The commitment

Commitment: Individual willingness to make sacrifices in other areas of one’s life in order to succeed in sports.

  • Assess your level of involvement in achieving your sports goals.
  • Think about what you have done in the past year to improve in sports and how committed you have been to achieving these goals. The changes to consider may involve technical, physical, and psychological aspects. Make a ranking from the most significant to the least significant, identifying the results achieved for each.
  • If you feel little/moderately involved in what you do, ask yourself why you are in this situation: identify what you have done yourself to put yourself in this situation and what you want to do differently to increase your motivation.
  • Think about how you reacted to criticism from your coach or to a mistake. Has your commitment remained constant or even greater, or have you become depressed or more aggressive?
  • Think about the moments when you faced difficulties, what did you tell yourself and what did you do to keep your motivation high? Remember these attitudes because they are extremely important assets for you to use in difficult situations to sustain your commitment and desire for success.

How to improve your-self

Self-improvement orientation: Desire to be constantly engaged in a process of continuous improvement, perceived as the main process to achieve company goals.

  • Identify 3 strengths and 3 areas for improvement. List situations that highlight your strengths and those that stimulate the manifestation of your weaknesses.
  • Think about how you react to mistakes: do you prefer that nobody notices them, or do you see them as excellent opportunities for improvement? Write down 5 reasons why improving is important to you.
  • Observe other athletes, see how they behave, how they relate to the coach, how they handle mistakes. Identify what you can learn from them.
  • Talk to your coach and discuss your future development as an athlete with him/her.
  • Prepare a list of goals you want to achieve in the near future. Beside each, list the skills they require and establish, on a scale from 1 to 5, to what extent you possess them.
  • Analyze the most important situations you have faced in the last few months and think about how you could have approached them differently.

The manager: if the team loses you are fired

These last matches of the Champions League and the comments appearing in the media have highlighted very clearly the current limitations of Italian football. Attention is focused on the style of play, the quality of the players, the money it all costs, and the analyses are often merciless towards Serie A. Football is a complex phenomenon that requires many different professional skills to integrate in managing and developing a team. Among the many factors that contribute to determining the value of a team, I would like to focus on the coaches. Criticizing them is rather easy because their judgment depends on the team’s results. As we all know, they are the first to be sacked when the results don’t meet the club’s expectations. In this ongoing season, a record of 14 coaching changes out of 20 teams has been reached. Only the Spanish La Liga follows closely with 13 sackings, while in Germany there have been 8 and in England 5.

Football is a high-risk sport where defeats are not accepted, representing a high level of stress for coaches. While on one hand, coaches in professional teams are well remunerated, on the other hand, it’s not easy to live in this condition of uncertainty even if it’s a choice they made. It can be said that incoming coaches find themselves having to deal with an emergency situation; they must heal the patient, the team, quickly and at any cost. There are few coaches who can afford to wait for the right call and take the time they desire to wait for the team that meets their needs; the majority, instead, must be ready to dive into the fray and work tirelessly to quickly find a solution and naturally show satisfaction for the opportunity offered. All of this is well paid, but to my knowledge, I have not seen in-depth analysis on this human condition from their organization or individual clubs.

It seems to me that the value of the human side of football has been lost at the expense of a one-dimensional conception of football where you either win or you’re nothing.

Autism, isolation, sense of belonging and school

Yesterday, the World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated, a disorder that affects many children and future adults, still constituting a factor of poor integration and inclusion in the social environment, not to mention that inclusion in the workforce is still marginal. Overall, there are still many negative news, and families experience daily the responsibility of their children’s development with limited support from the national healthcare system and the school. On a positive note, there is a network of associations often founded by parents with autistic children that respond to some of their many needs, ranging from therapeutic paths to sports programs and others.

