Archive for the 'Libri' Category

Maybe Esther: a family story of 20th-century Europe

Cherr Offizehr, cominciò babuska con la sua inconfondibile pronuncia aspirata e in una lingua ibrida, ma convinta di parlare tedesco, signor ufficiale, sia così gentile, mi dica che cosa devo fare? Ho visto gli avvisi con le instruktzies per gli ebrei , ma fatico a camminare, non riesco a camminare così svelta. Le risposero con una rivoltellata: la noncuranza d’un atto di routine – senza interrompere la conversazione, senza voltarsi del tutto, così incidentalmente. Oppure non, no. Magari lei aveva chiesto: Sia gentile, Cherr Offizehr, potrebbe dirmi per cortesia come si arriva a Babij Jar? Una richiesta davvero seccante. Chi mai ha voglia di rispondere a domande così stupide?”.

(Source: MaybeEsther, by Katia Petrowskaja)

(I did not translate the text do not ruin it with my words)

Maybe Esther: A Family Story: Petrowskaja, Katja, Frisch, Shelley:  9780062337542: Books

The day of the memory

A book for the day of the memory: La piuma del Ghetto by Antonello Capurso

The story of Leone Èfrati, Jew, boxing champion and partisan.


The killler instinct by Rod Laver

Killer instinct. It’s an attribute that all champion tennis players have – whether born with it or whether it is learned behavior. While mild-mannered, polite and humble, Rod Laver, arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, had it and used it to become the only player two win the Grand Slam of tennis twice. In his newly updated and re-released memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER ($19.95, New Chapter Press, Laver discusses killer instinct in this book excerpt below.

By Rod Laver

When I was a kid, and beginning to play well, a little better than the ordinary, I first experienced the enjoyment of playing to a crowd. It was a good feeling to have my strokes admired, and I was in no hurry to get off the court. As a result I let too many opponents off the hook. I found out that you have to play with the intention of making it a short day, of doing the job quickly and thoroughly.

I don’t mean rush it. Anything but that. But when you have the opportunity you strike then, and you realize that no lead is as big as it looks. If your opponent is serving at 1-4, you feel pretty good: three games ahead. But that’s only one service break, and you want to keep the pressure on, or you’re going to be in trouble. It’s no time to experiment with new shots or to show off for the “sheilas” in the crowd.

I’ve heard it said that you’re either born with the killer instinct or you’re not. I don’t agree with that. I feel I had to develop that killer outlook which, to me, means making the shot called for to win the point and resisting certain temptations. You don’t try to blast a ball 200 mph crosscourt into a corner when you have an easy sitter and your opponent is way out of position. If a soft, unimpressive-looking dink is called for, you hit it and make the point.

The good chances don’t come that frequently, and the killer knocks them off surely when presented with them. The killer doesn’t let up or ease off when he gets a good lead. This can be learned. Make sure of the easy shots—concentrate extra hard on those. Everybody has problems with difficult shots, but the killer gets his edge because he is meticulous with the setups.

Don’t compose eulogies to yourself when you get ahead. Concentrate on staying there. When Charlie Hollis, my coach, decided that I wasn’t homicidal enough, he sent me out with the intent of winning every match 6-0, 6-0. That seems grim for the usual player, but Charlie’s theme was good and clear: run scared and don’t let anybody up.

Referees’ skills and mistakes

History of the first football psychologist

The 2022 World Cup is a tournament of firsts. The first World Cup held in the Middle East. The first World Cup held in winter. The first World Cup which will see psychologists travelling with the majority of teams playing in the competition? Possibly.

It’s extremely difficult to confirm the number of psychologists accompanying sides to Qatar, largely because there are nations who still try (for varying reasons) to keep this kind of information under wraps. However, with more elite teams employing psychologists domestically, it’s logical to suspect that there will be more performance and mental health professionals in the Middle East than there were in Russia four years ago.

