Why an athlete must participate in the Olympics

Many athletes of all nationalities will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, the reason most often given is that of injury and for some this is the best justification to hide their disinterest in this event and, in this edition, also the annoyance for the limits imposed by the pandemic.

Everyone is obviously free to make their own decisions, so in my opinion individual decisions are not debatable. However, I am equally convinced that it is important to understand what sport represents in our society and what is the road and the path of the sport movement that every athlete has to travel for the stretch corresponding to the period of his or her sporting life.

The road of the sport movement has limits and negatives like any other human activity. Nonetheless, sport is culture and, together with school education and the arts, it participates in the development and maturation of human beings throughout their lives. It has been so since the time of the Greek Olympics and the excellence that is pursued was already defined by Aristotle with these words: “We are what we constantly do. Excellence therefore is not an act but a habit.” A concept very similar to what is demonstrated today by research in sports psychology. In addition, the introduction of new sports to the Olympics comes from the interest of wanting to continue to keep young people interested in this event. Free climbing, surfing and in the future esports represent the realization of this motivation.

In terms of economic return is not an event comparable to what you get in other sports by participating even just in a tournament, who participates should be the bearer of values that go beyond this factor. Sport at international level also hides many pitfalls, first of all doping and drug abuse, and on this subject I published years ago a book entitled “The Lords of the Pitfalls”. Beyond these illegal and economic limits, sport is still an exceptional transmitter of values and positive practices. The responsibility of the best-known athletes is precisely to use this impact on the younger generation and their peers to believe in these values as the foundation of their lives. For this reason, one cannot refuse to participate in the Olympics.

Use of the visualization to win the medal at the Olympics

Winning a medal at the Olympics means being able to stay focused on your performance for the duration of the event, regardless of your score, your opponents, the weather, the crowd, your own expectations or those of others.

For many it represents the competition of a lifetime and for this reason the pressure and expectations are so high that they can destroy an athlete or a team.

Visualization is the psychological technique most used by athletes to live these moments in a way that is positive and effective for them. Below are some statements from the last 35 years that confirm its validity.

“Athletes confirm in their statements the validity of this approach: Alex Baumann (gold in 200 m and 400 m swimming, Los Angeles olympic Games): “The best way I learned to prepare myself mentally for the race was to be able to visualize it in my mind” [Orlick and Partington, 1986]. Sylvie Bervier (gold in diving, Los Angeles Olympics): “I was constantly replaying the dives in my head. At night, before going to sleep, I always repeated my dives. Ten dives [...]. I was doing everything as if I was really there” [Orlick and Partington, 1986]. Franck Dumoulin (gold in pistol shooting at the Sydney Olympics): “I use mental imagery a lot on different occasions, especially when I’m looking for quality. Technique is the base but thinking about technique evokes feelings and it is enough to think about the feelings for the technique to be immediately ready” [Ripoll, 2008]. The Japanese national judo team, holds the record of 72 medals won at the Olympic Games, including 36 gold: “Mental training was integrated into the daily collegiate schedule. Athletes did exercises at 7 a.m. every day. Activities included attitude training, laughing, listening to soothing music, talking with teammates, breathing exercises, meditation, and playing back their best performances in a slowed down manner [Terry et al., 2014)” (From Cei, 2021).

What are you excited to see in Tokyo?

These Olympic Games may be like no other, but one thing is guaranteed – we will still see plenty of top sporting action until the final day on 9 August.

Four new sports will make their debuts – karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing – while baseball/softball returns to the Olympic Games. New disciplines and events will also take place in other events.

Here are our top five picks of what we’re looking forward to seeing:

1.    The new sports. Of course – who isn’t excited to see the new sports? Karate has a huge tradition in Japan, having been developed in Okinawa; skateboarding and surfing will both thrill with the crazy tricks; and sport climbing will provide perhaps the fastest Olympic event in the 15m speed climb, part of the combined event.

2.    3X3 basketball – a new discipline at the Olympic Games, but no stranger to the Olympic Movement, having been an event at three Summer Youth Olympic Games! Expect fast-paced half-court high-octane action with mad skills.

3.    Who will Usain Bolt’s successor be? The big question in athletics. The Jamaican won both men’s 100m and 200m gold at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016. Now that he’s retired, the question of who will take the mantle of fastest Olympian on the track is unanswered. Will André de Grasse, Noah Lyles, or Trayvon Bromell step up?

4.    How will Simone Biles rebound? After being outscored by Sunisa Lee – a first in the all-around by any gymnast since 2013 – on the second day of U.S. Trials, is this the warning to Biles that she needed that she is not infallible or just a blip? She is, and will still be, the greatest of all time, but she will want to emphasise that at what could be her last Olympic Games.

5.    Despite all the challenges, the athletes are finally in Tokyo, and five years after the last Games will finally get to shine. We’re most definitely looking forward to the incredible sporting action in all 339 events as the athletes go Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together.

Tokyo flower bouquet

The Tokyo medalist bouquet have been made with flowers grown from areas greatly affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake These are the bouquets that will be presented to the medalists.


Olympic memories

After 24 years, since the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, this is the first time I have not followed medal winning athletes at the Olympics. They have been exciting experiences when they have won but also when those who could have because they were favored did not deliver their best performance and perhaps did not even enter the final.

I remember all these situations and I can go through the most significant moments as if they had happened yesterday. The Olympics generate unforgettable emotions not only in the athletes but also in those who worked with them.

