Monthly Archive for May, 2022

Are you confident in your skills to compete?

In sports, one thought of athletes that demonstrates their lack of confidence is when they say that their opponent is stronger, and in this way, before the competition they are already preparing to explain why they lost: “he is stronger.” If they then find a sports and family environment that justifies them saying in turn, “She was just unlucky to compete with such a superior opponent.”

Logically speaking, these are unjustifiable arguments, profiling a victim and an executioner and not a competition between two athletes.

Rankings are an artifice to identify one’s position within one’s sport. It is certainly true that the best athletes are positioned at the top of the rankings. However, it is also true that in any competition it is the field that defines the best. Those who dwell on ranking are likely to lose if they are not the best. Those, on the other hand, who attach importance to the competition are more likely to play their best, thus clearly increasing their chance of winning.

Which side do you want to be on?

Managing emotions is an essential learning

I have always thought that the main skill a person must possess concerns the control of the emotions. A self-control that is positive and does not generate further mental and physical tensions. To achieve this goal I oriented my life to the study of emotions, so much so that at the age of 24 I gave my first seminar at university precisely on the psychophysiology of emotions. At the same time I had begun a long psychotherapeutic journey that lasted 7 years. And at the same time after conducting an experimental thesis on hypnotic age regression, I learned the exercises of autogenic training and meditation, which many years later I continue to practice.

Much of the work I do with athletes is based on these issues and educating them to manage the stresses of their daily lives. Today, in my opinion, there is a tendency to trivialize this work on self. The worst thing is to think that it is about learning how to do exercises, as if meditation or concentration were achieved simply by learning psychological techniques.

They are not. These are teachings that must be experienced as profound existential changes if they are to be useful in improving athletes’ sports lives. Sun Tzu wrote a phrase that I really like and that sums up well what I mean:

“Through order deal with disorder; through silence, deal with clamor: this is the method of controlling mental readiness. Turn distance into closeness; discomfort, into comfort; hunger, into satiety: this is the method of controlling vigor.”

Therefore, we need to search within ourselves for what is limiting us or bothering us or not allowing us to improve our competitive performances. If we have disorder in the mind, we must understand that we must seek order. Only at this point do psychological techniques intervene, as they are the tools we can use to achieve this goal. First, however, we must have understood what limits us. Often athletes do not like to compete on a particular field or against an opponent, or in certain competition situations they find themselves uncomfortable. With this understanding we must train ourselves to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

With this short blog I hope I have managed to explain what I mean by mental preparation for competition.

Carlo Ancelotti humility

There is a lot of talk these days about Carlo Ancelotti’s leadership style and how he and the team, Real Madrid, came to this additional Champions League success. They had not started well at the beginning of the year, losing to Sheriff but then along the way, as underdogs they defeated Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City and Liverpool. He himself said that he told the president of Real Madrid, almost jokingly, that they would win La Liga and the Champions League. However, that is precisely what happened. Paolo Condò on wrote that one explanation lies in the humility he showed by having the team play with a low defense against Liverpool, thus preventing the rushes the English team is famous for. Humility is certainly not a psychological dimension of leadership that is so well recognized and appreciated in sports, even more so when leading Real Madrid.

In fact, habitually traditional models of leadership place the leader at the top of the pyramid and demand that subordinates follow his directives. The leader who works in the service of the team, on the other hand, flips the pyramid and places himself at the base of the hierarchy. In such an environment, players are given clear job descriptions of their role, and the leader’s job is to “serve” or help them perform these tasks. This structure does not imply that the norms become permissive or that the leaders are the players. On the contrary, they are responsible for the effective execution of their roles. The end result, is a work environment in which relationships are cultivated, everyone is valued, standards are met, and team productivity is increased. Importantly, the intellectual humility, displayed by Ancelotti, is a way of maintaining one’s convictions with a studious attitude toward the next opponent and respect for players’ views. It also mitigates the negative effects of leader narcissism and promotes the commitment and active involvement of players.

Carlo Ancelotti is a coach who has won in every European team he has led, serving this approach centered on the involvement of the whole environment and to the care of interpersonal relationships. In doing so, he exalts and continually nurtures group values, understood as club principles and identity, team cohesion, and a sense of responsibility among players and staff. His key words are: educate, environment, spirit, responsibility, Club tradition, identity, relationships, work and compete.

