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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# growth mindset
'I'm just trying to learn and get better. I don't think I deserve to have any other opinion on myself'
Jonny Cooper discusses the Masters he’s doing in behaviour psychology and his plans to visit some professional teams during the off-season.

FOR THE FIRST time since the start of the year, Jonny Cooper has a bit of free time on his hands. 

NO-FEE-DCU-GAA-CLUB-NA-FIANNA-JB9-696x464 Jonny Cooper was speaking at the launch of DCU and Na Fianna's new seven-year community partnership.

The inter-county campaign is firmly in the rearview mirror while his club Na Fianna’s interests in the Dublin SFC ended a fortnight ago with a quarter-final exit to Ballyboden St Enda’s after extra-time.

“I won’t see the lads now for a number of weeks or months at this stage so that’s going to be a long period of a break which in itself is good,” he tells The42.

Cooper’s day job involves working in student recruitment at DCU, but he’s got his hand in plenty of other pots too. 

Just because it’s off-season doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels. Far from it.

He’s in the second year of a two-year part-time Masters in Organisational and Behaviour Psychology, also at DCU, and is looking forward to giving his third-level studies a little more attention in the coming months. 

The six-time All-Ireland winner admits psychology is “one of the areas that fascinates me.” 

“I’m kept busy but all the stuff is very relevant to my own personal interests but also the sporting side of it around the leadership aspects and I guess the people behaviour side of it,” he says. “So it’s interesting for me.” 

Not alone does it benefit his sporting career, but he occasionally gives leadership talks and has dabbled in the area of executive coaching too.

“I’m just interested, myself personally, in how I can get better but in the same token how somebody else that’s maybe interested in getting better.

“Maybe it’s in an organisation or a sport or in their personal life, trying to connect people from wherever they are currently to what their goals and ambitions are and trying to bridge those gaps.

dean-rock-is-marked-by-jonny-cooper Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Cooper marked county team-mate Dean Rock in the Dublin SFC recently. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“Obviously I have a bit of experience in sport but I’ve started to look at other organisations and different things. It’s the same element, the same team dynamic, the same challenges in some regard, the same aspirations to be the best possible company they can be and so on.

“That’s what I’m interested in and I’ve done a bit of executive coaching and done some other leadership courses and that type of thing.

“I’m just trying to bring that into what I’m actually interested in, going from one and personally in the future getting involved in a more professional environment.”

The Glasnevin native has been a frequent visitor to professional team set-ups in recent years. He’d admit himself he wasn’t the most gifted player as a youngster, but it was his work-rate and constant search for improvement that helped him become the footballer he is. 

That growth mindset isn’t necessarily a tap you can turn on and off. So when the winter comes and Cooper’s evenings free up, he makes use of it. 

Shortly after Dublin’s 2018 All-Ireland victory, Cooper got talking to a Saracens Rugby coach at a speaking event in Dublin. One thing led to another and a couple of weeks later he was boarding a flight to England to visit the Premiership rugby side and study how they operate.

He bumped into former England Rugby head coach Stuart Lancaster at the Pendulum Summit last year, who was impressed by his eagerness to learn. 

“There are players I’ve come across who are unbelievably pro-active, particularly towards the end of their career so they can go into a successful leadership and coaching role once they finish playing,” said Lancaster on Off The Ball recently.

“I met Jonny Cooper. He’s been to Leinster and I did a talk at the Pendulum Summit. He was sat there next to me, he was making notes.

“He’s quite an amazing person really. In terms of, I’ve not met many people like him who are so dedicated to wanting to get better as a leader whilst he’s still a player.” 

Cooper was subsequently invited to observe and learn in the Leinster inner-sanctum where Lancaster coaches.

leo-cullen-and-jonny-cooper Bryan Keane / INPHO Leinster heard coach Leo Cullen and Dublin footballer Jonny Cooper in September 2018. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Last November, he attended a New Zealand training session in Dublin and spoke with head coach Steven Hansen. He’s picked up some small nuggets from the oval ball code, such as how they point their fingertips towards the target when they finish throwing a pass.

It’s something he felt could benefit his handpassing accuracy. A self-confessed nerd when it comes to the art of defending, Cooper sees hand-eye coordination and fast footwork as key skills for his own game. Naturally, those skills are vital components of any elite-level rugby player.

The phrase”marginal gains” may have lost its lustre due to the Dave Brailsford and Team Sky controversies, but making those 1% improvements is exactly what Cooper is chasing.

