“I’m a sinner. I take the piss an awful lot and I definitely question myself when we discuss the issue of bullying”.
Not one to mince his words, Ger reveals,
“I have definitely through my loose tongue probably bullied someone else unintentionally because I just take the mick a bit too much. That’s an area I probably need to become better at but there’s never any intent or malice in it. If I was ever told or sensed that I had gone too far I would always apologise and that would be the end of it. Nipped in the bud!”
Ger Brennan shows courage by speaking up in a society where conformity is often the easier path.
He opens up to us during a recent Q&A in a quiet meeting room in the UCD Sports Centre. He works there as the GAA sports director.
Here are 10 other lessons from the two time All-Ireland winner on how humility, faith and a striver’s mentality lead to optimal performance.
1. The Right Path.
“I suppose my advice to a young person is to find out what makes them happy. Find out what they love doing most, whether it’s their sport, their hobby or their subject. Pursue that to the best of their ability and aim to do it to a level that satisfies them most”.
Talented sports people often make the assumption that because they are good at what they grew up playing that this has to be the sport for them. Challenge this assumption!
Ger tells us to keep our eyes open for new opportunities.
“And if it’s a case that you need to do something else to continue to challenge yourself then you go and do it. Never forgetting the reason behind what you are doing and the enjoyment that you should feel from it is important”.
2. Gratitude for Your Gifts.
“A lot of people consider themselves spiritual, they may call it Buddha, they may call it God or mindfulness, what it comes down to is a self-awareness of something deeper.
Great people throughout human history have been in touch with that spirit and for me that spirit is God. For me God is peace, God is a sense of kindness, compassion, love. A sense of non-ego to an extent. Within me it gives me a great sense of gratitude for my sporting skills and talents”.
By not taking our talents for granted we will appreciate time spent on them more. Gratitude for the friends, difficult characters, highs and lows that sporting life provides us gives it a deeper meaning. It helps us understand how sport can develop our character for other aspects of our lives. Ger explains this concept perfectly,
“Whether you’re at Mass, playing ball or hanging out with your friends if you can do it with a sense that you are doing it for the love of God, the experience is enriched.
From an individual’s performance perspective if you feel there’s greater meaning to your life and this is just one step along the journey it can help. Then if you lose or you don’t kick the point, faith can offer real comfort by helping us realise this is part of the process”.
3. Laugh in the Face of Adversity.
“If you look at the All-Ireland Semi Final in 2013 I was substituted at half time against Kerry. We went on to win but I was disappointed with my own performance and how the team as a group performed in that first period”.
In these scenarios it is important player input to solutions is encouraged. This helps players feel valued and allows them to air opinion in a constructive manner.
“I made my points at half-time. We went in to the dressing room and followed our routine. The backs sat down and looked at what was going well and what wasn’t going well. We came up with a solution so we could improve. Then the management came in and we shared ideas so it was pretty much player lead. This is a successful approach I find.
There was training the morning following the Kerry game for the lads who hadn’t played during the game. I turned up to the session and and used it as a chance to apply what I had learnt the previous day. Instead of directing my annoyance at other people I saw it as an opportunity to grow and develop”.
Often the difference between the good and the great in any field is resilience and how they frame adverse scenarios.
“Getting out to training that day obviously wasn’t expected as I’d played against Kerry. Jim Gavin was out at training as well which was great and we shared a couple of kind words.
And that was it then, I just put my head down and trained as hard as possible for the All-Ireland Final”.
4. Tough Dressing Room.
It wasn’t always happy and successful days for Ger in the Dub’s dressing room,
“I was 19 or 20 when I was asked out to training games with Dublin. My initial experience going into the dressing room was one full of excitement, but certainly nerves.
You’ve watched these guys play in Croke Park for years. You never saw yourself as being good enough or in the same bracket never mind the same room as them. That’s all going on in your head”.
Ger reflected a cast iron belief many young performers have when joining high level panels. This is the perception of team mates as flawless individuals. Was it justified?
“There were a lot of lovely lads like Coman Goggins, Shane Ryan and David Henry there, but there was also an arrogance I sensed in the dressing room. At the time I didn’t think of it as arrogance but my own nervousness.
While it is only a subjective observation, I sometimes felt players were more content in being associated in playing for Dublin and in the papers the whole time without actually winning an All-Ireland.
