Tag Archive for 'Campioni'

Mental fundamentals to become a champion

Coaches of team sports, despite their differences, share some common thoughts regarding the mental characteristics of their teams.

Desire to act and take risks – Dreams and goals are important, but without concrete actions, they remain empty. Having a vision and taking steps to achieve these goals will help you find success in everything you do. Many teams never develop their full potential. This gap is bridged when goals are pursued through appropriate actions. Even champions feel fear, but they stand out because they are willing to take risks and put themselves in the position to make the winning move. They are willing to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zone, and see how much they can improve every day.

Always wanting to learn – Recently, I read a story about John Wooden, who in the later years of his life, as he was losing some of his physical and mental abilities, said: “I still enjoy reading and I will continue to learn and grow for as long as I live. Whatever my abilities are, I want to wake up every day and do my best. I can’t do that if I don’t continue to grow and learn.” Let’s learn from him to challenge ourselves to grow. If you are not improving, you are getting worse. You never just stand still. Champions are always learning and growing.

Accepting responsibility – Being able to accept responsibility for your own mistakes allows you to grow. Those who play the “blame game” will never reach the top and become true champions. Champions do not blame others – they understand that we all make mistakes, humbly accept them, and work to overcome them by improving themselves.

When the champion fires the coach

Killing the father is not only an Oedipal temptation but, symbolically speaking, is becoming almost an Olympic discipline. Jannik Sinner has never won as much as he has since he changed technical leads. And his dioscuro Matteo Berrettini is only the latest champion to have abandoned that putative father (sometimes, as we shall see, he is also a real father) who is the coach: goodbye to Vincenzo Santopadre after thirteen full years.

Alberto Cei, a sports psychologist, tries to illustrate the complexity of the problem: “Sometimes you change coaches because you know each other too well, because repeating yourself tires or bores, it is no longer motivating. Trapattoni said it himself: after five years, athletes no longer follow you. But a new coach can also be a positive shock in a time of crisis: I think of Jacobs and Berrettini. Novelty as a necessary stimulus. Finally, do not forget that a champion may need to “kill the Buddha,” that is, go beyond the master, overcome him through his teachings. Here we are talking about absolute situations: with you I have already gone to the moon, you took me there, now how are we going to go back? Between the two of us, what more could there possibly be?”

Read the full article by Maurizio Crosetti on Repubblica.it


Suarez e Djokovic: without a soul you don’t win

A few days ago an incredible soccer champion, Luis Suarez, passed away. In his interview with Gianni Mura in 2014, I was struck by two ideas that are important to me when talking about champions. The value of technique: “Without technique there is no appreciable soccer. Today, when I see so many crosses that end up behind the goal I change the channel.” The value of emotions: “Adventure is the right term, because in 1961 it’s not like Inter was at the top of Europe. It was aiming for it, that’s why it had taken the Wizard and, as a result, the Wizard had convinced me, but without big speeches. Then it was said that I was the soul of that Inter, but that was not true. That Inter had many souls, from Facchetti to Corso, from Picchi to Mazzola. I was the experience, that I think.” Suarez goes to Inter for adventure, for the Magician and to be one of its souls.

Champions allow us to make these arguments and understand the reasons why we need them.

The first concerns the issue of excellence in human performance. Champions allow us to know what the current limits of the human experience in sport are and show us how to go beyond them, in a seemingly endless chase for this improvement. The sciences that study the human being provide data that inspire the best coaches who use training methodology to improve those technical-tactical aspects Suarez speaks of.

The second concerns the soul of a team, which is embodied in the close relationship between thinking and emotions,. Everyone likes to win, but not everyone knows that in order to express themselves at their best, you have to put your soul into it. Those who do not follow this approach, which is very difficult to live by on a daily basis, fall into the trap of resentment toward themselves and those around them because they have not been able to avoid this problem. Novak Djokovic also describes this concept well by telling us:

“When we feel hurt, resentful, sad or feel that we have failed or disliked or whatever it is, we get trapped in that emotion. It happens to me too, no doubt, on and off the field, very often. It’s normal, it’s the life experience of all of us. But I always try to be aware of what I have said or done or the emotion I feel and not get trapped in it for too long. I go back. I get out of it. Because we cannot control what happens outside of us, but we can control how we react to those circumstances.”

