Monthly Archive for November, 2021

Arsene Wenger mindset

Frenchman Arsene Wenger is the longest serving soccer manager in the English Premier League, having joined Arsenal Football Club in 1996. His intellectual ‘Le Professeur’ media tag has stuck, as has his love of a multicultural squad.

  1. Build the right environment for learning and the mindset, “… in soccer you do need special talent, but when a player passes the age of 20, what is in the mind is more important than the rest and that’s what makes a career … For me being a soccer manager is being a guide. A guide is someone who leads people somewhere … he has to identify what he wants … convince everybody else and try to get the best out of each individual.”
  2. Values such as multiculturalism, respect, honesty, fairness and trust are relevant.
  3.  Team solidarity: the emotional bond of going through something together can give individuals far more than just concentrating on themselves.
  4. Crucial age for young professionals when is between 19 and 22 yrs as “a period in your life when your ego is massive … the world turns around you – and that’s a normal development thing for a person. But at that age they believe that a leader has a big part to play to give this understanding that, OK, you are important but all together we are even more important.”
  5. “One of the difficulties in job is that  have 25 people who fight to play on Saturday and on Friday night [you] have 14 who are unemployed and [you] tell them on Monday, let’s start again you have another chance.”
  6. Emphasize an appropriate mental mindset by encouraging his players to have autonomy and look at their own standards off the field as much as on it.  Wenger constantly invites players to assess how they think they’re doing and then is keen to see how accurately they evaluate themselves.
  7. holistic approach with his squad is based on a commitment to working with emotions, identifying beliefs and motivations, and reinforcing players’ self-regulation.

What kind of coach are you? Differences among the sports

Do you teach to be independent or to be dependent on you?

British table tennis champion Matthew Syed describes great coaches as being “able to design practice so that feedback is embedded in the drill, leading to automatic readjustment, which in turn improves the quality of the feedback, generating further improvements, and so on.”

For example, Michael Johnson’s coach Clyde Hart introduced feedback into Johnson’s sessions by wiring a beeper through track speakers to give Johnson pace feedback in every session for 15 years. Like a metronome in music, it helped him to judge his rhythm and speed, enabling him to instantly judge his form at key checkpoints and refine his technique and tactics.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus illustrated this point when he said, “Jack Grout taught me from the start. He said I need to be responsible for my own swing and understand when I have problems on the golf course how I can correct those problems … myself without having to run back to somebody. And during the years that I was playing most of my competitive golf, I saw Jack Grout maybe once or twice a year for maybe an hour… But he taught me young the fundamentals of the game. He taught me how to assess what I was doing. When I made a mistake, when I was doing things, how do you on the golf course fix that without putting yourself out of a golf tournament and then teaching your- self” (Patterson and Lee, 2013).

In the same in soccer

Looking at professional coaches’ central role in soccer, a ‘traditional’ approach to coaching has also been described by a number of studies in English Premier League (EPL) soccer clubs. This ‘is characterized by a highly directed, autocratic and prescriptive approach to instruction’ with limited player independence (Cushion et al., 2012).

For example, when the amount of time EPL coaches spent on different tasks during practices was measured, some interesting results showed up. Instruction (60 percent) was by far the most common activity, proportionally followed by praise (15 percent), with observation (13 percent), occupying less time and far less time used for the coach asking questions (3 percent). The remaining nine percent of the time was made up by the coach managing and hustling the session along (Potrac et al., 2007).

This somewhat contradicts the lessons that Jack Nicklaus gleaned over the years about being able to think and work things out for himself. With 60 percent of the time being used for instruction-including feedback-it suggests too much information and talk in sessions. The overuse of praise could also be regarded as a sign of unspecific feedback that can dilute its motivational effects.

In a similar study of top-level football coaches in Norway, they employed silent observation two and a half times more than English coaches (37 percent as opposed to 15 percent). Encouraging individuals to work things out for themselves is one thing, but perhaps the real craft for team coaches is to set up situations in which groups can respond and fix problems.

(Source: Ben Oakley, 2015)

Do the coaches want to play a psychological role?

Often young athletes tell me that they don’t talk to their coach about their beliefs about sports and their fears.
Why does this happen?

