Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors bring in mental skills doc

Forensic psychiatrist Ceri Evans is on the Warriors case. Photo / Richard Robinson
Forensic psychiatrist Ceri Evans is on the Warriors case. Photo / Richard Robinson

Warriors coach Matt Elliott has engaged the services of a professional mental trainer who was one of the key elements in the All Blacks' World Cup success.

Dr Ceri Evans is a forensic psychiatrist and a leading sports psychologist, who helped develop the individual and team mindsets that helped the All Blacks to cope with the on- and off-field pressures during the 2011 tournament.

Evans' credentials are impressive. He is a former captain of the All Whites (86 caps between 1980 and 1993) and spent six years at Oxford United in the top two tiers of English football. A Rhodes Scholar, he has seven qualifications beside his name. His Christchurch day job involves running clinics in prisons for inmates with mental disorders and assessing whether individuals are mentally fit to attend a courtroom trial. Evans has also become a expert in human performances in competitive situations, including the sporting arena.

Evans is working closely with Elliott and has had a couple of sessions with the playing group. It is part of the drive to change the culture and fabric of the club or, as Elliott puts it, "tweaking the DNA".

Even before the trials of last year, the Warriors were often seen as susceptible to moments of mental fragility. They have had plenty of moments where they 'hung tough' - the 12-6 win at Penrith in 2010, where they defended for almost the entire second half; the 13-6 victory over the Storm at a rainy Mt Smart in 2010 and the memorable preliminary final in Melbourne in 2011, where the Warriors outlasted the Storm at their own game. But there have been more occasions where fade-outs have been fatal.

The perception increased in 2012, with the run of eight losses at the end of the season, despite holding the advantage in many of those matches.

"Of the eight games they lost consecutively, they led in all apart from one or two," Elliott told the Herald on Sunday. "It is no disrespect to what went on last year but I think the perception that they do have those mental lapses is based on a reality.

" I have identified other things that need to be addressed and we are addressing it. As part of developing our culture, we want to develop a mindset that reflects consistency and understands about a high level of execution. I believed we needed that kind of support - coaching staff and players need extra support in making sure it gets ingrained in our culture.

"I've exposed myself to a lot of people as far as developing mentality in my coaching career and he is the best I have come across," says Elliott. "Ceri makes the complex easy to understand because he talks situational. I'm always a bit wary about what I expose the playing group to - because sometimes the process can be more exhausting than the dividend but, with Ceri's stuff, you learn something and then it is with you. I have a high level of belief in what Ceri is presenting because it is pretty special."

Evans was brought into the All Blacks by their mental skills coach (and current assistant manager) Gilbert Enoka ahead of the World Cup. He helped them understand where pressure comes from, how to not get overwhelmed by it and how to stay on task and make the right decisions, even in the toughest, must-win situations. If negative developments on the field looked like dominating a situation, they developed individual triggers to get them back and on task - Graham Henry gave examples of Brad Thorn pouring water over his head or Richie McCaw stomping on the ground.

"We couldn't have been under more pressure at times, but we stuck to our guns and got there in the end," said Richie McCaw in the aftermath of the 8-7 victory over France at Eden Park. "I think the key [to winning the tournament] was expecting things to happen. If you hope for the best and don't prepare for it, when adversity comes you're not ready for it."

Evans is known for providing a framework and tools that allow people to think clearly and correctly under pressure, by taking away the complexity and helping them understand what is going on inside their brains in moments of high pressure.

"I've been impressed so far," says Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman. "The mental side of the game is absolutely huge these days and [Evans] has some tools and ideas that are easy to relate to."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 17 Sep 2014 07:45:08 Processing Time: 579ms