Gareth Bale and language…

Could Gareth Bale’s new found cognitive flexibility help on and off the pitch?

The Welsh football team are one game away from reaching the Euro 16 final. As I write this Wales are preparing to play Portugal in Lyon to make the final. Qualifying for the tournament was a fantastic achievement in itself and there could be more to come. If they don’t progress it has already been a fantastic achievement, eclipsing the sorry efforts of the English.

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Gareth Bale is undoubtably the star of Welsh football. His story is a remarkable one. Bale was no superstar in his youth. Bale was a very good left back from the Southampton production line of players. In 2009, he almost joined my team, Birmingham City on loan. I’m a passionate Blues fan but even I would admit that being on the verge of joining Blues is quite a way from competing with Christiano Ronaldo for the free kicks at Real Madrid. Ever since the ‘threat’ of Birmingham, Gareth Bale has been on a meteoric rise. At Tottenham Hotspur he moved further and further up the pitch from his defensive left back role. Excelling for Tottenham in the Champions League, Bale moved to Real Madrid for £85 million and hasn’t looked back.

Bale is a rarity in UK football. A footballer in his prime moving to a new country to test himself as well as improve, learn a new language and embrace Spanish culture. During Wales remarkable run in Euro 2016, Bale has performed well on the pitch. He hasn’t just been the ego fuelled superstar, like his petulant Real Madrid team mate Cristiano. While Ronaldo can be seen throwing arms in the air at team mates, arguing with referess and even throwing microphones in lakes, Gareth Bale has performed well and allowed others to play well around him. Off the pitch Bale has excelled too. In press conferences he almost seems human, with a sense of humour and confidence not usually associated with a footballer being asked questions by the media. While most footballers trot out the tired old media trained one liners, Gareth Bale has poked fun at England and cheekily stated that he hasn’t made any plans until after the final – just in case.

This all got me thinking. What has Gareth Bale done differently? Linguistic determinism says that the way we think is shaped by the language that we have at our disposal. If the language you speak doesn’t have a word for a certain emotion does that mean that you do not feel it. Gareth Bale has a whole lot of new words in his spanish vocabulary now. By learning and speaking more than one language researchers have shown that we view the world differently. If this is the case then Gareth Bale’s brain is in as good a shape as his body. The England rugby team have employed a sports psychologist and have had recent success in Australia. Jermey Snape has worked with the England team to focus on mindset techniques that he describes as helping decision-making, understanding team strategy, confidence, focus and communication. Andy Murray may be on the verge of a Wimbledon victory and takes time to learn about the way the brain functions and how it can help him.

Winners appear to not only have the physical ability but they also need to have the ability to learn and look at the world differentlyif they are going to succeed. Having the ability to learn something new and make those associations with other disciplines can only help performance as well as enjoying different prsuits outside of one’s professional life. Let’s hope Wales are using Gareth Bale’s cognitive flexibility on Sunday to win Euro 2016.

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