  • Lack of time.
  • Not the responsibility of the coach.
  • Coaches don’t feel skilled in this area?
  • Their job is technical.
  • Listening to the youth would give a justification for their lack of commitment.

It would be interesting to know what coaches think about this.

How to assess the concentration during the match

Many soccer experts agree that there are certain specific moments in the game when a team’s concentration can be assessed.

“The key moments of a match are right before the end of the first half, right after the beginning of the second half and, depending on the result, even the last 10 minutes of the match. Right before the end of the first half because there might be an element of mental fatigue and not just physical fatigue as you have worked very hard for 40 minutes. If you concede a goal right before the end of the half, you won’t have time to recover it. You feel dejected becausé there is no chancè to come back. So it is a vital phase.

The beginning of the second half is also important. Looking at the England – Brazil game in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. If ever two goals were killers, these two were: one five before the end of the first half and the other five minutes after the start of the second half [1].”

It seems clear from these words that, while it is obvious that concentration must be maintained throughout the entirety of the match, it seems equally clear that there are certain key moments during the course of the 90 minutes when it is necessary to have a particularly effective level of attention. A critical moment for team concentration occurs after the first goal of the match has been scored. It is possible that the players feel somewhat fulfilled and thus reduce their level of concentration for a few minutes. This drop in concentration can be very costly if it is exploited by the opposing team. In fact, to exult in excessive way after a goal, can hinder the maintenance of the correct level of concentration. After the goal it is necessary instead to rifocalizzarsi immediately on the game, maintaining unchanged the desire of success and the same engagement. If, on the other hand, players continue to be complacent about their success or become distracted by the cheers of the fans, they are unlikely to succeed.

According to many coaches, an effective way to counteract this tendency is, at the resumption of the game, to strive to win immediately the first contrast, while those who lead the team on the field should encourage their teammates to have an aggressive behavior, such as to push the opponent team on the defensive instead of letting it attack. Acting in this way maintains a constant level of competitive intensity and sends the message to opponents that you are ready to continue to play your game. The psychological objective, which merges with that of the game, is not to give opponents the advantage of being able to recover thanks to the distraction of the team caused by the goal just scored.

[1] Ray Clemence, English coach, cited in Higham, A., Harwood, C., e Cale, A. (2005). Momentum in soccer: Controlling the game. Leeds: Coachwise Ltd., p. 96.

16th European Congress of Sport Psychology

Dear Sport Psychology friends, Pay attention for opportunity to submit your work in the next FEPSAC Congress (Padova/ITA – 2022).




You win or lose by “nothing”: how do you train it?

In sports the final score that distinguishes winners from losers is often very small. I’m not just referring to soccer where one team wins by the difference of one goal. It’s no coincidence that Mourinho says he is happier when his team wins 1-0 rather than 5-0, because that victory is synonymous with tenacity and concentration.

Sport teaches everyone a lot, because we lose by a point, by a handful of hundredths of a second, by an inch. In golf, the ball often misses the hole by a few millimeters, and the same is true in shooting, where Campriani explained to us that the difference between an 8 and a 10 is equivalent to three one-cent coins stacked on top of each other. In Al Pacino’s famous speech to the team in the locker room, in the movie Any Given Sunday, the coach states that we win or lose by an inch and that the sum of all the inches won or lost in a game will make the difference between living or dying.

This reasoning should certainly not distress you.

  1. It is the usual condition that all athletes face in competition; the conditions are the same for everyone.
  2. Sport requires extreme attention with the aim of encouraging the flow of one’s technical action and self-control.
  3. For how long? Until the end. Let’s forget that it is easier to maintain concentration if the race lasts a few seconds as in the 100m rather than two hours as in tennis. Tenacity is the necessary ingredient of a winning performance and is the result of the intensity with which you train and when you are oriented to react psychologically after a mistake.

Question: how much are your athletes trained in this and how much are you as coaches aware of the relevance and trainability of these three factors?

Event about sport and psychology

In Italy, public occasions to talk about sport psychology are infrequent and this initiative led by Patrizia Steca, Milano-Bicocca University, is one of those events when to talk about experiences of resilience and discovery of new practices. The meeting can be followed in presence but also online, as is now customary. It is, therefore, open to anyone interested in these issues regardless of their geographical location. The experts who will speak are totally involved in sport as professional coaches, psychologists and managers.

