The fundamentals of the mental training

It is important for a coach and psychologist to understand the basis of the psychological training.

It’s about answering the question of what aspects are the basis for mental improvement in young people. I would say that from the age of 14, one can introduce an activity centered essentially on mental education for sports. The purpose is twofold. Those who will continue in their development as athletes will begin to develop the mental skills they will need, while those who will not follow this specialized path will have had the opportunity to learn skills that will be useful to them forever.

With this approach we are always in the area of teaching what it is necessary to learn, from the mental point of view, to learn to compete effectively or successfully overcome challenging situations (even non-sporting).

  1. Self-control - to improve it you can start by learning to take deep breaths, it predisposes to reduce physical and mental tension, increases the concentration on training tasks and the use of visualization.
  2. Proprioceptive awareness - Essential for an athlete to know how to move, what are the sensations to be perceived, for example during the warm-up, to know if how I think I’m moving corresponds to how I’m really moving.
  3. Talking to yourself - you have to learn to talk to yourself in a way that is helpful and encouraging, in every training and competition situation. This is simple to understand but difficult to practice if you don’t live in an environment geared in this direction.
  4. Be task-oriented - We need to embrace the concept that “we improve through our efforts”, so the feedback I give to myself should relate first to the quality of effort and only after the result.
  5. Visualize the sports actions - the mental repetition of sport technique and tactics is indispensable in each part of the training process, for beginners as well as for experienced athletes.

These, in my opinion, are the main skills to be developed in young athletes at the beginning of the training process.

10 rules to build the confidence

Confidence builders

  1. Plan successes on daily base
  2. Live with positive people
  3. Stay focused on what you can do
  4. Ask yourself to destroy your fears
  5. Build an optimistic assessment of you bad performances
  6. Be your most important fan
  7. Try harder and persist longer under adversity
  8. Assess your performances with the mindset to do better next time
  9. Be excited about your present and future
  10. Practice daily self-control

North American sport psychology pioneers

Gloria Balague, Daniel Gould and Glyn Roberts (2020) North American sport psychology pioneers. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 51, 456-479.

Article of great relevance for those who want to understand the development of sport psychology, written by three leaders of this development in the last 40 years.

Our review of sport psychology in North America provides a context for helping us understand where we are in the field today. First, sport psychology has a long history with individuals from both the field of psychology and phys- ical education/kinesiology making strong contributions. Moving forward it is best to look at the benefits those trained in each area bring to the sport psy- chology and not fall prey to arguing about whose training is the best. Second, both researchers and practitioners have helped advance the field to where it is today. Researchers and practitioners must respect each other’s contributions and work together adopting a research to practice and practice to research orientation. Third, pioneers who made the largest contributions to sport psy- chology devoted significant portions, if not all of their time to the field and worked consistently across time. Fourth, while there were true pioneers who helped move the field forward, we should be careful not to fall prey to the great man or women approach to history. The field really took off in North America when large numbers of researchers, teachers and consultants started working in the field forward, often with some anonymity. Finally, the field has been and will be influenced by larger social and cultural events such as eco- nomic downturns, wars and pandemics as well as changes in educational and sport organizations (e.g., emphasis placed on grants at major universities, Safe sport legislation to protect youth from sexual predators). Those specializing in the field in the future must discover how to keep in mind the values and lessons learned from the pioneers that have allowed for growth while also adapting to these larger cultural and institutional changes.

The training characteristics

The factors that make up training.

  1. Duration - you need to practice for a long time in order for your body and mind to adapt effectively to the effort to do.
  2. Intensity - it reveals the desire to tackle challenging tasks and react immediately to mistakes.
  3. Frequency - you must repeat, repeat, repeat and then repeat again. For how long? Long enough.
  4. Recovery - you must know how to rest physically and mentally. You can’t just spend.
  5. Thinking - you must think to evaluate the work being done. To learn to appreciate yourself, be grateful to those who teach you.                          Understand how you can do better next time.

How to learn to improve

Learning to compete is one of the stages of an athlete’s development.

One must train to compete. One learns to ride a bike by riding a bike. One learns to write by writing.

In other words, you learn by practicing doing something, which in our case is the competition. Only the exercise, motivated (for those who do it) and intelligent (for those who propose it, the coach) allows one to achieve excellence. We all possess the ability to practice, let’s use it.

