2 Great Minds Of Professional Sport

Sir Alex Ferguson and Phil Jackson were two great minds of world sport who did things differently than most but succeeded more than them too

When I was a child there was a guy called the memory man of sports.

He knew everything.

He was like an encyclopedia of sport.

Of course, you have to remember that was the 1980s and 1990s. Back then there was no internet. No google to enter text into as a question to get the answer. Sure there were libraries but there wasn’t the range of books in them that the internet has these days.

If you knew what no one else had then you were very intelligent.

And the thing about the memory man was that he had lived through most of the knowledge he spoke about.

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash

He worked as a commentator for the Irish national television channel RTÉ and because of that, he got to go to all the Olympic Games, all the World Cups, and every other big tournament in a sport that was on.

And this happened for decades.

His name was Jimmy McGee.

And his son not only followed in his sporting footsteps but he used them to go a step further on to a professional pitch and etch out a semi-professional football career. So for the memory man sport was everything and with that passion, he remembered every fact and story he’d ever heard or seen.

Similar to a search engine he’d have the data recalled in split seconds when asked about some sporting occasion.

But the memory man isn’t the only great mind in sports. And being able to recall facts and figures is only one mental skill that lends itself to sport.

Being able to lead teams to success consistently is a knack that not all coaches or managers have. And being able to have success in more than one team or league is even rarer.

But that’s what Sir Alex Ferguson had.

Born in Scotland and then managing Aberdeen after a successful professional football career he was most known for winning several Scottish premierships and the European Cup Winners Cup. With a move to the famous Manchester United in England he won everything there was to win including the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the English Premier League all in one season.

His insistence on self-discipline was well known around football at the time but he had more to him than that.

Because when Newcastle’s manager Kevin Keegan, who himself was an even more successful footballer than Ferguson, publically voiced his disagreement with Ferguson’s mind games in the run-up to the 1996 Premier League title race Ferguson’s mental ability clicked into gear. Keegan lost his head in front of the international television cameras and his team lost a 12 point lead at the top of the table and that left Ferguson’s men to win the Premier League instead.

Because Ferguson stayed cool when the pressure was on whereas Keegan became emotional.

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

In response Ferguson’s players kept cool and Keegan’s imploded.

Ferguson had that bit more than other managers in the game and they even named the last few minutes as ‘Fergie time’ because his teams consistently made comebacks in the final few minutes of games. And if they were ahead Ferguson would not be slow in telling referees when the final whistle needed to be blown.

In the NBA Phil Jackson also had that X factor that made him more successful than most.

He had a good playing career but his head coaching career eclipsed that.

Jackson led the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA titles in the 1990s when the Bulls came out of nowhere to win the championship and then dominate the game throughout a decade. Sure he had some great players in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and others but he got the best from them over a consistent period and not everyone could handle big personalities like that over time.

And his ability to lead extended to the LA Lakers some years later when he coached them to several NBA titles too.

Jackson had something that others hadn’t.

And he looked at things differently than most other head coaches did.

He was not the regular coach for those times but his methods worked.

Having admitted to taking marijuana and LCD in his past he believed that a person’s mind had greater functionality than most coaches and sports managers did at that time. His beliefs in religion were different as he had no time for religious preachers and instead felt that his version of God was beyond what the human mind could decipher.

Photo by Avery Meeker on Unsplash

And the bottom line is his players responded to him. They respected him.

Most importantly they played for him and won for him.

Both football’s Ferguson and basketball’s Jackson had something different and that something different brought them a consistency of success.

And no matter what the future of sports will be there’s one thing for sure that you won’t have to be a memory man to recall these truly great minds of professional sport who improved their sports forever.



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Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Forbes, INC. & Entrepreneur Magazines, CBS, & NBC Featured, Dr. Conor Is The World’s Leading High-Performance Neuro Socio-Psychologist & Co-Authored 4 Books