The free play- based approach to children personal development

Children seek the thrills provided by free play, where they experience situations with their friends that they organize themselves, free from adult involvement. Unfortunately, today this opportunity is almost entirely absent; their lives are completely structured and almost always unfold under adult supervision. When they are not at school or at home, they usually participate in an activity organized by adults from a sports club.

This leads to an inability to learn how to organize their own time, and they are not free to behave spontaneously because some adult is always watching, exercising control in some way. Over the years, this way of life results in an inability to resolve conflicts with peers, limited decision-making skills, and the inability to face any difficulty alone without the help of an adult.

As teenagers, they have difficulty managing the typical changes of this age and need someone to solve the problems they encounter. How they live today is the exact opposite of how young people grew up in the past. They would go to school, come home, spend the afternoon between homework and going out with friends, to the oratory, to the scouts, biking, playing in the parks, and then return home for dinner. It was a life centered on free play, essential for physical, mental, and social health, whereas now this opportunity to engage in outdoor free play is denied.

Starting in the 1990s, at a much faster pace than in previous years, a radical change in lifestyle began, which is still ongoing:

  • Parents preferred to think that outdoor free play was too dangerous for their children because they might be attacked by people who would abuse them.
  • Sports have definitively taken over organized play, managed by clubs dedicated to specialization in a single discipline, thus limiting and perhaps eliminating free play.
  • The use of smartphones starting in 2012 has allowed young people to confuse the virtual life produced by social media with lived reality, creating the foundation for what is now called the anxious generation.
  • Risky play has disappeared in the name of a false sense of security. Free, exciting, and engaging play, which involves uncertainty of outcome and a possibility of getting hurt, is no longer accepted today. Perceived risk is no longer seen as an opportunity for decision-making and personal development. Today, parents instead think that children at home glued to their phones are at least safe from these dangerous situations, while they do not know that perhaps their child is watching a porn video on their smartphone or feeling bad about not having sculpted muscles like those on Instagram. The same goes for a teenage girl who doesn’t feel beautiful like those who post on social media or sees others having fun at a party, while it’s not true; it’s just a selfie where everyone pretends to feel joy they don’t actually feel.

We certainly shouldn’t blame ourselves for how young people live today. It’s about understanding that this lifestyle has many limitations and does not stimulate personal development.

Klopp is gone and Guardiola is thinking about it

Jurgen Klopp has ended his time at Liverpool by bringing it back in recent years to achieve great results. Pep Guardiola after winning another Premier League has made it clear that he will probably stay only one more year at the helm of Manchester City. Klopp had said at the beginning that the fans would see exciting soccer and so it was while Guardiola applied and modified his ideas achieving unthinkable results such as among others the triplete.

Soccer wears out, winning every week wears out managing a high emotional team environment wears out. These coaches, every week, in addition to preparing tactically for the game must support and push the team to work hard, because less than this is not expected and is dangerous for the game on the field and the need to keep the team very united. That is why sport is alternative to war, the goal is to defeat the opponent, within the rules we strive to win and at the end we embrace each other

However, this exaggerated need to always be at one’s best as a person and collective over the years depletes one’s vital momentum toward soccer and one probably begins to get nauseous toward this kind of intensity, which is repeated the same every week. You can lose self-control as happened to Massimiliano Allegri or you leave for a while or do something else, no matter how much you are paid or leave like Spalletti because you think you have achieved a one-time goal.

Absolute level sport, it exhausts emotionally and probably Klopp and Guardiola have understood this. The former has just started this new path, the other is thinking about it.

How to change your attitude during a tennis match

Our daily lives are filled with instances where our performance is influenced by the moods and emotions we experience at those moments. The mood with which we approach challenging tasks does not always help to facilitate satisfactory performances. Sometimes, we may feel too angry to listen to someone whose ideas could be beneficial, or we may be pessimistic about our ability to perform well, or we may believe we are incapable, which leads us to approach a task with little conviction. How often do we think, “If I hadn’t felt that way, I would have done much better”? These are common thoughts that highlight the central role of emotions.

