Johnson’s mind games help Hawks to win

Hawks assistant boss Steve Johnson, left, with Shaun Gale
Hawks assistant boss Steve Johnson, left, with Shaun Gale
Rowan Vine. Picture: Keith Woodland

Vine calling for Gosport to fight to the finish

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Hawks assistant-manager Steve Johnson resorted to ‘mind games’ – and doughnuts – to help get the team back to winning ways on Saturday.

The Hawks beat Thurrock 3-0 at Westleigh Park and Johnson believes a training session ‘with a difference’ two nights before played a major part.

However, other back-room staff at the club believe there was a more basic reason for the side’s return to winning ways.

They promised the players free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and beer all round if they won!

Whether it was the doughnuts and beer or Johnson’s psychology, it was a vital win for the Hawks, who now face a tougher test at Dover on Saturday.

The first part of Johnson’s innovative session took place behind closed doors and involved the players examining recent games, looking at strengths and weaknesses.

That was followed by an original team-building exercise out on the pitch.

‘Psychology is a massive part of football and, sometimes, more important than just the technical side of the game,’ said Johnson.

‘I spoke to a top sports psychologist working in rugby league and they are big on the mind side of the game.

‘They gave a few ideas for activities we could use with our players.

‘We used a traffic light system to examine the games.

‘Green was for when things are going well, amber for when they start to go wrong and red when things are going against you in the game.

‘We got the players to list all the things they did well in the green phase and we came up with sheets of paper.

‘When we discussed amber and red, the players were very honest and admitted at those times they stopped communicating and hid.

‘The idea was to get the players to recognise during a game when they were in amber.

‘Then they devised strategies that would get them straight back to green without going into red.

‘Afterwards, players had to negotiate an assault course out on the pitch in blacked-out goggles, relying solely on instructions from other team-mates sat in the stand.

‘It was all about communication and the feedback afterwards was very positive.

‘Though we had fun and games doing it, the serious side was all about building trust and relationships between the players.

‘I like to think it had some sort of an impact.’

Johnson, 49, has a vast experience in the non-league game and still holds the record number of caps (233) for the Royal Navy representative side.

He possesses a Uefa coaching badge and is a lead tutor in coach education for the Football Association, leading courses both home and abroad.

Johnson is a ‘thinking-man’s’ coach and commands great respect from players, managers and all involved in the game.

‘On the day of the game we threw away all the negative lists and pinned up all the positive comments on the dressing room wall,’ explained Johnson.

‘We got the win we needed but won’t get carried away. It is important that we now go and put back-to-back results together.’