What’s not in question is that the profession will be represented to a greater degree than it was at the 1958 World Cup, when just one team – Brazil – took a psychologist to Sweden. This is the remarkable story of the man who accompanied Pele, Garrincha and co on their journey to Europe and returned as the first World Cup-winning psychologist.

Brazil’s 1950 and 1954 World Cup campaigns had been torturous. In 1950 defeat in the final by Uruguay at the Maracanã, the spiritual home of Brazilian football, prompted mourning across the country.

The 1954 tournament, held in Switzerland, ended in ignominy as Brazil were reduced to nine men during an ugly 4-2 quarter-final loss to Hungary in a match nicknamed ‘The Battle of Berne’.

While the national team attempted to move on from the emotional trauma, a little-known psychologist was making his entrance into Brazilian domestic football.

Carvalhaes joined São Paulo in 1957, leaving a job training referees for the city’s football federation. The club’s interest was piqued by the psychology laboratory he had founded, the likes of which would not be seen in Europe until AC Milan’s ‘Mind Room’ of the late 1980s.

The lab was built at the federation’s headquarters and housed 10 tests examining cognitive functions such as stereoscopic vision (depth perception). Carvalhaes used the tests to help highlight the skills trainee referees needed to hone before qualifying to officiate professional matches.

Carvalhaes set thresholds for each variable he monitored, with candidates scoring below a particular benchmark considered unable to referee. For example, participants who recorded a result slower than 50 hundredths of a second during the ‘reaction time test’ fell into this category.

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He combined his day job with regular evening stints as a boxing commentator and journalist, during which he adopted the pseudonym João do Ringue (Joao of the Ring). In contrast to his ringside persona, though, Carvalhaes’ touchline demeanour was reflective, according to former colleague Dr José Glauco Bardella.

“Arriving at the training ground, you could see everyone excited, but João would be in the corner, quiet, hands in his pockets, just observing,” he told a 2000 documentary on Carvalhaes’ work, made by the São Paulo Regional Council of Psychology.

Carvalhaes may have been watchful, but he was far from a mere spectator.

After São Paulo won the Campeonato Paulista in 1957, the team’s first state championship since 1953, Carvalhaes was heralded for his role in a selection decision that proved key to victory.

Club director Manoel Raimundo Paes de Almeida said the replacement of regular midfielder Ademar with fellow playmaker Sarara, who then shone in a crunch match with Corinthians, was based on Carvalhaes’ concerns about Ademar’s state of mind.

A year later the Brazilian Sports Confederation (CBD) came calling. Vice-president Paulo Machado de Carvalho, the man charged with planning for the forthcoming World Cup, asked Carvalhaes to join the team’s technical committee. It was an offer too good to turn down.

Brazil’s preparations were already under way and Carvalhaes wasted little time in implementing the methods he had employed at São Paulo. During the squad’s pre-tournament camp he conducted an ‘Army Alpha’ test – an adaptation of an American programme designed to assess the intellectual capability of World War One recruits.

Twitter avatar for @procopiocardozo

Procópio Cardozo @procopiocardozo
Pelé, Dr João Carvalhais e Mazola. 1958.
The 50-minute exam examined players’ arithmetic ability and vocabulary, with the intention of assigning an ‘intelligence rating’. Those deemed less capable were asked to take an ‘Army Beta’ test involving exercises such as completing half-drawn pictures and tracing paths through two-dimensional mazes.

While the concepts behind the tests might seem dated in comparison to contemporary psychology theory, they pushed the boundaries of thinking at the time, particularly in a sport that had seen very little, if anything, in the way of psychology-focused interventions.

Carvalhaes was asked to present his findings to the CBD technical committee. The results, much to his consternation, were leaked to the Brazilian media. In a letter to de Carvalho, Carvalhaes alleged that documents were stolen from his briefcase.

The leak led to suggestions that star player Garrincha, whose test results were poor, would fail to make the cut for the World Cup. Carvalhaes was exasperated. The public fallout ran counter to his behind-the-scenes way of working.

