The champs’ mental flexibility

The mental flexibility of the champions has been well summarized by Ripoll [2008] with these words:

“The great art of top champions is to have an extreme concentration that blocks them on a single objective, which allows them to ignore everything that is out to this objective and to go into another state. It is under this single condition that all sensations are exasperated and that the information processing system has an optimal performance. In their own words, these samples enter into a bubble that is watertight sufficiently to hide everything that is not necessary for the action, but porous enough to let only what is useful enter”.

We need leader-coach

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” Judy Garland
In these times of crisis this statement is more relevant than ever. It is for everyone, but even more so it is a question to be answered by leaders, those who guide and orient others.

The health crisis has regained strength and if to some extent the world of corporations is going down paths to support their leaders and managers even with the collaboration of the most important consulting companies, in the Italian sports world there is no trace of this mentality from professional soccer to amateur sports clubs. If in NBA specific projects are proposed in order to allow the public to return to see the matches, we ask more superficially to let more people enter the stadium, thus superimposing the goal on the tool. Without explaining how it is safeguarded the health of all. In addition, the quarrel between the different structures of the same sport and the propensity to formulate proposals by “sly” are the other elements that do not allow to formulate documented projects.

Going to the level of the end users of sport, even in this area, to my knowledge, there are no proposals. Coaches and athletes are left alone to live and manage this period of great fear and difficulty. Those who have had to stop and those who work are forced to live this period leveraging only on themselves and as far as I can see from my experience in recent months, the difficulties have multiplied, many have taken a pessimistic or fatalistic approach while more optimistic have leveraged their creativity trying to implement alternative solutions to maintain an active presence.
“We live in fear” is heard more and more often, you no longer have the unconsciousness of the first months of lockdown, in which it was thought that after that period we would return to normal, now we live the anxiety of living a situation that we do not know when it will end and in the meantime we live to the day and every day increase the people we know who get sick.

It is just now that we feel more this social loneliness, which is added not only to the fear of getting sick of Covid-19 but also that any other health problem that we know we will not be treated because the hospitals are in crisis.

In this context we cannot leave alone sports clubs, coaches and athletes from those who are preparing for the next Olympics to young people from soccer schools and all sports, we must not leave alone even people with disabilities for whom sport is an essential activity for their well-being.
In this sense, in compliance with the rules formulated by the government, it would be necessary that starting from the coaches who have the direct relationship with the athletes a concrete support (not only economic) is provided to their leadership to continue to carry out their work on the fields for those who are allowed and at a distance for those sports that have been stopped.

In this period, it is necessary to develop and act using these skills:

  • Deliberate calm and optimism, be confident but aware of the gravity of the situation.
  • Listen and share, the problems and fears of the people we work with.
  • Act, formulate training programs appropriate to the situations in which people live.


Tennis: psychological tests

Accademia Tennis Apuano

Continua il lavoro sugli aspetti mentali con il prof. Alberto Cei. In questo terzo incontro test attitudinali su aree di sviluppo con colloqui privati per definire obiettivi e modalità di raggiungimento. Due giornate full time di comprensione su come meglio orientare il lavoro di campo con i nostri atleti. Per noi grande occasione di crescita professionale grandi spunti di riflessione.

Federica Pellegrini and the need to have a goal

Federica Pellegrini: underlines the need in this period to have an goal and pursue it even in the uncertainty of the moment. This is what she summarizes in the interview published today in Repubblica and of which I report below the answer to the question of what she would do if there was another lockdown

If there was another general lockdown what would you do?

“I honestly don’t know, I don’t know how I would react. I have set myself the goal of getting to August. Whatever happens in the middle of the year, unless they tell us tomorrow that the Olympics are cancelled and then everything would change there, I’m moving forward towards my goal”.

Chunking process in tennis legends

The concept of chunking concerns the process of automation due to the organization of separate stimuli into larger significant units. So in the expert athletes a single visual element, e.g. hitting the ball in a certain way, involves the knowledge that a certain sequence of actions will follow.

This process has also been used to explain the success and longevity of some champions compared to other equally competent but less successful athletes.Roetert, Woods, Knudson and Brown (2019) asked this question by analyzing the results of the Grand Slam in tennis tournament of the last decade, noting that athletes like Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the Bryan brothers, have been at the top of the ranking for many years. One of the reasons for the consistent success over time and the physical abilities of these top players could be related to their greater ability to mentally integrate a considerable amount of information into large significant units. In this way, this work of integrating a large amount of information would allow them to store it and make it available during matches. These winning tennis players understood how to create and access these larger blocks of information as effectively and efficiently as possible, so that their movements on the field and their shots could appear effortlessly and adapt to emergency situations.

Online Career Symposium

@TopsportVUB is organising an Online Career Symposium “Supporting Athletes Before, During and After Athletic Retirement” based on @iocmedia project. Presenters include athletes, researchers and practitioners in the field of sport. Date: 1st DEC


Empathy and compassion to communicate with the others

Tania Singer e Olga Klimecki (2014) Empathy and compassion. Current Biology, 24, R875-R878.

“Although the concepts of empathy and compassion have existed for many centuries, their scientific study is relatively young. The term empathy has its origins in the Greek word ‘empatheia’ (passion), which is composed of ‘en’ (in) and ‘pathos’ (feeling). The term empathy was introduced into the English language following the German notion of ‘Einfühlung’ (feeling into), which originally described resonance with works of art and only later was used to describe the resonance between human beings. The term compassion is derived from the Latin origins ‘com’ (with/together) and ‘pati’ (to suffer); it was introduced into the English language through the French word compassion. In spite of the philosophical interest for empathy and the fundamental role that compassion plays in most religions and secular ethics, it was not until the late 20th century that researchers from social and developmental psychology started to study these phenomena scientifically.

