The McRae Mindset

Colin McRae, MBE, youngest ever World Rally Champion and winner of 25 career victories, was tragically killed 10 years ago in a helicopter accident.

If in doubt, go flat out!

By Linda Keen

It’s hard to believe that it’s a landmark 10 years ago today, September 15th, that one of Britain’s best-loved rally drivers, Colin McRae, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash which also claimed the lives of his 5-year old son, Johnny, and two family friends near his home in Lanarkshire. At the age of 39, McRae’s loss was horrendous on so many levels; to his family, his fans and the many people whose lives he touched.

One of the highlights of my journalistic career was interviewing the 1995 World Rally Champion in July 2002. McRae was in Ireland competing in the Punchestown World Rally Experience and I was one of the lucky few journos given access to interview him that weekend. McRae arrived in Dublin on the back of his 25th – and last – world rally victory on the Safari event in Kenya in the Ford Focus WRC, and he was very relaxed. Colin had always appeared quite serious to me but during the interview, which I will treasure forever, I found Colin to be very funny, quite charming and not at all what I expected.

At the time, I was also becoming recognised in Ireland as a sports mind coach, particularly with rally and racing drivers and many of them were getting some impressive results. Although the interview I did with McRae was fairly generalised and was for an Irish magazine, Autowoman, I was very interested in how his mind ticked as a driver behind the wheel and some of my questions were geared towards his mental approach, and his totally innate ability to drive fast. There was no suggestion that he’d had any formal sports psychology coaching.

McRae replied as follows: “The enjoyment you get out of it is the finish; that’s what you aim for. You work hard for a few days to get a result at the end of it and that’s where you get the enjoyment.

“It requires a lot of self-discipline for sure, and it’s something you develop with experience. You have to really concentrate on concentrating, if you like, and it’s not something that comes easily. It depends what else is on your mind. If you have a problem, as soon as it’s happened you have to make a conscious effort to shut it out and concentrate on the job in hand.

“If you have some really long sections on a stage, like on the Safari Rally, when you don’t actually have to concentrate that hard and you have to keep the car going along 500-metre long straights, that’s when your concentration can start to wander a bit.

“On most events you get information coming at you every second from your co-driver, so that never happens and it’s easier to stay in the flow, but on the Safari Rally there might be half a dozen times when you have a break for 30 seconds or more between being given information.

“If you have any self-doubt you’re on a slippery slope, and if you think about an accident or you’ve a bad run, it’s an awful lot harder to get back on top again but the ability to do that is very important.”

Wise words and good advice from a well-loved and naturally gifted champion we will never forget.

Colin McRae, MBE (5th August 1968 – 15th September 2007)


Alex Zanardi claims gold and silver medals in Rio 2016!

Triple gold paralympic medalist, Alex Zanardi talks to Linda Keen on mental toughness.

Exactly 15 years from the horrifying accident at the Lausitzring in Germany which left Alex Zanardi without his legs and barely alive, the amazing and well-loved Italian claimed a fifth Paralympic medal today. His tally from London and Rio leaves the double CART Champion with 3 gold 2 silver medals, an amazing achievement for the racing driver, who turned to paralympic handcycling for London 2012.

Read my 2-part interview with Alex Zanardi on his gritty mental toughness… Click on the links below.



Could the unconscious mind protect a boxer?

20-year old professional boxer Archie Sharp using the jab in his third bout in York Hall in January 2016.

20-year old professional boxer Archie Sharp using the jab in his third bout in York Hall in January 2016.

I’m not a massive fan of boxing; but more specifically, professional boxing. It’s probably because I’m quite squeamish and don’t like the sight of blood and invariably during the course of a fight somebody’s gets spilt. Another part of me wonders why someone would want to go and beat another person up and try and hurt them.

But as in any sport, I am interested in the mind of a boxer. Not only that, assuming they’re going to do it anyway, I’d rather be working with a boxer to help them win and keep them safe.

I watched the Nick Blackwell/Chris Eubank Jnr fight on Channel 5 over the weekend and felt progressively sickened as the rounds went on and no one threw in the towel for Blackwell when he was clearly in a bad way. It seemed his nose was badly broken by round 7 and had been bleeding profusely for several rounds beforehand. Repeated upper cuts throughout the fight caused the swelling above his left eye and the contest should have been stopped in the seventh round, according to neurosurgeon Peter Hamlyn. He was the surgeon who performed five operations in a bid to save the life of Michael Watson in 1991 after the boxer almost succumbed to brain injury in the bout with Chris Eubank Sr.

Of course, kneejerk reaction by the purists will again call for boxing to be banned but frankly there’s more chance of hell freezing over. What is needed is a degree of intuition from the referee, doctors and the coaches themselves. Blackwell’s coach, Gary Lockett, was heard urging his young charge on every time the 25-year old sat down between rounds, but anyone taking a more detached view could see it was all over and had been for some time and Blackwell should have been pulled out and spared further punishment. But I also wonder if anything else could be done and I rather believe it can.

