Anfield Mind Games

Michael Regan

After playing a huge role in British cycling's impressive Olympic success, eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Steve Peters, has discussed publicly, for the first time, the work he has been doing at Anfield since September 2012.

In his successful book, The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters puts forward a range of mind management techniques centred around one basic premise. Within each of us is the perpetual conflict between reason and logic on the one hand, and emotion and impulse on the other. Peters likens our emotional selves to a 'chimp', irrational and impulsive and likely to impair decision making. Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France winner and Peters devotee, has spoken about keeping "the chimp in the cage" and reacting in pressure situations with "logic not emotion."

Peters, also known as 'The Mind Mechanic,' was hired by Liverpool football club in September 2012, to provide what Brendan Rodgers called the "mental tuning" required of professional athletes. There has been much anecdotal evidence of the benefit that Peters' work has had on the squad. Unsurprisingly, the initial progress was slow, footballers being famously reticent and not as open to new-fangled ideas as individual sportsmen and women. Gradually, however, the ideas seem to be taking hold.

According to Peters, ten of the twenty three man squad have had one-to-one sessions with him. It is too easy to sneer at this type of work and one needs only to look at the array of medals draped around the necks of Team GB in the summer to see the benefit of having one's mind correctly attuned. Craig Bellamy, who saw Dr Peters while still at Anfield has been tremendously enthusiastic in his praise for the psychiatrist's work. Indeed, many credit Bellamy with making the connection between Liverpool and Peters.

Speaking to The Independent, Dr. Peters has been revealing some of the interesting advice he's passed on to Brendan Rodgers' players. A top four place should, he insists, be an aspiration rather than a concrete goal, as a goal must be something which can definitely be attained by the person setting it. Winning the league has become an Anfield obsession and the reduced levels of expectation now mean that a Champions League spot is the new focus of the club's ardour.

"A goal is something you must be able to control and you can't control [your place] in the league. It depends on how others play, not just you. You always like to influence things and influence as much as you can but accept that most things in life are a dream. They are not guaranteed to happen."

We supporters can all too readily vouch for the fact that our dreams are "not guaranteed." Let us hope that all of Rodgers' squad buy into Peters' methodologies and theories, because as already suggested above, football is a team sport, with a different dynamic to individual sports. Peters himself betrayed a little frustration with the pace of the progress and the uptake in interest.

"If I go to a team with ten people and only five work with me, then I am absolutely limited in what I can do with the team. The players are trickling in, one at a time, gaining benefit, buying in and feeling it can work for them. But it has to be on an individual basis."

Paradox, it would seem, is the word. Only through individual attention, can the group dynamic improve. Modern football, eh? Whatever happened to Shankly's "simple game?"

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