This working style not new to him had already been well described 10 years ago in his book entitled “Il mio albero di Natale” (My Christmas Tree):

  1. Educating the team to pursue victory through offensive and creative play
  2. Foster the development of a positive work environment
  3. Building a strong team spirit by stimulating a high capacity for sacrifice and mutual commitment
  4. Fostering in each individual a sense of responsibility (evaluated on the basis of his or her actions and behaviors)
  5. Protect the tradition and principles of the club
  6. Working to provide continuity for the Club’s successes
  7. Compete for all major trophies
  8. Build a clear identity and style of play that takes into account the Club’s tradition
  9. Build good relationships among the various work teams



 (Photo by Akil Mazumder)

How many Italians are reading and who are they?

ISTAT data from 2020 help build a picture of the situation.

  1. Readership has been declining since 2010; in 2020 only 41.4% of the population has read at least one book in the past year.
  2. The female population shows a greater propensity to read as early as age 6: overall 47.1% of women, compared to 33.5%  of men, have read at least one book during the year.
  3. More young people between the ages of 11 and 14 (58.6%) read more than all other age groups.
  4. More women (46.4%) read than men (36.1%).
  5. The audience most fond of reading is girls aged 11 to 24 (more than 60% have read at least one book in the year). The share of female readers falls below the national average after age 60, while for males it is always less than 50 percent except for boys aged 11 to 14 years slightly higher.
  6. Reading is linked to educational level: 72.8% of college graduates read, 49.1% of high school graduates read, and only 26.8% among those with an elementary school diploma.
  7. Territorial gaps persist: fewer than one in three people read in the southern regions (29.2%), while those in the northeast reach the highest percentage (44.3%) and 48.5 in the northwest and 44.3% in the center.
  8. Less than half of the readers (44.6%) say they have read at most three books in the 12 months prior to the interview; these are the so-called “weak readers” among whom are just under half of male readers (48.5%) and people between the ages of 11 and 14 (47.2%). 15.2% count themselves among “strong readers” (with at least 12 books read in the past year). Women’s greater propensity to read is also found in the intensity of reading: 16.7% say they read an average of one book per month compared to 13.3% of men.
  9. In 2016, about one in ten households had no books at all in the home, a figure that has now been constant for almost two decades.
  10. Among those with both parents who are readers, 78.1% of 6-18 year olds read; it stands at 64.5% if it is only the mother who has the reading habit and 63.8% if it is only the father. In contrast, the share of 6-18 year olds reading drops to 36.3% if both parents are not book readers.

Remember the reasons to read

“If you want your children to be smart, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be smarter, read them more fairy tales” (Albert Einstein).

Reading helps the brain retain information and also trains cognitive skills: it improves attentional skills and concentration. Nowadays, the speed with which technology-related stimuli reach our brains, the numerous inputs even in parallel, the absence of the concept and the ability to wait at the expense of immediacy, are going to erode our attentional skills, which are drastically reducing and adapting to the increasingly smart environment we live in. Reading can be an activity that helps to counteract or contain this process. In an age when we are increasingly “forgetful” as we delegate all our memories and everything we should not forget to our cell phones, reading helps to foster memory-related processes, to remember and recall content we have acquired through reading and to learn new vocabulary.

Reading also improves our emotional intelligence: it helps to understand that there is another who is different from us and develops or increases the ability to empathize with the other and to understand that there is more than just one’s own point of view. The reader then activates a mentalization process that leads him or her to understand the intentions, goals, emotions, and other mental states of the characters being narrated in the story. In effect, a narrated story is a set of representations of events and characters. Reading is also an activity that also enriches language property and narrative construction.

So many authors agree that reading for and with children is a fundamental practice not only for development but also for sharing emotions with parents, opinions, mutual interchange and teaching: it fosters the creation of an affective bond or its reinforcement. It does not mean that digital should be eliminated from the lives of children and adolescents, it means that inputs from technology activate different neural networks and therefore, in a world where technological development can no longer be ignored, we need to create a balance between the two. We should not forget that reading also trains brain functions that stimulate critical and reflective thinking and thus fosters autonomy from a psychological point of view.

One must also educate about reading

For these reasons, it is essential to educate about reading by getting children to experience the magic hidden in reading a book. One must read in the classroom, gradually bringing them to do so not out of school obligation but out of pleasure also of sharing with adults and peers. To stimulate adolescents, on the other hand, it is important to intrigue them, they love to read and this is demonstrated for example by the virality that books-and often the respective streaming series-acquire in which they see themselves and recognize themselves.

