Mike Horn, the extreme explorer who helped prepare the Proteas for their successful tour of England, believes the players were in denial about their choking problem but that they have now overcome it.
Photo: Flickr, warrenski.
In an interview with the Sunday Times
aboard the custom-built sailboat that he calls home, the South African adventurer described his involvement with the players during the pre-series camp he hosted at his Swiss residence.
Variously called “the explorer of the century” and “the toughest man alive”, Horn has circumnavigated the globe, traversed the Arctic circle without motorised transport and climbed the 8051m Broad Peak without oxygen.
Coach Gary Kirsten employed Horn’s motivational speaking talents to inspire India to an innings victory over South Africa in Kolkata in 2010, so denying South Africa the No1 test ranking.
Horn was in the Indian camp again when India won the World Cup on home soil a year later. Horn says he could see South Africa’s mental problems written on their faces during that tournament.
“I knew that if I had the opportunity with Gary and Paddy [Upton] to work with them [last year], it would have been a different team,” he said.
“It’s just a mindset, it’s not skill. When they got labelled to be the chokers, they were — you saw it straight away.
“It’s something that’s there, that’s in their mind but that they don’t want to address because they don’t know how to walk to it. You’ve got to set the pathway to be able to understand. If you don’t really understand your problem — and it’s there, it’s omnipresent — then how can you solve it?
“I would say they wanted to get away from it, but the matter was never addressed in the way it should be addressed. I’m not blaming coaches, but we had to change something radically.”
Horn, who has come to be known as “Oupa Mike” by the South African players, said the Swiss training camp was “not a Kamp Staaldraad”.
“They had to come out of it having learnt something about themselves and take responsibility. I had to create an environment that they could get rid of their baggage. It was about exposing these boys to be true to themselves.”
To achieve that, Horn set up a range of activities which included summiting a 3300m snow peak while roped together, cycling through mountainous terrain and descending a glacial river flanked by sheer cliffs. The idea was to promote team unity and give the players belief from the knowledge that they could do things that they didn’t think were possible.
“All I did was the activities,” said Horn, who was not paid for his services. “I can’t change the guys, I can just give them the key for change.
“Then I just tell them about when I go to the North Pole, how you can’t lie to yourself, because you don’t come back. You can’t b***s**t people.
“You’ve got to live at -70°C, you’ve got to pitch that tent, and you must know you can do it, otherwise you mustn’t be there.”
Horn believes the players left Switzerland “completely different” — a statement backed up by the Proteas — and is confident they have shed their “chokers” tag.
“They have, especially in this format of the game. There are obstacles they’re going to have to deal with — people shouldn’t expect them to just go out there and win all the games they play now, it doesn’t work like that.”
The 46-year-old joined up with the Proteas for the third test at Lord’s, which South Africa won by 51 runs to claim the No1 test ranking.
“Top spot in the rankings isn’t where the dream ends — it’s where the dream starts.”