JONNY WILKINSON is far from the only sportsman to buy into the Steve Black approach.
Town midfielder Michael Collins this week became the latest to pay tribute to the club’s performance coach, who is widely recognised for using his skills in sports psychology to turn the 2003 rugby World Cup winner from a tortured soul into an optimistic philosopher.
It’s no surprise that England and Lions ace Wilkinson, now plying his trade with French club Toulon after first working with Black at Newcastle Falcons, still keeps in close contact with the genial Geordie.
For it’s impossible not to enjoy the company of the man of whom Wilkinson says: “He is the best at what he does, and I know that to be exactly true.”
Collins, a former Republic of Ireland Under 21 international who harbours ambitions of a full cap, admits he’s his own worst critic, and that at times, his confidence has been sapped as a result.
But he says Black has helped him deal with those demons.
“Blackie is responsible for our physical conditioning, but he’s also excellent on the psychological side of things,” explained the 23-year-old, who claimed his second goal of the campaign as Town put four without reply past Leyton Orient at the Galpharm last Saturday.
“He spends a lot of time working with the players on a one-to-one basis, and for me, he’s been brilliant.
“I have had occasional dealings with sports psychologists in the past.
“But it’s been a regular feature since Steve arrived and it’s something I’m interested in and really believe in.
“I do a lot of reading about top sportsmen, and they all use psychology as a tool to get that vital extra dimension to their performances.
“For me, it’s a huge part of sport. Players have the physical attributes, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place, so then it comes down to dealing with the mental pressures.
“Those who are more positive and believe in themselves more will more often than not squeeze that bit extra from themselves.
“Sometimes, I’m my own worst critic, and Blackie has certainly helped me with that.
“He says it’s part of my make-up, and that I will never get rid of it, but he’s shown me ways of coping with it and trying to use it to my advantage.
“Often the day before a game, I’ll spend 20 minutes just walking and talking with Steve, and he helps me get my mindset right.
“He’s also on hand before a game and at half-time, and we had another chat midway through the Orient match.
“I thought I’d been a little bit off the pace first half, and in the past, that would have affected me in the second half.
“But Steve took me to one side, persuaded me to put what had gone on in the past and to refocus, and in the second half I got more second balls, and I got my goal, which was great!”
Even more vital to Collins was that Town won 4-0 for the second home game running.
“We were delighted with the result, with the fact that the goals came from four different players, which shows the kind of danger we can pose from different areas, and the fact that we kept another clean sheet (the fourth at home in succession).
“Our defenders were superb, and it’s always good to have a clean sheet as a platform to build on, because more often than not, we’ll score a goal in a game.”