The problem is that today even many adults no longer set a good example because they relegate reading to a more marginal or secondary activity compared to all their other commitments: there is too much of a hurry and too little time to devote to a book, forgetting that for children the example of words is more important.

Nadal mindset

Nadal Mindset 

1 “Losing is not my enemy, fear of losing is my enemy” .

2. “Success is not winning, but everything you have fought for.”

3. “I admire the mindset in sports more than the physical aspect because physical performance is much easier to practice than mental.”

4. “Things don’t change on their own, you have to make them change.”

5. “When you want something with enough intensity, no sacrifice is too great.”

6. “You work mentally when you go out on the court every day and don’t complain. When you play badly you have problems or suffer…. You put on the right attitude, the right face and don’t feel negative despite problems that are happening to you.”

7. “Family is very important, they make me feel good every day, because if I won, when I started to become famous, the relationship with my friends and family did not change.”

8. “Sustaining means accepting. Accept things as they are and not as you would like them to be, and then look forward, not backward.”

9. “There are times when things are going well and others when things are not so good. Defeat and victory are part of our lives. We live with them on a daily basis, and we have to accept both equally.”

10. “Realizing what you have dreamed of makes you happy, but more importantly it makes you happy to remember the effort.

(From Lluis Crespo Casado)

Why we need to read the book

April 23 is the date chosen by UNESCO to celebrate the book, in fact it coincides with the day of death in 1616 of three writers who are pillars of universal culture: Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and the Spanish poet Garciloso de la Vega.

“He who reads will have lived 5,000 years: he was there when Cain killed Abel, when Renzo married Lucia, when Leopardi admired the infinite … because reading is a backward immortality.”

So wrote Umberto Eco, and it is a sentence that encapsulates the meaning of reading. Because reading means entering into the lives of others, empathizing, discovering and knowing. To laugh and cry through the eyes of those characters who lived in another era, in another world. But it also means finding oneself and recognizing oneself in stories and tales. Above all, it means knowing and learning.

Susanna Tamaro wrote.

“Reading, after all, means nothing more than creating a small garden within our memory. Each book brings a few elements, a flowerbed, an avenue, a bench on which to rest when we are tired. Year after year, reading after reading, the garden turns into a park, and in this park, someone else may happen to be there.”

Each year a world capital is designated to this day. This year the choice fell on a Malaysian city, Kuala Lampur, which has made a strong commitment to making culture a commodity for all citizens, as accessible as clean water.

The health emergency, restrictions and lockdown encouraged even more reading. So many books were taken from the shelves and re-read on those days when everyone was forced to stay home. So many paper books and so many digital ones. According to the data, paper books still remain, however, the ones preferred by Italians, who for 89.83 percent prefer them to ebooks.

Being able to flip through the pages of a text, underline or simply smell the paper for many, gives more incentive to read. The indispensable scent of paper and the pleasure in physically flipping through pages are themselves integral parts of the act of reading.

“Reading a lot is one of the paths that lead to originality; one is the more original and peculiar the more he knows what others have said.” (Miguel de Unamuno)

Iga Swiatek mindset

Iga Swiatek, tennis No. 1, 20 yrs, undefeated since February, said:

“I remember a time when I was only able to focus for like 40 minutes and suddenly my head was like a pigeon … I was looking everywhere but where I should have been looking.”

We can consider this as the starting point from which she started to improve and become a champion.

It is very important for her not to burn out:“You have to remind yourself that you want to do this for many years on tour,”

Swiatek, a self-described perfectionist, and she and her team are aware that this attitude is certainly helpful but can also become very harmful. Perfection does not exist, and with this approach you risk blaming yourself for every mistake you make and destroying your tennis.

For this reason, she started working mentally with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, who follows her full-time, because sports psychology is most effective when applied during everyday life and not during visits to the Warsaw studio. “For me it is much, much easier to trust someone who is close to me all the time.”

An important goal is to maintain a work-life balance. For this reason, he has cut back on doubles matches and allows himself more time for tourism in the cities he visits.

His routine is his support system. “No matter how much storm there is going on around, there’s always an eye of the hurricane that has to be calm; this core that has to be always the same.”

