You always win or lose by nothing

I am often asked what use the psychologist is to an athlete who is already strong if not even among the top of the world rankings. Several answers can be given to this question, but for me the most significant one is about helping him achieve the goal of his competition. To take part in a competition in which he wants to provide the maximum of which he is capable, comparing himself with other opponents who have the same preparation, the same level and the same will.

So not just running 100 meters as fast as possible but doing so in competition with others who are equally capable. The situation is then further complicated by the context in which the race takes place: the importance of the race, the number of spectators (which sometimes number in the tens of millions if not more), the expectations that the country places on the athlete, his or her popularity, the expectations of donors, friends, family and all supporters. Let us remain, however, with what happens on the field : the athlete and the opponents.

Competizione    Differenza percentuali nei tempi    Differenza percentuali nei tempi

fra primo e quarto posto                  fra primo e quarto posto
Uomini                                                        Donne
Sprints                                     1.83%                                                          1.70%
Distance                                  1.09%                                                             .98%
Throws                                     3.07%                                                          5.35%
Jumps                                     1.98%                                                            3.21%


Source: R. Chapman, E-Magazine, Comitato Olimpico Stati Uniti.

As far as I am concerned, concentration training must be the essential goal of mental training, and the data above are a confirmation of this. Their relevance is such that they were discussed at a U.S. athletics workshop for the purpose of providing guidance on how to improve the performance of their athletes. The topics covered included biomechanics, sports psychology and nutrition. The obvious finding is that 2% improvement in a sprinter leads to a 75% chance of winning against three opponents who have the same abilities. The same is valid in the reverse direction the 2% reduction eliminates any chance of victory. Research on this topic shows that changes of 0.3%-0.5% dramatically increase/decrease the chance of getting on the podium.

So very small changes in performance have a major impact on the outcome that is achieved. American psychologists have moved toward providing guidance on how to reduce distractions and train concentration on the performance to be performed since it is a coachable skill like physical and technical skills. This is valid in all sports. Giovanni Pellielo, in the shot put, did not go to the finals at the European and World Championships because he took only 122 out of 125 skeet instead of 123 (0.8% difference), and Josefa Idem finished second in Beijing by less than 1cm from first.

Had you ever thought about that?

8 years of Football Together for young with intellectual disabilities

The 8° year of the “Football Together” project is coming to the end. It is a complex project aimed at young people with intellectual disabilities, with special reference to young people with autism. It is a long time in which many of the participants have gone from being teenagers with autism to young adults.

It is a project of AS Roma in collaboration with the Academy of Integrated Football, which aims to promote an innovative methodology of soccer training among these young people, starting from the age of school soccer 6-12 years old to the more game-centered activity in later ages from 13 years old and beyond.

474 youth have been involved in 8 years - Each year the number of youth with intellectual disabilities has increased. Initially the project covered the soccer school age groups, going forward it was enriched by the upper age group we called “Cub Scouts Grow Up,” which now includes youth who have reached the age of majority.

80 are the youth with autism involved in the 2022-23 activity - Currently, the youth are divided into three groups according to age and their motor and psychological skills. The group composed of youth with a severe level of autism are each followed by a single professional (instructor or psychologist). The group of younger youth (6-9) years old and with an average level of functioning carry out group activities and ball games. The group of adolescents over14 of medium to high functioning follow a soccer training program and play soccer games5 among themselves, in an integrated way with players from the AS Roma soccer school and participate in events organized by other clubs or FIGC.

30 were the young people with autism in the first year - Calcio Insieme began in September 2015 with the collaboration of some schools in Rome that promoted among the families of pupils with intellectual disabilities the knowledge of this initiative, organized informational meetings with the staff of Calcio Insieme to begin to build a Community on the territory in which school, family, promoting sports subjects, and staff could feel part of a common project at the center of which are children with intellectual disabilities and in particular those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

28 hours of staff training - In 2015 the staff participated in a 28-hour Training Course by “Football Together” prior to the start of the activity, which had experts in the various fields of intellectual disability as lecturers and speeches by parents, school workers, and sports clubs. At the beginning of each year the staff is involved in a refresher training.

24 are the practitioners - The staff consists of 10 soccer instructors, 6 sports psychologists, 1logopedist, 3 doctors, 1 school and parent relations manager,1 technical area manager, 1 scientific manager and 1 institutional relations manager.

