Growth mindset key to Cooper's drive
By John Harrington
A picture that Dublin footballer Jonny Cooper tweeted last week painted a thousand words of what makes him the driven sportsman that he is.
It was photograph he'd taken himself of a Saracens rugby team training session.
It’s Cooper’s off-season right now for both club and county and he’s certainly earned the opportunity to put his feet up.
Yet there he was over in London on a one-man mission to soak up any knowledge he could that might benefit him in his own sporting sphere.
“Saracens was brilliant,” said Cooper today at the GAA Super Games Centres National Blitz Day 2018 in partnership with Sky Sports.
“I ended up chatting one of their coaching staff at a speaking event last year. I just went over, I'm just trying to learn.
“I've tonnes to develop on myself as a player and there's a lot of information out there, there's a lot of organisations, cultures, et cetera, that are there to hopefully learn from.
“I just went over to have a look and try learn and see how they engage as world class athletes and it was a great experience.”
Cooper has a growth mindset when it comes to developing his own skillset and likes to study best practice in other sports to see if he can learn something that might transfer well to Gaelic Football.
“Definitely,” said Cooper. “Basketball, they do a lot of two-ball stuff with tennis balls, it's probably widely used now in GAA.
“They've been doing that for years. Even little things like the rugby guys, when they're throwing a pass they finish their fingertips towards the target, just little things that we could potentially use in the hand-pass in terms of making sure the ball is placed on the man where it should be.
“Just looking at anything that's out there, be it videos or being lucky enough in the position to get to see some other athletes and sports.
“There's a lot of value in that. In my point of view being open minded to all the other sports out there, there's definitely a lot to learn.”
Cooper is one of the best defenders in the game because he’s worked so hard at his art.
He’s a very well-rounded footballer, but if you were to pick out his most outstanding attribute it would probably be his tackling ability.
It’s an area of his game he’s slightly obsessed with continually improving, and has tried all sorts of ancillary aids for marginal gains such as the wearing of occlusion goggles and the use of a projector training system to develop hand-eye coordination.
“I tried the goggles and they are very good but I'd only use them to a certain place and then I kind take them away and get the natural feel of it,” said Cooper.
“They'll help a certain portion, maybe reactive times or peripheral vision but I wouldn't use it in a live or full scenario because it's probably not realistic in terms of what you're going to see. But definitely useful in smaller ways.
“In a global sense, I just work on the pillars around it – so the footwork, the timing, the hand-placement, the eye.
“I don’t know, some people find it kind of boring with the intricate breakdown of what happens, but I don’t, I just try and break it down as best I can and work on the individual components.
“Then within a game environment or training environment, hope that all them somewhat come together and allow me to execute the skill based on what is actually needed.
“A lot of the forwards do their shooting and their frees and their one-on-ones. Whereas the skill that I would practice the most would be the footwork.
“Not so much the contact itself, but the footwork and walk-through element of, in my head and physically the actual – what it actually feels and looks like.
“I still have a lot to improve, absolutely, but I’m enjoying that aspect of it.”
Playing in the full-back line where you’re always only one slip away from total disaster is arguably the least glamorous role in a team, but Cooper relishes the challenge.
“I like that kind of stuff,” he said. “There are two ways of looking at it – outside you have a little bit more time and space to execute or do a tackle. Whereas inside, there isn’t that time and space. I guess from a competitive, individual point of view, what better place to test what I’ve been practicing in an environment that it kind of unforgiving sometimes.
“Sometimes, I like the challenge of trying to mark some people that are extremely talented forwards on the opposition. I enjoy that challenge, I enjoy any challenge and hopefully that’s not working against me in terms of being a jack of all trades.
“But hopefully that’s working for me in that I can give the management and my teammates different options and different attributes to complement what they are trying to do.”
Cooper believes his own desire for self-improvement is one mirrored by all of his Dublin team-mates.
They’ve now won four-in-a-row All-Ireland titles, but he’s convinced they’re still getting better and better as a team.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Cooper. “I suppose firstly, I think you’ll find a lot of individuals will feel they can add a lot more value which obviously contributes to the overall team effort.
“So, I think it starts with that individual kind of drive and competitiveness to actually find or craft whatever it is they need to add onto their game based on feedback and experiences.
"So, yeah, I definitely would (say we’re still improving) and it’s something that’s very exciting for the player to be going after – for example for myself to be going after different things.
“I guess getting valuable and honest feedback from coaches, and for my colleagues getting that information that you’re looking for and going and maybe develop on it and get better.”