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Interview with Rafał Kubów

Przemysław Mamczak: This is the Teaching Football podcast, episode number 35.


PM: Przemysław Mamczak…

Paweł Szymański: … and Paweł Szymański.

PM: Welcome to the thirty-fifth episode of the Teaching Football podcast. Next up on our long list of guests who had to wait very, very long for their invitation to our studio is Rafał Kubów. Hello Rafał.

Rafał Kubów: Hello everyone.

PM: Rafał is a mental coach of the Mental Pro brand. I think a lot of our listeners know you from Facebook, but could you please begin by saying a few words about yourself…

RK: Of course, above all I’m a football coach who spent a lot of years at the professional level of the game and then moved on to working as a mental coach. I still consider myself as a football coach, specialising in mental preparation. I used to work with Poland under-19 and under-18 national teams as well as both the first team and the reserve team at Legia Warsaw.

PM: Today we should probably add GKS Katowice to the list…

RK: Yes, I work with GKS Katowice, but my main responsibilities at the moment are with senior Poland internationals and players from all three top tiers of Polish football who I work individually with.

PM: I started from the long wait. Tell us, does a mental coach need to be patient in your view?

RK: Of course he does. And it is difficult to find any patience in today’s world because if you wanted to buy a book in the past, you had to go to a bookshop, it wasn’t there so you had to order it. Now you sit down, you make a few clicks and sometimes you’re complaining about the book not arriving in your house the following day, but in two or three days. So patience is in short supply today and to achieve anything, you need it. A mental coach needs to be calm and patient himself in order to persuade others to be patient.

PM: How can you work on patience?

RK: Let’s focus on the word patience first. Diligence is a capability to work and patience is a capability to suffer. You suffer because you want something you’re working on but it doesn’t always come. Sometimes you work very, very hard and you reach that moment when you get no results. Then you either keep working with the same intensity or you give up. If you keep going with the same attitude and workrate, by doing that you become a different person. Patience comes with age because older people benefit from what they worked on at the age of 20, for example. If you are 30 and you worked on something for five or ten years, you benefit from it now. A young person does not have any reference points so that they worked on something for a long time and can now enjoy it. So patience is something that you can inspire players to using words, but you can’t instill it into them. This is an experience they need to go through. Big things demand time, so patience is needed in every profession you take.

PM: Is there any way you can accelerate the process?

RK: For sure, you can break your big, results-based, inspiring target into stages, very little parts. How to eat an elephant? Bite by bite. To eat a big target you need to give yourself the rungs of the ladder. Before going to bed, I always recommend to remind yourself of all the good things you did during the day, what brings you closer to your target, rewarding yourself. Sometimes it flies by, we look into the future all the time, we wonder why we are not where we should be and I believe that appreciating the small process, the small progress is something that can keep a player on the right track.

PM: You mentioned the cohesion that you, as a coach, need to be patient yourself. You need to be confident, too. How do you control your own emotions?

RK: You’re right, but on the other hand, I’m also only human. But to speak about what I speak about with belief, you do certain things no one can see, but I know and I can speak about them with confidence. Words are cheap, everyone can say them, but the most expensive thing is cohesion, so you do what you say and your results confirm it. I put a lot of effort to look after being disciplined, to positively influence my own control of emotions, my own attitude, but I’m also humble enough to know that it’s not always possible and I tell players that they will not always be motivated and confident. If you’re not motivated, do it without motivation. If you’re not confident, do it despite your lack of confidence. I don’t always need to be a superhero, I don’t always need to be great, I know a lot of my shortcomings but I also know my strengths and everyday I do something for myself so that the control of emotions is getting better and better.

PM: We will come back to your work with players. But I would like to move on to something perhaps untypical. How can a mental coach help a football coach? What I mean is how to help a coach who has his own problems and dilemmas?

RK: The very ambitious coaches are very committed to their profession while, in fact, our life is not only about our professional careers, it’s also about family, friends, hobbies, spare time, spiritual development. If we forget about other aspects we will not be happy anyway. I always tell the coach who says that he has thrown it all away and concentrates solely on work, not caring about other aspects, something like: if you win the Champions League and go back to an empty apartment, there’s silence, you have nobody to hug, nobody to talk to. I would say that, of course, in our lives a coach and I did it myself, now I’m also at a stage where I’ve decided to make a conscious extremism, but I’m doing it deliberately, I’ve put a deadline for myself and I encourage other coaches to do it. Up until a certain point, you work under such an intensity, sacrificing other things in your life, but you can’t go on like this all the time. There is that Buddhist story and what Jacek Walkiewicz said at the famous lecture, the difference between commitment and sacrifice, for example, scrambled eggs on bacon, the pig made sacrifices and the hen committed. That’s the difference. I’m in favour of committing yourself, but in different moments of life making sacrifices, too.

PM: And what about fighting with yourself when it comes to earnings and finances because we know it’s not great, especially at the initial stage. Many rely on their patience and perseverance, but many also fail along the way. How to support such a coach and do you think it is necessary to support such a person?

RK: I’d say that every coach needs to go through his own experiences. I worked for free for the first half a year with under-15s because my coaching licence had not arrived in time and the city council were not able to pay me. If you don’t have a licence, work for free, they said. After half a year, I got a payout of 381 zlotys and I was an ambitious coach, I did four training sessions a week with one group, two training sessions with the youngest group and I would still go to two matches a weekend for that amount of money.