20 are the schools involved - The young people with intellectual disabilities involved come from 20 schools in the Roman area. A collaborative relationship has been established with each of these schools through the principal, support teacher and families.

9 are the videos to talk about Football Together - 6 short educational videos each lasting a few minutes were made, funded by the presidency of the Lazio Region. 3 more videos were made to present the activity carried out and the results achieved.

7 are the scientific contributions published - 3 are the scientific articles published in international journals. A special issue of the journal “Movement” and an article in the journal of the School of Sport were published. During Covid the activity carried out online with these young people produced a technical book of exercises to be done at home. The activity was presented at the national conference of the Italian Dyspraxia Society, at a seminar held at the Institute of Neuropsychiatry at Sapienza University in Rome, and is an integral part of the Level IV Course for Coaches organized by the School of Sport in Rome.

3 are the summer camps - Summer camps were held to: respond to the needs expressed by families with children with intellectual disabilities, offering weeks of summer camp, free of charge; create a model of summer camp and typical day, based on movement, declined in the different playful-motor and sports expressions; constitute a concrete model of integration thanks to the presence at the summer camp also of siblings or classmates, their peers with typical development. Each week of camp was spread over 5 days for a total of 25 hours per week.

3 are the young people who served as assistant instructors - These young people have turned 18 and have been with us for a number of years, their passion for soccer is well-rounded. They have served as assistant instructors during summer camp weeks. In the future they could put their acquired sports skills to use and make sports their career field, but their intellectual disability is an obstacle. The goal is to break down this obstacle and build an educational pathway to make soccer accessible to these girls and boys also as a possible career field.

2 are the areas investigated: motor-sportive and psycho-social - Different motor-sportive tests were proposed and experimented with before arriving at the final one that uses a 5-level behavioral description of basic motor skills, repeated twice a year, at the beginning of the educational journey and at its end. During interviews with parents, they were asked to fill out behavior fact sheets at the beginning and end of the year to assess their perception of improvement on the psychological and social areas investigated. Similar psychological assessments were conducted by the psychologists of these young people, also examining in the more serious youth the duration of their active engagement during each training session.

Digital motivational message framing effects on physical activity

Lee, A. M., Hojjatinia, S., Courtney, J. B., Brunke-Reese, D., Hojjatinia, S., Lagoa, C. M., & Conroy, D. E. (2023). Motivational Message Framing Effects on Physical Activity Dynamics in a Digital Messaging Intervention: Secondary AnalysisJMIR Formative Research7(1), e41414.

We conducted a 6-month intervention to promote increases in step counts in insufficiently active young adults via digital messages. This secondary, exploratory analysis compared intervention responses to affectively framed, social cognitively framed, and inspirational quotes messages to identify if one message type elicited a consistently greater intervention response after the delivery of one message. Using system identification, we generated person-specific dynamical models of physical activity and found that step responses did not statistically significantly differ by message type, but the speed and momentary magnitude of intervention and step response was greater on weekends compared with weekdays for all message types. We also observed significant participant heterogeneity such that some participants achieved their highest steady state from affective messages (weekdays: 35.6%, weekends: 37.8%), some from social-cognitive messages (weekdays: 26.7%, weekends: 35.6%), and some from inspirational quotes (weekdays: 35.6%, weekends: 26.7%). Thus, this exploratory analysis suggests that personalizing message types for participants in an intervention may be a worthy endeavor for generating greater step responses over time.

The median effect of digital physical activity interventions in adults is 943 steps per day [5]; thus, if a future intervention included multiple messages per day, knowledge of optimal participant response could become meaningful because approximately one-third of this sample showed a minimum of a 250-step difference between message types. This heterogeneity between participants indicates that future interventions can benefit from methods that can both explore the effects of multiple message types on physical activity and exploit the most effective message types for an individual once identified. Given that messages have proximal effects on behavior in the minutes and hours after message delivery, the use of wearable devices for measuring physical activity behavior provides a rich source of information about behavioral dynamics. Harnessing this technology, system identification and dynamical modeling can inform future work that continuously tunes interventions based on participants’ responses over time