Suarez and Djokovic, different generations of champions, however, affirm the same idea let’s have a dialogue between our thoughts and our emotions, let’s stay in touch and have a dialogue with our souls and the souls of our teammates and those who work with us.

What the champions think

In the game, is it better to think? Or does thinking slow down the action? In my experience many athletes do not have definite answers to these questions and do not know what is best to do. I don’t want to go into how they learned as younger ones, whether they essentially followed what was asked of them by the coach or whether they also developed independent thoughts. Although it is obvious that everyone is formed mentally in their early years of playing.

However, I am interested in talking about how a young, now sportingly competent person thinks during a game whether it is of a team sport or involves situational sports such as tennis, table tennis, fencing, and combat sports. Oppositional sports in which the goal is to dominate opponents. To achieve this goal, in competition, do you think?

If I compare the mindset of the world’s top athletes I have worked with (in 7 Olympics I have worked with athletes who have won 12 Olympic medals in shooting, fencing, windsurfing and wrestling and at the Commonwealth Games 2 medals with India) and that of world-class athletes, both men and women, but who are not among the top 10 in the world in their specialty I believe that the main difference is essentially about how they use their minds in competition. Always keep in mind that even top athletes are not always winners, they often lose, however more frequently than others they find themselves fighting for a medal.

Some examples of thoughts from top athletes:

Giovanni Pellielo - “The last of the selection series was the heaviest, I made zero on the penultimate target in the first platform, I finished with twenty-three and it was the series in which I suffered the most because you had to make the result in difficult conditions and with a very high emotional load as I was still the man who had won two medals at the Olympics. Let’s say that on that occasion all the ghosts came to mind: it was difficult to close that result but I closed it. Then I thought about the final referring to the baggage of four years of experience and I relived everything I had done in the last year at the level of preparation especially psychological so as to face the final as I wanted and desired.”

Francesco D’Aniello - “Stress builds up if you think about the result. In the Olympic final I knew everyone was watching me but I was channeling my mind on what it took to break the plates. My concentration was channeled into thinking only about what I needed to do to break the plates. I knew that the Chinese had caught up with me, a zero had not been given to him, and this factor could destroy me. So I said to myself, ‘If I make a zero this will eat me,’ when I realized I could no longer make a zero I focused only on my technical gesture.”

Manavjit Singh Sandhu - “Competing head-to-head with two Olympic champions in one day and getting the better of both was really special. However, I believe that in shooting you simply try to hit your target and the score speaks for itself. Psychologically, it can be intimidating to shoot against legends, but I didn’t let that bother me.”

It clearly emerges, that in moments of competitive pressure, after a mistake, when emotions might result in a mental block, these athletes encourage themselves and focus on what they have to do. If they think about the result, it is only for a few moments, because the mind goes immediately to the performance, to what to do. Like Roberta Vinci when in the match she won against Serena Williams she repeated to herself, “Run and throw it that way.” This is the self-control of champions that we need to train in young athletes.

Top athletes’ psychological skills

The pursuit of excellence has brought many athletes closer to sports psychology. Driven by the desire to enhance not only the physical, but also the mental, several professionals have turned to this type of support to increase the likelihood of delivering exceptional performance.

In the last 20 years, mental training has become part of the preparation carried out to compete in major competitions, such as the World Championships and the Olympics. In the 60′s it was thought that the secret to winning medals was the mastery of the best technique but it was discovered that alone was not enough and that if the results were not coming it was because you were not physically prepared.

