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Paul Craig explains how a sports psychologist led to his professional resurgence: ‘I wanted to do everything on my own’

Paul Craig recently scored his fourth consecutive win when he submitted Nikita Krylov with a triangle choke in the first round at UFC London. The win propelled Craig into the UFC light heavyweight top 10 and now puts him on the cusp of a title shot, a remarkable reversal for a man who started his UFC career 2-3 and at one point was close to falling out of promotion to be excluded.

It’s a resurgence that Craig, 34, says began when he began seeing a sports psychologist.

“It’s about adding little bits to your game plan, it’s about adding little bits to your camp, like working with a nutritionist, like working with my conditioning coach. It’s just about dealing with all these people. For example, a sports psychologist has made a huge difference in my confidence,” Craig continued The MMA lesson. “But then you add them all together. One of them alone didn’t make me better, it was a whole bunch of things.

“After the mindset changed, it was about bringing other people into my camp. Because right at the beginning we were very, very secretive. We didn’t want anyone who wasn’t part of the team at camp. So I didn’t have a conditioning coach, I didn’t have a nutritionist, I didn’t have a sports psychologist. Once we had the sports psychologist on board and he opened up my mind and attitude and then I let a lot more people try to help me.

“I wanted to do everything on my own,” Craig continued, “and I wanted to say, ‘No, I did this on my own. I don’t need anyone else.’ You can’t be like that in this sport. You have to be around a lot of people, you have to be around positive people. That wasn’t the case either. Throughout your journey, people will come and go, people will take a pound of flesh from you, and it’s about staying with people who are good for you and dropping people who are bad for you. It was a whole bunch of things.”

Noting that one of the first things he and his psychologist worked on was his confidence in his punch, Craig said he used to be like “a rabbit in the headlights” when he was struggling, but that he himself now armed on your feet feel against everyone. And that wasn’t a one-time thing. Craig notes that he still sees his psychologist weekly and the practice remains an integral part of Craig’s fight camps.

“It’s going down, it’s not just an area where I need to improve,” Craig said. “There was an area that I needed to improve on and we talked about it and we looked at it and we sort of improved it. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not like once you’ve done it, ‘Actually, once you’ve talked to a sports psychologist, you’re cured.’ It’s about dealing with it on a weekly basis. We have weekly meetings, we discuss things that might happen at camp, we look at what happened previously at camp and we discuss how we’re going to move forward.

“It’s about everyone working together because they all have the same goal: everyone wants me to win in my camp.”

Craig isn’t the first fighter to work with a sports psychologist. Georges St-Pierre famously started working with one after his loss to Matt Serra and credits him with changing his entire mentality when it comes to fighting.

It’s a sentiment Craig agrees with, and he’s pleased that it’s becoming more embraced.

“From a young age to this day, you’re always putting up barriers, and the point is that having so many barriers will always prevent you from doing what you need to do in life, whether it’s a world jiu-jitsu practitioner or a World Class Striker. It’s good to talk about things like that,” Craig said. “Growing up as kids, we never talked about anything.

“Men just bottled everything, and now we’re in that culture where we’re able to speak freely and open up, and it’s not the negative side of talking about your feelings. Because for a long time, men didn’t talk about their feelings. That was considered pretty bullshit and I think it totally changed and I’m glad it changed because it definitely improved my game through speaking.

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