This week Brendan Rodgers unveiled the appointment of Dr Steve Peters, the man in charge of sports psychology for Britain’s top cyclists, as Liverpool’s new mind guru.
Dr Peters’ task will be to refocus a side that has made a stuttering start to the season. Rodgers told the Mail that it had been a coup for the club to capture the man who helped guide Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton to Olympic gold this summer. However the exact extent of the impact that Dr Peters will be able to have on the club’s on field performances remains to be seen.
Over the last 10 years, sports psychology has become a major part of the game. In fact, the Football Association has developed a series of courses designed to help coaches and sports psychologists deal with the mental side of the game on both an individual and team level.
The overall impact of sports psychologists in football is perhaps not as significant as it is in more individual and mentally demanding sports such as cycling, golf and tennis. That is not to say that sports psychology does not play a factor in football, however the key psychological aspects of the game are often more centred around the team rather than individuals.
Many would argue that boosting the moral and mental attitude of the team falls under the manger’s remit, as he is ultimately responsible for getting the results out on the pitch, through his tactics and man management. At the end of the day it is the manager’s job on the line, rather than that of the sports psychologist, should the team not produce the required results.
Rodgers is likely to say that the appointment of Dr Peters is to help install a winning mentality into his Liverpool side. Yet the fact that it has taken Rodgers five months to appoint a sports psychologist at Anfield, suggests that this could be more of an act of desperation than part of the manager’s grand plan.
When Lee Clark joined Huddersfield Town in 2008 he brought with him Steve Black as a fitness and mental coach. Black helped to install a more positive attitude in the Terriers side, but after he left the club in 2010, Huddersfield continued to go from strength-to-strength, suggesting that whilst Black had a positive impact on the team he was not pivotal to the overall success at the club.
Whilst a sports psychologist may help a introduce a more positive attitude to the team room and help a side deal with the mental consequences of their mistakes, the sheer number of variables that happen throughout a game mean that it is slightly more difficult to fully achieve the goals that have been set out before each match.
However sports psychologists can help alter aspects of each individual player’s game, in order to improve the overall team performance. There have been plenty of examples how mind gurus have helped individuals low on confidence and reeled in players who had prone to ill discipline.
One of the most key areas where sports psychologists can make a difference is in penalty shootouts, by removing the stress of the situation by focusing the mind on scoring rather than any other alternatives. Obviously this technique can be implemented in normal game situations and can help penalty takers make the most of their opportunities. Whilst this could have a significant impact over the course of the season on one player, and the team as a whole, the game needs to reach a penalty situation before this psychology can come into effect.
Sports psychologists have proved that they can play an important role in the modern game, but managers should be under no illusions that they are miracle workers, destined to alter the path of a floundering season.