PM: You had enough to pay for your monthly ticket then!

RK: I always bought them bananas after a game so that they had some kind of a reward. I knew very well that it had to be bananas and not chocolate, but yes, it was my job. I fulfilled myself in it and I started taking other teams and at one point I was in charge of four teams at my peak and there was still a women’s team, so five. I just spent the time in the car, 12 hours from Monday to Friday, three matches at the weekend, I was in charge of senior players at the time, so there was no time for other aspects of life and now I’m saying this to inspire coaches, but no one will live their lives for them. If you’re in a situation like this, do what you can do best. This is the easiest thing. And sometimes give up a team, focus on what you have, maybe lower the costs of your life, but make sure you don’t miss out on things. If we drive from team to team, I remember myself, for 14 years I didn’t have time to talk to a player after training, perhaps he needed something and I figured it out. I was in charge of four teams only for six months, then I focused on two and started to think creatively how I could do it differently.

PM: And nowadays you talk a lot about mindfulness. I know it from your courses and lectures I attended.

RK: Yes, not a lot is being said about mindfulness, there’s a lot more about motivation, self-discipline, confidence. But looking at our brains, if we don’t go outside our egos, we will not be able to solve some of the problems.

PM: So why is it worth being mindful?

RK: Why is it worth being mindful? Because we will not lose anything from our lives and it is mindfulness that stops our brain from looking so much into the future and makes it focus on what it has under control. It makes us focus on the next step. Mindfulness provides us with gratitude for what we have, we are focused, we are a little bit away from our emotions and on the other hand, I would say, be happy but never be satisfied. It may be called Buddhist thinking and it’s not enough to achieve anything in football, but be grateful, mindful and unsatisfied.

PS: Can you tell us why mental coaching and not, for example, tactics? Where do you take inspiration from? Was there a person who encouraged you to become a football coach and then a mental coach?

RK: I get this question sometimes and I say that I was saved by my transient ardour. If anyone says that they don’t have it, I would say that they are connoisseurs of many tastes rather than just one. This is some kind of a personality trait. Not a transient ardour but more of an openness to new events… Of course, I’m a coach, I also did opposition analysis at Legia. And then I realised that in my spare time I would read psychology books, that I was always interested in them. And at one point I followed it deeper. I tried different things… People ask me how to find their passion. Don’t look for it, try different things and then answer yourself what you want in life. You will know and you will see what inspires you. I always have a book with me when I travel because it interests me. There are books I read a number of times but books are not everything. Books are something extra to the experience you gain by taking action and they systemise it all. Theory alone is not enough and nor is practice alone. I noticed it was something that I was interested in. Some, when watching a game, look at the position of a holding midfield player and I observe how a player reacts after losing the ball. I’m not the youngest, I’ve tried a lot of things and I know that this is something, on the basis of my experience, that I can change other people’s lives a bit with.

PS: Speaking of books, what are the top five books that made the most lasting impression on you?

RK: If I had to recommend a book, I would always ask a player what he has most recently read and what made an impression on him. And only then I recommend one.

PS: If he said nothing, what would you recommend then?

RK: I don’t recommend anything anymore, but initially I used to recommend “The Power of your subconscious mind” by Murphy. This is a book where you read than you can think more positively. If you really believe in it, then you will change your mind and realise that you can influence yourself. Then it will not be enough because you think positively, but the world is good and bad. I have a lot of books that I read because I want to remember many things that are in them. I don’t always do and this is a normal function of our brain that we focus on things we can’t control, we strive for some kind of an illusion of perfection, so I want to remember about things that can be found in those books. I read them and once a player reaches a certain level, I recommend them. Earlier on I recommend reading the “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”.

PM: We have a question from Twitter: is it possible to achieve success in football dividing every 24 hours into three equal parts – work, family, rest?

RK: I think the “work, life, balance” rule is a myth in my profession…

PM: You have “work, work, balance”.

RK: Yes [laughs]. In a coach’s life it’s not easy to plan everything because you really work a lot. Then you only feel at fault. I would say if you spend time with someone, then spend thirty minutes with them, but not next to them, with them. You don’t have to watch TV with that person, but ask nice questions to each other which will make you feel closer. Half an hour of such time with another person can be better than five hours together in front of TV.

PM: Mindfulness, again.

RK: Mindfulness to another person and to yourself.

PS: Thirty minutes out of 24 hours, is it enough?

RK: Of course it’s not. But I would really like to spend those 30 minutes with another person and if possible, more. Sometimes you spend the whole day next to someone and not with them. Mindfulness to another person is important and it’s good to divide the time consciously. And coach’s life, especially at bigger clubs, you spend most of your time away from home. Even when you play home games, you have stationary camps and when you play every three days, it means once you spend time with your family, you really need to do it in an effective way.

PS: Ok, let’s go back to basics. How do you define mental coaching? What is it and who is it for? It’s clear that you work in the football industry, but you can link it to your personal development too, can’t you?