But the storm was short-lived. After Garrincha was named in Brazil’s squad, media speculation died down and Carvalhaes travelled to Sweden with the rest of the backroom staff. He continued working with the players, using Myokinetic Psychodiagnosis (MKP) tests to analyse individual characteristics and tailor his support accordingly.

The MKP tests, in which players were given a blank sheet of paper and asked to draw whatever came to mind, were based on the theory that expressive muscle movements can help to indicate an individual’s temperament.

Once again, Carvalhaes was applying techniques that had never been used at this level of the game. Once again, he ran into trouble.

“As part of our preparations the team psychologist, Professor João Carvalhaes, had conducted tests on all the players,” writes Pelé in his autobiography, ‘Pelé’.

“We had to draw sketches of people and answer questions to help João make assessments about whether we should be picked or not.

“About me he concluded that I should not be selected: ‘Pelé is obviously infantile. He lacks the necessary fighting spirit.’ He also advised against Garrincha, who was not seen as responsible enough.

“Fortunately for me and for Garrincha, Vicente Feola (Brazil’s manager) was always guided by his instincts, and he just nodded gravely at the psychologist, saying: ‘You may be right. The thing is you don’t know anything about football. If Pelé’s knee is ready, he plays.’”
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The online brain effects

Firth J, Torous J, Stubbs B, Firth JA, Steiner GZ, Smith L, Alvarez-Jimenez M, Gleeson J, Vancampfort D, Armitage CJ, Sarris J. The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition. World Psychiatry. 2019 Jun;18(2):119-129.

The impact of the Internet across multiple aspects of modern society is clear. However, the influence that it may have on our brain structure and functioning remains a central topic of investigation. Here we draw on recent psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging findings to examine several key hypotheses on how the Internet may be changing our cognition. Specifically, we explore how unique features of the online world may be influencing:

  1. attentional capacities, as the constantly evolving stream of online information encourages our divided attention across multiple media sources, at the expense of sustained concentration;
  2. memory processes, as this vast and ubiquitous source of online information begins to shift the way we retrieve, store, and even value knowledge; and
  3. social cognition, as the ability for online social settings to resemble and evoke real-world social processes creates a new interplay between the Internet and our social lives, including our self-concepts and self-esteem.

Overall, the available evidence indicates that the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in each of these areas of cognition, which may be reflected in changes in the brain. However, an emerging priority for future research is to determine the effects of extensive online media usage on cognitive development in youth, and examine how this may differ from cognitive outcomes and brain impact of uses of Internet in the elderly.

We conclude by proposing how Internet research could be integrated into broader research settings to study how this unprecedented new facet of society can affect our cognition and the brain across the life course.

The self-talk relevance

Van Raalte, Vincent, and Brewer (2016) provided a definition that emphasizes the linguistic features of self-talk. According to them, self-talk is ‘the syntactically recognizable articulation of an internal position that can be expressed internally or out loud, where the sender of the message is also the intended receiver’ (p. 141). The addition of the term ‘syntactically recognizable’ is of particular importance since it distinguishes self-talk from other verbalizations (such as shouts of frustration like aaahhhh!), self-statements made through gestures, and self-statements made outside of the context of formal language. Defining self-talk as an ‘articulation of an internal position’ also contributes to anchor its meaning within the individual and places the origin of self-talk in consciousness and information processing.

Self-talk has many potential applications, including breaking bad habits and sustaining efforts in acquiring new skills and is normally categorized in 3 types: positive, instructional and negative.

Positive self-talk focuses on increasing energy and efforts but does not carry any task-related clue (e.g., ‘I can do it’). Positive self-talk thus shapes our minds with thoughts enabling us to manage difficult situations and stress more effectively. It also increases motivation and it is therefore essential for athletes to attain consistent and optimal performance (Blumenstein & Lidor, 2007).

Instructional self-talk helps the performers’ understanding of task requirements by facilitating their attendance to task relevant cues that aid the players’ concentration during task execution. As such instructional self-talk can be said to help athletes in focusing on the technical aspects of the performance and in improving their motor skills (Hardy, Begley, & Blanchfield, 2015).

