The sports journalist, Susana Iñesta, interviewed me by Ceuta Actualidad.
It was a great conversation arround managing sport competition and pressure. I would share with her my experience as a former tennis player and my current point of view, as a coach on emotions.
I strongly recommed its reading! At the end of the post, you can find the link to the original version in Spanish.
Sports fans in general still have in their minds the images of the 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, who succumbed to the pressure of public scrutiny, ending up without a medal and in tears. And she is not the only example of a young athlete under pressure. One of the best gymnasts in history, the American Simone Biles, left the gymnastics mat and slammed the door on her way to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic finals. These are just a couple of examples of elite athletes, but any athlete, regardless of age, modality or category, can be affected by pressure and take a serious psychological toll.
And as prevention is better than cure, the Ceuta Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation does not hesitate to invest resources to improve all aspects of the physical and emotional health of the local gymnasts. For some months now, the Territorial has had the collaboration of Izaskun Bernal from Ceuta who works, with the monitors of the federation, to offer all the tools at her disposal to “accompany them and to pay attention to mental and emotional management in sport and, specifically, in competition”. Izaskun’s opinion is based on two pillars.
On the one hand there is the research that Izaskun Bernal has carried out over the last few years as a professional in the world of coaching and emotion management consultancy and on the other hand, in the case of sport, “based on my own experience”, as a tennis player for 10 years “with 5 hours of training every day”.
“The pressure, the search for results, the competitiveness (understood on a level that unbalances us), the feeling of being judged (often based on subjective criteria, as in rhythmic gymnastics), the family with their desire to show off in their social circle with a ‘look what my girl does’, we forget how our children experience sport,” says Izaskun Bernal.
Before starting to work with the gymnasts, the coach made it clear to coaches and parents that “I was not going to focus on results”, the coach “does not interfere in the results, as it is the athlete who faces the challenges of competition alone”. Izaskun gives Rafa Nadal as an example. “Izaskun emphasises the importance of the team that works to improve the athlete’s performance but, as a coach, “we are there to accompany them and give them a series of tools that allow them to get the best out of themselves”. The result, “to me, personally, I don’t care” because the work of coaching is different.
In the case of rhythmic gymnastics, if the gymnast drops, for example, one of the clubs, “the emotion that will help me to accept that loss is authentic sadness because it is the emotion that energetically allows me to accept the loss and when I accept it, with peace of mind, I can continue to move forward”, says Izaskun.
A very different case is if the emotion that the athlete handles after the mistake is anger, “the seconds or minutes that I am in anger mode, I will be in an emotional dysfunction mode”. Anger is a very powerful emotion whose purpose is to repair the injustice but not to accept a loss “because an athlete immersed in anger will block and will not be able to continue with the normal development of the exercise”. Another emotion that can arise after a mistake is fear, which also does not help to overcome the loss.
Thus, for athletes, to a greater or lesser extent, any learning involves effort. Acquiring new knowledge and skills of greater difficulty will always generate some initial tension and frustration. Athletes who do not know how to manage these emotions may resist trying new activities for fear of failure. Also, the ability to manage emotions plays an important role in getting along with the coach, working in a team or resolving conflict. The knowledge, understanding and management of emotions is, therefore, vital, as they allow us to adapt, communicate and function in society. Therefore, emotional intelligence prepares you for life, allows you to be attentive and to be able to defend yourself against possible social challenges that may arise.
Published by Ceuta Actualidad (21/02/2022).
(Original version (Spanish) HERE)