“Talent opens a door, but if you’re not emotionally stable, it’ll be very difficult to reach the highest level”
Rocio Pomares, head of High-Performance Psychology of Barcelona Football Club, reflects on the psychological factors that affect sports performance and which are the most valued by Barça.
Emotional stability, inner force, adaptation ability and competitive development: these are the four big categories which group thirty psychological factors that have a direct influence on sports performance. Rocio Pomares, head of High-Performance Psychology of Football Club Barcelona, defines them in this way: “Emotional stability is the self-knowledge players have about themselves, their ability to manage frustration and negative emotions. Inner force is related to motivation, passion, the players’ ability to pay the price that reaching their goals means. Adaptation ability falls to the ability to learn, humbleness, adaptation to different circumstances… And competitive development is about taking what they’ve learnt to the competition and managing positive emotions there. Also, players’ determination and their ability to outdo themselves in complex competitive situations belong to this block.”
For Pomares, self-knowledge is the most valuable psychological factor when optimizing the player’s sports performance. “Self-knowledge is the person’s ability to know themselves. Only if the players know themselves and how they work, they will be able to manage themselves. For Rocio Pomares, self-knowledge is a key tool to control and run emotions towards the desired performance. “Emotions could be very useful if you know how to manage them. You just need to learn to live with them.” Pomares’ proposal is to learn to acknowledge them and use them in favour of performance in the competition. Definitely: she specifies the importance of emotions being well trained. “Rage alone ends up in a red card. But if it’s well managed, it could be a plus”, she affirms. In this way, the self-dialogues the athletes can have with themselves are essential. “It’s a high decisive factor in emotions and, consequently, in behaviour, attitude and performance.” A useful self-dialogue aids the creation of the emotion needed to reach the performance desired.” Again, according to Pomares, everything spins around self-knowledge. “When we see that self-knowledge and we see what its structure is, which are the basis it was built on, we are able to know if it’ll be easier or more complex to shape.”
Barça training in the psychological field
As it happens with sports physical abilities, training the psychological aspect is possible, but not in every circumstance. “It all depends on which parameter fails. For example, if emotional stability fails, it’ll be hard to work on it at a professional level.” The reason why: “In this field not only genetics has a great influence, but also the family role. The role of the environment of that player.”
Pomares categorizes athletes’ social environments as “useful or not useful” instead of positive or negative. And she specifies: “There are environments that look positive -children who have families devoted to sports, everything spins around sport-, but even though they seem positive, they’re not useful. They put pressure on the child that is not appropriate for their age and they do not know how to manage, and this makes them unhappy. Instead, many times, unstructured environments make the player put their energy, hope and effort into this, and they have a higher sacrifice capacity than the rest. In fact, we have observed that some of the best players come from unstructured backgrounds,” the psychologist explains. According to her observations, these players develop what in psychology is known as resilience, “the ability to transform something negative into positive. If you take that to the track or field, you can turn negative situations and use those emotions to compete with higher intensity”.
Pomares has no doubts about the key role players’ age plays in the ability sports psychology can have when optimizing behaviour and sports performance. “Youth is the most important stage for me because it’s decisive. Whatever we do with a young player will have a great influence on them on making it or not.” This is a training period of life in which the club can improve the players’ development, not only in the way they play but also in the Barça personality. “The younger they are, the more malleable. It’s about creating the personality and nature we want.”
Definition of “Barça personality”
The definition of the psychological traits of Barça personality has been the main innovation Pomares has brought to the club since she started working in August 2021. Pomares has developed a psychological training methodology based on “the thorough analysis of the personality of the best players in Barça history to see which factors have been decisive, or what they have in common and made them different. The magic formula is: player’s personality, plus environment, plus lifestyle.” Based on these psychological traits, the professional team headed by Pomares can better foresee if the player will be able to fit Barça’s philosophy, on and off the field. “At a technical level, Barça has a very well-defined type of game need, and we sign people based on that type of game. It’s a way of physical training but at a psychological level. We have some parameters, and if they’re not met, we’ll think twice when signing.”
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