Bill Beswick: You should always adopt the fighter mentality

A back-room figure from Steve McClaren's difficult England reign, the psychologist tells Ian Herbert he is now battling to revive British basketball

His time as psychologist to Steve McClaren's England national football team was accompanied by the kind of cynicism which remains so rife in a game being dragged towards modernity, but there are some very significant former Manchester United footballers who will tell you that Bill Beswick had an impact when working at that club.

Roy Keane – not an individual to dispense airs and graces – ascribes to Beswick an undefinable part in improving his mindset, while Gary Neville turned to him during his only prolonged period of self-doubt, when his form collapsed for six months in 2000 after his disastrous second game in United's controversial World Club Championship appearance, against the Brazilian club Vasco da Gama. (Or "Fiasco da Gama", as Paul Scholes described it in the typically wry text Neville got from him after the game.)

And then there is the story of how David Beckham and Co were once sitting in the dressing-room at United's Carrington training centre when Beswick walked in and told them all the story of three men who were laying bricks. Each was asked what he was doing. "Laying bricks," answered the first. "Earning £10 per hour," replied the second. The third, driven by a grander vision, said: "I'm building a cathedral and, one day, I'll bring my kids back here and tell them that their dad contributed to this magnificent building." Beckham was inspired. He promptly scored a 30-yard gem out on the training pitch and ran off in celebration, shouting "Cathedral 1, Bricklayers 0".

That was before McClaren left his role as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant for England and Beswick followed him, ultimately suffering some collateral damage. But the psychologist's favoured mantra about choosing a "fighter mentality" over a "victim mentality" has never been more relevant than in his return now to the international arena as performance psychologist to British Basketball, whose men's team opened their EuroBasket 2013 campaign in dramatic fashion on Wednesday with a 75-71 overtime victory against Israel in Slovenia.

The squad, however, is a shadow of the one which, at its high point, agonisingly lost 79-78 to Spain in the London Olympics last year. Their recent 100-46 defeat to the same nation, in Zaragoza, exposed the consequences of losing the big NBA stars, Luol Deng and Joel Freeland, who have had to bow to pressure from their American paymasters and step away. GB have already done well to win a game in Slovenia – last night they were due to play France – yet may need to finish in the top five to qualify for next year's World Championships, which many believe is the requirement for UK Sport to extend the one year of funding they have been persuaded to give British Basketball, having initially removed it altogether.

The man leading them through this challenge, newly appointed Californian coach Joe Prunty, is a hugely valued individual in the States, where he has been a career assistant – a Steve McClaren of the scene, you might say – before this first head-coach role. The appointment of Beswick, returning to the sport where he had a long playing and coaching career including a period as head coach to the England men's team, follows a review of the Olympic performance which concluded that the British teams needed a stronger mental environment and relationships.

It will be self-belief he will be working on among his players, a half dozen of whom are free agents. "That belief comes from defeating anxiety and facing the challenge," he told The Independent, in a rare interview. "Challenges can breed a fighter mentality or a victim mentality. I'm constantly reminding them why they should always adopt a fighter mentality. Young men forget that under the pressure of circumstances. The challenge is very severe in European basketball. The challenge may seem enormous. But my work is to make sure you respond to it and are not overcome by it. Be as good in the last five minutes as in the first five."

The great managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson, help cocoon players from expectation and prevent them being swamped, Beswick said. "They enable players to focus on their own performance [because] all you can control as a player is you." This point is integral to the philosophy of Dr Steve Peters, who is working with Liverpool and also to Prunty, whose belief in the importance of "emotional control" encouraged Beswick to take up this task, after five years working in Dutch football at FC Twente, where he also followed McClaren. "Prunty's outlook is that you are bigger than any game and bigger than the result. What might even be a humiliation to the press is only a defeat which the team can learn from."

Beswick, whose reluctance to talk football may stem from a bruising experience in the England limelight, believes that those members of Roy Hodgson's squad who pull on an England shirt after limited appearances in a Premier League stuffed with foreigners are facing a major challenge. "They are conditioned to a set role with their club so it is like asking a player to change position," he says. But Britain's task in Slovenia is far greater.

Bill Beswick is Performance Psychologist for the Standard Life GB men's basketball team who begin their EuroBasket 2013 campaign on 4th September 2013. For more information visit:

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road