Negative self-talk is critical and gets in the way of a person’s reaching goals. Negative selftalk thus interferes with a positive mindset, creates a failure mentality, deflates self-confidence, reduces motivation, generates anxiety, and disrupts optimal arousal (Burton & Raedeke 2008).

Unfortunately, coaches in many football academies display a considerable lack of knowledge concerning the training of players’ mental skills (Harwood & Anderson 2015). This crucial lack of knowledge has determined an under appreciation of the contribution of both concentration and self-talk to elite football performance.

Source: Farina, M. and Cei, A. (2019). Concentration and self-talk in football. In Konter, E., J. Beckmann and T.M. Loughead (Eds.), Football psychology. New York: Routledge.

Book review: Calcio magico

Francesco Fasiolo

Calcio magico. Oracoli, rituali e scaramanzie: il paradosso dell’irrazionale nel pallone

Ultra Sport, 2022



Il tema, assolutamente inedito nel panorama editoriale sportivo/calcistico, era troppo accattivante per non parlarne. “Calcio magico” infatti parte da una considerazione tanto vera quanto illogica: in un calcio fatto, oggi come oggi, da regole di finanza, economia, tecnologia e chi più ne ha più ne metta, la scaramanzia, la superstizione, i riti propiziatori di ancestrale memoria restano comunque protagonisti alla pari di tutti gli altri fattori. Il lavoro di Fasiolo, giornalista di Repubblica, si alterna tra Europa e Sudamerica tra aneddoti gustosi e oracoli bizzarri alla ricerca del perché nel calcio ci si appelli anche, se non soprattutto, a bizzarrie simili sulla falsariga dell’italico “non è vero ma ci credo” .

Cosa c’entrano con questo mondo i maghi, gli animali indovini, gli atti di fede, i numeri sfortunati, i rimedi anti-iella, le maledizioni e i vestiti portafortuna? C’entrano eccome, perché l’irrazionale spunta da ogni angolo di questo articolato meccanismo. Ce lo ricordano il rituale degli Azzurri campioni di Europa nel 2021 (Vialli “dimenticato” sul pullman prima di ogni match) e quello della Francia campione del mondo nel ’98 (il bacio propiziatorio sulla testa di Barthez), le previsioni pubbliche del polpo Paul, infallibile oracolo degli Europei del 2008 e dei Mondiali del 2010, gli incredibili riti prepartita di campioni internazionali e le avversioni di tanti presidenti per i numeri 13 e 17. “Calcio magico” si occupa delle superstizioni “interne al sistema”, quelle dei protagonisti dello show: calciatori, allenatori e club. Una casistica variegata e curiosa, che spinge a interrogarsi sul fenomeno con un approccio antropologico: questo abbandonarsi all’illogico è una sorta di resistenza alle ragioni della modernità?

The defeat of Italian soccer is in the numbers: no youth, no world cup

The 12th edition of the ReportCalcio, prepared by the Figc Study Center in collaboration with Arel (Agency for Research and Legislation) and PwC Italia (PricewaterhouseCoopers), has been presented. Published in full on the Federcalcio website.

It clearly emerges that the difficulty of our national team is largely determined by the difficulty of young players to find space in Serie A teams. In fact, the average number of Italian Under-21 players in the Serie A league is 2.7 boys per team. The percentage of minutes played by Italian Under-21 players out of the total minutes in the league is 4 percent. Those deployed as starters per team per game in Serie A is 0.43.

Returning to the national discourse, emphasis should be placed on the fact that of the 75 players born after 2001 who have taken part in a Serie A match, only 46% are of Italian nationality (35). In addition to not having too many youngsters in the Italian league, more than half are not even eligible for Italy. In the last convocations for the U21 national team, coach Nicolato called 27 players and only 11 were those from Serie A (including 5 boys from 2000).

