Tag Archive for 'mental coaching'

Th4 advanced mental coaching

Building an advanced psychological training program requires knowledge of the psychological implications typical of a given sports discipline. Some examples:

  • Endurance sports (e.g., cross-country, marathon, rowing, swimming) require the ability to tolerate physical fatigue and to be able to handle it at times when it arises in competition. They require considerable awareness of bodily sensations so they can recognize and anticipate any critical moments during the race.
  • Precision sports (e.g., archery, shooting, target shooting)-require combining together precision of sporting action and speed, so concentration is totally oriented to technical execution.
  • Sports of coordination in space (e.g., artistic gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming, diving)  in these sports the athlete tends to provide the ideal performance but also knows that it is almost impossible to achieve. Even the slightest mistake leads to a reduction in the quality of the performance and, therefore, also in the score that the jury will award him or her.
  • Speed sports (e.g., 100 and 200 meters, relays, 400 meters, swimming) require total concentration for the entire duration of the test. Decisive is the ability to effectively manage the impulsiveness and tendency to react too early that is experienced in the moments before the start.
  • Combat sports (e.g., fencing, boxing, martial arts) require a high level of mental and physical responsiveness throughout the duration of combat. Of considerable importance is the ability to know how to anticipate the opponent’s moves. Given the brevity of the fight, the ability to feel in competition from the first seconds is decisive.
  • Team sports (e.g., soccer, volleyball, basketball, rugby)  require the development of tactical thinking in a context of cooperation with one’s teammates. Penalties in soccer, serving in volleyball, free throws in basketball, and kicking in rugby require a type of concentration very similar to that of precision sports.

Once it has been established what the psychological implications are, related to the sport discipline in which one is operating, it is up to the counselor to structure a program that takes into consideration the development and improvement of the athletes’ psychological skills. For an absolute level athlete, the psychological skills to be mastered optimally are: goal setting, competitive stress management, concentration in training and competition, race planning and management, and explanatory style i.e., explaining one’s performance.

In addition, knowing how to manage one’s lifestyle in a appropriate way to one’s sports career and establishing an efficient and effective working relationship with the coach is equally crucial.

Soccer referee and psychology

We know that the stress of refereeing is negatively correlated with the referee’s concentration, self-confidence and overall well-being. This should not surprise us since this occurs in relation to any professionally performed activity.

We also know that just as athletes need psychological skills to perform successfully so do referees. Officials must be able to focus their attention, remain cool under pressure, deal with mistakes and adverse situations effectively and set realistic goals.

If these concepts are shared I wonder then, in the case of soccer referees, what is being done by the Italian refereeing organization to provide that stress preparation, especially after serious mistakes, to its members. Usually the referee is kept at rest for a few shifts. What purpose does this serve? And most importantly, how is it helped to overcome this kind of stress? Is time the only medicine? And with whom does the Italian designator consult, with other referees? And why not with a psychologist?

Questions that will not receive an answer. The Italian refereeing organization in the last 21 years has not produced a research on the psychological aspects of this activity. Otherwise, on google scholar under referee psychology there are at least one hundred researches on referees published in international journals.

Master per Allenatori in Tecniche di Ottimizzazione della Performance Sportiva

Nello sport si parla molto di come sviluppare le competenze psicologiche degli atleti. In questi ultimi 30 anni sono stati formulati programmi che prevedono l’apprendimento delle abilità mentali di base a partire dalla fine dell’infanzia, per poi giungere negli anni dell’adolescenza a piani di allenamento specifici per ogni disciplina sportiva e, infine, a programmi altamente personalizzati per gli atleti di livello assoluto. Un programma così diversificato non è stato invece proposto per chi ricopre la responsabilità di guidare i giovani attraverso queste fasi della loro vita sportiva: gli allenatori.