The pandemia has changed the work with the athletes

We are approaching the end of the second year since the start of the pandemic. The first lockdown began in March 2020, since that time consulting work has completely changed and to this day this change continues to be stable and has become, at least in my experience, the way we work.

Remote or online work has become, in fact, the dominant model with which to interact with athletes and coaches. Previously this type of experience I had experienced only in relation to the Rio Olympics where I had not gone but had kept in touch with athletes via WhatsApp or Skype.

So currently, 21 months into March 2020, the work I do is 80% online. It works: pretty well. It allows to follow athletes who could not have undertaken a mental coaching program because they reside in other cities.

The main limitation is the lack of in-person reporting, especially during training and competition. We live on the report of what has happened and, furthermore, not participating in the competitions, it is not possible to intervene when it would be necessary.

It seems to me that this is the most serious lack, the impossibility of working on the here-and-now, since one can only work on the before and after.

The Federations save money by reducing the costs of accommodation and travel and compensation of the professional who would be present at the competitions. It’s a somewhat blind way to set up a job but this is what happens.

Much more could be said and in this regard I am at the INSEP in Paris just to share the experiences of these years with a group of psychologists from around the world and to try to understand what to do better in anticipation of the next Olympics in Paris 2024 from which we are separated just over 900 days.

Athletes have continued to perform exceptionally well even though they have trained less and rested more due to the lockdown and lack of sporting events. This should make you think about the relevant role of recovery and the consequent fact that training more is not always productive.

Also, how often does the training duration of a session actually match the actual training time?

Moreover, it is the opinion shared by the European colleagues, here in France, that athletes have acquired in this period a better self-regulation, awareness and autonomy. Having had to manage long periods on their own, in the absence of the usual relationship with the coach and staff. They had more time to develop psychological skills, even different from the more traditional ones such as meditation and sleep management.

Thomas Tuchel’s winning thoughts

“For some days I felt different, I felt pretty good!” Thomas, Tuchel said on Chelsea winning the Champions League back in May.

“In the end, nothing is like winning. You can ask me, I reached the final with my team the season before and had the feeling it is a big achievement but not to do the last step is a huge difference when you realise what it means when you do it. The perception from outside, the joy, the experience, the confidence that your team gets by winning it.

“I experienced this for the first time, maybe in the academy, when we were able to win the German title with Under-19 of Mainz, I was in charge as the head coach. We had the feeling to be qualified for the semi-final and final was already a big achievement but when you win it and do the last step, there is nothing compared to it. It really changes something for everybody.

“The most important thing is not to look back but to keep the feeling and hunger. That feeling feeds and creates hunger for more, it is addictive. This game is about winning, it changes your feeling and the work atmosphere completely. It gives you natural confidence but at the same time it is absolutely necessary to forget it and start from scratch to show this hunger and mentality again. This is what I feel and demand from myself and everyone else around, that we don’t change in terms of hunger.”

“I don’t want to get into the situation where the fear of losing is bigger than the hunger to win, so we look too much at what we have achieved and want to protect what we have.”


Only a miracle can improve the coaching behaviors!

A little-investigated topic concerns the self-improvement process of coaches. While it is quite usual in companies for young talent rather than established managers to follow a program of self-improvement in relation to their leadership skills, this value is not perceived by coaches.

In fact, in companies, this type of work is perceived by the people involved as a benefit that the company provides.

In sports, this is not the case with both young and established coaches. It is a question of mentality and, I believe, of cultural and professional backwardness. The prevailing philosophy is: “I’m fine as I am”. In my opinion, the majority of coaches would not even participate in refresher courses if they were not required by their Federation.

They should be asked, “What do you do to improve yourselves when you are struggling with your team?” Many, in my opinion, believe that the technical competence they have acquired is sufficient to train well, or that problems arise with young people because they are not motivated and attentive to the work that is proposed to them.

I have not seen in recent years an improvement in the mentality of coaches, in fact the massive professionalization of technical skills to which they have been subjected has served to hide this problem, also complicit in the lack of interest of sports clubs and federations towards this issue.

We hope for a miracle.