October 2023

The Greg Meehan Interview

October 2023 <h2>The Greg Meehan Interview</h2>

Greg Meehan – Head of Mindset Performance at Matchroom Boxing

Greg Meehan has carved himself a well-respective niche within the world of boxing as a Mindset Coach who delivers results, however, the route to his current journey didn’t happen overnight. Meehan explained. “I had a career in the City of London for 20 years as a bond broker and I’d say about 10 years into that I went through my own life change. I was very interested in why I thought and acted in certain ways and went down a bit of a rabbit hole of learning about the brain, the body, the nervous system and how to help control it.

‘Self-control is strength.
Don’t allow your emotions to power your intelligence.’

“I became quite fascinated with it and for the next 10 years I began to educate myself, doing multiple diplomas and courses, and reading hundreds of books. During that time I went into volunteering with the tools that I had, helping people who were a bit down on their luck, which I really enjoyed doing.

However, I still had my career in the city at the time and about three years ago I started getting more into sport and became more serious with it all and started working with some footballers and boxers. I noticed quite quickly that this was something I could move into on a permanent basis and that’s when I decided to make the switch, and the last few years I’ve been building it up from there.”

The brain is sometimes referred to as the most complex computer on the planet. What’s Meehan’s take on this? “I would agree with that.

There’s one part of it that I teach a lot of people, which is very important – that’s the defence mechanism. The brain does all these all these amazing individual things in all these individual departments it has.

However, when it comes down to a whole purpose where it works together as one with the protection mechanism and what it thinks it needs to do to keep us safe, it’s actually quite dated, as in it’s still in the caveman days and hasn’t caught up with evolution. In terms of ‘fight or flight,’ and ‘rest and digest,’ the two sympathetic comparison nervous systems – as soon as the heartrate and body temperature raise, the brain will pump a load of stress hormones into the body ready for us to fight or flight. That doesn’t necessarily have to happen and can sometimes occur with something as simple as having an uncomfortable conversation with a work colleague.

However, the brain doesn’t know if we’re being chased by a lion and once again it comes down to that dated protection mechanism we’re wired with. If we don’t control that, the brain will do that as much as possible to counter the reaction and it’s these stress hormones in the body that can really age and damage our organs and systems. That’s where I class ‘The universe as you,’ analogy, as the brain versus the mind. That’s the daily battle that everyone has, but probably more so in athletes. It’s about strengthening your mind to control that part of your brain.”

The processes Meehan uses at the beginning of a relationship can often be key in not only helping them override involuntary responses from their brain, but more importantly, to create new thought patterns to help athletes maximise their potential, bothy mentally and physically. Essex’s premier coach explained. “Athletes come to me for different reasons. For instance, they might say, ‘I just struggle a bit with anxiety,’ before an event. It doesn’t matter which sporting discipline they are a part of, it’s all the same. It all comes from the same part of the brain and I quickly try to explain to them, ‘Is it anxiety, or are you nervous and excited?’ There’s a number of similarities that happen to the body between anxiety, nerves and excitement. They’re very closely knit emotions in terms of what they do to the body. It’s a case of helping them identify what they’re feeling and explaining to them sometimes that it’s good to have nerves as long as you can control them. It’s good to have these emotions before an event because you can channel them into a driving force.”

“How I would go about addressing these emotions would be to work on their breathwork. A lot of people breathe through their mouth, which is a low-level signal being sent to your brain to tell you you’re in trouble. Sometimes, there’s nothing even wrong, but the type of breathing can set off the wrong signals in our brain. I’d go down the road of helping how they breathe and helping their respiratory system change, so they can do more nasal breathing and send the right signals to their brains at the right times.

“I’d be a bit worried if a boxer had no nerves whatsoever in the changing rooms. I’ve worked with a number of fighters and I’ve never come across one that hasn’t felt any type of emotion in the changing rooms. The difference is the ones that can control it and understand. They are generally the ones who move onto bigger and better things.”

Meehan is currently employed by Matchroom Boxing as Head of Mindset Performance. Meehan explained how the opportunity arose. “It came about through the head trainer at Matchroom Boxing, Tony Sims. I’ve known him for a while and he’d seen the work I’d been doing with a lot of professional footballers and other fighters.”

Meehan’s most notable big-fight contribution was in John Ryder’s corner, when he took on pound for pound Guadalajaran, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Meehan recalled the steps he took to give Sims’ charge the best chance possible. “I worked with John for his 20-week camp for the Canelo fight and I even went to the fight in Mexico. Tony had seen the impact I was having on John and we spoke about it, and it was something he and his son Charlie, who manages most of the fighters at Matchroom, wanted to implement into the gym. They wanted to make sure a fighter had everything under one roof. They’ve been very professional and I hope to continue to work with them and their fighters for a long time to come.