In our small way, we at the Integrated Soccer Academy also participate in providing resources to these young people and their families. Our aim, through teaching soccer, is to reduce loneliness by building a community among parents and sports, and to promote a sense of belonging through soccer: This happens in various ways, including the “Classmates” project, which involves inviting some classmates to play soccer together on certain days of the school year. These are days of sports and celebration in which teachers also participate, and during this activity, young people with autism present themselves to others in a different, more capable way, and more satisfying for them compared to what is shown in school life.

We are aware that these experiences should be more frequent, but in any case, they highlight the qualities and learning of young people with autism that teachers and classmates do not see during school hours.

These activities, properly organized, could also be carried out in schools where they are usually absent. These experiences indicate the possible paths that could be taken to achieve inclusion in schools in practice. Regarding sports, sports clubs like ours show how this could happen. The School, in Italy, as a whole is not ready to change to make experiences like this “Classmates” project daily, so inclusion continues to be dependent on the goodwill of teachers and school administrators.

Rules for educating children to autonomy

Based on the problems that young people show it becomes necessary to offer practical ways for parents to educate their children. In any case, the main goal that parents will have to fulfill concerns the need not to abandon their educational task. Too often we see parents abdicating this role in the hope that satisfying every desire is the best way to raise them. They hide behind the idea that giving everything to them is the way to be heard and to foster trust.

In this way, young people grow up convinced that in life it will be enough to ask to get and that there will always be someone who will solve for them the problems they encounter. This blocks the development of autonomy, which can only occur when given the opportunity to make decisions and test their effects.

In this regard, Jonathan Haidt provides some advice that I fully agree with:

  • Give children far more time playing with other children. This play should ideally be outdoors, in mixed age groups, with little or no adult supervision (which is the way most parents grew up, at least until the 1980s).
  • Look for more ways to embed children in stable real-world communities.  Online networks are not nearly as binding or satisfying.
  • Don’t give a smartphone as the first phone. Give a phone or watch that is specialized for communication, not for internet-based apps.
  • Don’t give a smartphone until high school.  This is easy to do, if many of your child’s friends’ parents are doing the same thing.
  • Delay the opening of accounts on nearly all social media platforms until the beginning of high school (at least). This will become easier to do if we can support legislators who are trying to raise the age of “internet adulthood” from today’s 13 (with no verification) to 16 (with mandatory age verification).

The anxious generation

In the summer of 2022, I was working on a book project — Life After Babel: Adapting to a world we can no longer share — about how smartphones and social media rewired many societies in the 2010s, creating conditions that amplify the long-known weaknesses of democracy. The first chapter was about the impact of social media on kids, who were the “canaries in the coal mine,” revealing early signs that something was going wrong. When adolescents’ social lives moved onto smartphones and social media platforms, anxiety and depression surged among them. The rest of the book was going to focus on what social media had done to liberal democracies.

I quickly realized that the rapid decline of adolescent mental health could not be explained in one chapter—it needed a book of its own. So, The Anxious Generation is Volume 1, in a sense, of the larger Babel project. The book will be published March 26, 2024.

I begin The Anxious Generation by examining adolescent mental health trends. What happened to young people in the early 2010s that triggered the surge of anxiety and depression around 2012?

Percent of U.S. undergraduates with different mental illness, 2008-2019

What happened to young people in the early 2010s? 

The Anxious Generation offers an explanation by telling two stories. The first is about the decline of the play-based childhood, which began in the 1980s and accelerated in the ‘90s. All mammals need free play, and lots of it, to wire up their brains during childhood to prepare them for adulthood. But many parents in Anglo countries began to reduce children’s access to unsupervised outdoor free play out of media-fueled fears for their safety, even though the “real world” was becoming increasingly safe in the 1990s. The loss of free play and the rise of continual adult supervision deprived children of what they needed most to overcome the normal fears and anxieties of childhood: the chance to explore, test and expand their limits, build close friendships through shared adventure, and learn how to judge risks for themselves.

The second story is about the rise of the phone-based childhood, which began in the late 2000s and accelerated in the early 2010s. This was precisely the period during which adolescents traded in their flip phones for smartphones, which were loaded with social media platforms supported by the new high-speed internet and unlimited data plans.

