Tyrone Mings and the psychology of a modern athlete


Tyrone Mings’ journey from mortgage adviser to full England international is full of altruistic anecdotes that make his footballing ability rather academic, but for every shirt number replaced and matchday ticket given away, let me indulge in what a fine footballer Aston Villa’s colossus has become.

There was a time when Mings was overlooked for being “too small” in Southampton’s academy, but after his towering frame soon developed, non-league groundhoppers were in awe at watching a left-back in desperate need of his break in the game.

Catching the eye comes with the territory when you’re six-foot-five, but having failed on trial with Bristol Rovers, Swindon Town, Cardiff City and Portsmouth, Mings was down on his luck when he considered ditching his dream for good in 2012.

Throughout his earlier playing career well publicised for pulling pints and travelling to games in that green Citroen Saxo, Mings thrived off the pressure to prove the critics wrong when the odds were well and truly stacked against him.

His former Chippenham teammate Toby Osman – son of Ipswich legend and Under-18 coach Russell – recommended Mings to the Tractor Boys, who handed the youngster a trial to a football league side keen on playing their part in another rag to riches story.

Though Mings had never seen his rise in such a light. He said: “Mick McCarthy quite rightly said, ‘if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I think I was earning less on my first deal at Ipswich than what I was as a mortgage adviser, it wasn’t a rags to riches story, it was just an opportunity.”

Mings wasn’t the only player intent on making an impression on McCarthy when Ipswich set up a trial game against the Nike Academy almost a decade ago. Despite sustaining an injury in a non-league game with Chippenham at the weekend, Mings wasn’t best prepared for his final roll of the dice to break into the professional game.

Having stayed in a hotel overnight with the Saxo not entirely trusted to make the trip to East Anglia on the Monday morning that could prove decisive to the dreams he had as a West Country kid, Mings didn’t feel out of place despite the muddied Chippenham kit bag slung over his shoulder.

Two other trialists on the day – a professional goalkeeper from Paris and a Manchester City midfielder – might have thought twice about making the journey to Suffolk when Mings didn’t rock up in a Mercedes wearing designer gear, but nobody on that pitch wanted to grasp the opportunity more so than the non-league youngster. Limping around as his leg injury worsened an hour into the trial, Mings was hooked, and at this point, you would’ve forgiven him for dropping his head and sulking for the first time in his football career.

McCarthy’s stern countenance on the sideline wasn’t what Mings was dreaming of from his hotel bed the night before, but despite an expression hardened through years of wet and windy Tuesday nights, McCarthy made his point clear.

Mings remembers: “He said to me: ‘I’m not taking you off because I thought you played badly; I’m taking you off because I want to sign you.’”

A week later, Ipswich offered Mings a professional 18-month contract to realise the ambitions he set out to achieve as a schoolboy growing up in a homeless shelter. McCarthy admitted that it only took five minutes for the left-back to convince him that he was worth taking a chance on.

Having signed on with the Championship club around November 2012, Mings had already played months of football at Chippenham Town that season, but with McCarthy’s side gearing up for an FA Cup tie at Villa Park only six weeks after Mings penned his first professional deal, this wasn’t half a step up for the former Yate Town and Southern League defender.

“Ironically it was supposed to make my debut in January against Villa in the FA Cup,” Mings remembered when talking on The High-Performance Podcast.

“They were in the Premier League at the time, and I thought, wow, this is everything that I’ve worked for, it’s going to be at a packed Villa Park and I had to tell Mick McCarthy that I had already played in the FA Cup against Winchester in August, so I couldn’t play!

“I had to wait until the last game of the season against Burnley to make my debut, all these things were positive and I was happy to play as an understudy to Aaron Cresswell.”

Injury setbacks, Premier League moves, and the Three Lions

Following Cresswell’s Premier League move to West Ham United in 2014, Mings was handed an opportunity to take over Ipswich’s left-back berth in the Championship, and you bet he took it with both hands.