RK: You can, of course. It is some kind of personal development. I believe that a player – alongside things that happen in his life – should raise his awareness at the same time and ask himself a question how they can help rather than restrict himself. Initially, when I speak with a player, it’s important to listen to him and make sure he simply stops restricting himself. So that he looked for his winning recipe in previous victories and simply repeated what he did then. It’s about checking whether what you did and what you are going to do will result in any change. Mental coaching is a capability to consciously influence your thoughts and attitude because the world impacts on us in different ways. There are fans, sometimes there is a coach who is under pressure, he has good intentions and I would say he wants to do well, but not everyone is capable of doing well, so at the end of the day, every player should be an expert on their thoughts and emotions. Or he should be an expert on their thoughts and emotions if he really wants to make an impact in professional football. This is why raising the level of awareness when it comes to mental competences such as self-regulation of emotions, attitude, so specific strategies in specific moments of a game, which help him, visual training. There’s loads of it.

PS: There’s a question from Facebook: how much time per week should be devoted to mental training and how to do it most effectively?

RK: I think… I’ve learned a bit how to answer such questions because I often get them and everything I say is some kind of generalisation. If I say: try to meditate tomorrow for a minute, in two days time for two minutes and so on until you reach ten minutes and then keep it going for eight weeks, you will see a change and you will start answering more and reacting less… So if you sacrifice even a minute, two minutes, then ten minutes to develop your muscle awareness, if you find out what meditation is, if you read some books about it… but I would say that a book is like a boat that takes you to a shore, but once you’ve reached the shore, leave the boat, the words, the teachers and try it for yourself. Everybody has their own mind, so at one point just listen very strongly to yourself. If you read a book but it doesn’t make you interested, stop reading it. In this case we shouldn’t torture our muscle will too much and read a book when it becomes painful. It means that this is not a book for you, the time will come for it. Read something that you’re interested in at the moment and what is less scientific because scientific content can probably very rarely absorb us, even though it absorbs me, but read things that are well told and that go into your head, so maintain some kind of hygiene, a few pages every day, meditation. Going outside of your mind, but at the same time feeding your own knowledge – this is what will provide you with good results.

PM: Do you think you need to be gifted in some ways to become a mental coach?

RK: I believe so. You need to be gifted in any profession, otherwise you will tire yourself.

PM: What are they?

RK:  I think you need to like people, you need to be kind, not just nice to them. If you’re just nice, you will want to be liked and not useful. It’s important to be kind and really want to help and be convinced that another person’s success will also be your success. When it comes to my level of being an extravert, it is rather low, I’m more of an introvert.

PM: Actually, we spoke about this in the city of Nowy Sącz and it’s difficult to believe it and I think our listeners are surprised because we’ve been talking for half an hour and let’s say you’ve taken over the microphone!

RK: Yes. It’s interesting but developed. I’m more of an introvert, so I also like to be alone, I can become absorbed in reading a book. It’s not easy for me to get to know people, I don’t seek their company, but I know myself and I’m working on it. If I didn’t, I would close some possibilities to myself. I believe you can work on it, but by nature I’m more of an introvert. Actually I wouldn’t say extravert or introvert. For sure introversion makes me more reflective and that helps because it means that when I go down the street with a phone in my pocket and all of a sudden I get an idea, I write it down and then use it when I prepare content for my training courses or my Facebook fanpage.

PM: We’ll come back to your fanpage, but tell us, have you done any personality tests to establish whether you’re an introvert or an extravert? Can you recommend anything?

RK: No, I haven’t done any of those tests. I try not to do any tests with players, I prefer to take information out of them by speaking to them and then somehow put it into a table in order to help the person as much as possible and what their personality, temperament and dominant traits are. It’s not like you come to a meeting with me and fill in a questionnaire. I don’t work like this neither with the team nor with the players. I respect that model of work because some use the DISC model and if anyone read the book entitled “Taking Flight” and were an owl, they will like it a lot and will create good systems. I think I’m more of a combination of an eagle and a pigeon and I don’t have much to do with an owl and I’ve already accepted that with myself.

PM: Please tell us then how you work with players. What are the first steps you take together?

RK: The first steps are about listening. I try to listen very carefully, ask questions and not impose my knowledge and listen patiently because sometimes one micro change can provide a macro effect at the beginning. Going back to patience, the way every human works is that once you do something right at the beginning and provide some kind of a change, then it’s easier for that person to then accept things that demand patience. Big things demand time. I try to listen, look at where change could be made now, so, for example, whether to get rid or start doing certain things so that they could see themselves in the near future that something is going in the right direction. Then we look again at the most important things they could work on. I don’t give any comments, I just try to listen very attentively. This is not coaching, I’m not a coach. I simply provide solutions sometimes. If somebody comes to me it means they’re open-minded, they want a solution and sometimes I do give one in a strong way.

PM: How much time is needed then to see some real effects? You’ve said that sometimes even after the first conversation with a player you are able to find something, but does it take longer on other occasions? Do you also meet with players, say, twice and that’s it?

RK: It happened that I did individual sessions every now and again when a player, who is at a very high level, had a very important game ahead and decided to come to me. Every time before the actual conversation I spoke to him so that we got to know each other because what if there was no energy between us, as it should be? That’s important – for me and for him. It’s important to get to know each other at the start, it makes our work comfortable and then individual sessions happen, but this is not my standard work, my standard work is professional player mental preparation and it’s a rather longer cooperation. I definitely don’t want for a player to depend on me, I want something more than just motivation because what’s the point in me motivating him if he then goes out for a dinner, talks to someone, watches a film or his coach treats him harshly and he needs to have a game strategy and know that once it’s six o’clock, he needs to do specific things that could help him. So more of a four-to-eight session cooperation or more later. Some players need less frequent contact then, but they still do need it.

