Lee Johnson mulling over part-time psychologist for Hibs as he tries to solve team's mental frailties

As a player, Lee Johnson had recognised the value in training his mind as well as his body, but the role of psychology in the game really hit home in the aftermath of his Bristol City side’s League Cup victory over Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in 2017.
Hibs manager Lee Johnson speaks to the media ahead of Saturday's cinch Premiership match against St Mirren.Hibs manager Lee Johnson speaks to the media ahead of Saturday's cinch Premiership match against St Mirren.
Hibs manager Lee Johnson speaks to the media ahead of Saturday's cinch Premiership match against St Mirren.

“I love all that,” said Johnson. “You think of the best, like your Mourinhos. I remember speaking to him afterwards and him saying ‘I love what you’re doing Lee, what a team, you totally deserved to win. And then I watched him go on camera and say ‘Bristol City were the luckiest team I’ve ever seen! So, it’s all psychology, it’s all a sales pitch. Everything is. Patenting is a sales pitch, if I want my 14-year old daughter to do her homework I’ve got to sales pitch it in a way that makes her want to do it! We can’t be disingenuous but we have got to help these players become the best version of themselves.”

After four wins on the bounce, the Hibs manager has now seen his team lose three successive matches and he says a lot of it comes down to dealing with “plot twists” within each 90 minutes. “People ask what is next in football and I think it’s the psychology to match the moments in games,” continued Johnson. “Finding different solutions to mental scenarios is the way forward in football and the best coaches and players will be able to swing these moments to their advantage. There are so many factors that enable a team to deal with a plot twist in a game. We have to react better than we do. I think this could be something that has happened to Hibs quite a lot in the past, it’s how we improve that is the challenge.”

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He is reluctant to bring in a full-time psychologist but sees merit in making that service more readily available to his players who, he admits, have had a stuttering start to the season, taking two steps forward and one step back at times. It has prevented them from taking a firm grip on third place, despite a bigger budget than the likes of Saturday’s opponents St Mirren, and Livingston, and the chequered form of more traditional rivals Hearts and Aberdeen.

“That’s where man management comes in,” said Johnson. “There’s no doubt when you lose a couple of games, people do revert to type, whatever that may be. Sometimes that’s a positive and sometimes that’s a negative. I’m not sure about having a full-time psychologist. The manager picks the team and if you look at the greats, like Ferguson and Dalglish, Mourinho, people like that, the managers are the main psychologists. But, as a player I was big on psychology. I think you can really improve your life with a top mindset. So, I am more than willing to accept any help from anyone.

“I have also been at clubs where the psychologist has tried to take over because they were there full-time and they tried to get involved in the business structure. But a good psychologist is someone who can help set the culture, recognise the red flags, have individual conversations, and have the crisis chats which can help re-frame everyone and spin them back round the right way.”