He’s set the wheels in motion for further professional team visits in the coming months, although nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

“I’ve a few things in my mind,” he says. “Nothing is signed off yet so I wouldn’t be able to say anything in terms of where or who, but there are certain things I have in my head.

“I think all of the lads would be looking to move themselves forward. For me, it’s just about getting in and hopefully getting to see other people and different environments, different organisations and maybe have some conversations and try to get other people’s experience and insight. 

“People like Stuart Lancaster, for example, tend to be very good,” he continues.

“You end to finding the people that you want to speak to in some regard or the people that give you the most time, which is nice because obviously in the same sporting context want to get better.

“But also at the same time I’m in a position in my life now where personally and academically I’m also in that mindset so again it kind of fits the growth mindset that I have.” 

stuart-lancaster James Crombie / INPHO Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

He’s asked if the constant search for improvement is just part of his make-up: “I guess so and I wouldn’t say that’s anyway unique and different to other athletes.

“I just have an interest in, to be honest, trying to learn and get better. I don’t think I deserve to have any other opinion on myself to be honest.

“It’s one of them things where you take your downtime but at the same time try use it, try engage with other people. There’s plenty of books and videos, but at the same time you do socialise and reconnect with people again, that’s part of it in the winter as well.

“I think that’s the way we’re kind of trained or built in the Dublin environment to always be seeking out the next and the next. Obviously Dublin were successful in 2019 but 2020 is an open field and that’s what we’re all going to be chasing after come January.”

A good deal of inter-county sides are already gearing up for the 2020 season but Dublin won’t return to training as a group until the New Year. 

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Cooper tends to keep himself ticking over during the off-seasons, be it through spinning classes or gym sessions.

“I think from a personal point of view you have to let your mind and body guide you. For some people they may not have played as much or they might not have as many injuries or so on.

“For me personally you’re probably taking your couple of weeks involved with the club and a couple of weeks down the road since Dublin played their last game.

“I guess coming into the middle of November you’re looking at where can I go, what can I do and how can I learn? To be honest we don’t start until after Christmas from a physical point of view.

“But some lads would keep ticking over in different respects from now until then just purely to keep the body moving and then some lads would be trying to really make some hard yards and hit the ground running and give Jim some headaches in 2020.”

jonny-cooper-with-a-young-fan Oisin Keniry / INPHO Jonny Cooper with a young fan at Dublin's homecoming last month. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

The mention of the Dublin manager in the same sentence as 2020, plus Gavin’s presence at the Dublin SFC semi-finals on Saturday night, would suggest that he is planning on remaining in charge of the five-in-a-row champions next season – although no official announcement has been made yet. 

Cooper’s club manager this season was Dessie Farrell, the former Sky Blues attacker who managed the county to All-Ireland minor and U21 crowns earlier this decade.

Given he helped nurture superstar talents like Jack McCaffrey, Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Fenton and Con O’Callaghan, Farrell is viewed by many as the ideal candidate to replace Gavin whenever he decides to call it a day. 

It was Cooper’s first time working under Farrell as a talented young Na Fianna crop – with Dublin panellists Cooper, Eoin Murchan and Conor McHugh in their ranks – suffered a heartbreaking extra-time loss to 2016 All-Ireland champions Ballyboden.

While he says “it’s really hard to know” if the former GPA chief executive would someday guide Dublin seniors, he did give some insight into Dessie Farrell the manager.  

“I haven’t much experience with him from a managerial capacity but I would have known him, but I think what jumps off the page is just the level of care that he brings,” says Cooper.

dessie-farrell Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Na Fianna manager Dessie Farrell. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“Then he sort of dovetails the care he kind of has organically anyway. The detail side of it, he leaves no stone unturned in terms of going after different elements to the game that you mightn’t necessarily see yourself.

“Coupled all that with his own experience and personal, professional, his sporting experience. The care and the detail and he’s just such a normal person if that makes sense in terms of you’re just able to talk to him and be honest. He’ll be absolutely honest with you in terms of what he thinks.

“You don’t get a massive amount of time back with the club so he has that experience of trying to pick and manage people’s situations which I thought he did quite well.

“I just think again there’s a whole number of people that are underneath me, the Eoin Murchan’s and even guys younger again, it’s such an exciting period that I know he’ll be able to bring them onto another level and they’ll obviously appreciate it too.” 

*****

The community partnership between DCU and Na Fianna includes access to facilities, internships, promotion of the Irish language, cultural activities, volunteering and coaching initiatives.

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