PM: Have you ever rejected anyone? What I mean is you met someone, you started getting to know them and straight away you realised they were not open-minded enough to try new methods and there was no point in continuing working with them?

RK: Churchill once said that a lot of people want to learn, but very few want to be taught. They want to learn, but when it comes to the actual learning, it only sounds like learning. Sometimes it can happen that you meet a player and you can see that the glass is full and it’s difficult to start working together but I have to say that I don’t remember meeting anyone who I would talk to and then reject.

PM: Perhaps you like a challenge?

RK: I like a challenge… Perhaps I’m flexible and very often we start working together. Sometimes it happens that a parent comes to me and complains about their child and after a few sentences I already know that it would be equally good talking to parents rather than to the child. With very young players the parent should never restrict the child in their development.

PS: Have you ever worked with parents and a child at the same time?

RK: I mostly work with players aged 15 or older, it happens that I do lectures for younger players and I try to inspire coaches and parents. Coaches in Poland are prepared to mentally influence players in a positive way, but I naturally work with players at the highest level. Of course, it also happens that I work individually with Poland youth national team players who are at the top academies.

PS: What difficulties are most common among players who come to you? When you first speak to them, do they present a specific problem to you, something they want to work on or do they call you and say: Rafał, we’ve heard you’re good and we would like to work with you? Do you then ask questions or do they say, for example, that they’re struggling with concentration or control of emotions, they reacted to the referee for instance, and they ask you for tips?

RK: The initial conversation provides me with some information, I try to ask questions that will give them to me and then I know what we can work on. Players can sometimes see that their mind restricts rather than helps them and they come. It happens that we strive for suffering rather than enjoyment, but there are more and more players who believe they’re OK. I’m neither someone who dwells on the past or solves problems, but as I say – this is professional preparation for the profession. A lot of sportsmen, especially footballers, come and they’re curious where they can make further progress because they already have a dietician, a fitness coach but they are convinced that there’s one more aspect where they don’t have everything under control. Then they come with curiosity and later recommend it to one another and this is one thing I stick to that I don’t say who I work with even though I believe this is always a praise for the player. If anyone nowadays is serious about their career, they work on their mind. I’m not saying throughout the whole career but they still train mentally to fully take their chance.

PS: And why did you adopt the rule that you don’t say who you work with?

RK: I mean… The easiest thing is to say who you work with, they will become successful and then I will say it’s down to me. Being a football coach myself, I have a lot of respect for coaches and this is also their success. And I would say that this is the players’ success and I added a little bit to it. I won’t be saying that it was down to me if a player was successful. No, I simply played a tiny part. Sometimes a smaller one, other times a bigger one but it is the head coach who works with the player who can say it was down to him, I only helped the player. I respect other coaches and I’m not someone who promotes themselves this way.

PM: I keep getting questions on Twitter. Have you ever met a player who is not doing well after retiring from football? How do they cope with changes to their lifestyle? Could professional football be an addiction?

RK: I would say that overall sport is a very good addiction. Exercise provides you with endorphins and it’s good. If you miss it after retirement, there are other things to provide you with endorphins and dopamine, but I would actually recommend exercise. Even if you’re retired, go for a run, if you’ve had enough of football, play tennis or any other sport. Just keep being active, keep your regime in order to maintain your body in good shape. You don’t have to train as hard as you used to, but still, upon retirement, I always say to coaches or ex-players who don’t play anymore but will soon become coaches, to maintain their regime and keep making progress in their lives.

PM: Have you ever worked with anyone who struggled upon retirement and didn’t know what to do at that stage?

RK: Not individually, but for sure, people like that come to my training courses after which we sometimes talk and then I encourage them to keep setting themselves further targets in life, because there are still wonderful things to be done after retirement. If anybody has a vision that they will work hard during their careers and then live off their savings, it will never happen like this because everyone likes to be active, see their progress, strive for something and even stress, the positive one, makes us live longer. To live longer, you need to have some stress until the end of your life.

PM: We’ve mentioned a lot of advantages of mental training. Are there any disadvantages?

RK: I’m very reflective when it comes to my work. I wouldn’t like a player to become addicted to it. I always say: don’t take away stones from below one’s feet because they will slip on the sand. This is why I don’t try to protect players I work with from difficult challenges. This is not my job. It’s also not my job to provide them with additional, difficult challenges because life will do it for me. Sometimes when they have a problem, I only ask them what solution they have, but I’m not a pillow because everybody needs to experience their own things, positive and negative. The important thing is to guide them to good conclusions. If they’re going through hell, it’s important they don’t become a devil.

PM: Do you think that could stem from the fact that players may not have a partner or the right environment, which is why they report themselves to people like yourself?

RK: You’ve asked an interesting question. I never thought about this, but I think that most players I work with have a wife or a girlfriend. So I’m not the person to socialise with them, but to help them develop. At the end of the day you need to see progress. When it comes to mental training, despite the fact players need to be patient, they will not always achieve their results-based targets, they also have big dreams and it’s nice for them to feel their progress within themselves and simply do everything to do well, take their chance and for their mind to help them more than restrict them.

