Freddie's mind guru bats for GCSE glory

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Psychologist to the stars Michael Finnigan tells underachieving pupils how to beat their exam nerves

He helped talismanic England cricketer Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff believe he could be the best in the game, and now sport psychologist Michael Finnigan is helping Preston pupils believe they can excel in their GCSEs.

Mr Finnigan, who also counts one-time world snooker champion Jimmy White and Premier League football clubs Everton and Bolton Wanderers among his clients, is focusing his attention on boosting the confidence of pupils at Corpus Christi Catholic Sports College.

The school contacted Mr Finnigan after assistant headteacher David Botes read his book, They Did, You Can, which he felt could help motivate his borderline CD grade students.

The psychologist visits the school twice a month and, with the help of more regular meetings with assistants, employs the same skills with the students as he does with his sports star clients. His visits are funded in part through charity the Youth Sport Trust.

"I provide a refresher on the life skills they need to help them achieve," Mr Finnigan said. "It's about helping them to control their nerves. It is easy to underachieve if we are left on our own.

"Through evolution, we have found that you get more reward if you avoid danger, and this way you can become overly negative - it forces us to lower our sights. So I try to address what it is they fear and show them how to work around it.

He added: "Rather than giving them the fish, I teach them to fish for themselves."

According to assistant headteacher David Botes, the pupils who are attending the sessions fall into the "classic grey area" - students who do not cause problems with their behaviour but who sit on the CD grade borderline.

"The school had a disappointing year in terms of our GCSE results last year, with 31 per cent achieving the Government's benchmark - we narrowly avoided going into the National Challenge," he said.

"By pushing these pupils as much as the others, we believe we will be well on the way to hitting our target of 45 per cent."

And Mr Botes believes it is the targeted nature of Mr Finnigan's approach that gets results.

"You can ask why the pupils are not getting this from the teacher, but they are, only in smaller doses," he said. "With Michael, you get someone who is independent of the school concentrating on these pupils for two hours, helping them to believe that they can achieve more."

Year 10 pupil Ammar Mastan said he thinks he will achieve As and Bs since working with Mr Finnigan.

"I've got a lot more self-belief," the 14-year-old said. "Before, I had stopped believing in myself and I was deteriorating. But since the sessions, I have been improving most of my subjects, and I have more confidence."


Sport is increasingly being employed outside the PE lesson to help improve pupils' attainment in other subjects.

Steve Grainger, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said the charity had been promoting the use of sport in more and more unlikely scenarios.

"A physics teacher might use the flight of a cricket ball or a javelin to talk about angles," he said. "Schools are also using foreign football players to promote modern languages, particularly among boys who are less likely to take up languages."

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