Sports psychologist Marcelo RofféThursday, August 22, 2013
‘There are many bosses but few leaders’
Buenos Aires, February 8
Education: Psychology degree, University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and Master in Sports and Training Psychology in UNED-UCM, Spain. He is currently pursuing doctoral degree course at University of Palermo
Job: Psychologist, University teacher. He has already written nine books
Last book read: Saber perder
(Learning to lose) by David Trueba
Favourite newspaper: Olé
There is an increasing trend among sports- people to take into account the need of training the mind apart from the body because, sometimes, the difference between winning or losing is just how focused one is on one’s aim. The Herald interviewed well-known sports psychologist Marcelo Roffé, who will launch his last book El partido mental (The mental match) tomorrow at the University of Palermo.
How did you begin to work with soccer players?
I became well-known for my work in soccer but I received every kind of sports-people in my office. I started working in soccer academies in 1994. After five years in Ferro, I wrote a book, which was given to (José) Pekerman on behalf of his wife. Seven months later, he asked me to work with the under-20 national team ahead of the World Cup in Vélez in 2001. I stayed with the national teams for six years and a half, including a psychological counselling to the senior team.
Which is the main difference between individual or collective sports-people?
In motor racing, polo or motocross, 60 per cent of the performance depends on the car, motorcycle or horse. So, you can only work with 10 of the remaining 40 percent. In the performance chart, 25 percent represents skill — a natural gift that must be well-polished — while another 25 percent is tactic. And then, the physical training and the icing on the cake is the mental part. That is why we talk about mental training rather than therapy. We try to boost performance from the psychological angle, to give sports-people some tips or tools.
How do you work in the collective sports?
Every sports person is unique. Each one works his or her own aims and limits. But we can also say that there are no strictly individual sports because there is always a team behind. However, the perception of success or failure is overblown in the individual sports.
What about the arguments into the group?
They are unavoidable and necessary because, in high performance sports, there are egos fighting for renown. Michael Jordan said that the ‘I‘ must be replaced with a ‘We‘ in order to reach success but that, sometimes, that success invites the ‘I‘ to return.
The argument turns the group into a team. This is why it is important as far as you can capitalize it. There are many bosses but few leaders.
Is it possible to have many leaders in the same group?
It is better to have many as long as they do not disturb the coach’s work.
Don’t they bother one another?
If there is a good external leader they don’t, but it usually happens that one or two out of 10 coaches are leaders, the others are bosses. My favourite book is El hombre mediocre (Mediocre Man) by José Ingenieros. The mediocre boss wants everyone floating like little corks so that nobody shines. He does not support players’ development. He never says ‘We’ but ‘I’. He never listens. That is why it is so difficult for psychologists to work in certain groups.
How do psychologists work the players’ submissiveness to the referee and coach? Is it difficult to control rebellion?
The status quo needs submissive players to be reproduced. Since there are mainly bosses, they can’t manage players who question their income or working conditions. It is true that coaches are in an upper level in the hierarchical pyramid but there are different ways of communicating decisions. Sometimes, a player finds out that he is out of the team reading the list on the dressing-room wall. However, it is established that a player does not ask for explanations when he is fielded nor when he is out. It is like a farce.
Which is the main difference between sports where players receive large sums of money as income and those where they don’t?
It is difficult for anyone who works in a soccer atmosphere to understand certain things that usually happen in some amateur sports. Soccer became professional with the good and bad things that it implies. Soccer is not any more a play but a sport with a business side.
It is a work...
Sometimes, it is a disgraceful work, which involves maltreatment. It does not go for the best player but for who bears the violence, injustice, corruption and the suffering. It is even more difficult for the players who belong to the middle class as they are sometimes discriminated against for not sharing certain established values.
What about other sports?
It is completely different but a player does not usually end his soccer career early as he does in other sports when he turns 18, starts university and is fed up of missing dances or dinners with friends and asks himself: Why extend it if I am not going to live off it?
Is it different between women and men?
Yes. Women do not usually accept autocratic leaders. They prefer someone sensible like (Sergio) ‘Cachito‘ Vigil. On the other hand, men want leaders whom they have to obey. However, Unión coach Facundo Sava is testing another kind of leadership. He asked the players if they want to gather before the match and they decided to do it.
Why is it so difficult for the tennis players to ‘close‘ a match?
In sports like volleyball, table tennis or tennis you are never completely a winner or loser up to the end. The player usually gets excited and loses the control. Otherwise, he takes fewer risks in order to secure the victory and the competence is dialectic: the other one takes advantage of what you miss. The main difference between good and better players is the kind of risks they take at crucial moments.
Does it help to create a name for the teams?
It helps the identity and the sense of belonging. It worked with the Leonas and the Pumas but it cannot be imposed. You may propose it but it’s up to the group to go along with it.
The anthem before the match, does it reinforce nationalism?
It is related to the passion. Sometimes it helps but then it is not advisable to be extremely relaxed before a competition. You need feeling excited for a better performance.
What about the retirement?
It is always traumatic but less so for those who take the decision —only 10 per cent of soccer players —than for those who are ‘retired’ by the sport. The sport makes you live in a kind of bubble. You change from being a ‘darling boy’ to an ordinary man and it is always a crash landing. (José Luis) Clerc said that retirement is difficult because the ego has no more food.
Does the farewell match help?
Sometimes it do es but the problem is that most players do not develop another area of interest and it must be developed when you are a teenager. It is important to ‘train‘ the retirement but it does not usually happen.
How do psychologists work with the parents’ pressure on the kids?
Few parents understand that the sport is an activity to promote personal development not a way of getting rich. As in any developing country, many people want to save themselves through their children.
Only one out of 100 ninth-division players reaches the first team. That is why it is important to work properly with the other 99 in order to avoid becoming frustrated adults. Nevertheless, psychologists are rarely hired by soccer academies.