PM: Listening to you, it looks like our lives are like one big mental training, doesn’t it? You’ve read a lot of books, you’ve spoken to a lot of people, you have a lot of thoughts and this is your job. The mindfulness and observation of what is going on around us, even our own emotions, emotions of other people, empathy and it’s all related to our lives. Has mental training become a trend recently?

RK: I think we started to talk about mental training in Poland a few years ago and over 10 years ago in Western Europe. Sometimes everything is overstated and mental training will not replace standard training. Mental training could help. If you come to me and think that mental training will replace hard work put in on the pitch, I always say I’m not your man, even though it could sound uncomfortable. Training, preparation, the physical aspect, technique, tactics are all very important. Going back to what you said, Przemek, that life is like mental training, it is – it’s true. There is even a saying that we learn from mistakes. But I wouldn’t agree with it because not everyone learns from mistakes. It’s like the older you are the more intelligent you get. Sometimes you only get older. If anyone draws no conclusions from their mistakes and makes them again, they don’t develop. They get older, but they don’t mature. You can make a mistake, but you need to avoid making the same mistake again. You learn from mistakes when you’re aware of them. This is what can give a player an advantage. They all train the same amount physically, they have the same diet, but they win or lose and draw conclusions that don’t serve them well. They say that they’re just like this. That’s partly true because thanks to their ambition and drive they got to where they are in the first place, they wouldn’t be there otherwise, but now it’s time for a change to keep the right proportions.

PM: You often talk about a twenty-year-long experience…

RK: I do and what I mean is that some have twenty years of experience, but in real terms it’s the same year repeated twenty times.

PM: Do you think that, say, fifty years ago there was also demand for mental coaches but they simply didn’t exist and therefore people, footballers were not able to cope with their problems or is it more of a sign of our times that new challenges have appeared – along with solutions to them?

RK: For sure, in terms of footballers, the international level is so high… The level is going up, we keep saying that the level of the Polish top-flight is going down but I think that if one of the top Polish clubs were to play one of the top Polish clubs from twenty years ago, they would win comfortably. In the past teams weren’t as well prepared as now when it comes to their mental preparation, the physical aspect, diet, regeneration. They were successful, but the level has gone up since and mental training also provides an advantage. For example, in Poland there are nowadays very few starving people or those who live in extreme poverty. Looking at the Maslow Pyramid, once you fulfill your basic needs, you want more, you strive for self-fulfilment, spiritual development. This is why most people who have coped with the most important things, want something more because they realise that it hasn’t necessarily brought them happiness in life.

PM: We’re talking about mental training and, as we’ve already established, mental training is equal to life, so we’re moving in the right direction. I have a question regarding your own everyday life. What does the life of a mental coach look like? What does the life of Rafał Kubów look like?

RK: At the moment every day is different for me. It used to be more repetitive but nowadays I try to be flexible because players I work with are often away or they have an important issue, so I try to adjust to them. Of course, I try to maintain some kind of a framework. Recently I’ve been travelling a lot and if I work for a club, I follow their plan, so it’s difficult to find any repetition. But I still try to find time to stay fit, for self-development, reflection, writing something…

PM: What do you mean by self-development?

RK: Self-development, so most often meditation, reading an interesting book or listening to an interesting podcast, such as Teaching Football.

PS: Our pleasure.

PM: Right, do you have any routines or habits then? I wouldn’t believe a mental coach wouldn’t have any!

RK: Yes, they help us survive amongst all the other things. For example, it’s good to give a call to somebody kind to you, not just when they celebrate their birthday or around Christmas time but simply to ask mum or dad how they’re doing. I try to do it every other or every three days not because of feeling alone but because I know it’s also nice for them. I try to remember about that. As I said – meditation, staying fit, reading, writing, reminding myself before going to bed what things I did well during the day, a habit of getting back to belly breathing, perhaps it’s not obvious but, for example, I try to do two or three of them before an interview. When you’re in a hurry, sometimes you’re so absent-minded that it’s difficult to achieve that state of “here and now”. Of course, I also have several alarm clocks set during the day, they are all specifically named, thirty minutes before a meeting or simply to check where my mind is at a given time. These are things that I introduced step by step, not all at the same time and even now when I work a lot, I always find the time to take care of them.

PM: Right, conferences, training courses, you also do online courses and there’s been one entitled “twenty-one days with self-discipline”. Tell us how to build such a habit?

RK: Yes, the number is symbolic because research shows that twenty-one days may not be enough to build a habit, you may need even two hundred eight-five days to build certain habits. In terms of self-discipline, I would again practice mindfulness, why are there things that I want to do and why are there things that I don’t want to do? What’s the reason? It’s the same for people who struggle with alcohol and start their treatment, when they want a drink, they have to ask themselves, why do they want it? Is it because of joy or do I have a bad day? Self-reflection. You may want some chocolate, but why? Do you want to escape from doing something, is it because of your emotions or do you need some pleasure?

PM: I just like chocolate.

RK: I just like chocolate – we like to explain things to ourselves in different ways. Perhaps you lack magnesium? It’s secondary whether you eat chocolate or not, the important thing is not to become addicted.

PM: Let’s stay on this subject. Any other exercises?

