How Liverpool want to provide a mental edge with the former manager at the forefront

Lee Richardson (first left) with Jurgen Klopp and the backroom staff after their 2019 Club World Cup win. -Credit: Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Liverpool have been competing at the peak of their powers under the guise of Jurgen Klopp for more than five years.

Although they have fallen marginally short, after last season’s disappointing campaign, the Reds have exceeded the expectations of many. Klopp will leave at the end of the season with a Premier League title to his name, as well as Champions League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Club World Cup success, with a new dawn on the horizon for the club.

Performance and sports psychology consultant Lee Richardson has been with the club for five years, signing with the club on the day they claimed a sixth European crown in the win over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, and has provided support alongside the German. in mental challenges at the club along the way.

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Player wellbeing is at the center of conversations in football, especially following the increase in the number of matches and shorter breaks faced by professionals. Off the pitch there are problems in everyday life, as well as the added pressure of social media, plus the recent spate of attacks on footballers on various platforms.

This season, Liverpool have been forced to dip into their youth ranks to provide cover following injuries to first-team members. The likes of Jarell Quansah, Conor Bradley, Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns have emerged as contenders for first-team positions, with a new dawn on the horizon for the Reds following Klopp’s departure.

Speaking to the ECHO, Richardson pulled back the curtain to provide an insight into the support the players are receiving ahead of Mental Health Week, which started on Monday.

“They have access to me if there is a problem,” he said. “For players there are inherent challenges in their careers. They have a life, people they care for, sometimes things happen and they are prone to long-term injuries, deselection, contractual issues – there are several things that can trigger an episode where they don’t feel great.

“I’m there most of the week, I have a room close to the players’ dressing room so they know there is a port of call there. If I can’t help them or assist them, or if I know someone who might know , I can refer them out.”

The 55-year-old’s journey to psychology is unknown. Richardson enjoyed a successful playing career at the likes of Watford, Blackburn Rovers, Aberdeen, Oldham Athletic and Chesterfield – a team he would later manage.

Richardson was a midfielder during his playing career and spanned 17 years as a professional footballer, from 1987 to 2004. He battled through several eras before moving into psychology, where he achieved a degree, masters and chartered status.

“It struck me at various times that sometimes things were difficult and there were certain challenges that I had to face,” Richardson says.

“I was genuinely interested in that area and on the performance side, I often played in big games where the psychological aspects were in many ways the most important and not well understood.

“It was curiosity, curiosity to learn more about psychology, the human mind and the recognition that I was in an environment where it’s a taboo on both mental health and mental performance, where it wasn’t really discussed at all.

“We’re talking about the late 80s, early 90s when I started to get interested and it was in Oldham where I started studying part-time. I was coming to the end of my career so at that time the extra zeros in your there were no pay packages, so planning a career afterward was normal

“I was already doing the coaching process, but I knew it was something a lot of guys were interested in, there was no guarantee you could make a living doing it. So it was a mixture of curiosity, personal experience and looking for a new life outside of football.”

Lee Richardson moved into management at Chesterfield in 2007 after his playing career ended.  -Credit: Getty Images from 2008Lee Richardson moved into management at Chesterfield in 2007 after his playing career ended.  -Credit: Getty Images from 2008

Lee Richardson moved into management at Chesterfield in 2007 after his playing career ended. -Credit: Getty Images from 2008

With 17 years and more than 400 career appearances, he believes his experience has provided a perfect foundation to help current professionals and aspiring footballers come through the academy ranks.

He added: “It has helped a lot because you experience first-hand some of the challenges and the general experience of being a professional, how other people see you.

“To some extent you are hardened to the brutality of football, and that can be because you strive for success. It has helped me a lot, especially as a player, coach and manager you look at things from different perspectives. Well, I I’m glad I had that career.”

The Liverpool team has access to an app that provides varying levels of support, which also acts as an educational platform, with 24/7 confidential access.

There are more and more stories of players past and present revealing their struggles. Richardson says it’s important that those who are struggling have the privacy to address the issues on their own terms, but adds that more support is available.

“There will always be a sense of shame or self-consciousness about revealing how you feel,” the 55-year-old continued.

“I don’t think it’s unhealthy at all, but as long as people or players are aware of the fact that feeling down, anxious or in a negative place over too long a period of time is not a good way to go about things. At some point moment is the feeling that you are in those places for a short period of time, it is a good idea to do something about it.

“Whether it’s doing something that helps you, education is part of that, or sharing is a learning process while you feel the way you do, they’re healthy things to do.

“In a physical sense that would be classed as recovery, an injury for example. People suffer psychological injuries from time to time from modern life. At Liverpool there are things that probably hadn’t been there for 10 or 20 years.” past.

“There are many high-profile examples of the self-help that we have gone for, from my age or slightly younger, the coping mechanisms that have been used, such as alcohol, social drugs, gambling and other behaviors that lead to An addiction, in a sense, is the person who tries to help themselves, but only in a negative way: it only makes things worse.

“It’s surprising how much this has cost people in the past, but hopefully the barrier to seeking help has hopefully been lowered and the barrier to mental health issues has been lowered.

“Hopefully it will get through to more people and it will be a good thing. The way we do things is part of psychology to understand what we do, how we behave and how we do things better – it doesn’t always happen – but it is the starting point of a psychologist to explain it, solutions and a strategy to support it.”

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