He also uses visualization and breathing exercises, which he performs during changes with a towel over his head.

For her 20th birthday, her team gave her 20 books, all in Polish, and the topics of the 20 books vary widely: from books about talent to literary classics. “I feel weird sometimes when I don’t read for a few days … Because I feel like, Oh, that’s a signal I don’t have the balance in my life I should have.”

Swiatek analyzes defeats to learn from her mistakes. He insisted on also looking at victories to focus on his strengths. “This kind of attitude has helped me believe that I can be more aggressive on the court and take advantage of my strengths.”

The young motivation among fun, competence and competitiveness

All coaches are keenly aware of the close interaction between motivation and learning. However, motivation is a theoretical concept that cannot be directly observed and can only be hypothesized on the basis of athletes` behavior. In any case, knowledge of the motivational process is a crucial factor for any coach who wants to teach effectively.

The most important motivations recognized by young athletes are related to:

  1. competence (learning and improving their sports skills),
  2. fun (excitement, challenge and action)
  3. affiliation (being with friends and making new friends),
  4. team (being part of a group or team),
  5. competing (competing, succeeding, winning)
  6. physical fitness (feeling fit or feeling stronger)

Conversely, the main causes of decreasing motivation or quitting sports are attributed to: lack of fun, lack of success, competition stress, lack of parental support, misunderstandings with the coach, boredom, and sports accidents.

In summary, these are the three main needs that the athlete wants to satisfy through sports activity:

  1. to have fun, satisfies the need for stimulation and excitement;
  2. demonstrate competence, satisfies the need to acquire skills and feel self-determined in the activities performed; and
  3. to be with others, satisfies the need for affiliation with others and to be in a group.

With respect to the need for stimulation, it can be stated that:

  1. Success must be built by calibrating the program to be carried out with the athlete’s abilities and age.
  2. Training must be kept stimulating and varied.
  3. Every athlete must be active; athletes should not be allowed time to be bored.
  4. During training it is necessary to provide athletes with opportunities to perform challenging exercises.
  5. Athletes must be taught to identify realistic goals.
  6. During training, it is useful to establish times when athletes practice without being evaluated by the coach.

Regarding the need for competence, it is the task of the coach to stimulate both the child and the evolved player not only to learn specific sports techniques but, also, to develop a desire to progress and curiosity about themselves and the environment in which they act.

In this regard, the coach should remember that:

  1. Specific, difficult and challenging goals are more effective than specific but easy goals, goals defined in terms of do-your-best and non-goals.
  2. Athletes must possess a sufficient number of skills to achieve their goals.
  3. Goals are more effective when they are defined in behavioral, specific and quantitative terms than when they are defined vaguely.
  4. Intermediate goals must be defined and must interact with long-term goals.

As for the need for affiliation it is based on the need to belong to and be accepted by a group, thus establishing meaningful relationships with other team members. By satisfying the need for affiliation and esteem, the athlete experiences greater self-confidence and more control over situations that arise. In fact, every athlete and coach knows from experience that when there are communication problems between them, it is difficult to follow the training program that has been set.

The key points for meeting athletes’ need for affiliation and esteem can be summarized as follows:

  1. Listening to athletes’ requests.
  2. Understanding the expressed needs, orienting them within the annual training program.
  3. Establish the role of each athlete, setting realistic goals for each.
  4. Openly acknowledge the commitment placed in collaborating on group goals.
  5. Teach players to correct each other.
  6. Provide technical instruction and encourage personal commitment.
  7. Reduce competitive stress by reinforcing the importance of competing by doing one’s best and reducing the importance placed on the outcome.

In other words, the coach, in order to develop in his athletes i sense of belonging to that particular group, must show himself to be credible and consistent in his attitudes and behavior.

To be believable the coach must be honest with one’s athletes: young and old, experienced and inexperienced, starters and reserves. In this regard it is necessary to:

Share the technical program with the athletes, highlighting their skills and areas for improvement.

  1. Explain the reasons for techniques and strategies: they will be better remembered that way.
  2. Do not make promises, personally or indirectly, that you may not be able to keep.
  3. Answer questions with competence, sincerity, sensitivity.
  4. Avoid uttering phrases that might hurt the athlete’s esteem (e.g., “You will never be part of the top group). As an indication ask yourself, “If I were the athlete, would I want to hear this from the coach?”