RK: According to studies, mindfulness, meditation makes our will power grow. These are things that make our brain ask questions rather than react. Asking yourself what you want makes you aware of what you do and it’s good to make notes, to think on a sheet of paper. If you go for anything the following day, you may then make yourself believe that you didn’t want it but once you’ve written it down and you can see the sheet of paper, you may give yourself a bigger chance. It doesn’t have to be an Excel spreadsheet nor any tables, if you do it on any sheet of paper you have with yourself, using a pen or a pencil, it’s fine. Even if you do it on your phone, it will do. It’s important to make notes for the following day.

PM: Have you measured the effectiveness? There are so many things going on in our daily lives, we’re constantly in a rush, it must be very difficult to maintain the habit. And even, if I fancy a beer or some chocolate, why should I not have it?

RK: Self-control means that you don’t do what you want to and it doesn’t serve you well in the long-term while self-discipline is about not doing things you agreed on with yourself. If you fancy a beer, I would always ask myself why I fancy it and whether it’s not because of the fact I had a difficult day. If I had a very difficult day and I fancy a beer and I go for it, you create some kind of a path for yourself when it comes to dealing with difficult moments in life. Perhaps you drink a cold beer because you’re thirsty, but maybe ask yourself a question then whether sparkling water or anything different wouldn’t be better. The awareness that you have it under control and not the other way round. This is what makes you human, the space between stimulus and reaction.

PM: Any other habits you have?

RK: Writing down, for example when anyone calls me and says: let’s do this, then, first of all, I do it, I write it down that the meeting is tomorrow but I usually do it on my phone, I use technology. This is, for sure, my habit so if you called me and we made an appointment for four o’clock today, straight away I wrote it down on my phone and set an alarm clock for thirty minutes prior to the time. This is one of the habits that helps me control reality.

PM: Good job you were in Warsaw rather than Katowice when your alarm went off. Otherwise you would struggle to get here in time! This is the Teaching Football podcast, mental coach Rafał Kubów is with us, we’ll be back shortly.


PM: This is the Teaching Football podcast. We’re back after the break. Mental coach Rafał Kubów is with us. We spoke a lot about life before the break. Let’s resume by talking about GKS Katowice. I know you’ve been working together for a short time so far, but can you briefly tell us what you do for the club and how did it happen that a second-tier Polish football club hired mental coach Rafał Kubów?

RK: I was contacted by head coach Dariusz Dudek and by the club’s board, too. They spoke about the same things, I went to Katowiwce, we talked, I saw that they were hard-working people, committed to the cause. GKS Katowice were then in a very difficult moment, they still are, but I believe that things are moving in the right direction. I have met people there who want to develop and are genuinely open-minded. I have also met players who believe in themselves and who have some fire within them and I simply thought that an extra tiny part in the shape of mental training could provide a very nice change.

PM: I don’t know how much you can tell us as we’re entering professional football here, but do you do any practice sessions, regular meetings or individual sessions with players?

RK: In terms of working with the team, I’m part of the coaching staff who obviously speak to players and also take care of their mental development. Everything I do is consulted with the staff, I support them, but the main job is still done by the head coach and his assistants.

PM: You can’t tell us too much then! Rafał, I first got in touch with you on Facebook. You have two pages there, a private one and a professional one, let’s say. What value does the page give you?

RK: What value it gives, it would probably be good to ask people. For example, yourself, Przemek. There was a moment while working with Poland youth national teams… I would always make some notes, I like to reflect by nature, so I thought why not to share with people. Perhaps I could change their thinking, motivate them or make them interested in the fact they could influence themselves and that it’s not like you have to function on your random settings until the end of your life. I try to share things regularly and it’s stayed like this.

PM: Very regularly even! You’ve been posting every day at nine o’clock in the evening for how long, over three years?

RK: It started on the ninth of September, so three and half years ago, more or less.

PM: Wow, that’s over one thousand days ago!

RK: Yes, because I created my personal account only then and only to then create the professional one because otherwise I wouldn’t need it. I need Messenger now to contact players, for example. It was created, it’s still working, every day at nine o’clock in the evening I try to post something unless there are some problems on Facebook.

PM: It happened that you didn’t post anything?

RK: Yes, there were some problems on Facebook two weeks ago and a scheduled post wasn’t published and I was busy so I only realised it later. But it’s okay, no problem.

PM: It was scheduled, everything was under control.

RK: It was under control, I either schedule or publish it, it depends. I’m a normal guy who has his own life and I believe that if sometimes a post on Facebook can release some positive attitude, it’s worth it for people like this.

PM: But how to keep such high consistency levels? A lot of times we read very long stories on your page.

RK: The content is more inspirational, I don’t want anyone to think that this is mental training, that I simply tell stories. A story can brilliantly make any piece of knowledge stronger, it surely has an effect on emotions, inspirations so this form of communication is needed on Facebook and I keep doing it because… I receive information from people that it helps them, sometimes they ask follow-up questions and this is what makes me think good about it. The consistency was born out of the fact that I’ve had no break and I simply keep going.

PM: We have one of our listeners on the line. Hello?

Listener: Hello, I would like to ask Rafał: what problems do you encounter most often while working with young players? There was a case some time ago at the Zagłębie Lubin Academy, one of the best in the country, where one of the players was maltreated by some of his teammates for which they were later thrown out of the academy. I’m wondering: what is the main problem of today’s children who need to grow up quickly to become footballers?

