THE FUTURE COACH NEWS

Tom Bates Exclusive Interview with Gregg Evans of the Birmingham Mail

“EXCLUSIVE: The inspirational coach still winning over the doubters after leaving Aston Villa.  The former AVFC and Birmingham City man has now linked up with Team GB”

BY JOHN DOWNES
Staff Writer
Friday 23 November 2018

Tom recently gave reporter Gregg Evans, from the Birmingham Mail, an exclusive interview about his experience working as a performance psychologist in football.

“Rejected as a player and slammed as a no-hoper on his first day in the Midlands.

It would have been easy for Tom Bates, a now well-respected performance psychologist, to quickly give up.

But power of the mind really is a beautiful thing.

Ten years on from the most demotivating of welcoming message, Bates finds himself in a position where he is improving greatness through techniques that have previously been written off.

The 33-year-old has recently started working with the Great Britain Olympic Squad ahead of Tokyo 2020 and continues to offer one-to-one sessions with football players, managers and professionals from other sports in the country.

Looking back on the last decade, he is also now confident enough to strike back at those who doubted him along the way,

“When I introduced myself as ‘Tom, the new performance psychologist’ to a long-serving member of the scouting team at Birmingham City on my first day at the club, he didn’t even bother shaking my hand,” he recalls.

“Instead, he turned away and grumbled: ‘What a load of b*******s’

That was in 2008 when the fresh-faced graduate had completed his studies and a two-year spell at AFC Bournemouth working alongside Eddie Howe in the Centre of Excellence.

Boss Alex McLeish interviewed Bates at St Andrew’s and was supportive of the role. But as it was still in its infancy the task of convincing traditionalists that calling on a ‘thinking partner’ – as Bates like to put it – could play a part in gaining an advantage on matchdays needed serious time and effort.

“The main reason for that is because football is archaic in the way it is run,” he explained.

“It’s still in the dark ages compared to other sports.

“If you’re prepared to think differently and recognise the need for an open mind, advantages can be gained.

“It’s not all about mystical, magical things.

“It’s simply about having an open mind.”

One senior player who was receptive to psychology in football was ex-Blues captain Lee Carsley – a man Bates openly admits to owing a great deal to for ‘providing the early inspiration’,

And gradually, football is starting to recognise and welcome the need to move with the times.

But while Bates has experienced plenty of personal success during spells at Blues, West Brom, Brentford and most recently, Aston Villa, getting him to admit it, is another matter.

Here you have a 33-year-old who is going from strength to strength in his career – and has personally helped hundreds of individuals improve their own fortunes – yet he’s as modest and humble as they come.

“I don’t like to take credit, it’s all about the players,” he tells me.

“They are the ones who cross the white line.”

The early rejection in his life has toughened him up.

Bates hoped to make it as a professional player but was let go by Cambridge United’s youth team.

Now he combines psychology with coaching and is making huge strides.

“It’s not for everyone, and I’ve always said that,” he added.

“The benefits are there to see if you take it on board, though.”

Pointing to some of the game’s great performers as examples, Bates explains how John Terry would often work with him as an open-minded leader, keen to receive advice and share his experiences despite his previous success throughout a trophy-laden career at Chelsea.

“John wants and still is very keen to learn,” he explained.

“That’s what makes the best the best, right?

“He was also brave and open enough to admit that he was nervous on his first day at the club having only ever played for one other club previously.”

England goalkeeper Jack Butland describes Bates as ‘the very best in his field’, and the Cambridge-born father-of-three tells the tale of how quickly he connected with ex-West Brom captain Steven Reid during his time at The Hawthorns.

“Reidy said to me ‘Oh, so you’re the new shrink, when you gonna put me on the couch and wave one of those things in front of my eyes!’

“My reply was: ‘I’m not a shrink, I’m a thinking partner, come and have a chat with me and see what you think’

“Steven is now a very close friend.”

During a three-year spell at Albion, Bates also helped Ben Foster develop a pre-match ritual that he continues to follows to this day.

Before important games, the stopper will watch clips of his favourite saves to help build confidence and that’s just one of many ‘interventions’ that have proved valuable.

“The work that I do is with real techniques like visualisation, pre-performance routines and progressive muscular relaxation,” Bates added.

“There’s literally hundreds of ways to improve.”

As a UEFA A Licence Coach, the jack of all trades also knows a thing or two about improving players out on the practice pitches.

At Villa he would spend hours with Conor Hourihane – the ‘hardest and most dedicated’ player he’s ever encountered,.

“Conor’s attention to detail and hunger to get better is second to none,” he continued.

“He searches for the extra one per-cent every day.

“He practices shooting and passing after sessions and I remember one afternoon when he just wouldn’t leave the field until he got six free-kicks – left foot, right foot, left foot etc – inch perfect.”

Bates, the former Head of Global Performance and Culture at Villa, left a lasting legacy at B6.

In the dressing rooms at Bodymoor Heath are motivational messages created by himself and a group of senior players.

And members of the first-team still call him up to talk about ways to improve their game.

“What pleased me the most was that the players were very much on board with a forward way of thinking,” he explained.

“Snoddy (Robert Snodgrass) and Sam Johnstone are sorely missed but there’s still a good group there with JT, Conor, Chessie (James Chester) and Albert (Adomah), who by the way is a wonderful human-being. Maybe the nicest guy in football.”

Bates also has a lasting relationship with new boss Dean Smith who he used to live with in Windsor.

“I’m close with him because we worked together at Brentford,” he explained.

“Villa now have a real opportunity to think forward and be on the front foot with Dean in charge.

“Big clubs have an advantage, but if they can’t think differently and change, they will become a lost giant.”

Read the rest of the article here: Birmingham Mail.

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