In July I wrote a piece about Bruno Demichelis, a sports psychologist Ancelotti brought with him from Milan. Judging from his experience in setting up the venerated MilanLab, it seemed he had moved to London to help extend the careers of Chelsea’s older players. The latest from Cobham suggests that he’s turning to an unlikely source – meditation – to take the science much further.
A piece in today’s Daily Telegraph is well worth a read and shows just how far football has come since the days of black and white TV and orange slices at half time. Since Demichelis’ arrival Chelsea have set up what is called a ‘mind room’: a relaxing environment in which players can be placed into a meditative state. According to the Telegraph, the Chelsea mind room, the largest of its kind in Europe and a close relative of a similar facility Demichelis set up while at Milan, is being used to both reduce players’ fear of failure and help them conserve energy during matches.
Once in a meditative state, players are hooked up to a variety of sensors and shown video clips of themselves making mistakes. They are then trained to prevent their heart rate increasing as they watch themselves make those errors, in theory allowing them to have greater control when presented with similar situations in real life. The Telegraph article goes into more detail:
“The idea is that when the player then goes out onto the pitch and is presented with a chance to score, or to stop the opposition, he will be so focused and mentally-prepared that he will succeed. At the same time, the player will have been trained so well by Demichelis that he can bring down his heart rate when he does not have to run so that he can conserve energy. And he will also be able to this without thinking.”
Interestingly, the technique is expected to have a positive impact on players’ performances not just psychologically, but also physically. But Chelsea are keeping their mind room a closely guarded secret. Demichelis – who in typical Chelsea style has been nicknamed ‘BB’ or ‘Big Bruno’ by the players - has revealed that it is a ‘specially-constructed space’ that can accommodate six players at a time in ergonomically-designed loungers. Beyond that, we know very little, and the Telegraph can but assume that it follows a similar model to that in Milan.
But anyway, enough of the theory. It’s probably too early to say to what extent Demichelis’ techniques are working, and the ‘mind room’ is just one small part of the performance picture anyway. But the signs are good: so far Chelsea have scored 15 of their 26 goals in the last 40 minutes of games, compared with just 11 in the first 60, indicating improved stamina. Three games have been won from losing positions, indicating mental toughness. And Lampard hasn’t missed a penalty. But are these new traits for Chelsea?
In a football world dominated by machismo – on the terraces at least – the concept of meditation might seem a strange idea. But if it helps Drogba miss less chances, Lampard to keep scoring high-pressure penalties and Essien to stay injury free, it gets my backing. So far, the evidence largely points to it working…
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