Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Froch Groves fever: talking psychology with Sean Ryder Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of a discussion of the Froch-Groves rematch between myself and renowned sports psychology consultant Sean Ryder. (You can read the article here if you haven't seen it already).

Today I present the second part of this three-part series, as Sean takes a closer look at George's use of mantras and Carl's use of a sports psychologist, as well as that handshake on Sky Sports' ''The Gloves Are Off' programme. The third and final instalment will be published tomorrow.

'Everything for a reason':
In his preparation for the rematch, Groves has utilised a variety of mantras and psychology-laden hashtags on his Twitter page, ranging from 'Everything for a reason' to 'mandated' and 'the number 6'. What does Sean make of this tactic and what is the psychology behind it?

Sean Ryder's view: "The thing with mantras is that they're often a technique used to maintain control. I don't know George very well, but if you look at him as a character, he hasn't had a promotional team for a long time. Although he's now signed with the Sauerlands, he's not had a manager, he's often fought on opposition bills as the 'away fighter', he split from Adam Booth very close to the first fight. So he's someone who very much wants to be in control and when you have a mantra that you're consistently repeating, it enables you to complete that control. It also acts as a bit of an impenetrable shield if you like. If you're consistently repeating a mantra, anything your opponent says can just be deflected by the mantra; for example, whatever Carl says he can just respond with 'everything for a reason'. So when Carl gave him a tough time about going to the IBF to get a mandatory position again, well George can just deflect all of that by saying: 'everything for a reason', and saying that the reason will become clear on fight night. It was interesting on the Sky TV 'The Gloves Are Off' programme, when Carl was trying to push George for a little bit more depth about what these things mean, and George refused to do it. The point being, as long as you refuse to say, it can mean whatever you want! If you think about it, when George said last time that he was going to hit Carl with two right hands in the centre of the ring, that all sounds very good, but the chances are, most boxers will try and catch their opponent with a right hand or two right hands in the first round. Even if it had been a quiet opening round, George could quite conceivably have landed two right hands in the first round. So saying that is really all about dominance and trying to show he's in control, which is really important to George."

Froch and sports psychology:
Froch's decision to employ a sports psychologist in the build-up to the rematch has attracted plenty of attention. Groves himself has claimed it is a sign of weakness. Froch himself explained: "There are questions to be answered about why I let Groves get inside my head [last time]. I am so annoyed with myself for letting it happen because I studied sports psychology as part of my sports science degree at uni. He did a good job on me because when I got into the ring after listening to his rubbish, all I wanted to do was punch his face in instead of boxing him. I'm not going to let it happen again." What is Sean's take on Carl's decision?

Sean Ryder's view: "I think Carl has been smart and using a sports psychologist has really helped him because it has allowed him to get a different perspective. He has a better understanding of what George is trying to do this time, and if you know that it can really limit the effect that it can have. Carl seems really relaxed with it. I've worked with a few boxers and one of their biggest fears is often: 'what do I say if the opponent says I'm weak because I'm working with you?' That's a common feeling that I get not only from boxers but from other professional sportsmen. But for me it's very simple: if I'm working on my mental strength, with a psychologist or a mental performance coach, then nobody can tell me that I'm weak, because that means they're not working on it! So you can turn around this idea of 'you're weak, you're working with a psychologist', and say: 'well, psychology is vital at the elite level of sport, and I'm working to make my mental strength stronger, and you're not!' So that's an advantage for Carl. But he has to believe it, and that belief comes from getting value out of working with a sport psychologist. I think Carl can already see that his approach for this fight is infinitely better than last time, and some of that can therefore be attributed to his work with the psychologist. There's four areas to elite performance: the physical side, putting in the hours, putting in the graft; there's the technical side, working on the pads and the bags and taking that into sparring; the tactical side, what's the game plan you're going to put together, and then there's the mental side - namely, mentally are you in a good place to execute the game plan in the fight? If you're not working on the mental side then you're leaving it to chance. These guys, with 80,000 watching at Wembley, can't afford to neglect that. So it's a real advantage to Carl that he is preparing in this way, rather than leaving it to chance."

The handshake: 'pull and push a little':
Sky Sports' eagerly awaited 'face-to-face' show between Froch and Groves entitled 'The Gloves Are Off' aired at the weekend, and made for fascinating viewing. Groves' attempt to yank Froch's hand during the handshake at the end was but one flashpoint in a typically psychologically charged encounter. Was this the moment that the mental pendulum swung in Carl's favour?

Sean Ryder's view: "The handshake is something that didn't look pre-planned from George. I think we need to take a step back and look at how the whole programme had gone. I think it was probably the first time that George felt he wasn't getting the better of Carl in the verbal exchanges. That seems to get more and more obvious to George as the programme went on, and I wonder consequently if the handshake  was a result of George thinking: I've got to do something to take back the power.' It was all a bit silly - Carl was in quite a good place, pulled George back and made more of an impact and then sat back and looked very calm and in control."

Part 3 of this article will appear tomorrow, in which we will examine the roles of trainers Rob McCracken and Paddy Fitzpatrick and the perception and profile of sports psychology in sport as a whole.

Thanks to Sean Ryder for taking the time to speak to Boxiana. You can follow Sean on Twitter@SeanRyderDYA. His website is
Luke G. Williams

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