So in the 70′s physiologists came to the fore: they analyzed the physical demands of sports and provided programs to make the athletic condition more adequate. Despite this type of preparation many athletes with excellent physiques, athletic condition and technique continued to fail. This also determined a characterization of the sport activity in professional terms, a full-time preparation at the highest levels of technical and physical preparation and the result was a greater homogeneity of performance.

In the 80′s experts began to think that human psychology could play a central role in promoting success, what the Americans called the mental advantage. Today we know that with equal technical ability and athletic preparation, the difference is in the head-that is, 80% of success is mental. There is a positive circular relationship whereby an optimal mental condition allows for the best performance and the success achieved develops a positive mental approach to performance.

The main skills used by top level athletes can be summarized as follows:

  • Ability to manage competitive stress through self-regulation of activation and emotional levels.
  • High level of self-confidence and, in particular, perceive themselves as being able to cope with the most intense competitive situations.
  • Ability to set short and long-term goals that are challenging and attainable.
  • Ability to focus only on those things essential to performance.
  • Ability to refocus quickly after a negative phase or mistake.
  • Perceive oneself as determined and committed to achieving goals.
  • Having a positive dialogue with oneself, being accustomed to leading oneself in an affirmative manner (telling oneself exactly what needs to be done, never thinking about what doesn’t need to be done).
  • Taking care of your mental and physical well-being.

World champions’ attention processes

Athletes can make three types of errors due to the type of attention they use at any given point in the race: the first relates to environmental distraction (audience, weather, opponents), the second relates to mental overload (excessive worry, high expectations), and the third relates to emotional overload (anxiety, fear, anger).

Based on these data, world record holders are particularly proficient in minimizing errors due to environmental distraction and thought overload compared to other world-class athletes in the three sport types (closed skill, open skill, and team) and adolescent athletes.

However, even for them, the main source of distraction relates to the emotional component of their thoughts, which, at the most important moments, can take over and disrupt the quality of their performance (Source: Cei Consulting, 2017).

Viaggio nella mente dei campioni

Per presentare l’edizione del Master di psicologia dello sport organizzato da Psicosport che si terrà a Roma nel 2022, abbiamo organizzato questo webinar dedicato al tema “Viaggio nella mente dei campioni”.

Da Robert Nideffer e dagli atleti di élite ho imparato che ciò che hanno in comune i top performer in qualsiasi ambito professionale come i top manager o i corpi speciali dell’esercito consiste nell’abilità a prestare attenzione, a non farsi distrarre e a rimanere focalizzati su un compito alla volta. Se sei un manager o un atleta non potrai fornire prestazioni efficaci se non sei concentrato.

Parleremo di questo tema e di come si sviluppa questa mentalità che considera, come ha detto Novak Djokovic, lo stress come un privilegio.

Tennis table mind aspects

Table tennis interview Alberto Cei about the mental aspects of this sport.

Tennistavolo ieri, oggi, domani - Alberto Cei - YouTube

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”.

Higuain and Dybala: it’s difficult to play always at the best

Higuain and Dybala are the latest example of how two champions should be in crisis for the pressure due to the demand to play at their best, that for a striker means to score goals. This request is the essence of their work but that sometimes collide with the way of thinking and living the emotions. In fact, the need to always match the expectations of the club, fans, media and sponsors stimulates on the one hand, a pleasant feeling to feel important and valued so highly positive but of course it has a cost, consisting in the duty to live up to this request. This creates tensions which result in a negative effect on performance and, therefore, this explains the goals not scored by Higuain and the penalties missed by Dybala. Episodes easy to overcome said Allegri, Juventus coach, focusing on the next matches. Personally, I think these guys  need someone who can listen to their fears, teaches the players to accept these moments as part of what they do and  teaches them to stay focused on their skills when they get the doubts and concerns. Usually this is the work of the psychologist: The family or friend role is relevant. In fact,they have to provide a psychological and physical context in which to be able to be themselves and not the champions, but it will not help to solve these problems.