RK: Thank you for the question. I work with players aged 15, 16 and older. In terms of challenges they come with, at that stage of awareness, they often come and say they want to work on their confidence and then it turns out that it was their own diagnosis and sometimes there are completely different things that can be changed and taken to a higher level. I would definitely say that nowadays there is a big problem with dispersion. This is our biggest addiction, that we very rarely do one thing at the same time. We used to watch a game and now we are both watching the game and checking our Twitter feed. We used to cook and now we are both cooking and listening to a podcast. We used to laugh at women who were both driving and making themselves up, but to be honest nowadays we are all doing three or four things at the same time. On the pitch the player should be doing one thing and be able to focus on it. Young people don’t know the times when you would do one thing at a time. As far as what happened at Zagłębie Lubin, I heard of the situation and I believe that it was a unique one. The awareness of players, coaches, parents is such that there will be exceptions and there was more to do for the police than for mental coaches. The fact that the boy was maltreated, a mental coach wouldn’t make him inert to it. It doesn’t work like this. I always say that you find yourself in a specific environment, so let’s work on influencing ourselves more than the environment would influence us, but for sure, if the environment is pathological, you can think like this at the beginning but then look for a change because there is no point in going through things like this. Sometimes changing an academy is a good idea. Of course, when it comes to the Zagłębie Lubin Academy, I have the best opinion of it, there is a lot of wonderful coaches there, probably a great board and they produce good players and a situation like this can happen in any academy really because academies are formed by people and I think they dealt with the problem very well.

L: This is what I wanted to touch upon. Do you think that young players who make it to the best academies such as Zagłębie Lubin or Lech Poznań are aware at what club they are and that this may in some ways be too much for them mentally?

RK: It depends on their character traits such as openness to new experiences and sensitivity. Some players are more sensitive, others are less so. But every player who thinks about making it into professional football needs to be aware of the fact that he has a price to pay. And the price at that stage is that sometimes they need to move five to seven hundred kilometers away from their homes, they have none of the most important people in their lives around them in such a vital moment and at the same time they decide to compete and this is the challenge. Sometimes they are not ready to pay the price. Of course, you can play for the club that is nearest to you but if you’re the best in your dressing room, at one point you should change the dressing room and yes, these are mental challenges to be able to keep in touch with family and friends but at the same time to know that now is the moment to work on your own future and focus on education, on making progress. This is not an easy situation, but the important thing is the awareness that there is a price to pay if you want to become a professional sportsman.

PM: Thanks to our listener. Rafał, you need to clarify one thing, about cooking and listening to a podcast…

PS: … and driving. How to deal with it? Do you think it’s wrong or, if we do it consciously, it’s OK? I understand when you suggest to turn the podcast off and simply enjoy the drive. Let’s say I’m aware of it and I do it but how to pass it on to other people who believe that driving alone is a waste of time?

RK: Recently, and not even recently, but a few years ago one research showed that multitasking is a myth. We simply switch from one activity to another one or we focus on one and automatise the other one. It happens that we do something, we talk to someone and either you automatise what you’re doing or, worse, you automatise the conversation with your girlfriend and she will soon notice that you’re not listening to her. Always, while cooking, I listen to a podcast. But I’m not a cook and I don’t need to be a specialist at it, I simply do it. But if I was a cook and worked in an expensive restaurant or was preparing a meal that had to be well done, probably I wouldn’t be listening to a podcast, I would be focusing on the task in hand. But if I eat a meal, I try to turn off the podcast, the TV, my phone and focus on myself because I do something for my body. This is how I do it, more or less. When I drive, of course I listen to a podcast… or, more often, music rather than a podcast but this is what I’m like. If I was a racing driver and wanted to make the best time, I wouldn’t listen to a podcast. If you’re a footballer and you’re working in the gym and you need to make sure you maintain the right position of your body, I wouldn’t advise listening to a podcast either. If you’re doing your warm-down after the game, not a problem, but if you need to focus on your movement, feel your muscle, forget a podcast because this is the part of the day when you need to fully concentrate. If you’re doing your rehabilitation and you’re recovering from injury, you’re doing an exercise your physio arranged for you, forget about scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, but do it as well as you can because this is part of your profession.

PS: Understood. I move on to another topic.

PM: And I turn the podcast off [laughs].

PS: Let’s move back to parents and children. As a mental coach, what advice would you have for parents? Not everyone can afford going to a specialist, they may not even know there is one, what should they focus on?

RK: First of all, if any parent has any comments about a coach, it would be good if they spoke to the coach rather than to the child and asked certain things. Adults talk in a different way and it’s very nice when a parent and a coach have contact with each other and when the parent trusts the coach because the coach is a specialist and he often uses different methods. The parent may have seen some methods, the coach uses different ones and you can simply ask about certain things but trust those people because they are often well-educated, the courses keep getting better and young coaches use them very well. I think it’s important to simply support the child, unconditionally and ask them, the children, about their path to success, for example: if your friend loses twenty kilos, you don’t have to tell him that he’s lost weight, but you can also ask him: o, you’ve lost twenty kilos, how did you do it? If he tells you how he did it, there will be less of a chance for the yo-yo effect to appear because he will remind himself of the journey. It’s great that you’ve won five-nil, but what did you do during the week to then win five-nil? What was your path? I think any parent can support their child very well in this way, show them that it hasn’t come from nowhere. A win or a goal didn’t just happen, you made it yourself. Above all, and it’s not easy, sometimes we transfer our own ambitions to the child and not every child has to become a footballer. If you see that a child is being forced to go to training, despite the fact that they’re quick, for example, it doesn’t mean they’ll become a footballer. This is our child and it’s nice that we guide them because they have their own talents and if they work on them, they will become their strengths and we can consciously take part in the journey. I will never tell a parent how to bring up their children because every parent deep down knows it, but through such reflection and information, they may help their child rather than restrict them. Nobody wants to do anything bad, but not everybody is capable of doing well.