The second glaring difference concerns, unfortunately, the amount of national U21 players fielded in their respective leagues: as mentioned above, in Serie A only 46% are eligible for the Italian national team. In Spain as many as 72% of the U21 youngsters deployed are Spanish. In France they are 64 percent and in England 58 percent. Germany’s is the only league where there is a lower percentage than ours (43 percent), even though their youngsters participate more in clubs. The Italian U21s as a whole have collected 112 starting appearances since the beginning of the season, while the German ones already have 137 appearances (and let’s leave out that they have only 18 teams in the Bundesliga).

Thus, a depressing picture emerges for the Italian league. We are not even close to the levels of the other major leagues. Moreover, the young U21s present in Serie A are not included in the top teams.

Review: Il controllo del pallone

Il controllo del pallone 

I cattolici, i comunisti e il calcio in Italia (1943-anni settanta)

Fabien Archambault

Le Monnier, 2022, p. 420, euro 29

This book delves into the role of soccer in the Italian political struggle from the post-war period to the 1970s, and also highlights the role of Uisp in that historical phase. One of the hypotheses it proposes is that the link between the football sphere and the political sphere is at the origin of the rise of soccer in Italian mass culture, in place of cycling. In fact, the history of this sport clarifies the strategies of political framing, social rootedness and consensus building carried out by the Church, the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party, from the fall of Fascism until the end of the 1970s. In fact, soccer represented one of the significant dimensions of the clash between Catholics on one side and the Communist and Socialist left on the other. Both political alignments used the forms of associative sociality tied to the soccer movement to promote their own projects.

Sergio Giuntini, sports historian, appreciated the book, in particular for its contribution to critical reflection on the evolution of the sports phenomenon in Italy. We propose his review of the text.

“On the Uisp history, and in particular on its genetic phases and on the years between the 60s and 70s of the so-called ” alternative” turning point, there is a reasonable literature. To enrich it, we would like to mention the recent, excellent work “Il controllo del pallone. I cattolici, i comunisti e il calcio in Italia (1943-anni Settanta)” by Frenchman Fabien Archambault, associate professor of Contemporary History at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. The basic thesis put forward by Archambault in his book is as follows: the development of Italian soccer, in the second post-war period, when it progressively became the most popular sport in the country to the detriment of cycling, depended on its rather close ties with the political sphere. On the one hand, it was used by the Church, the Christian Democrats, Luigi Gedda’s Italian Sports Center, and on the other by the Italian Communist Party, Enrico Berlinguer’s Youth Front, and Uisp, for their own strategies of social settlement and political framing of the masses aimed at gaining consensus.

From this point of view, the clash between these two fronts regarding football, and it is not by chance that the essay opens with a tasty football brawl between Don Camillo and Peppone taken from the works of Giovanni Guareschi, was very hard, with no holds barred, initially prevailing over the Catholic-moderate one perched around the widespread network of oratories and parishes. However, Uisp tried to react to this hegemony of “oratorical soccer”, and Archambault’s book offers some emblematic examples, especially in the second chapter: “Popular Football” (pp. 71-118). That is to say, in that difficult post-war season marked by the epochal defeat of April 18, 1948, the Union strove to outline its own specific football ideology and, within such an elaboration, to establish a problematic relationship between amateur and professional soccer. Nevertheless, Archambault’s text offers an enlightening overview of the many political and administrative sabotages suffered by the Uisp in that period: from police reports to the prefectures, which portrayed it as a “secret” organization with insurrectional intentions, to the failed and instrumental concession of the facilities, which were instead granted to parishes and sections of the CSI. One of the reasons why, at that time, the Uisp was forced to focus more on cycling, a sport that does not need playing fields, than on soccer.

This climate of frontal clash will be attenuated with the 60′s, even though they were politically very hot, reaching a greater mutual legitimacy by the two sides. And for this reason, it is necessary to call into question the greater ability of the Uisp, compared to Catholic sports, to understand the profound transformations that were affecting Italian sports and society. In conclusion, this is a book of great importance, supported by an impressive amount of archival documents, that gives a fundamental contribution to the critical reflection on the evolution of the sports phenomenon in Italy and on the internal history of the Uisp”.