Nailing down the position as his own, under McCarthy, Mings was one of the league’s hottest prospects as he started to blossom in an Ipswich shirt, despite having only made 19 league appearances before embarking on his first full Championship campaign in the 2014/15 season.

After notching a single goal for the Tractor Boys – which came in a 4-2 win over Birmingham City – for Mings, turbulent times would swiftly follow his big move away from Portman Road. Following an injury-riddled £10 million move to Premier League Bournemouth, the defender was finally afforded some time to reflect on the journey he had made in such a short amount of time.

Mings suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in his first year at the Vitality Stadium, almost two years after swapping Chippenham for the Championship. During his year-long lay-off, he admitted: “The journey is really hard to take in, our family and friends probably benefit from it more than we do because it’s like you never get a chance to do when I got injured, which was to reflect and take stock of my life and appreciate where I come from.”

Following a two year spell that stagnated his progress in what had already become a meteoric rise from the lower steps of the English football ladder, Mings was searching for regular playing time and some minutes on the pitch that would reignite his competitive flame.

Changing the fortunes of Villa’s most crucial of Championship seasons, leading the club albeit without the armband, and representing our great club as a role model off the pitch – Mings successfully won over the hearts of one of more passionate, vociferous fanbases in English football, all in the space of five months.

Roaring back to the rhythm devoted to the centre-back who has captured Holte End hearts, Mings has become a permanent fixture beneath the four stands of Villa Park that house 40,000 fans, now sorely missing their heroes on matchday.

Having claimed his first England call-up during his first season with Villa in the top flight, Dean Smith’s side secured safety on the final day of a campaign that Villa fans and Mings alike would have been happy to see the back of.

Tyrone Mings with Gareth Southgate on international duty

A Carabao Cup final last season was one of the few highlights, which, at Wembley stadium evoked memories of Mings hurling himself over the advertisement boards and into a sea of claret and blue adulation with a blue play-off flag wrapped around his neck like a cape – he was the heroic defender Villa had been crying for since Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg left for pastures new, a decade before Mings helped Villa over the line against Derby County to gain Premier League promotion.

The fickle few will still point a finger at the odd misplaced pass or criticise the lack of pressure on the ball, despite Mings making a Premier League record number of blocks against opposing shots last season. In fact, only two defenders to have played over half of last season’s Premier League campaign had been dribbled past fewer times than Mings.

Despite displaying superhero qualities, from a mentality of steel and an assurance on the ball that Villa have seldom apprenticed from defenders in years past, Mings is only human and like the Tyrone that was picking up the phone to talk mortgages, nobody is perfect.

Mings publicly backed Anwar El Ghazi earlier in this season after Villa’s winger received vile online abuse from supporters. He told the perpetrators that your apology needs to be as loud as your disrespect and because Mings won’t say it himself, the criticisms of Villa’s leader at the back to deserving reflection.

Mings still seeks advice from a psychologist before stepping onto the pitch and representing Aston Villa. He said: “Part of my pre-game routine is I speak to him (my therapist. It takes about three or four minutes and it puts me in a state of competitiveness.

“We talk about settling down the inner child and any feelings he might have in what I’m about to do. Then we talk to the best version of myself and what he looks like, how he’s stood, how he feels, how he competes. Then we distinguish which one we need right now and then go out and play.”

Mings also featured in the acclaimed documentary ‘Football, Prince William and our Mental Health’ which aired on the BBC last year, the programme followed the Duke of Cambridge as he sought to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Villa’s defender opened up on the show, by adding: “I pay a psychologist to help me throughout the week. I found that throughout injury and stuff, that was the thing that helped me.

“Nobody really cares about if you have a bad day, nobody really cares if you might be having a problem mentally or a problem physically, or problems at home. You can’t carry that into a game because you only really get judged on your performance.”

In many ways, Mings’ flawless start to life at Villa Park has been overlooked by some supporters who’d rather pick out flaws in expectancy of perfection, instead of acknowledging that while form is temporary, class is permanent.

Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens gave Dean Smith the green light to spend £20 million on a player who had only started eleven Premier League games at Bournemouth under Eddie Howe, during Villa’s first spending spree upon returning to the top flight.

Mings’ leadership and defensive qualities shone through on his debut at the Madejski, only days after signing on loan in the January window. Gliding across the park, suited with blue boots and confident with an arrogant strut on the ball, pinging passes from left to right – Smith knew right away that he had a player on his hands.

Coupled with a passion worthy of cult hero status, fist-pumping and orchestrating it all from the back – some of us are born Villa, some just fall in love – and it’s no different for Ty.

“I feel at home at Aston Villa,” Mings revealed after signing for Villa permanently last year.

“When I got here I felt like I was working under three people that really believed in me and wanted to help. I’m very grateful for the chance they gave me in January and I hope that we can back up what we’ve done with success in the Premier League.”

Following Mings’ performances on the pitch for and continued commitments off it, Jay-Z’s sports agency, Roc Nation Sports signed the 27-year-old up to their rapidly growing organisation last summer.

Tyrone Mings

Striving for change with Roc Nation Sports

Mings joined the Roc Nation Sports International family who already boasts a plethora of talent on their books including Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Reece James, Axel Witsel, Lauren James, Eric Bailly and Samuel Chukwueze. The England and Villa defender has enhanced the agency’s growing business portfolio in European football.

Roc Nation intends to focus on elevating athletes’ careers on a global scale both on and off the field. The sports management agency will also be responsible for conceptualising and executing marketing and endorsement deals, community outreach, charitable tie-ins, media relations and brand strategy.

Michael Yormark, President of Roc Nation Sports International was delighted to recruit Mings.

He said: “We are thrilled to welcome Tyrone to the Roc Nation Sports family. His business acumen and ambition in that space married with his dedication to philanthropic work align perfectly with our company values. We look forward to helping him reach all of his goals and objectives in the future.”

Alongside Mings’ longstanding commitment to support charitable efforts, provide opportunities and promote philanthropy, Roc Nation was also keen to reward Mings after featuring in the Forbes 2020 30-under-30 list.

The annual celebration of sportsmen and women identifies Europe’s most prominent individuals in sport “leading a technological and artistic revolution.”

Mings was awarded for representing England at international level, running two academies in Bristol and Birmingham and helping to develop a new generation of footballers, among his many other altruistic ventures.

He joined Hector Bellerin, Tom Daley, Simona Halep and Fallon Sherrock amongst other exceptional sporting individuals last year, all recognised for efforts away from their sporting disciplines.

Since Mings put pen to paper on a permanent deal at Villa Park in August 2019, the world is a very different place. Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, Minneapolis stood up for their brother and called on the world to lobby for change – well overdue change.

From Nevada to Newcastle, Brisbane and Birmingham, the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement has swept across shores, increased awareness and educated a few on the way.

Mings himself participated in a peaceful and powerful BLM demonstration that captured the Second City eager to make change a reality. Mings said the “energy and power” of the protest in Birmingham was “like nothing I’ve felt before.”

Tyrone Mings

Athletes from a number of sports immediately spoke out about racial discrimination and police brutality following Floyd’s death, and attending a 4,000-strong protest at Victoria Square last year was Mings’ opportunity to partake in a positive movement that highlighted societies inequalities.

It’s a sign of the times that the Villa star had to justify his actions.

‘I make no apologies for standing up for what I believe in. Nothing but energy and passion today. Won’t be silenced’, Mings wrote on social media.

With more recent cases of online racial abuse targeted towards footballers, there’s your answer to why players continue to take the knee before a football match. Results, player performances, and VAR decisions pale into insignificance when the use of certain emojis and vulgar abuse is spouted in the comments of an athlete’s social media page.

While Mings remains an ambassador for Aston Villa Football Club, we all support his efforts to push new boundaries in pursuit of personal goals, whether they lie at Villa Park or in ventures away from the sporting sphere.

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