The same happens on the tennis court during a match… rackets slammed to the ground, self-criticism, thinking you’ll never play another match, getting angry at an opponent who wastes time, or blaming fate for your missed shots are reactions we have all experienced.

A useful way to improve your awareness regarding the influence of emotions in tennis is to reflect on:

  • The best matches you’ve played, focusing on the actions taken to make them possible and the emotions you felt. This way, you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they influence your way of playing.
  • The first games of the match, identifying the predominant moods and thoughts. Am I happy or do I wish I were different? What emotions and thoughts could improve the effectiveness of my game at the start of the match?

On the other hand, it is important to avoid pessimistic explanations that lead to not changing and accepting your game fatalistically, assuming thoughts like: “I’ve always made these mistakes and have never been able to change,” or “I’ve always been a nervous person, getting easily angry as soon as I start making mistakes, and I can’t change now after a lifetime of playing this way.”

It might also be true that you have tried to change without achieving a satisfactory result, convincing yourself that improvement is not possible. In almost all cases, however, these attempts at change were conducted incorrectly, without following an improvement system. Often, people try to change a behavior (e.g., getting angry after a mistake) by telling themselves not to do it (“Don’t get angry”). Usually, the effect of this action is to continue feeling angry. Everyone has heard from their tennis coach that to calm down and recover, you should take a deep breath; you follow this advice, but often it doesn’t work, leading you to believe that deep breathing is useless.

Where did these tennis players, who tried to respond to difficulties, go wrong?

The first case highlights that you don’t change simply by telling yourself “not to do something,” otherwise our changes would be implemented through phrases: you’re angry, just say “don’t be angry,” you’re agitated, say you don’t want to be agitated, you’re distracted, say you don’t want to be, and so on. Telling yourself phrases is useless if you don’t also address the emotions.

The second case is very typical in sports, because many athletes don’t know how to perform a deep breath correctly, and when they try, they inhale little air, perhaps in jerks, and exhale it too quickly, making their breath more like a sigh or a huff. For this reason, it is ineffective. On the contrary, everyone can learn to take a deep breath, but first, they must practice doing it correctly; its effectiveness must be tested in training and only then performed in a match. At that point, there is no doubt it will help reduce emotional tension. For training in these skills, you should consult a sports psychologist.

How to manage the competitive stress

The events of high-level sports highlight the necessity of managing stress. The stress of Massimiliano Allegri, the mental fatigue of Atalanta, the stress of those still needing to qualify for the Olympics, and the teams across various disciplines playing in playoffs are just a few examples.

The stress from difficult, long seasons in highly competitive environments generates all kinds of psychological difficulties that athletes must learn to overcome to continue their journeys successfully. It might seem trivial to emphasize the importance of psychological recovery; of course, it is not, but this practice is not as widespread among athletes as it should be.

I would say that relaxation and visualization should be two techniques integrated into an athlete’s daily life. It should be noted that relaxation leads to:

  • Better physical recovery
  • Better sleep
  • Freer and less stressful thoughts
  • Greater ability to distance oneself from daily events
  • Ability to recover quickly from stressful situations

Imagination, on the other hand, leads to:

  • Ability to immerse oneself in competitive situations
  • Better ability to focus on the present
  • Ability to stop thoughts that hinder performance
  • Better contact and awareness of one’s emotional states
  • Ability to shift from thoughts/emotions that hinder performance to those that enhance it

In essence, anyone experiencing significant and meaningful competitive situations should train psychologically in this way to avoid the risk of suffering from stress without having acquired the skills to reduce it. Unfortunately, many athletes still do not understand the value of this type of training. This often happens due to superficiality, closed-mindedness, fear of staying in touch with themselves, superficiality, and the presumption of already knowing how to handle it on their own.

Max Allegri ‘s anger

Negative moments of anger can occur in a coach’s life, but they must be managed so as not to overwhelm one’s self-control. This seems to be what Massimiliano Allegri did not do during the last minutes of the Coppa Italia final and during the awards ceremony.