Now I work with young boys and girls, I hope that someone goes to the Olympics and can experience them as a favorite.

Football, family and nostalgia

The years will pass but it is inevitable not to feel a sense of sadness every time I see a photo of Valentino Mazzola or another footballer of that legendary Torino. In this one, he is tying the shoes of his 4-year-old son Sandro.


New Book: Fondamenti di Psicologia dello Sport

Fondamenti di psicologia dello sport

Alberto Cei

Il Mulino, settembre 2021, p.296

La psicologia dello sport è una disciplina che ha acquisito sempre più interesse negli ultimi anni e ha saputo ritagliarsi un suo spazio autonomo all’interno della psicologia e delle scienze dello sport e del loro insegnamento. I principali temi che affronta questa materia riguardano otto grandi aree: i processi cognitivi coinvolti nel controllo motorio e nella prestazione sportiva; le abilità psicologiche implicate nei diversi tipi di discipline; i processi motivazionali; il ruolo dell’allenatore e dell’organizzazione dell’allenamento; i programmi sportivi per l’infanzia; il benessere e la salute; le abilità interpersonali e le dinamiche di gruppo; i processi di autoregolazione, i livelli di attivazione e i sistemi per affrontare lo stress agonistico. In questo libro, l’autore illustra le conoscenze che la psicologia dello sport ha acquisito in queste aree principali e fornisce un panorama esaustivo in grado di soddisfare docenti, studenti e quanti sono interessati o vogliono avvicinarsi a questa disciplina.

Indice del volume: Introduzione. – I. I processi motivazionali nello sport. – II. Sport e personalità. – III. Processi di autoregolazione e livelli di attivazione. – IV. L’attenzione: dalla teoria all’applicazione. – V. Dinamiche di gruppo. – Riferimenti bibliografici. – Indice analitico.

How will the Tokyo Olympics be experienced?

The Olympics have always oscillated between two opposites. On the one hand, they are a celebration of peace among peoples. It is no coincidence that they have often been a means of pressure and political claim, used by both nations and individual athletes. Sport is not neutral, it is not true that the important thing is to participate, nations use sport to affirm their vision of the world. This is absolutely acceptable as long as the rights of all are respected. Our culture of Olympic sports has its roots in classical Greece for which sport was next to other forms of development of people. At the same time, for every athlete, the Olympics represent the most important opportunity to affirm their value on a global level, it is the greatest showcase to which an athlete can aspire. On the other hand, the Olympics, along with the World Cup and the Tour de France, are the world’s top sporting events. The Tokyo Olympics will represent something different from previous ones.

Meanwhile, the athletes come from a year of pandemic, a year without competitions and for some sports there have been few opportunities to qualify (table tennis for example has had in 2021 only two qualifying tournaments). In some ways the selection of participants has been unfair and many of those excluded are already preparing for the upcoming Paris 2024 which is only a little over two years away. Secondly, the restrictions imposed by Japan during the stay in Tokyo will be very strict and therefore there will be no interviews and press conferences before and after the competitions and this certainly penalizes the sports and athletes with less visibility during the quadrennium. Finally, there will be no audience and we have all experienced its absence during the soccer championship. The lack of fans will be an aspect that could negatively affect many performances, selling out the enthusiasm that the public obviously determines. In a few days we will know what will happen, however, it remains true that most of the athletes / despite these differences will be focused on providing the performance of their lives.

How difficult is it to become a top junior athlete?

How difficult is it to become a junior athlete at the international level?

In opposition sports where you fight directly against another opponent it is very difficult, because beyond the sporting skills and the physical skills, the mental element is what determines success.

By this I do not mean that there is a mental prevalence over the other two components, but that without mental guidance and with a reduced degree of agonism it will not be possible for the athlete to express his sporting and motor skills.

In opposition sports speed and precision are two inseparable aspects of performance. It is clear that those who train to combine these two characteristics together run a greater risk of making mistakes, but another option is not possible. If you slow down too much you become predictable and the lack of precision means that you’ll throw shots randomly.

Training on these two aspects, also involves working mentally to maintain a high level of confidence even if at first you will make more mistakes. Maintaining a high level of confidence, however, will allow you to persevere with this type of training and, recover quickly from mistakes and compete with greater conviction.

Why many people don’t want to be the masters of their destiny?

Many people today are quoting the words that Roberto Mancini said to the team before the final against England: “We are the masters of our destiny”.

The comments called them emotional words, true because it is precisely this kind of awareness that too often determines catastrophic emotional responses.

This awareness resonates within every person at crucial moments in their lives. It is a concept that reveals the extent to which an individual wants to be self-determining and autonomous in their decisions. They are the basis of self-determination theory, which states that people accomplish their goals precisely because they know they will improve through their efforts.

There is a but that often hinders one’s affirmation, it consists in knowing that even if one provides the best performance of which one is capable, the final result is still not guaranteed. In other words, you have to do your best in the knowledge that you can still lose a soccer match or, in life, not get what you have worked for. Because there are also others, there is the difficulty of the task and sometimes you need a bit of luck as well.

Not all people are willing to commit to taking these risks and, therefore, reduce their involvement in what they do or behave impulsively, acting without thinking, while others become overly analytical, asking too many questions and slowing down their action.

People who don’t accept this challenge choose to take refuge in the comforting idea that they failed because they didn’t try hard enough. It’s a way of not inflicting self-esteem.