AGI – “If my mind can conceive it, then I can do it”, loved to repeat one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali. “For athletes who want to become champions, the mind can be as important, if not more important, than any other part of the body,” said Gary Neville, one of the symbols of Manchester United and England in the 1990s and 2000s. The bibliography is full of references to the weight that the psyche has in the achievement of sports results and in the athlete’s maturation process. Yet in Italy the figure of the mental coach it has only been gaining ground in recent years, so much so that to complete a specific path in this field one is often forced to study abroad.
It is the path chosen by Luca de Rose, 36 years old, Neapolitan, who will be part of the staff ofItaly Team at the Tokyo Olympics. After graduating in Psychology and specialization, he attended several masters, two of which abroad, in Sport Psychology. After the preparation course at the ‘Giulio Nesti’ Olympic Center of Coni, he started working in 2014.
“The first athlete I followed – he tells AGI – was the saber Rebecca Gargano, individual silver at the Baku European Games in 2015 and team gold at the 2015 World Cup in Uzbekistan and at the Naples Universiade in 2019. Now she is in the sports group of the Air Force and will be one of the athletes who will represent Italy in Tokyo ”. Thanks to the results obtained and word of mouth, he has also tried his hand at other sports over time, from tennis (which he also practices as an athlete), to basketball and volleyball. Then came the meeting with Fijlkam and the approach to martial arts, which she will deal with specifically in Tokyo.
“I have been in the Italia Team since 2018 – he specifies – and for me it will be the first Olympics in this role. For the female part we are three mental coaches, I follow athletes who come from the Center-South and who practice judo, wrestling, karate, but also swimming and tennis. However, they are available to the Olympic team, taking into account that some prefer to use their own staff, such as Federica Pellegrini, who has her own sports psychologist”. De Rose is one of the few in Italy who applies a practical method, working on reflexes and emotional management. “The mental coach is above all a psychologist – he explains – because behind the athlete is the person. Clinical intervention, which in some cases may be necessary if there is emotional suffering, must be distinguished from sports psychology. I work with physical exercise, I train attention, reflexes, also through the techniques of autogenic training, mindfulness and visualization. Everything you need to find attention and concentration during the races “.
The approach is that of the ‘psychology of well-being’. “Being an athlete is a mental condition – he highlights – I always tell girls that, in addition to winning, you need to be an example for others, to show the beauty of sport. Have a healthy psychic balance it is a necessary condition to do this, as well as to obtain sporting results ”. After the initial suspicions, the coaches appreciate this type of intervention and see the results, also in terms of competitive anger management. “If an athlete is angry – he highlights – he doesn’t express himself well, if instead he manages to translate it into aggression he can become a winning athlete. It is about contain and manage emotions“. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly influenced Luca’s work in the last period. “The athletes are between 20 and 30 years old – he points out – and like all the boys they live from study, sport and social life, who have failed in recent months. For those who trained 5, 6 or 10 hours a day, there was a problem of identification, eating disorders, but also of anxiety or fear of going out of shape. I have recorded cases of overtraining by those who have exercised more than necessary to maintain the condition. For some there was also a beginning of dropout, due to the idea of not being able to recover and therefore of wanting to leave the business “.
The shift in the date of the Olympics allowed us to work more calmly on these situations, thanks also to the foresighted Italian team, which relied heavily on psychological support. “Personally, I based it a lot on the challenge mechanism – says de Rose – explaining to them that the athlete sees himself in difficulties and that they had the opportunity to prove their worth. The reopening and confirmation of the Olympics did the rest “. Thanks to the awareness campaign launched by the Coni and the Italia Team, the figure of the sports psychologist is finding more and more space. Looking to the future, Luca pulls his dream out of the drawer: “When I was playing tennis the athletic trainer was not as common as today – he remembers – now he is present in any sports center. I would like the mental coach to be present in every reality, even in gyms, and that in 15-20 years he becomes a fundamental figure in the staff of every athlete. These young people are required commitment and maturity not suited to their age and on this psychological support can be decisive “.