Losing self-control is a serious matter for anyone. It involves nearly canceling out any form of control usually present in interpersonal relationships and acting solely on emotional pressure, which blocks every logical and rational thought in the mind. Being enthusiastic or being angry are two extremes of the same continuum, one positive and the other negative, representing two different ways of investing the physical and mental energy available.

In both cases, emotions took over rational thought, which in these moments amplifies with words what the moods represent at that time. One can act in this way during the game to draw attention to oneself, to relieve pressure from one’s team, and to intimidate the referee.

Allegri is a winning coach, so it is even more surprising that he would indulge in these outbursts of anger. Whatever shortcomings he may have observed in the club’s management, he has nonetheless achieved the goals that were set for him. This would have been the response to counter criticism, not verbal violence and uncontrolled gestures.

However, history cannot be undone, and we will see in the coming days what kind of actions Allegri and those who were the object of his reactions will take.

Sport and peace

The loneliness curve

Loneliness in adulthood follows a U-shaped pattern: it’s higher in younger and older adulthood, and lowest during middle adulthood, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined nine longitudinal studies from around the world.

The study also identified several risk factors for heightened loneliness across the whole lifespan, including social isolation, sex, education and physical impairment.

“What was striking was how consistent the uptick in loneliness is in older adulthood,” said corresponding author Eileen Graham, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “There’s a wealth of evidence that loneliness is related to poorer health, so we wanted to better understand who is lonely and why people are becoming lonelier as they age out of midlife so we can hopefully start finding ways to mitigate it.”

Lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily, according to the office of the U.S. Surgeon General, who one year ago called for action to address America’s loneliness epidemic. Graham said her findings underscore the need for targeted interventions to reduce social disparities throughout adulthood to hopefully reduce levels of loneliness, especially among older adults.

Perhaps one day general practitioners could assess levels of loneliness during regular wellness visits to help identify those who might be most at risk, Graham said.

Engaging in self-development

You cannot become a responsible, autonomous adult or a winning athlete if you always have to obey someone, even if it is your boss or your best coach.

Those who live this way become dependent on the choices of others, who tell them how to do it. It is a cage one has put oneself in, and although comfortable because one can always blame others for one’s mistakes, it limits personal development.

One must strive, study, work or compete, for oneself/and not to fulfill the ambitions of others. One must learn to apologize only when one does not give 100% effort and not for the mistakes one makes.

We need to learn that anxiety is a demonstration of the importance we give to what we are going to do, so we use this energy to do our best and not to scare ourselves. Let’s use the breath to reduce tension and recover, let’s shift the energy into always encouraging ourselves, let’s put an idea in our heads and go for it.

We will not always get the best result, as so many factors can interfere along this path but we will always have acted to our best, which is all that matters.

Any athlete would like to win every race, but it is not possible. We have to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves time to learn from mistakes and defeats, because they show us the way to improve.

To learn from mistakes: a very demanding change

Wanting to learn from mistakes is a positive and necessary desire, but it’s also truly challenging to put into practice. A first obstacle lies in maintaining this motivation continuously during the competitive season.

A second aspect concerns maintaining it even when the athlete feels prepared and fit and would expect to perform at their best because of this condition. Forgetting that the environment of the competition, the opponent, and the importance of the competitions are other factors that influence how they will compete.

A third aspect, closely related to the previous one, lies in the presumption of thinking that since one is in good shape, it will be assumed that they will make few mistakes and everything will go well. Being surprised if this doesn’t happen. Thinking about winning rather than thinking about how to play at one’s best is considered to be a performance killer.

A fourth aspect refers to the emotional component triggered by the mistake. The athlete knows the reasons for the mistake and would know how to change, but they allow themselves to be dominated by the frustration of the mistake and emotions of anger, disappointment, or guilt instead of encouraging themselves. In this way, even if they think correctly, the negative mood towards themselves prevents them from effectively implementing their choice.

Mental training should focus on teaching the young athlete to overcome these negative mental states, stimulate constant forms of encouragement, and develop a positive self-dialogue.

Commemorate the Great Torino