As a psychotherapist and sports mind coach, I’ve been working with 20-year old boxer Archie Sharp for the past year. Sharp turned professional at the end of 2015 but when I first met him about two years ago, despite an issue with confidence from his amateur career, I noticed something special about him; it was his ability to pay attention. I knew instantly he’d be ideal to work with and he’s proved me right. He’s already won his first four fights, two of those through technical knock outs. The most recent contest was on Good Friday in York Hall when he stopped his opponent in round 3.

Sharp is bright, skillful, quick, committed and he listens. Yes, listening is hugely beneficial to learning and Archie was prepared to listen and pay attention as we worked together.

I watched Sharp in action at York Hall in January, when he won his third bout. During the evening, several young pro-boxers were on the card and I was struck then by the lack of care given to some of these youngsters entering the ring. Several of them appeared to me to be there, to all intents and purposes, as cannon fodder for the up-and-coming boxers. A young Lithuanian lad was pulverized into a bloody mess and no one threw in the towel or appeared to give a damn as he continued offering himself up as target practice for the entire four rounds before almost collapsing at the finish. I wondered if the boy had ever put a pair of boxing gloves on before in his life.

Many years ago and even quite recently, I’ve been fortunate to work with Tony Quinn, my mentor and the mind guru who helped Irish boxer Steve Collins beat Chris Eubank Snr in 1995. Eubank had been undefeated in 43 previous bouts and was clear favourite to win against the Irishman. But in around four weeks of working with Tony Quinn, Collins developed a mind-set of certainty; certainty that he was going to beat Eubank. And he did, twice, before going on to beat Nigel Benn. This is all documented in Collins’ book, The Celtic Warrior.

Tony Quinn’s success with Steve Collins became the model that I have used with all sportsmen and women since I’ve been working in this area for the last 15 years. It’s a very successful model, which can produce fantastic results depending on the individual, But if we bring it specifically into the boxing ring, we can also incorporate safety measures within the boxer’s own mind.

Unless you understand how the mind works, particularly the unconscious mind, it may not make a lot of sense but if you try and think outside the box for a minute, it is possible to put in new programmes or suggestions into the unconscious mind from which the person begins to operate. One of the suggestions built into his mental coaching sessions with Tony Quinn was that no one would be hurt in his fights, neither Collins or his opponent. After defeating Eubank the first time, Collins said that he felt physically better straight after the 12-round World Super Middleweight Championship fight than he had felt for months beforehand.

Can the unconscious mind be that powerful? From working with Tony and through my own experience over the years, I would say most certainly yes. I am fortunate to be working with a boxer of the caliber of Archie Sharp and some of the most important work we will do together is ensuring that his unconscious mind protects him and keeps him physically safe in the ring at all times. That way he will never be pushed beyond his limits as was Nick Blackwell on Saturday night.

Should you require further information please contact Linda Keen on 07745 121790 or

How do you pay attention?

When working with people, one of the complaints I frequently hear is: ‘I can’t seem to pay attention for very long’, ‘I find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time’, or ‘my mind wanders’.

Focused attention for extended periods is essential in sport, more especially for the faster sports which simply don’t allow for lapses of attention; in sports such as motor racing, a lapse could spell the difference between victory or an accident. In tennis it could be the difference between winning a point, a game, a set or a match. In boxing it could be the difference between landing a punch or being knocked out.

First of all, it’s important to know what attention is. There are three types of attention: Inattention – not paying attention; Conscious or forced attention – where you’re struggling to pay attention; part of you is paying attention but then thoughts creep in and distract you; Rapt attention – where there is no part of you left over to know that you’re paying attention. The latter state occurs when you’re engaging the whole of the mind and is the key to effortless living and indeed, participating effortlessly in sport.

Of course we’ve all been in that state; so enthralled in a good book that you miss your stop on the train, totally engrossed in an activity that you don’t notice time passing. At this stage there’s very little mental activity going on and you’re totally participating without questioning what you’re doing. You’re working from the autopilot in the unconscious mind which comes as a result of learning your trade through practice and repetition until you can do it unconsciously or automatically.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced cheeks-sent-me-hi), who spent 30 years researching this state, called it ‘Flow’ and discovered it was the key to happiness and peak performance. He regards attention as the crucial factor in flow.

So how do you learn to pay attention? Being present in the moment is the start to achieving the flow state and this takes practice. It’s estimated that up to 99% of the time, people are living on autopilot in their heads rather than in life. Have you ever driven from A to B and not remembered the journey? But if someone pulls out in front of you, that can ‘wake’ you up with a sudden jolt!

In complete contrast present moment awareness would involve using all of your senses while driving the car; seeing what is in front and around you, hearing the sound of the engine as you chang gears, the wind outside, etc, and feeling the temperature inside the car and physically sitting in the seat and how comfortable you feel. In addition, you may be able to smell the leather interior or the air freshener in the car. In other words, you’re engaging all of your senses to be exactly where you are.

