How surfer taught Liverpool stars to stay calm under pressure
The Waterboys! How German surfer taught Liverpool stars to use their brains to push bodies to the limit… with Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren going close to holding their breath underwater for nearly FIVE MINUTES
- Liverpool have enjoyed total domination of the Premier League this season
- The Reds are within touching distance of a first league title in 30 years
- But success could be traced to as far back as pre-season last summer
- Jurgen Klopp brought in surfer Sebastian Steudtner to build marginal gains
- Steudtner had a big impact on helping the players to relax when under pressure
There was a sense of intrigue among Liverpool’s squad when Jurgen Klopp gathered them together early one morning last August.
Liverpool had travelled to Evian, as they had done 12 months earlier, for what Klopp regards as the most important week of pre-season. There are no distractions in this quiet town on the banks of Lake Geneva and intense double sessions are framed to prepare them for the new campaign. It is the time for work.
Klopp likes to introduce different elements to the routine and this was very much the case when he presented Sebastian Steudtner, the world champion high wave surfer from Germany, to talk to the group at their hotel.
German surfer Sebastian Steudtner was brought into Liverpool’s pre-season training camp last summer to help the squad improve with the mental pressures they come under during a game
Jurgen Klopp introduced the surfer in a bid to add marginal gains mentally to his Reds side
Surfing and football — where was the connection? This, however, was not an exercise to help the recently crowned champions of Europe improve technically. Klopp was looking for marginal gains to enable them to leapfrog Manchester City.
Specifically, Steudtner was brought in to discuss mind over matter and how to remain calm in those difficult, challenging moments when looking to scale new peaks.
He began by showing the squad a montage of himself in action and he focused on those incidents when he came off his board and went under water.
From there, he took the players away, in three groups of 10, to the swimming pool.
His first challenge to them was to submerge and see how long they could hold their breath. Many emerged, spluttering and gasping, within 20 seconds.
When they had recovered their poise, Steudtner began to speak again. First he asked them to hold the side of the pool and lie face down in the water. He told them to concentrate on their bodies, to think about their toes, their legs, their arms — anything other than their breathing.
Gradually, they were able to go longer and longer without coming up. Steudtner then conditioned them further and asked them to think, at the moment when they thought they needed air, that they had the ability within to go a little more. They can always stay cool.
Steudtner was drafted in at the start of August when newly crowned European champions Liverpool were gearing up for the new season in Evian, France
It was all about positive psychology, how the body can keep going when the mind is trying to tell you there is nothing left. Call it a coincidence but Liverpool took hold of the title race last autumn with a flurry of late goals against Leicester, Manchester United, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
By the end of the day, Steudtner had made such an impact that Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana had got close to staying five minutes beneath the water. Klopp was so thrilled by what he had seen that he asked Steudtner to stay for another two days.
‘Subconsciously, that probably did play a big part,’ Andy Robertson, the flying left back, tells Sportsmail.
‘These things were more about looking at the season — at times you will have aches and pains, you’ll feel tired but you can block it out of your mind. Your head can do wonderful things but you also have voices in there that are not so good.’
Some players thought back to that episode in Evian during the last three months, when everyone has wondered how they would cope during the worrying times when the world stopped. The ability to stay calm has been crucial — as has Klopp’s leadership.
The German surfer helped teach the players to relax under severe pressure, with his methods allowing the likes of Adam Lallana (above) to hold his breath for nearly five minutes
Andy Roberson claims Steudtner’s work pre-season has had a positive impact on Liverpool’s stunning campaign as they inch towards the Premier League title
When they left Melwood on March 13, unaware of how long they would be apart as coronavirus took hold, he implored his players to remain upbeat and not worry about the future. They were told to enjoy some rest, too, after eight gruelling months.
With the help of Zoom, they remained in contact and upheld group traditions, such as each member of the squad singing Happy Birthday in their native language to whoever’s big day it may be. There were also constant reminders to wear masks and gloves, to protect themselves when out in public.
When they were able to reconvene at Melwood last month, Klopp saw players bursting with positivity and hungry to accomplish the ambition that was set out in Evian, to become the No 1 team in England. ‘We have all been good,’ Robertson says. ‘We have all helped each other out in different ways and the club have been brilliant through it all.
‘It’s been tough. Every week, before it stopped, it had been so intense, competing and getting to the most exciting part of the season. Then it gets taken away from you. But we were delighted to be back in training, to get going again and get a start date.’
Waiting, of course, has been difficult. It is 106 days since their last Premier League fixture, but now they are back and ready to make up for lost time, beginning against Everton on Sunday.
They are six points from becoming champions but there is so much more to be accomplished.
Liverpool are withing touching distance of a first league title in 30 years, while Mohamed Salah (above) is still in the hunt to become top goal scorer for a third straight season
Mohamed Salah is hunting down Jamie Vardy in his quest to emulate Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer by winning the Golden Boot for three consecutive years. Liverpool can beat City’s points record, set in 2018, of 100 and raise the bar for lifting the title with most games left to play.
‘That’s where we have been so good with mind over matter,’ says Robertson. ‘That’s the attitude we have taken all season. That’s why we have worked so well. We have put in big performances when people did not expect it.
‘Look at Leicester away on Boxing Day. We’d flown halfway around the world (from the Club World Cup in Qatar) and a few people thought, first match back, the title is going to get blown open here. But we produced an unbelievable performance and we looked as fresh as ever.
‘We were trying to become the first champions to win it in March before lockdown. Maybe we will be the first to win it in June instead! I believe we will win two of the last nine games because we are a good enough team.
‘Now we have got to go out and show it.’
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