Monthly Archive for February, 2023

The keys of the success

Sport consists of statistics which can explain the fitness and technical expertise of an athlete, rather than the quality of the game and performance. As sport psychologist I want to give some numbers to highlight what needs to be done to aspire to build a winning mentality :

  • 3 - the keys to success : commitment and dedication, family and friends, excellent coaches and staff.
  • 4 - the basic psychological skills: learning from experience, relaxation, positive self-talk and mental repetition.
  • 6 - the stages of the athlete’s career: fun, moving, learn to train, train to train, learn to compete, learn how to win, retirement and career transition.
  • 7 - advanced psychological skills: goal setting, stress management, concentration, race management, performance evaluation, management of extra-sport life, coach -athlete relationship.
  • 700 - the hours of training of a junior athlete.
  • 1,200 - the hours of annual training of top athlete.
  • 10,000 - the hours needed to become expert as athlete.
  • many thousands - the mistakes to accept.

To win you have to know how to lose

“I make mistakes, that’s why I always win,” said Russell Coutts, 4 times champion of America’s Cup  with three different teams, when someone asked him which was is secret to be a winner skipper. The same phrase it has already been said by Michael Jordan: “In my life I have failed often and I continued to go wrong. Which is why I’ve been successful.”

Easy to say when you’re a star world … but if it is true? If it was just how you react to errors the difference to be a good athlete or a champion? In this case, the secret  consists to accept the mistakes, do not experience them as personal failures but as a necessary opportunity  to find the right way to perform.

Do you think at a coach of a young athlete who tells him/her: “You must be happy to make mistakes, because only in this way you can understand the right track.” How many coaches do you know who speak like Coutts and Jordan?

The wellbeing secrets: movement and interpersonal relationship

Xu X., Mishra G.D., Holt-Lunstad J., et al. Social relationship satisfaction and accumulation of chronic conditions and multimorbidity: a national cohort of Australian women General Psychiatry 2023;36.

Background Social relationships are associated with mortality and chronic conditions. However, little is known about the effects of social relationship satisfaction on multiple chronic conditions (multimorbidity).

Aims To examine whether social relationship satisfaction is associated with the accumulation of multimorbidity.

Methods Data from 7 694 Australian women who were free from 11 chronic conditions at 45–50 years of age in 1996 were analysed. Five types of social relationship satisfaction (partner, family members, friends, work and social activities) were measured approximately every 3 years and scored from 0 (very dissatisfied) to 3 (very satisfied). Scores from each relationship type were summed to provide an overall satisfaction score (range: ≤5–15). The outcome of interest was the accumulation of multimorbidity in 11 chronic conditions.

Results Over a 20-year period, 4 484 (58.3%) women reported multimorbidities. Overall, the level of social relationship satisfaction had a dose–response relationship with the accumulation of multimorbidities. Compared with women reporting the highest satisfaction (score 15), women with the lowest satisfaction (score ≤5) had the highest odds of accumulating multimorbidity (odds ratio (OR)= 2.35, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.94 to 2.83) in the adjusted model. Similar results were observed for each social relationship type. Other risk factors, such as socioeconomic, behavioural and menopausal status, together explained 22.72% of the association.

Conclusions Social relationship satisfaction is associated with the accumulation of multimorbidity, and the relationship is only partly explained by socioeconomic, behavioural and reproductive factors. Social connections (eg, satisfaction with social relationships) should be considered a public health priority in chronic disease prevention and intervention.

In teams, is it about trust?

Soccer coaches often talk about lack of confidence.

First of all we must realize that when we attribute a result to the lack of confidence we are saying everything and nothing, because even if we know that conviction is necessary to play well, we must know the causes that determined it, otherwise it is a way of saying that only serves the coach to save his personal and professional conscience: “It is not my fault, they are the ones who are not confident“.

If, on the other hand, you understand what the ingredients of confidence are, you are probably already getting closer to a cure. In this regard, the questions to ask are as follows:

  • Are the players and the team aware of what they can do?
  • Do they agree on how they should play in the various phases of the game or do they have doubts/concerns?
  • Do they know how to consistently maintain this type of play throughout the match?
  • Does the team have a plan for responding to unexpected game situations?

If you don’t answer these four questions you will not improve; you must be aware of what is missing, the coach first. You can’t hide behind the phrase: “The team didn’t follow my directions” or “The team has no personality”, you have to know what caused these effects otherwise you will continue to lose.

In practical terms, the first step in increasing team competence is to train tactical and mental skills through quality drills. In fact, skill training through conscientious coaching ensures players are able to perform what is required of them. Preparation-improvement-skills go hand in hand, and this type of daily practice allows you to focus on the progress that occurs in a single session, in a week, in a month, and so on. In this way, not only is competence shaped, but also the ability to know how to play consistently over time.