After the exercise, we need to develop the capacity for self-analysis. This involves a meeting with oneself after the competition is over to ask oneself:

  • What skills did I use today?
  • What limits have I overcome?
  • What limits do I still need to overcome?
  • How am I better?

Following this approach is learning how to compete.

Are you competitive

A misunderstanding of which many athletes are victims is in justifying their performance in this way: “I lost but I played well”.

Some time ago, talking with a sailing athlete, I heard him say: “I got off to a good start, the others got off to a better start, but I can’t say I got off to a bad start”.

Agreed but this is a wrong attitude, in this case the question is not so much in the interpretation – to start well or badly – the goal must be to start in front, to compete from the beginning with your opponents for this purpose. To me, any other goal is wrong.

As Martin Seligman reminds us, when we say others were better than us, we are giving a global assessment. If that were true, we might as well quit the race, because they are better.

We need to train the competitiveness of our athletes, following what Rod Laver says: “Never let anyone think that it’s easy to score points with you.”

Let’s continue this in-depth …

How too we teach to compete?

Learning to compete is one of the stages of an athlete’s development.

So the question is, “How much time do we spend in training to develop this skill?” but also “How do we use the results of competitions to improve this aspect?”

This is a question that coaches and psychologists must ask themselves if they want to participate effectively in this process of improving the youth they coach.

These are questions that go beyond the technical-tactical learnings and those of the psychological techniques that young people have learned. They may have learned a lot but not be able to put them into practice during a competition.

They may be motivated and relatively confident people, who train with pleasure and effectiveness, have no particular conflicts with their coaches and listen to them … but that is not enough. At the absolute level, there are world champion athletes who have never made it into an Olympic final.

Think about it … then we’ll try to hypothesize answers.

Imagery in the pitch

To improve we need time

I am often asked by coaches, managers and athletes at the end of their careers to offer them a path to self-development.
Most of the time people have a very general idea of what is meant by self-development. Therefore, the identification and structuring of improvement goals is already a significant part of this work on oneself.

In this initial phase, another equally essential aspect should be clarified, one that is often overlooked and of which there is no full awareness: time.

It means talking about the time it will take to achieve the desired effects, learning to use them and then internalizing the concept of continuous improvement, therefore, of a process of improvement that will never have a conclusion. Awareness of the time required is important because people think that it is enough to understand to immediately put the desired behavior into action. They don’t know or don’t want to recognize that the change required must fit into their daily reality and must take into account the reactions of others, their motivations and expectations. Consequently, providing them with a time dimension helps them to become aware of the difficulties typical of human relationships and how much application is needed to achieve their goals.

Below is a time table that can serve to understand the coaching path within which one should insert oneself and its various phases.

Home advantage remains in football matches played without spectators

Wunderlich F, Weigelt M, Rein R, Memmert D (2021) How does spectator presence affect football? Home advantage remains in European top-class football matches played without spectators during the COVID-19 pandemicPLoS ONE 16(3): e0248590.

We are used to thinking that spectators are the main reason for the advantage of playing home games. This research highlights that the effect of the lack of spectators due to the pandemic is less than we would expect.

More than 1,000 professional games played without spectators and more than 35,000 games with spectators before the pandemic in top soccer leagues in six countries -Spain, England, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Turkey- during the 2010/11 to 2019/20 seasons were analyzed.
The absence of spectators resulted in a slight decrease in home advantage, as measured by the number of goals and points scored. The difference is not statistically significant.

Over the last 10 seasons, with spectators, home teams won 45%, away teams won 28% while 27% were tied.
During the pandemic, home teams won 43% of games, away teams won 32% and ties were 25%.

Overall, the study highlights the role of other factors behind the “home advantage” phenomenon, such as a team’s familiarity with its facility, as well as defense of its territory.

Travel fatigue was advanced as an explanation, but a separate analysis was conducted that examined differences in outcomes before and during the pandemic among German amateur teams, which generally play within the same city, ande found that home advantage was comparable to professional teams that travel much farther.

While the teams did not suffer much in their overall results, there were a few aspects that declined significantly. Home teams experienced a statistically significant decrease in measures of game dominance assessed in the number of shots.
Additionally, home teams received fewer disciplinary sanctions than away teams.