Thursday, 29 May 2014

Froch Groves fever: talking psychology with Sean Ryder Part 3

This week, as part of the build-up to the Froch-Groves rematch I've been looking at the psychological issues surrounding the fight with renowned sports psychology consultant Sean Ryder in a special three-part series. (You can read part one of this discussion here and part two here

Today, in the final part of this series, Sean takes a closer look at the role of the two trainers involved in the fight as well as the profile of sports psychology in the wider sporting world.

The men in the corner:
Froch's trainer, Rob McCracken, and Groves' trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick are intriguing figures in their own right. McCracken, a former middleweight World Championship challenger, was head coach of the successful British boxing team at the 2012 Olympics and has had a longstanding, and highly successful, working relationship with Froch. Irishman Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, linked up with Groves shortly before the first fight against Froch after George's unexpected split from Adam Booth. Since landing the Groves gig, Fitzpatrick has seen his profile soar and he recently attracted headlines by claiming that McCracken has been "lying" to Froch. What, then, does Sean make of the men in the corners, their roles and their influence?

Sean Ryder's view: "The roles of Paddy Fitzpatrick and Rob McCracken are absolutely vital. because it's all about executing a game-plan. The trouble you're going to have with these two guys is, given the opportunity, they're just going to have a fight, as opposed to a boxing match, and then the outcome becomes 50-50, a coin flip! So what's going to be crucial is which trainer can keep their fighter under control. I've got quite a strong feeling that if George had had Adam Booth in the corner for the first fight he would have really insisted that George didn't get into so much of a brawl from rounds 7 and 8 onwards. That isn't any sort of sleight on Paddy Fitzpatrick. After all they hadn't had much time together, and he may well have been telling George the same thing, but they didn't have that depth of relationship so that when George was under pressure and exhausted he could take that on board. It's a really interesting question as to whether Adam Booth would have been able to keep George focused on what was working for him tactically early in that fight.

"I think Paddy Fitzpatrick talks really well, he talks really interestingly, but I think he talks badly about the psychology of Froch and Groves. I read an article online where he said about Carl's use of a sports psychologist, 'he's a doctor, don't forget, he's a doctor', implying that you need to open yourself up to help yourself through. Now that might be right from a clinical psychology perspective, but it's certainly not right from a sports psychology perspective. It felt like a misunderstanding of the value Carl was getting from working with a psychologist.

"It's also interesting when [Fitzpatrick] was saying that Rob McCracken wouldn't be able to tell Carl the truth about the first fight: that George had out jabbed him, that he was faster, more powerful, had better footwork. The thing is, I think McCracken could say those things when they reviewed the fight. They know the things they did badly, and they know what they can change. I can see from Paddy Fitzpatrick's point of view that he's trying to say there are too many things for Carl to change, but I think that's over-egging it a little bit."

Executing the game-plan: 
Amid the heat of the emotion of performing in front of 80,000 rabid fans at Wembley, the boxer who keeps his tactical cool on Saturday night is the one who will emerge victorious. As our discussion entered its final stages, Sean addressed the importance for both fighters of sticking to a game-plan.

Sean Ryder's view: "If you look at the knockdown in the first fight in the first round, that had such an effect for the next four or five rounds. Carl's footwork was shocking for the knockdown - he basically threw that right hand and brought his right leg through so he was absolutely square on to take that right hand flush, and that's because he thought that George couldn't hurt him. This time, I expect Carl to start very similarly to the Kessler rematch, with a much stiffer jab, much better movement, and not trying to throw the right hand quite so much. So I guess it will be a case of whether McCracken can develop a game-plan so that Carl does that for a while, so George doesn't get a lead, and then Carl can try and come on strong as he did in the first fight. For George it's whether Paddy Fitzpatrick can get George to win lots of the opening rounds but then stay on the outside, win a couple more rounds in the second half of the fight and take it on points. That's the other  part of the psychology, it's all very well trying to win the head-to-heads before the fight and out of the ring, but when you get in there it's all about the psychology of executing your game plan. It's all about whether Paddy will be able to keep George in that game plan in rounds 8, 9 and 10 when the exhaustion starts to kick in. So, I think this fight is genuinely going to come down to who can translate their ability into a performance - the best sort of boxing match!"

Sports psychology on the rise:
To conclude our discussion, I asked Sean for his thoughts on the rise of sports psychology, and its increased level of acceptance and credibility within boxing, as well as other sports. Here's what he had to say ...

Sean Ryder's view: "Any time when we have a boxer at a high level saying, I work with sports psychology, that can only be good for the industry as a whole, because what it then does, is it encourages people to speak to people like me and get the truth about how we support performance. I'm not a clinical psychologist, so if someone has got depression or mental illness, I'm not the man for them, although I can help them speak to a clinical psychologist of course. I'm very much performance psychology based - so I'm looking at motivation, concentration, managing pressure, those sort of things, as well as how the brain works under the pressure of sport and how you can control yourself to execute your game plan. So I think we're getting a lot more of a profile across a whole range of sports. Most sports people have such a high degree of pressure on them these days, so why wouldn't they work with someone who has that expertise in developing mental strength?"

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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