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Liverpool Sports Psychologist Opens up on Pressures of Playing—and Not Playing

Not being able to play football brings a different sort of pressure for players used to the weekly grind of the game.

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Liverpool FC v Shrewsbury Town - FA Cup Fourth Round: Replay Photo by Visionhaus

From throw-in coaches to full time nutritionists to Zoom yoga sessions, there are plenty of aspects to modern football Andy Gray and yer da probably aren’t entirely on board with but that the Reds have embraced in an effort to find any edge they can and regain their place at the top of the Premier League perch.

Liverpool fans, though, will have all at least heard mention of all of those things. What some may not have known is that the club also have a sports psychologist on the staff, with Jürgen Klopp having recruited ex-Chester manager and trained psychologist Lee Richardson to take on the role last summer.

“I was close to coming to Liverpool as a young player,” Richardson, whose career started off in the lower leagues with Halifax in 1987 and saw him call eight clubs home before hanging up his boots at Chesterfield in 2004 and becoming their manager, revealed in a lengthy interview with the club’s official website.

“I was a little bit hot-headed at times when I was a younger player, very driven to want to do well and probably sometimes a bit too hot-headed. So, yeah, absolutely I could have done with someone like myself. I honestly believe that in my role now I can help any player who wants to be helped.”

Under normal circumstances, helping would revolve mostly around dealing with the demands and pressures of playing. Now, though, with much of the world on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the pressures are about not playing—about not being able to do the things they’ve trained all their lives to.

It’s not an entirely unfamiliar situation given its similarities to when players are out injured and facing a long or uncertain spell out of action. What is unusual, though, is that now it’s every player sidelined, and all while implications for their friends and family beyond football hang in the background.

“Some of the pressures for footballers are around not being able to play,” Richardson noted. “Obviously the longer this goes on, the more likely it is it will have some impact on them psychologically. That’s their identity, so when that’s taken away it can cause some discomfort and some challenges.

“There are different levels of pressure and everyone is different. There are lots of people who have a lot of suffering in life, we all know that, and we are all blessed and should have a perspective to look at how other people are faring. But it is true, players do have pressures, even at the very top—they are not immune to it.”

And on the flip side, while there are new and unexpected pressures on the players as a result of not being able to play, there is at least a chance for many to spend time with those friends and family—something they would not normally get nearly as much of a chance to do given the grind of the game.

“What this experience has highlighted is how connected we are,” Richardson added, how connected we can be and perhaps how connected we haven’t been over the years maybe with different people. Players who are now playing almost all year round, the sacrifices they make away from family is quite significant.

“Looking on the positive, this period—while a scary period—has been an opportunity for some of the lads to get a bit of family time. They’re not superhuman even though they might do superhuman things at times. The pressures get to them and time is precious to them.”