Through the work on the field proposed by the coach, the players also develop another conviction that is extremely important, namely that it is through their commitment that they improve. The triptych of preparation – improvement – competence can be successfully achieved only if the players feel fully committed to what is required of them. If, on the other hand, this mechanism is not triggered, training will be conducted on autopilot, without risk of making mistakes and committing themselves just enough to not be taken back by the coach. When I work with athletes, I point out that these are “soulless” workouts in which the athlete’s job prevails, the intensity is absent and mistakes are explained by saying “but it’s just a training session, I’ll be more focused during the competition”. On these occasions, you have to be very clear with your players and point out to them that training in this way is harmful, because it creates a passive mentality that can only be repeated on the field.

Intense training with a high level of concentration also means that the coach must be supportive and encouraging precisely because the team is asked to be totally involved. The basic idea is this: the more demanding you are in terms of quality (speed and accuracy), the greater your willingness to accept mistakes and support first the commitment and second the result. If you act the other way around, first the result and then the commitment, the players will begin to do only what they are good at, so that they receive positive reinforcement from the coach, thus reducing the possibility of improvement.

Inter and its personality problems

In this league, Inter is demonstrating a lack of personality on the part of the players who seem not to have understood what the logic of a race in stages like the league is, in which regularity of pace is decisive for achieving important results. It is an issue of paramount importance for anyone who wants to achieve challenging goals. Many people today have this problem. One can also have positive self-esteem, which consists of the value we place on ourselves as people, but at the same time have low confidence. It is possible, because confidence is skill-driven and reflects the optimism of knowing how to deal with specific situations and circumstances in a seemingly spontaneous way. It is more easily influenced by external events and, therefore, is modifiable according to the situations one is experiencing. I have met several athletes who are motivated, focused, and competent but lack confidence.

Confidence is like a crystal glass, beautiful and fragile.

Usually in these athletes their actual competence is higher than the degree of confidence in it. They have difficulty drawing optimistic explanations from their successful experiences, thus they do not nurture the growth of their confidence.

Positive psychology is very clear on this point, we need to set aside global explanations of the mistakes we make. This happens when we tell ourselves “I will never understand, I always make the same mistakes” or “same mistake again, I don’t learn.” Whereas we need to engage, thinking that mistakes point the way to improvement, so let’s accept them and commit to doing differently. It has to become an automatic way of thinking and for it to happen you have to do it, some learn faster for others it will take months.

The question is, “When I am in the situations that are most important to me, what do I want my dominant thinking to be? And what do I do?”

For this to happen in competition, this way of being must already be inside the athlete, it cannot be invented on the spot. It must be practiced all the time in training; it must become a spontaneous way of thinking and acting.

the coaches’ competences

I am often asked what are the psychological characteristics of a leader who works with groups striving for excellence, in this case the coach of a team or group of athletes. We know well that there is no ideal profile, no personality of the winner. However, we have learned from scientific data that there are skills and attitudes that a leader must know how to manifest consistently and consistently over time. I also learned a great deal from some world-class psychologists and experts in absolute performance such as John Salmela, Robert Nideffer, Peter Terry, Ken Ravizza.

At the end of the day, I identified by integrating data and professional experiences 10 dimensions that elite coaches seem to possess. It is not easy to practice them in daily professional life but those who want to approach this world should, in my opinion, check how much they are present in him/her.

  1. Competitive: Individuals who are personally competitive, motivated and driven by the desire to give their best.
  2. Motivavate: People who have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. People who do not care about the number of hours they work, as long as they feel they are being challenged, making a positive contribution to the organization and moving in the direction of achieving their goals.
  3. Responsibility/Initiative: These are people who have a high level of confidence in their ability to succeed and get the job done. They are coaches who are not afraid to take on new responsibilities and learn from their mistakes. Coaches who are not afraid to ask for help.
  4. Balance between support and confrontation: These are people who are sensitive to interpersonal relationships, accurately read people’s situations and emotions (including their own), and are able to strike an appropriate balance between support and confrontation.
  5. Verbal skills: These are people who are able to state thoughts and ideas clearly. They do not overload and/or confuse information. They are not afraid to speak up, ask questions and/or discuss issues both individually and in groups.
  6. Listening skills: These are people who know when to speak and when to listen. Individuals who do not become defensive when challenged and/or confronted by others.
  7. Open/non-defensive: They have a high level of self-awareness. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are, know how others see them, and take steps to maximize their strengths and minimize and/or overcome their weaknesses.
  8. Team and relationship building: These are individuals who are able to establish good working relationships with others. Individuals who recognize and are able to leverage the contributions that each individual brings to the team. People with whom others enjoy working.
  9. Performance under pressure and emotional control: They are able to recognize when emotions (their own or others’) get in the way of effective communication and have the skills to manage them.
  10. Self-aware: They are coaches who know their own strengths and weaknesses and take responsibility for them. When faced with a problem, they do not become defensive, they take responsibility for their mistakes and failures and learn from them.

The handling of mistakes by champions

LeBron James - “Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the way to succeed … The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Serena Williams – I don’t have regrets. I don’t live in the past. I live in the present and learn not to make the same mistakes in the future.

Muhammad Ali - “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

Rafa Nadal - “The thing to learn is not how to make a comeback. But that you never have to give up, the example is what you give every day, all your life: the example of not smashing your racket in anger when you’re down 5-1, or when you don’t lose control when you feel like things on the court aren’t working. And then you have to recognize the mistakes and find the solution to make as few of them as possible: I accept them even as a kid.”