Le ricerche evidenziano che gli atleti vincenti richiedono allenatori che siano eccellenti, non solo per i programmi di allenamento che propongono ma come leader che li guidano con competenze tecnica e psicologica. Lo stesso sostengono allenatori come José Mourinho quando afferma che chi conosce solo di sport non sarà mai un allenatore di successo, o Jurgen Klopp quando dice che: “Bisogna servirsi della tattica con il cuore. La partita va vissuta intensamente altrimenti è noia”. O Pierluigi Pescosolido, Fiamme oro e allenatore di molti campioni del tiro a volo, con cui da molti anni ci confrontiamo per migliorare continuamente l’allenamento di questi atleti di livello assoluto parlando della gestione della loro vita, della concentrazione nei momenti decisivi, delle competizioni ma anche di come insegnare queste competenze ai giovani junior che si affacciano per la prima volta al mondo competitivo.

Emerge così con forza la rilevanza della dimensione psicologica del lavoro dell’allenatore a livello giovanile e assoluto. Sono queste le ragioni che mi hanno convinto ad accettare l’invito di Psicosport, l’organizzazione che da 28 anni realizza il più longevo e di successo Master in Psicologia dello Sport, a promuovere insieme a un gruppo di esperti un Master TOP per allenatori in Tecniche di Ottimizzazione della Performance Sportiva. L’obiettivo è duplice:

  • Migliorarne le competenze psicologiche in qualità di specialisti della Prestazione.
  • Ottimizzare le loro abilità nel supportare gli atleti a costruire un profilo vincente in ogni impegno della vita sportiva.
Il Master prevede tre moduli formativi:
  1. Auto-sviluppo - Sviluppare le risorse dell’allenatore e la sua comprensione psicologica degli sport.
  2. Eccellenza - Identificare le aree di miglioramento dell’allenatore e sviluppare un piano di azione personale.
  3. Leadership - Conoscere e applicare gli stili di leadership più efficaci.
E’ l’inizio di una nuova impresa. Chi desidera avere più informazioni può visitare il sito di Psicosport.

To improve we need time

I am often asked by coaches, managers and athletes at the end of their careers to offer them a path to self-development.
Most of the time people have a very general idea of what is meant by self-development. Therefore, the identification and structuring of improvement goals is already a significant part of this work on oneself.

In this initial phase, another equally essential aspect should be clarified, one that is often overlooked and of which there is no full awareness: time.

It means talking about the time it will take to achieve the desired effects, learning to use them and then internalizing the concept of continuous improvement, therefore, of a process of improvement that will never have a conclusion. Awareness of the time required is important because people think that it is enough to understand to immediately put the desired behavior into action. They don’t know or don’t want to recognize that the change required must fit into their daily reality and must take into account the reactions of others, their motivations and expectations. Consequently, providing them with a time dimension helps them to become aware of the difficulties typical of human relationships and how much application is needed to achieve their goals.

Below is a time table that can serve to understand the coaching path within which one should insert oneself and its various phases.

Why and how the mental coaching is changed in these last 50 years

I would like to talk about how psychological preparation has changed, in my opinion, in this thirty years. Certainly new strategies and technologies have been introduced but this is not what I want to dwell on.

Initially, psychological preparation spread especially among high-level athletes and particularly those who participated in the Olympics and major sporting events. If we think of the psychological programs introduced in the 1970s and spread throughout the world in the 1980s and 1990s, we can see that they tended to develop certain psychological skills essentially linked to the management of competitive stress. From the first programs proposed by Richard Suinn and Lars Eric Unestahl to most of those implemented in those years, these projects were mainly focused on learning relaxation, mental repetition techniques, goal setting and techniques for attention training. My 1987 book “Mental training for athletes” proposes the same strategies within an eight-week program.

In those years working with athletes who were competing for maximum success, the attitude towards training or mindset was not taken into consideration. I remember Ennio Falco, gold medalist in Atlanta 1996 in skeet, a discipline of shooting, that when he made a mistake on a platform, he would take 500 cartridges and train on those two targets until he considered that mistake correct. On the other hand when in 1995 I started to work with the shooting most of them were athletes who had won many international competitions but wanted to learn to be even more concentrated and to better manage stress in some moments of the competition to raise their average by one clay pigeon. Basically for at least 20 years I worked with athletes who wanted to maximize the skills they already had, who trained every day in a motivated way and who wanted to respond immediately to the difficulties they encountered. The same however is true of most psychologists of that period.John Salmela, who constructed a questionnaire for the evaluation of mental abilities, told me that in Canada they considered the abilities sufficient if on a scale of 1 to 5, the athletes showed an average of 4!