“As far as John goes, I’ve known him for a few years and he came to me before he’d signed the fight and said, ‘Potentially, I could get the Canelo fight. If that happens, I want to make sure my mental toughness is exactly where it needs to be.’ It was clever by John, because it was more of a preventative mindset in terms of anything that could affect him. He’d mentioned, six months earlier in the changing rooms before the Zach Parker fight, that he didn’t feel that present. Once the bell went, he got the job done brilliantly, but it was the changing room and ring walk he felt something was missing and he didn’t like that sensation. It didn’t hinder his performance, but his attitude was, ‘If I do get the Canelo fight, I don’t need that happening again, especially as it’s in Mexico against the best fighter on the planet and it’s not the O2 against Zach Parker, and that’s no disrespect to Zach.’

“We started to work on how we could keep his mind focused and present, then when the fight got announced, we both admitted we were big fans of Canelo and we had to shift that mindset to look at him as an opponent. There were little things I did to help with that. One was to never mention Canelo’s name in any of our sessions for 20 weeks. It was all about ‘the opponent,’ and referring to it as ‘your next fight,’ without placing emphasis on this big spectacle. I don’t care if it’s the worst or the best fighter in the world, the battle is ‘you versus you.’ As long as the best version of you turns up, that’s all that matters. It was little things like that I knew I could bring to John that would help him and keep the focus.

“John was very open with a lot of the ideas I put across to him, bearing in mind he’s never gone down the road of speaking to someone like me on a professional level. When he went to the press conference in Mexico, I asked him to take loads of photos and videos of the changing rooms, the ring walk area and the arena. To be honest, I didn’t think he’d do it or remember, but he came back and he sent the lot to me. He was probably wondering why I’d asked him to do that and it was all to do with visualisation. I wanted to teach him, through visualisation how he could become relaxed and reach an overall calmer state. We did a lot of visualisation together, so he could mentally see himself in this arena from these pictures and then when he was comfortable with the process he did a lot on his own. The aim was to keep him as calm as possible in the arena and the changing rooms, to prevent any booing or any hero syndrome coming in with his opponent.

“A couple of days after the fight that he phoned me from his holiday and said, ‘I was very sceptical about a lot of the stuff you taught me, but I can honestly say I didn’t hear one person boo me when I walked into the stadium or into the ring. And when he entered the ring, that also had no effect on me. He was just another person across the ring that I had to fight. I didn’t have any feelings of, ‘Oh my God,’ it was all about ‘You know what to do here.’”

Ryder put up an incredibly brave performance, lasting the full 12 rounds, however, he did incur a broken nose, which begs the question, ‘How does that work with Meehan’s philosophy of nasal breathing?’ Greg explained.

“I teach them how to breathe in case they get a broken nose. That’s actually a very common question to me from boxers. The main thing is, once the respiratory system has changed, it comes down not breathing through the chest, but breathing from the belly, which will still send certain signals to the brain in a positive way. There was a study done where somebody plugged their nose for two weeks and just breathed through their mouth and this was done by a nasal breather. The science behind it was it took two weeks for the respiratory system to change back from the healthy way of living.

“For John, it was important for him to stand up in his corner for blood flow in between rounds. Despite a broken nose, he managed to keep it together. That’s why those weeks in advance were essential. You can’t just rock up the week of the fight and teach someone to nasal breathe and expect them to be calm if they incur a broken nose during a fight, because they would naturally have a bit more panic in them. John never did and I’m very proud of him for that.”

The list of athletes Meehan was worked with over the years in a number of disciplines is extensive, and as his niche in boxing continues to grow organically, his reputation is proceeding him and he’s become a man in demand. Meehan’s latest outing was on 30th September 2023 at the Wembley Arena. “That was a great night. I worked with Ellie Scotney, George Liddard and Maisey Rose Courtney and all three won their fights.

A lot of the work I do with them is breath work, not just for the nervous system, there’s a physical aspect where they can correct their breathing, so they can get 20%-30% more oxygen released into their body. I also work with Conor Benn as his breathwork coach. However, I also work with fighters outside of the Matchroom stable, coaching athletes from a number of sports and backgrounds.”

Each job presents its challenges and one would expect boxers to view a person like Meehan as perhaps taboo, or a sign of weakness in a sport which is intent on bringing their opponent to their destruction. Meehan gave his thoughts. “I would say that perception is across all sports. Cyrus Patterson is a boxer who’s very open to speak with me on the mindset side and he’s a good advocate for it. People such as him and John Ryder are open about the mindset and are proving to be inspirational to the young fighters, which has consequently meant a lot of younger fighters are now coming to me. They are showing that it’s a strength, not a weakness. I think boxing is probably further ahead of ‘being okay’ with having mindset coaches as part of their training than football is. I speak to a number of footballers and for them it’s a little bit more personal, because they are in a team sport and they don’t tend to be as open.”

If you are looking for a succinct piece of advice to give you a marginal gain through the power of the mind, we’ll leave you with Meehan’s sage sign off. “Learn how to Breathe correctly.”

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Article/Interview: Paul Zanon, has had nine books published, with almost all of them reaching the No1 Bestselling spot in their respective categories on Amazon. He has co-hosted boxing shows on Talk Sport, been a pundit on London Live, Boxnation and has contributed to a number of boxing publications, including, Boxing Monthly, The Ring, Daily Sport, Boxing News, Boxing Social, amongst other publications.

Photographer: Heathcliff O'Malley

Location: StormLDN Boxing Gym



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