PS: I have one situation in my head. What advice would you give to the coach when a player has reacted aggressively towards the referee. Quite often a coach simply shouts to the player to calm him down and he does, but there is no reflection and the situation repeats in the following game.

RK: This is often a player’s habit, there is a situation on the pitch and the player reacts in a very repetitive way. It’s good to put a different strategy in place, so every time when you feel anger, go back to your position, recover and then, if you have to, react towards the referee. Make the first step, stop the old pattern. I don’t tell him not to shout at the referee, but surprise him a bit, tell him to get back to his position and then he will be fifty metres away from the referee. Recover, do it with a lot of energy, so that he loses some of it and see if he still wants to do it, he won’t. This is the first little change that may provide good effects with some players. Above all, every player can spend five thousand four hundred zlotys in every game. Five thousand four hundred zlotys means five thousand four hundred seconds. If somebody steals five zlotys, you will not spend the remaining five thousand three hundred and ninety-five zlotys to get that fiver back. Okay, you can’t go back in time, you wasted that time but don’t lose any more money, invest them in the future and in what is happening now. You can use a metaphor like this or a specific strategy, of course and I say it straight away, these are tips that can provide a coach with a solution, but there is no guarantee that a coach says it and it will work, but you can try thinking in this way.

PM: We’re complementing each other well with Paweł today – he keeps asking you about working with a child or a player and I keep doing the same as far as coaches are concerned. I will ask you one more thing. You’ve spoken about long-term targets which you divide into little parts, how do you set yourself targets? What should it look like when it comes to a coaching career? I’ve just graduated from a university, I’m starting my career… Could you give an example, how can I set myself a target and how can I then divide it?

RK: It’s important to fulfil your own rather than somebody else’s dreams. I remember when I did training courses for coaches five years ago. Then, I would ask coaches who wanted to work in senior football and 95% of them would raise their hands. Nowadays it’s only 50%. The other 50% are doing well in youth football and they already know they want to keep working there because they like it and they are satisfied with it. Sometimes those targets are about ego, about being keen on being the number one on the bench and everyone is pursuing becoming a head coach and not everyone is competent to do it. You can be a great youth coach and you can play a bigger role than while being a senior coach, it’s equal. It’s not like a senior coach is better than a youth coach. Just find your own domain, see what your competences are, what you like to do. Working with children really can provide an awful lot of satisfaction. Not everyone has to work with senior players, so the first thing is to direct yourself to a target and then to try different things. Try doing a bit of analysis, if you get a challenge of being a head coach, do it for half a year, if you get an offer of becoming an assistant coach at a young age, try it and then you will know what you don’t and what you do want and follow it step by step. It’s important to know that any target you set yourself never depends hundred percent on you. So then from your results-based target set yourself task-based targets, so do everything you can control every day, do all you can because the one who does everything what they’re capable of every day will not have to worry about their future.

PM: We still have two minutes left, so let’s keep going. Give us an example. I’m going for youth football and now, what target can it be, how can I divide it?

RK: You’re already doing well because, for example, you only target courses that are dedicated not to senior coaches but to a specific age group, you do internships by people who are in charge of the same age groups that you’re also in charge of. You keep developing, you get to know yourself, you see your character traits, how you can tweak them so that they serve you better. You accept yourself the way you are and at the same time you try to notice whether, for example, your ambition, it serves you well of course, but in what aspects does it restrict you? What can you do to control it a little bit better? If we keep looking to develop step by step, at one stage it will give you good experiences, but at the same time, try different things in football. It’s the same when we talk about a goalkeeper and say that if he wants to be a good one, it would be good if he also played as an outfield player. If you’re a young coach then, try different things. Don’t look to specialise yourself too much. You may see a head coach on the touchline who they take pictures of and see yourself there in your imagination, but really, it may not be your perfect destination nor what you’re interested in.

PM: Rafał, what do you value most in life?

RK: Recently? Mountains.

PM: Why mountains?

RK: Because this is some kind of a metaphor of life. This is where you can’t be unmindful, if you get tired, you only have some water and a sandwich, you see beautiful landscapes, you’re offline, you choose one peak to reach, you pursue it, you get tired, but suddenly the weather changes, you need humility to go back, a good attitude is not enough because when the weather is bad, your life is in danger. You learn how to give yourself a miss, pursue your aim but it’s the last day of October, you can’t go any higher, you need to wait until July. The Polish Tatra Mountains are a wonderful place that has recently given me an awful lot of inspiration. I also value people. I like people, I never attach myself too much to symbols, but I always look at what people are behind symbols.

PM: Mental coach Rafał Kubów – thank you very much.

RK: Thank you, all the best to everyone.

PM: This was the thirty-fifth edition of the Teaching Football podcast. Your hosts were…

PS: … Paweł Szymański…

PM: … and Przemysław Mamczak, we will hear from you soon.


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