It seems to me that today the condition has changed quite a bit, not only because mental preparation has spread to young adolescents and athletes at a lower level than those at the top of the world.

Dealing with this type of athlete, it seems to me that the need to understand and enhance motivation and a growth-oriented mentality has emerged more clearly, allowing them to learn to accept mistakes and to respond to difficulties quickly and effectively. These aspects seem to me to have not been as important among world-class athletes and therefore were not taken into account. The study of psychological dimensions such as optimism, toughness and and resilience seems to me that can also be explained because we have become aware of the lack of these characteristics in many athletes, as you can understand we are dealing with the attitude and the explanation of the results obtained.

Impossible to deepen this theme in the few lines of a blog but I think it should be studied as the psychological preparation has developed from the 70s to today, especially wanting to understand what have been the changes in the mentality of athletes and in the world of sport that could have oriented the choice of new directions of study and application.

How to coach mentally in this new lockdown phase

We are again experiencing a period of difficulty to train and compete, moreover for many sports these opportunities have been totally cancelled and the athletes are at home or at most in the parks to train themselves only physically.

This situation generates concern and anxiety in everyone and in the athletes the loss of their daily activities and competitions creates even more negative emotions. They run the risk of believing that there is nothing else to do but suffer the present and wait!

There is no bigger mistake than thinking in this way. On your own, however, it is difficult to react to these thoughts that penetrate in the mind.

For this reason I have built a mental training system to regain confidence and control of thoughts and emotions. It is a practical system, composed of exercises that improve personal self-control. It certainly takes time, 30 minutes every day, but it is a training and the results, as for any other skill, can be obtained only with daily practice.

Who wants to receive more information about this system, its duration, activities to do and achievable results can write to this blog and will be contacted.

I suggest to abstain to those who think it will be easy or not time consuming.

How do you work with the young athletes?

Have you ever thought about how to start working with a young athlete? Here are some questions to reflect.

  • Do you have an outline of how to develop the mental preparation intervention with a young teenager?
  • What skills to start with?
  • Do you take a period of observation and first talk to the coach?
  • What do you begin to observe?
  • What do you say to the athlete first?
  • Do you use a structured interview? And on what main topics?
  • How much time do you spend between this introductory phase and the beginning of the intervention?
  • Does it change your job and goals if you work in a period away from competitions or if the intervention starts in a competition period?
  • Usually in relation to which aspects of your work do you feel most comfortable to begin?
  • If underage, do you always talk to parents as well? What is your goal?
  • How do you check the young person’s motivation to be engaged in this mental work?
  • Do you have clear in mind what you want to say in the first three minutes when you talk to the athlete for the first time? What do you want me to remember about this introduction?

Returning to sport and athletes’ needs during the coronavirus

Sorry, this entry is only available in Italiano.

Mental coaching practiced at home

In these days of lockdown, many athletes have contacted me to find out how it is possible to practice the mental training in the absence of real training.
It’s difficult to explain it in two words but I want to give a practical example of training that can be done for athletes of different sports disciplines. The example I propose concerns tennis but with the appropriate adaptations it can be done by any athlete.

It requires the competence to perform correct abdominal breathing and to know what it means to visualize a sport action.
This type of training lasts about 25 minutes and should be repeated daily. Remember that it’s one example and that over the course of the weeks it should be implemented with other exercises.

Change your sport career with the mental coaching

Still 200 days to prepare yourself mentally for the next Olympics, a period of 6 months of mental training could optimize your psychological strengths to successfully face the Olympic challenge.

Want to know how to do it?

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to find out how mental training 

can change your life & career as an athlete!