Alan HubbardGeoffrey Boycott may be a curmudgeonly ex-cricketer of the old school but no-one could have put it better after the current England team led by that terribly nice Alistair Cook emerged from the whitewash shambles of the Ashes series with more than just their tail-end between their legs.

He reckons England psyched themselves out of it by relying on a posse of back-slappers and mind-benders - a view I heartily endorse. In the final inning of the last Test they performed like a bunch who had spent more time being analysed on the psychologist's couch than practising in the nets.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph Boycs declared: "Over recent years England have employed more backroom staff believing it makes them more professional. In fact, they have over-complicated professionalism. We have coaches for everything. Psychologists, team analysts and an 82-page diet book that made us a laughing stock.

"It is time they got into the real world and stopped wasting money on frivolous luxuries that do not make any difference when Mitchell Johnson is whistling it around your ear hole. The players have stopped thinking for themselves.

"In my day when we had a problem, either with batting or bowling, we used to talk it over with our colleagues in the team and worked things out together. It built team morale. It engaged everyone in the dressing room. Now we have robots waiting for a coach and an analyst with a laptop to tell them what they are doing wrong.

"Well, I can tell our batsmen what they did wrong. They forgot the principles of Test match batting. They batted like one-day clowns."

Geoffrey Boycott reckons England psyched themselves out of the Ashes by relying on a posse of back-slappers and mind-benders ©Getty ImagesGeoffrey Boycott reckons England psyched themselves out of the Ashes by relying on a posse of back-slappers and mind-benders ©Getty Images


And he had this to say about the disappointing performances of the bowlers, notably lanky paceman Steve Finn: "Somebody on the coaching staff has to put their hand up and say we have messed him up. I would stop concentrating on the technical tinkering and filling his head with rubbish, and tell him to go out and bowl quick."

I gather that on several occasions during the 5-0 drubbing England's bemused players were comforted and counselled by a "stress physiologist". Whatever advice they were given, it clearly didn't work.

Neither did such counselling prevent batsman Jonathan Trott electing to return home early, apparently unable to cope with the tour's mental pressures.

You can bet Tasmanian devil to a case of Fosters that the Aussies did not let a psychologist anywhere near their locker room.

Indeed, cricket legends from Bradman to Botham, via Boycott himself, would have scoffed at the idea of a brainwashing session to help revive or improve their game.

Nor would other sporting giants of the past and, I suspect, the vast majority of the present.

Great Olympians - among them Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Steve Redgrave - never mentioned the need for one and has anyone heard Mo Farah or even Usain Bolt pay homage to sports psychology, which hadn't even been invented when the likes of Jesse Owens struck gold.

I don't recall Muhammad Ali resorting to a shrink before winning either his Olympic or world titles (he was his own inimitable Svengali), though I know of one of his British opponents, Richard Dunn, who did. He was KO'd in five rounds.

I don't recall Muhammad Ali resorting to a shrink before winning either his Olympic or world titles ©Getty ImagesI don't recall Muhammad Ali resorting to a shrink before winning either his Olympic or world titles ©Getty Images


Frank Bruno also sought a similar mental prop before his second fight with Mike Tyson by being hypnotised. He ended up being mesmerised - then pulverised.

Golfing heroes Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player managed to win a multitude of majors without revealing their innermost fears to sport's Samaritans yet can it be coincidence that Tiger Woods hasn't got near one since having been forced to undergo endless sessions of psychological rehab.

The sadly late, great Eusébio, with Pelé and George Best one of the three most enthralling footballers I have been privileged to watch, never needed anyone other than his team manager blowing in his ear.

Neither did Bobby Moore and the England team of World Cup winners in 1966. Throughout that tournament, unlike the self-serving barmy army of support staff apparently needed to fortify England's cricketers, Sir Alf Ramsey had only two aides; his assistant coaches Harold Shepherdson and Les Cocker, plus a part-time team doctor.

Had the FA offered the use of a "stress physiologist" his response would have been of two words, the second of which is "off!"

John McEnroe, to anyone's knowledge, was not a recipient of psychology though some tennis umpires may have wanted to recommended psychiatric treatment.

I lost faith in sports psychology back in 1992 at the Albertville Winter Olympics. Team GB's four-man bob, led by Mark Tout, were sensationally in pole position overnight. A terrific story.

Yet British Olympic Association (BOA) officials declined all requests for an interview with them, saying that the team psychologist insisted they were locked in a session with him to mentally attune them for the next day's final run. They finished sixth.

I can't imagine that, like Sir Alf Ramsey, Sir Alex Ferguson had much time for other than his own brand of hair-dryer psychology.

But among modern football bosses, West Ham's Sam Allardyce is said to be a devotee of intense psychological preparation and performance analysis.

Sam Allardyce is said to be a devotee of intense psychological preparation and performance analysis ©Getty ImagesSam Allardyce is said to be a devotee of intense psychological preparation and performance analysis ©Getty Images


So where are the Hammers now? Second from bottom of the Premier League and in danger of bringing lower-division football to the Olympic Stadium when their new home is ready in 2016.

As someone brought up in an era when the stopwatch and sponge were the only accoutrements necessary to assist the development of natural talent, I never cease to be mind-boggled at the excessive appliance of science in sport today.

Agreed, some of it is beneficial. But I fear we are witnessing the beautiful simplicity of sport being drowned in a tsunami of hi-technology and psycho-analysis.

It seems to have become a matter of shrink or swim.

Recently I attended a session conducted by Lottery-funders UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport both, worthy bodies which unquestionably have benefitted elite sport through cash infusion and technical expertise.

But I left concerned that sport is in serious danger of being enveloped by in techno-jargon and confused by the zeal of well-intentioned boffins.

Phrases like "Mission Strategy Analysis Function" to assist "research and motivation" and "the establishment of project para impact groups and performance solutions teams", are now lodged in the lexicon of essential requirements for mining more gold at Rio 2016 than was unearthed in London.

Such sports-speak has become a language that is foreign to the icons of yesteryear.

Now we are the age of charts, graphs, and mumbo-jumbo with the liberal employment of a burgeoning breed of mind jockeys who seem to have created a profession out of the bleedin' obvious.

Greats sporting figures know they do not need help to play mind games when they are good enough at real games.

Surely what is needed to bring out the best in talented sportsmen and women is commonsense technical and motivational coaching plus efficient medical back-up; not an overdose of psychological claptrap.

Ask Geoffrey Boycott. Or better still, Alastair Cook.

Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.