You can extend this activity to everything you do on a daily basis from going for a walk to cleaning your teeth by using all of your senses. Ask yourself, what can I see, what can I hear, what can I feel and if appropriate, taste and smell?

You can learn to focus further by paying full attention when someone is speaking. Suspend your own thoughts and the need to jump in with your reply or opinion, and listen to the other person intently until they have finished speaking. Give them your full attention and repeat this with everyone you meet. Demonstrate that you are giving them your undivided attention with good eye contact and acknowledging what they say with a nod or a ‘yes’ and that is all.

You can also focus on your breathing, becoming fully aware of the breath entering the body through the nostrils, filling your lungs and then leaving the body as you exhale. You may notice as you follow the breath in this way for a few minutes, before long your mind may wander, and if it does, gently bring your attention back to the in and out breath. I often refer to the mind as a naughty puppy getting into mischief and you have to bring the puppy back gently and distract it with something else to play with.

Practice these steps daily and before long you’ll notice your ability to pay attention has increased. You’ll know this is happening when your thoughts are no longer taking over your life.

For more information you can contact me by email on or on +44 7745 12179

Linda Keen, Registered Psychotherapist, MBACP, NLP Master Coach


Do top sportsmen and women need a mind coach? Ask Britain’s #1 women’s tennis player, Jo Konta

Anyone watching the gruelling women’s Australian Open tennis match between Britain’s Johanna Konta and Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova today would have been enthralled by the pure grit displayed by both women before Konta finally won through after the third set decider and 3 hours and 4 minutes on court.

It was fantastic to see the British girl advance into the quarter-finals, the first to do so since Jo Durie in 1983. Konta joins Andy Murray as the first two Brits to make the Australian Open quarter-finals since 1977.

While it’s always a cause for celebration when ‘our own’ make it through to the top level in any sport, my interest with Jo Konta is in her relatively new-found mental approach. A year ago, Konta was relatively unknown but since last summer anyone interested in tennis has heard of her. Not only has she had the foresight to use a mind coach, Juan Coto, and reaped the positive impact on her game, but she has also had the willingness to share this information and the benefits the mental training has had on her game. And that’s good news.

While more sportsmen and women are slowly beginning to understand the necessity of having the right mind-set in competition, those that do are generally unwilling to discuss it openly. But Konta has broken the mold, happily discussing her mindful present moment approach, resilience and mental toughness, and I think it’s very important that the media have given it massive publicity. Why? Because it’s given credibility to the use of a mind coach in sport.

Some people quote the mental side of sport at around 70% but many sports psychologists see it potentially as high as 85%. As Coto says, talent and ability play a huge part; if you can hardly hit a tennis ball due to poor hand-eye coordination, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to make a grand slam winner but with mind coaching, you can certainly improve from any starting point.

As motor racing has been my chosen sport for over 40 years, I have spent the last 16 years predominantly coaching racing drivers – and more latterly boxers, swimmers and other sports people – in the art of using more of the mind. I’ve worked with young karters from the age of 9 and 10 right up to the gentlemen drivers, some well past their first flush of youth, who race in championship GT series. The gentlemen drivers tend to be successful businessmen and can readily understand the correlation between using the mind in business and in car racing and they find it relatively easy. Likewise, youngsters are more open to understanding how to use the mind as they have less accumulated negative programming or conditioning in their unconscious minds and simply accept the information as true. Those that find it harder are people who analyse too much.

The key to all mind coaching is understanding how the mind works and particularly the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious mind. As psychologist Carl Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

If people in general, had this basic understanding, their lives might improve significantly, but for sportsmen, it provides the vital edge because it’s all about taking control of what is in the unconscious mind. This is where my psychotherapeutic approach can be particularly useful in sorting out the negative thoughts and teaching the person through relaxation techniques to let go of them and instead learn to focus on what they want to achieve; a little like the good gardener who waters the flowers (good thoughts) and pulls up the weeds (negative thoughts). I also teach breathing and visualisation techniques to keep the mind focused during times of pressure. The mind cannot do two things at once so if a person focuses on their breathing, it takes their mind off the looming competition and reduces nerves, while keeping the mind clear.

Of course, learning these mind techniques takes time and repetition to learn and thereby form the new neural pathways in the brain. Therefore sustained practice in controlling thoughts is a must, and is as important as the physical training and diet that any top athlete must adhere to.

Mental training

Mental training

I use the analogy of taking the mind to the mental gym to train the mental muscle, and those people that put the information into daily use, with present moment awareness, visualisation and relaxation to quieten the conscious mind, will undoubtedly stack the odds in their favour and see results.

You can contact me by email on or on +44 7745 121790 for more information and to book a session.

Linda Keen, Registered Psychotherapist, MBACP, NLP Master Coach