Kobe Bryant - The Los Angeles Lakers outfielder was NBA record holder for missed shots, committing 13,418 errors at the basket.When he reached this record he said, “I don’t follow these things … How do I explain the record? I’m a guard and I’ve been playing for 19 years … To tell the truth, I don’t care. When I was a kid I remember seeing Michael Jordan shoot 49 times in an NBA Finals game. Imagine if I had done something like that and lost. You have to look at everything in perspective. You have to take responsibility and play, you can’t worry about criticism and failure.”

Sofia Goggia - After winning the downhill World Cup for the third time: “There are those who collapse and those who are able to stand up. I have resisted.

The mind education of the young athletes

In the last few years there has been a very wide dissemination of the work of the sports psychologist in youth activity. In the introductory sports years from ages 6 to 12, the work is essentially oriented toward improving the professionalism of instructors and working on specific problems that may arise with children and their families. In the ages of adolescence, from the age of 13 the psychologist’s work expands further, orienting directly on individual work with young people. This phenomenon concerns those sports clubs that are more aware than others of the mental aspects of training and competition and want to use our work to improve the participation of their athletes and female athletes.

It is work that with a presence during training I do in tennis, table tennis and shooting to which is added a weekly online appointment. Remote work is now the most common with young people who live in different parts of Italy and who want to use my advice, and it concerns different individual sports and especially opposition sports such as fencing and combat sports.

As far as I am concerned this work is centered on the mental education of young people in relation to training and competitions.

The goals concern:

  1. understand how motor, technical-tactical and mental skills are learned
  2. understand what is the best attitude for training and participating in competitions
  3. be aware that technique and physical fitness are fundamental but without mental leads, one does not improve
  4. train with the belief that one learns only by making mistakes
  5. accept mistakes
  6. be fair to teammates and opponents
  7. know that dialogue with oneself must be constructive, otherwise it is harmful
  8. be aware of what one learns or has improved in each practice and competition
  9. question when you are not understood
  10. know that becoming an accomplished athlete is a long-term project


The factors determining the optimal activation for playing a match

In soccer, the varying levels of activation of teams during matches is influenced by many situations and the individual characteristics of players. Activation refers to the degree to which a team is ready to know how to put its game into action against a given opponent. However, there are many variables that can influence this psychological condition, among them the most important are:

Competitive experience - the greater the experience playing high-level matches, the greater the ability to know how to enter the game at the optimal level of activation.

Anxiety - the greater the degree of insecurity regarding one’s role on the field, the greater the level of activation, which if not reduced can prevent the footballer from playing at his or her best.

Fatigue - the greater the physical and mental fatigue, the greater the likelihood of manifesting levels of activation and agonism that are too low and therefore inadequate.

Impulsivity - the greater the footballer’s impulsivity, the greater the likelihood that his activation level will be too high at times of increased competitive tension and his play will become foul.

Thought control - the better the personal self-control during the game, the lower the likelihood of acting without thinking.

Motivation - the lower the motivation to play at one’s best, the lower the commitment and focus and the lower the level of physical and mental activation.

Toughness - the greater the belief that one knows how to face any competitive situation with determination, the more effective the level of activation the footballer will be able to put himself in before the game.

The role on the pitch - the clearer and more specific is for the kicker his role on the field, with more ease he will know what to pay attention to, how to charge himself mentally before the start of the match and how to maintain this condition during its course.

The match momentum - Everything that happens during the match influences and is influenced by the activation levels of players and teams in a process of constant and mutual interaction. Important and decisive matches or friendly matches, early or late stages of the match, result for or against, playing in 10 rather than 11 are situations that affect the intensity of the competitive charge, which corresponds to the level of activation of the collective.

The team - paraphrasing the saying that the champion team is made up of the players who amalgamate in the best way, it can be said that the champion team is made up of those players from whose global activation releases the agonistic charge necessary to express their play.

The education poverty in Italy

There is no chance for development in a country that has school dropout rates around 20 percent. A kid who gets lost and ends up in the penal circuit costs the state four times more than it would cost if he were placed in a remedial school program.” So said Andrea Morniroli about education in Italy. As coordinator, along with Fabrizio Barca, of the Inequality and Diversity Forum,

Some dire data:

  • Educational poverty affects the country’s GDP at around 4 percent.
  • The Caritas report highlights that intergenerational poverty has very specific characteristics: the social elevator exists for those who come from middle- and upper-class families; other young people remain in their original social and economic condition.
  • Educational attainment is also inherited. The poor stop at the eighth grade and sometimes even only the elementary school leaving certificate; they mostly come from households with low educational qualifications, in some cases with no qualifications or even illiterate.
  • Among the children of people with college degrees, on the other hand, more than half make it to a high school diploma or college degree.
  • In addition to school dropouts, there are also those who do not attain the basic skills to find a job. They are 17 percent in the noon and 22 percent in Sicily. Ninety percent of these are the children of the children of the poor.

This is the picture of a country that has not made knowledge a priority.