It was a tough panel to go into initially but I was stubborn enough and strong enough to hold my own. Did my talking on the pitch. From that experience I would always be conscious of new comers. It’s nice to be nice!”
So what can be learned from this?
5. Knock me off my Perch.
“If there’s a new back coming in I would welcome him. I would feel even more motivated and pressurised to improve. That competitiveness is what drives a panel along. I use it to my advantage as opposed to shutting the person out and being a dick. You would waste energy by doing this.”
Balancing a positive outlook with a competitive streak helped Ger perform optimally.
“Obviously there have been times when I’ve been on the bench in my career and speaking honestly, I’ve wanted the team to win but the guy in my position to play poorly so I can come on. That said I would naturally lean towards the greater good of the team over an individual player”.
This leadership behaviour isn’t restricted to a sporting environment.
6. Performing as a Leader
“I have had the pleasure of being Chaplin in St. Kevin’s College, Ballygall Road East. It was about being able to listen to the kids who needed a hand. Some came from difficult family situations and I tried to journey with the student in understanding their reality. I found it hugely rewarding work”.
Leading is about understanding the needs of your followers by listening and then educating them towards a better path.
“Education has gone so secular that we now develop kids to function in an economy. We should create well rounded individuals with an ability to reflect, discern and meditate. This would lead to meaningful values and awareness of the dangers of temporal things in today’s culture. Social media for example. Happiness from social media is derived from how many likes we receive as opposed to having real interactions. If your happiness is solely derived from external factors you don’t control, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. This is one of the reasons why we have so many mental health issues in Ireland today”.
Don’t over rely on the approval of others, take happiness and performance into your own hands.
7. Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail.
It is important to have pre-game anchors that keep you grounded, present and focused on the task at hand. Some players simply concentrate on the feel of the ball, their breathing or their feet as they run on the grass.
“I was generally fairly relaxed going into games and joked around before matches in the dressing room. I’d either have the craic or put nervous energy into focussing on my role for that particular game”.
Confiding in a more senior team member about your anxiety in a sporting context may help you by learning some coping mechanisms from them. A problem shared is a problem halved. Older professionals often take more time to appreciate the occasion.
“As I progressed through my career I began to enter the field of play more calmly. I’d take in Croke Park and say to myself isn’t this great! Then the team photo is taken, we’re back into our warm up and I’m thinking about my specific role”.
8. Parenthood Paves the way for Performance.
Ger would never have achieved the glory days in Croke Park if he didn’t grow up with such supportive parents.
“God exists in the good deeds of your parents and the good deeds of others who are looking out for you. I am from the North Inner City where we had a super neighbourhood and everyone looked out for each other. My parents did their best to make sure we didn’t get caught up in the distractions of life in the city. Like most teenagers you dabble but we did not to stray too far from the path”.
From his words, his gratitude for his parents is clear and Ger uses this as ammunition to perform in sport. Could we do the same in our field of expertise?
“There was obviously a lot of distractions but my Dad always ensured that we were in early, up for training, brought us everywhere. My parents really encouraged us to do our best and the only pressure was not to give up”.
Ger acknowledges his parents during his pre-match prayer routine as key figures in helping him arrive at that point.
9. Faith in Action.
“Pope Francs gave us an example of humility by eschewing the papal palace. He remained grounded despite his position. As a player it’s obviously nice to have recognition and it’s important not to expose yourself too much at the expense of your performance”.
Ger shows us how he learned from the sense of ego he disliked during his early days with Dublin.
“Humble means that you don’t take yourself too serious while being seriously committed to your sport. Not forgetting the importance of being kind to another person. Ensuring that if you can help other people on their journey that you do it”.
Another way to remain humble is to treat others as you would like to be treated.
10. Assertion Trumps Bullying.
“In my youth I played soccer with Belvedere and would have found it tough. I never really felt part of that team. Some comments came my way and I was in 1 or 2 altercations trying to deal with those things. That brought an end to it”.
The take home point here is if you are on the receiving end of bullying or see bullying behaviour let someone in authority know or if you are comfortable to intervene yourself, do it. You can’t perform optimally in an environment where it is going on.
“On the whole I’m very fortunate. From my teens onwards with teams I have made great friends. I certainly wouldn’t stand for bullying if I did see it though”.