According to this line of psychological research, an empathic response to suffering can result in two kinds of reactions: empathic distress, which is also referred to as personal distress; and compassion, which is also referred to as empathic concern or sympathy. For simplicity, we will refer to empathic distress and compassion when speaking about these two different families of emotions. While empathy refers to our general capacity to resonate with others’ emotional states irrespective of their valence — positive or negative — empathic distress refers to a strong aversive and self-oriented response to the suffering of others, accompanied by the desire to withdraw from a situation in order to protect oneself from excessive negative feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is conceived as a feeling of concern for another person’s suffering which is accompanied by the motivation to help. By consequence, it is associated with approach and prosocial motivation.

Research by Daniel Batson and Nancy Eisenberg in the fields of social and developmental psychology confirmed that people who feel compassion in a given situation help more often than people who suffer from empathic distress. Furthermore, Daniel Batsons’ work showed that the extent to which people feel compassion can, for instance, be increased by explicitly instructing participants to feel with the target person. Interestingly, the capacity to feel for another person is not only a property of a person or a situation, but can also be influenced by training.

In order to train social emotions like compassion, recent psychological research has increasingly made use of meditation-related techniques that foster feelings of benevolence and kindness. The most widely used technique is called ‘loving kindness training’. This form of mental practice is carried out in silence and relies on the cultivation of friendliness towards a series of imagined persons. One would usually start the practice by visualizing a person one feels very close to and then gradually extend the feeling of kindness towards others, including strangers and, at a later stage, also people one has difficulties with. Ultimately, this practice aims at cultivating feelings of benevolence towards all human beings.”

Coaches don’t give up the athletes

Never as in these days the role of the coach is crucial to support their athletes.

One must not give up the role of leader, otherwise it is easy for athletes to feel only discouraged, abandoned and think that if you can not do as before, then there is nothing to do.

The situation is difficult for everyone, but it is even more so for those who practice contact sports and in the gym, there are no competitions, it is difficult to train and frustration can become the dominant mood.

The task of sports clubs and coaches is now priceless  to provide guidance on how to train but above all to share this dramatic experience with athletes.

Don’t give up!

10 things to do for athletes

  1. establish with them goals for improvement
  2. provide a physical, technical-tactical and mental program to be carried out
  3. give a system of evaluation of their progress
  4. search video to comment together
  5. organize online or outdoor challenges
  6. listen to what the athletes have to tell you
  7. talk to them about the difficulties of training in this new way
  8. emphasize this type of training and the benefits it provides
  9. strengthen their commitment and correct mistakes
  10. be determined to lead athletes

10 key points in table tennis

10 key points to be aware of and know how to accept in table tennis to be a winner.

  1. Table tennis is a sport in which every player makes many mistakes
  2. You can win till the last point
  3. Concentration must be high and consistent at every point and up to the last
  4. You have to react positively immediately after every single mistake
  5. The service is decisive
  6. It is necessary to have a specific pre-race routine
  7. It is necessary to have a routine between the points
  8. Even the champions are in trouble but they know what to do to get out of it.
  9. In defense: play an extra ball!
  10. Chen Bin, coach of Ding Ning, Olympic gold medalist: “Table tennis is not just about hitting the ball on the table, you have to return the ball, you have to feel how the ball comes towards you, and visualize how your ball will end up on the opponent’s table when you hit it again”

History of the beginnings of psychological counseling in sport

The first psychological counseling programs in the field of sport can already be traced back to the 1920s thanks to the pioneering work of Coleman Griffith in the United States and Avksentii Puni in the Soviet Union, but it takes until the 1970s for the sports sciences to be recognized as a field of knowledge that can provide useful information to improve training and sports performance and considered, at the same time, as an interesting field of research for the academic world (Weinberg and Gould, 2019; Ryba, Stambulova, and Wrisberg, 2005).

In top-level sport, the first codified experiences of psychological preparation date back to 1962 when the Japanese Olympic Committee in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics established a section dedicated to the mental training of athletes (Tomita, 1975). The first massive presence of psychologists at the Olympic Games was however only since the Los Angeles Olympics, where as many as 20 sports psychologists will participate for the Canada team. It is since 1988, Seoul Olympics, that most industrialized countries but also developing nations (Nigeria, Cuba, Colombia, and Algeria) began to make systematic use of psychological counseling services (Salmela, 1992).

Initially, since the 1960s, mental training has been a system based on the use of competitive anxiety management techniques and the use of mental rehearsal to improve sports performance. In North America on 1971 the first programs were carried out by Richard Suinn with the Alpine ski team, developing his own psychological preparation program based on the integration of relaxation techniques and mental imagination.

In Europe, the initial research on psychological training was conducted, as in North America, on the role of mental repetition by German scholars, giving it the name of ideomotor training, however, and highlighting that in the psychological regulation of sports action this type of activity has three functions (Frester, 1985). The first is a function programming the motor action that appears through the repetitions performed; the second is represented by the training function, since it promotes the process of improvement and stabilization of performance; the third is the regulatory function that promotes the process of control and correction of motor action. It is recognized, as proposed by Suinn, that the ideomotor reproduction is better if the willingness to mental representation is increased previously with relaxation methods.