How to motivate “our” inner athlete: Tamberi’s mental coach speaks

Learning to manage our inner athlete according to Luciano Sabbatini, the mental coach of Gianmarco Tamberi, can make a difference in life and in sport

Eugenio Spagnuolo

Inside every athlete, from the smallest to the great champions, there is a inner athlete, made up of thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions. And it is precisely these, at the right moment, that get noticed on the pitch and in life, according to Franco Rossi e Luciano Sabbatini, authors of The Inner Athlete, a book published by Franco Angeli, where they explain to the coaches how to deal with that part that “acts in every sportsman, as well as in every individual, and which is capable of favoring or hindering his maximum performance”. A sort of athletic subconscious that can make a difference even in the Olympics. And not in a manner of speaking. The authors are two highly appreciated mental coaches: Rossi is the co-founder of IN-COACHING and Sabbatini is the mental coach of many famous athletes, not least Gianmarco Tamberi, the altista who gave Italy Olympic gold in the Tokyo 2020 high jump. We asked Sabbatini to explain if we all have the inner athlete, champions and non-champions, and how we can use it to our advantage.

Sabbatini, the inner athlete: do we all have it or only the great champions?
“Each of us knows inner athletes, normal people who have faced the challenges of life with the determination, courage, mental clarity of true champions. In fact, we all have an inner self, made up of thoughts and emotions that at times supports us in our actions, while at other times it limits us “.

Can we also use it in everyday life or just in sports?
“What is the difference between sport and life? In both, are we not called to express our potential, to deal with continuous variables, often to compete with others and to dialogue with our thoughts and emotions? The Inner Athlete, with Franco Rossi, we talk about sport, in particular we turn to sports coaches. In fact, however, every person called to express his qualities must necessarily access his interiority, to give substance and authenticity to his actions “.

In the book, a chapter is devoted to the importance of goals. How do you choose an athletic goal?
“The choice of a goal is always made by the athlete, the mental coach intervenes to make it possible, highlighting the specificity, measurability, segmentation and temporality of the chosen goal. In short, the goal is identified by the athlete, which together with me transforms it into an effective and motivating focus “.

By the way, how did you manage to motivate Gianmarco Tamberi, helping him to shape the Olympic dream?
“Gianmarco has talent and motivation to sell, my role with him was to make him understand that his potential could only be expressed through the full manifestation of his uniqueness. Later we worked trying to channel his exceptional will into concrete actions. , without wasting energy. I remember for example when, a few years ago, I gave him a funnel to keep in his bag during the race: it was the symbol of the right amount of will and determination, because the excessive “quantity” would have escaped from the funnel, making one lose the right technical relaxation and the fluidity of the gesture “.

Another question: attention. Athletes or sports enthusiasts are often asked to be focused and relaxed at the same time. How do these two apparently irreconcilable states of mind reconcile?
“If the attention is placed on specific technical aspects of the athletic gesture during the execution in the competition, often negative effects are created on the performance, because the conscious attention negatively affects the acquired automatism. Instead it is of vital importance for a athlete, of any level, be both alert and relaxed, or rather relaxed, to give the best in the race. To do this it is essential to bring the focus of attention away, out of the body, for example towards the goal where I want to shoot and not where or how to hit the ball with the foot. The latest neuroscientific research claims that the more the focus attentivo is away from the athlete, the better the automatic execution of the technical gesture will be and therefore, consequently, the less internal interference will be. A very different thing during technical-specific training, where the focus interno it is the sensory and perceptive guide of all learning “.

And the visualization? Some Coaches suggest using it in life as well, because it helps you achieve your goals. Is that so? Can you suggest a little visualization exercise?
“Pre-visualizing an event, a race, a university exam or a job interview allows us to internalize how we want to live the future situation and therefore how to be at our best, also to be able to control the emotional aspect. Mentally live what we will face in the future, it prepares our mind for what will happen and also for any unforeseen events: for our brain to visualize something or to experience it has, in large part, the same neurological value. It is very important to use this technique (performed in the right way) also to for the purposes of learning in young people or for re-learning after injuries Gianmarco Tamberi visualization was one of the main mental training tools we used in the post ankle injury period of 2016 “.

the advices

Two little tips for anyone who wants to try training with visualization too:

practice gradually and don’t give up, at first it may not be easy to be able to visualize;

perform the visualization with the clothes you will wear during the race/ event, trying to recall the emotions of the competition, possibly in the same environment where it will take place. Scientific research states that the visualization performed in this way is more effective.

Finally, awareness. In recent years, mindfulness techniques have also spread to sports. How else can we activate our awareness?

Living a race with awareness is the consequence of an optimal mental preparation. If I accept the variability of the situations that each discipline puts in front of me (opponent, refereeing, climatic conditions, speed and unpredictability of the game) and I am ready to lovingly welcome all the emotions that I will experience during the competition (happiness, anger, joy, fear, satisfaction , sense of uncertainty, etc.), it will be possible to be in the here and now and consciously experience the sports competition. Therefore awareness as an effect / end of a correct approach and not as a tool to be used for a purpose. The inner athlete is the result of a journey, done with courage and curiosity, which each of us does in his body, in his mind and in his emotional experience.

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How to motivate “our” inner athlete: Tamberi’s mental coach speaks