Meet Yehuda, man with the midas touch
THE news almost got waylaid among the babble of media attention that surrounded the announcement of the teams for the first round of Six Nations action. After years of poaching players from south of the Border, the Scotland team have turned to the man that Sir Clive Woodward credits with helping his team to win the World Cup.
Step forward Yehuda Shinar, or Yuda as he is universally known. The Israeli is a qualified graphologist by profession, an expert in the science of analysing what a person's handwriting says about the underlying character. It was in that role that he was first asked what he meant when he said that someone was "a winner". He got to thinking, and more than 20 years later he hopes to have arrived at some concrete conclusions.
The Scotland rugby squad are now benefiting from his expertise, but the Israeli has been working with Scottish Institute of Sport athletes for nearly a year. I sat in on one of his presentations at the SIS offices in Stirling.
Like many good educators, Yuda does not preach his gospel, but rather encourages questions and asks plenty himself, leading participants to come to their own conclusions by force of logic. There is very little out of the ordinary, but when I pointed out that much of what went on was just commonsense, someone pointed out: "There is nothing very common about commonsense."
Shinar maintains that three essential ingredients are common to winning athletes:
1. A WARRIOR SPIRIT. Pretty obvious this; athletes must want to win and show the requisite aggression, within limits, to achieve their goals. All athletes in every sport need warrior spirit but, since rugby is highly physical and hugely confrontational, it is probably more important here than anywhere else.
2. CTUP (or T-CUP). This stands for Clear Thinking Under Pressure. However, Woodward insisted on using the second acronym, since he was in charge of England and the English drink tea. So his World Cup-winners focused upon T-CUP: Thinking Clearly Under Pressure. When the torpedoes have been launched, do you panic and take to the life raft, or do you think logically about the best evasive action available? Shinar insists that all athletes have more time than they think they do - and that winners are those that utilise it.
3. SKILL. Every athlete competing on the world stage needs a minimum level of skill and physical development, or he or she simply would not be there, no matter how angry they are as warriors. However, skills are placed third for a good reason, because they are significantly less important than most people think.
England's Martin Johnson and French veteran Fabien Pelous have admitted that neither is the most skilful at his position, but Johnson was, and Pelous remains, one of the most determined locks the game has seen.
Shinar has been even more categorical about the relationship between talent and winning: there is none. "We found that there is no connection between talented people, whether professional sportsmen or other professionals, and winning. Let's face it, we all know talented people who are losers."
Naturally, the above three requirements are only the starting points, and Shinar makes his money - he does not come cheap - by showing athletes and captains of industry how best to attain these goals. Winning people are essentially workaholics, who study what Shinar refers to as the gap between the desired outcome and the actual one, then do whatever it takes to narrow that gap.
When asked whether he can really transform a cowardly individual into a true warrior, Shinar categorises three groups: those that are born winners, those that are becoming winners, and those that will never be winners.
He can help the second group, but concedes that the likes of Scooby Doo will never morph into a snarling rottweiler.
Shinar travelled to tournaments in South Africa and Hong Kong with the Scotland Sevens team when Rob Moffat was in charge last year. Now Edinburgh's backs' coach, Moffat has good things to say about the Israeli's influence, while adding an important observation about his work with the full national squad: "This should not be seen as a quick-fix solution. It's a long-term thing.
"I got to know him pretty well, and he is a very intense sort of character. I think it took him time to understand the difficulties that the Scotland Sevens squad operated in. It wasn't the perfect environment, but he was undoubtedly beneficial. In fact, the longer he stayed with us, the more we felt the benefit.
"His beliefs are simple enough. Athletes should be aware of what they are trying to achieve, and then compare that with what they do achieve. That applies in training as well as a match situation. Like all these sort of people, there are some players that will take to him better than others."
At the end of the presentation, I put it to Shinar that in any sport, as in life, there had to be losers as well as winners.
"Yes," the little guru shot back, "but that doesn't mean that it is us who have to be the losers!"
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