to the father that the player (now nearly 14), despite still having a top 12 ranking in England for their age, was suffering and confused about their involvement in table tennis; had considerable anxiety around competition, and wasn’t enjoying competitive play.

Objectives:

  • Enjoy playing in competition again and to look forward to it
  • Improve results and underpin performances with a ‘basic guaranteed minimum standard’
  • Win more matches from behind
  • Win a higher percentage of close games
  • Beat more players ranked above
  • Improve mental skills to reduce anxiety, increase confidence, stabilise mood and performance (especially the use of the in-between point time)
  • Improve preparation (the critical last 48 hours before performing)

The process

This was delivered between March and October 2013, with around 11 hours per month of contact time split between:

  • On-the-table technical and tactical development together
  • Face to face meetings/sessions
  • Telephone sessions focussed on mental skills, competition preparation, self-planning and reflective practice
  • Text conversations before, during and after competition events

The MTQ48 was taken at the start of the training in March and again in July.

The Outcomes

By May 2013, the player was beginning to be able to articulate again why they liked table tennis, why they wanted to play in competitions, and was showing signs of regenerated commitment and enjoyment. In May and June they played well (process, performance and results) in four consecutive competitive events, culminating in reaching the last eight of the England National Under 14’s – a great result and more importantly in the coach’s view, a very enjoyable event for them.

At the beginning of July, a retest was taken on the MTQ48.

The results revealed the following:

  • Scores now averaged five – a considerable improvement in Mental Toughness
  • Commitment increased from two to four

Conclusion

The MTQ48 was a useful framework and guide as part of a sport-specific programme over several months for a sub-elite junior player. Several key mental and performance objectives were met.

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