Paul Warne striving to strike right mental balance for Rotherham United’s daunting run

THE famous catchphrase used to describe Liverpool players during two glory seasons under Jurgen Klopp between 2018-20 was ‘mentality monsters.’

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne after the Sky Bet Championship match at Hillsborough, Sheffield (Picture: PA)

Should Paul Warne’s third-from-bottom Rotherham United side negotiate a run of 12 games in 36 days and emerge from it with their Championship status intact, the term should also perhaps apply to his players.

The international break has very much represented the calm before the storm for Warne’s squad, who must play what amounts to almost a quarter of a normal season in the space of little over a month.

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It will be a test of physical endurance and mental fortitude for sure. Preparation work in the fortnight-long international break will have been crucial with players now back on deck after a Covid-19 outbreak ravaged the club in early March.

Michael Smith holds off Will Hughes during Rotherham United's defeat to Watford. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“The break has allowed us to put smiles on faces and make the lads believe in themselves,” said manager Warne ahead of a ‘season within a season’ that begins on Good Friday at Millwall. “Fundamentally, it is the brain that makes people run.

“You can have the fittest player in pre-season and think: ‘He’s going to be unbelievable’. But when it comes to the pressure of a game or if they have been kicked, it is the brain that tells them to keep going.

“You have got to keep the players in a really good state. You want them to remember who they are playing for. We take banners with us to away games with pictures of our family members on and put stuff in the tunnel. I just don’t want the lads to have any regrets.

“I think mentality is harder than keeping them physically right. When you have got 10 games left and you are pushing for promotion, the wheels of the bus turn themselves really. The lads come in, they are bouncing and desperate for the next game.

All about the mentality - Rotherham players following a goal for Watford (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“When every game is very tense and winning is difficult, it is our job as a management team to try to reduce the anxiety, but not to a level where their performance drops.

“You have to take the pressure off of them a little bit, but you have also got to reinforce the fact that they have to win.”

In recruiting players to the club, Warne has always placed great stock upon bringing in good people and not just good footballers. It is at times like now where that philosophy might just come into its own.

The Millers boss is huge on psychology in sport and is well versed on literature regarding that subject – with the credos of legendary NFL coach and thinker Vince Lombardi, who prized mental preparation in the pursuit of success, being something that chimes with him.

Paul Warne is striving to strike the right balance (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Books on the All Blacks have also had an effect on Warne, such as the need for teams to have ‘blue thinkers’ and ‘red thinkers.’

Red thinkers are passionate individuals who play with heart and physicality. Blue thinkers are calm under pressure and thoughtful by contrast. A mixture of the two is what often leads to success in team sports.

He added: “I read quite a lot of books on sports psychology and loads of things about winning cultures and winning mindsets.

“You need an environment where players feel safe and know you are there for them and that you are fighting with them.

“I message the lads all the time. Hopefully they feel our support and that of the fans.

“We get a lot of supportive emails from our fans. There are always a few fans who think we should be in the top two, but generally, they appreciate how hard it is and how hard the lads are trying.”

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