10 reasons why young with intellectual disabilities benefit from playing soccer

  1. Soccer is the most beloved sport for young people all over the world: it can be played anywhere, indoors and outdoors, any place can be turned into a soccer field, and anyone regardless of their ability can play a game.
  2. The ball is an unrivaled sports tool: you can kick it with your feet or hands and hit it with any part of your body; everyone can pass the ball, shoot at the goal or try to parry a shot. Give a group of children a ball and they won’t get tired of chasing it.
  3. Soccer promotes inclusion for everyone; any boy or girl can run after a ball, take it away from another, shoot, pass and parry.
  4. Young people with intellectual disabilities are usually excluded from the game of soccer because the opportunities they are given are rare.
  5. Playing soccer and with the ball allows them to be with their classmates, their friends and meet new ones.
  6. Soccer is being outdoors, seeing the seasons even if you live in the city, and learning how to move with others when it is cold or hot or windy.
  7. Soccer is participating in training centered on new learning that results in the improvement of basic motor skills, coordination, technical-tactical skills, communication, collaboration and cognitive-affective skills.
  8. Soccer is being in a group together during training, sharing the same spaces, practicing alone but also with another partner or in small groups.
  9. Soccer is wearing the jersey of one’s own team, Roma, going to the stadium together with the whole group to watch the games and going to school in this uniform, being recognized by one’s teammates as players of Roma soccer school.
  10. Soccer is integration, training and participating in tournaments and playing 5vs5 integrated soccer matches composed of three young people with intellectual disabilities and two young from AS Roma.

Napoli success: to play to make someone happy

The quality that Napoli expressed to win the Scudetto has been widely analyzed in match commentaries. However, it is my impression that the success was also determined by two other factors that Spalletti wanted to introduce that valued personal aspects that are important to every human being and that relate to the need for happiness and a sense of belonging.

In fact, he said, “We have to make someone happy in order to be happy people. From a personal point of view it’s the family, from a professional point of view it’s our fans, we don’t give a damn about individual numbers and who scores goals, we have to bring a team and group achievement to our city that makes the fans feel proud of us. We have to do something for the public’s affection for our jersey.”

On the other hand, how can you not espouse this approach to soccer in a city that named its stadium after Maradona, a player who fully represented soccer as the joy and bond of belonging to this team and Naples. So, of course you play to win but you win because you want to be happy and make happy. This is no small step, because you have to be aware of how to play to achieve this twofold goal, which combines the result with the enthusiasm born of playing your game. Achieving this goal was not easy, because we know that soccer is a very emotional sport. Because of the goal, which is a rare event, it is no coincidence that the three most usual scores in Serie A in order of frequency are 1-1, 2-1 and 1-0. It only takes one episode to change the fate of a game. This is not the case in other team sports such as volleyball and basketball where about every minute a point is awarded.

On this basis, to prevent the high level of emotionality from becoming a negative load of impulsiveness and foul play for teams, it was necessary for it to find its outlet in the joy that the game can convey. When we use words like, “we are going to the field to have fun,” it does not mean that we are going on a jaunt; it is not a sign of superficiality. Instead, it implies a desire to fully experience the pleasure of the challenge, namely the joy of doing as well as possible in difficult moments what one has prepared for.

Mood is relevant to perform at the best

Competitive performance is greatly influenced by the emotional variables perceived by athletes involved in team or individual sports. Mood is that fluctuating emotional condition that is associated with any human action. Every athlete experiences moods dominated by vigor, anger, depression, fatigue, confusion and tension that may occur during a competition. Some of these emotions are helpful while others hinder performance.

A recent study investigated how these mood states manifest n young adolescent athletes participating in team and individual sports, below I summarize the findings and recommendations for coaches.

Ladiun, S.D., Abu Talip, N.K., Nikol, L., Kram, S., Mon, D.D. Comparison of Mood State between Team Sports and Individual Sports among Young Athletes. Jurnal Psikologi Malaysia. 2021; 35(2):23-33.

Anger is one of the most frequent states in competitive sports. In this study, no significant difference was found between anger in team sports and individual sports. Anger causes discomfort, bitterness and bad mood in athletes. The results in both individual and team sports caused by spectators and loud cheering from rival team supporters are the same between the two sports.

Despite the non-significant difference in anger between the two types of sports, team sports showed an average of 0.02% higher than individual sports. It can be concluded that the individual sports used in the present study (archery and bowling) probably require more concentration and accuracy with a lower level of anger for optimal performance, while sports (rugby, karate and taekwondo) that require more physical strength may have advantages if athletes have higher anger scores before competition.

Some studies have found that athletes in sports with more physical contact tend to be more aggressive. Aggression can lead to anger, which can improve an athlete’s physical strength. Anger can lead to increased vigor and thus increased motivation. For example, in rugby, anger can lead to aggression. therefore, it increases physical strength and can also increase performance. For example, anger in winning karateka is used to increase self-confidence.