The confluence of these two stories in the years between 2010 and 2015 is what I call the “Great Rewiring of Childhood.” Few of us understood what was happening in children’s virtual worlds and we lacked the knowledge to protect them from tech companies that had designed their products to be addictive.

For this reason, we ended up overprotecting children in the real world while underprotecting them in the virtual world.

Daniel Kanheman died at the age of 90

Daniel Kahneman was a psychologist who paved the way for theories of economic behavior. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, along with Vernon Smith, “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.” He passed away at the age of 90.

He demonstrated that violations of economic rationality are not episodic but systematic. In this regard, he stated:

“The classical theory of choice sets a series of conditions of rationality that are perhaps necessary but hardly sufficient: they, in fact, allow us to define as rational many choices that are clearly foolish” (Kahneman 1994, p. 23). “No one has ever seriously believed that all human beings always hold rational beliefs and invariably make rational decisions. The principle of rationality is generally understood as an approximation, based on the belief (or hope) that deviations from rationality become rare when the stakes are high or tend to disappear altogether under the discipline of the market” (Kahneman 2003, p. 87).

It’s very difficult for champions to agree to retire

To give an explanation for why many champions do not retire come an age when this would seem to be the best decision, and here the thought goes to 37-year-old Novak Djokovic, an article in The Guardian cites the story of Archie Moore (1916-1998), world light heavyweight champion and one of the longest-lived boxers, happily married and father of two daughters. When he was 47 years old and still world championship, he said:

“I’m still the old mongoose in there trying to outwit and outhit the younger guys,” he said. “I’m like the drunk in the bar who wants one more for the road. I want one more knockout to add to my record and then just one more after that. Some people say it’s great when a man retires undefeated. But a champion should fight to the finish and go out with his hands cocked just as he came in. It’s the proper exit and I think it may be mine.”

He fought for three more years and retired at age 50 with 186 wins.

Djokovic is aware of what is happening to him and is trying the coaching change card, perhaps to find new stimulation, what does not detract from the fact that his thinking today is quite clear and his decision will depend on how well he can accept this inevitable decline and the sadness it entails:

“We all know that those moments will come for all of us,” he said. “But when they actually come, and when you actually understand that that’s it – that Roger finished his career, Rafa and I are probably not going to play much more, it’s kind of one era comes to an end and it’s sad.”

Timing is relevant in so many sports

Often one fails because they do the right thing at the wrong time. It means possessing the execution technique but at the same time highlighting the inability to choose the timing of execution. Closed skills (penalties, free throws, serves) rely on having the right timing. For some sports, if one doesn’t possess it, they never achieve a dignified result. Sometimes it’s said, “they never get it right” when they should wait they go, and vice versa, when they should shoot they pass, when they should maintain a certain rhythm they slow down or speed up.

Shooting in flight proposes at least three different types of timing: what to do while waiting between shots, the timing of shot preparation, and finally the shooting time. How many train themselves being aware of these three phases? When they make a mistake, to which of these three factors do they attribute the cause?

Those who engage in sports that require this kind of mental approach should reflect on these themes.

Taiwan mental training workshop

These days I am in Taiwan working with the national shooting and volleyball team in preparation for this summer’s Olympics in Paris. At the same time I also conducted two days of workshops with coaches and sports psychologists. As always in these situations what is appreciated is not so much the explanation of psychological theories but the ability to illustrate how a mental preparation program is organized and conducted. There were many questions about how one works to prepare for major international events and how one handles pressure in the most important moments of a competition, especially finals. Another focal point was also regarding the practice of psychological preparation during each training session and how this should be carried over into competition.

備戰2024巴黎奧運會 射擊運動心理工作坊。國家運動科學中心提供
國家運動科學中心執行長黃啟煌義大利籍運動心理教授Alberto Cei 。國家運動科學中心提供