When athletes experience confusion, they also feel uncertain. There is a significant difference in confusion between team sports and individual sports. This may be due to athletes’ lack of recognition of their opponents. Athletes in individual sports tend to feel more nervous and uncertain in performing because they do not know the performance of their opponents. Therefore, this makes it more difficult for individual athletes to plan a strategy for competition. On the other hand, members of a team sport more easily recognize the most appropriate and best tactical and technical strategies for dealing with rivals in competition. This may explain the feeling of confusion that individual athletes experience compared to team sports.

When athletes experience fatigue, they feel exhausted, worn out, sleepy and tired. The results showed a significant difference between the two types of sports. Individual sports showed a higher perception of fatigue than team sports. Individual athletes significantly feel fatigue because they train alone with coaches and wrestle individually with other athletes.

Fatigue is related to feelings of panic, anxiety, worry and nervousness. The results showed that there is no significant difference in tension between team sports and individual sports. This shows that all athletes, regardless of the type of sport, experience the same amount of tension. In addition to this, it also showed that coaches and trainers put the same amount of concentration and attention on both team sports athletes and individual sports athletes, since the purpose of participating in a competition is to give the athlete’s personal best or to win. This produces great tension in athletes.

It has been found that the average of confusion, fatigue and depression is higher in individual sports. Meanwhile, team sports allow athletes to share, discuss problems and support each other within the team, resulting in less confusion, fatigue and depression. This contributes to increased confidence and team spirit.

Vigor and anger were higher in team sports because anger can increase vigor and thus produce better physical strength in team sports.

It is critical to assess athletes’ moods before competition. Coaches should focus on athletes’ psychology in addition to physical preparation because it is believed that psychology comprises 10% of training, whereas in competition, stated psychology can influence 90% of performance.


Future researchers should investigate this topic further by integrating the effect of mood states with results (victory or defeat). This will help to investigate or review the effect and relationship between mood states and performance outcome (winning/losing). This will be significantly useful for coaches, athletes and sports scientists to adjust and set the appropriate mood before and during competition.

The results of the study can be applied as pre-competition mood states. Therefore, these results enable coaches, sports psychologists and athletes to recognize athletes’ psychological states before the events and prepare the necessary psychological methods or solutions, including imagination, self-talk and peep-talk, in order to adjust the appropriate mood state to improve the athlete’s performance/physical strength in sports.

These results can help train athletes with a better ability to control emotions, especially before and during competition.

Imagination and reality

“We suffer much more from our imagination than from reality.” Seneca

Lucio Anneo Seneca: vita, opere, pensiero e rapporto con il potere

To be comfortable in uncomfortable situations

Competition period, from the Women’s Tennis Internationals to preparation for the World Table Tennis Championships. So little time to devote to writing blogs. Many matches, some won some lost. Stress skyrocketing, those who manage it effectively win.

The most heard word these days is continuity of play, often you don’t have to do exceptional things but show continuity of play regardless of the outcome at that moment. This is the most difficult mental condition to maintain, for when you suffer the opponent it is easy to respond with a depressed or overly aggressive mental approach. Both are mental states that block sports expression. However, in these individual opposition sports it is very common for athletes to react to difficulties in this way.

In these moments the struggle shifts from a technical-tactical to a purely psychological level in which whoever can maintain an adequate level of self-control is likely to emerge victorious from the match.

The question becomes in my opinion that of training to deal with these situations with a constructive approach, certainly it is not easy but it is necessary to orient the athletes in this direction: to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

Book Gianni Minà, Fame di storie

Fame di storie

Gianni Minà

Roberto Nicolucci Editore

Minà nelle sue interviste non è mai stato un giudice o un pubblico ministero, perché glielo hanno insegnato i suoi maestri, Ghirelli e Barendson. Con il suo mestiere è stato solo il ponte tra una situazione, una personalità che può essere quella di un campione sportivo come può essere quella di un politico o di un altro artista e la gente e il mondo. “Il giornalismo”, ha sempre detto, “deve solo servire affinché che la gente capisca, conosca, abbia nozione, non sia narcotizzata dal solito tran tran che lo sport spettacolo e non propone per fare in modo che la gente non pensi”.

Football integrated

Bella mattina di calcio integrato a Roma: 8 club e quasi 100 giovani calciatori e calciatrici. @PMinocchi @FISDIR