During the concluding evening of the ‘Giallissimo di Settembre’ tournament, Dr. Vanessa Costa, a Sport Psychotherapist and Psychologist, shared valuable insights into sports psychology, addressing participants’ questions on topics such as emotion management, performing under pressure, and mental well-being.
We are delighted to make the content of Dr. Costa’s presentation available.
Greetings and Introduction
After the greeting extended to Dr. Costa by Daniela Manzoni, CEO & Co-Founder of Daema, Dr. Costa introduces the topic of her presentation.
“Good evening, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here, and I would first like to express my gratitude to Daniela and the Tennis Club Bergamo for inviting me to share this special evening with you. To kick off this conversation, I’d like to share a bit about myself and illustrate what it means to work in the field of sports psychology.
From the early days of my professional career, I’ve nurtured a passion for the mind and its workings, coupled with a deep love for sports. As a result, alongside my work as a psychologist and psychotherapist, I pursued a master’s degree in sports psychology. Over time, I initiated projects and collaborations in the sports world, primarily focusing on individual disciplines like tennis and golf, working with athletes of varying ages and experience levels, both individually and in teams with some colleagues. Recently, I participated in a research project on parenting in sports, a fascinating and relevant aspect that is often overlooked.”
But what does sports psychology entail?
“In brief, it addresses two fundamental aspects” Dr. Costa continues.
“1. Enhancing sports performance through mental training: this involves using mental training to optimize athletes’ cognitive and mental abilities, helping maximize their potential.
2. Promoting well-being: sports psychology extends beyond performance; it concerns athletes’ mental well-being within their sporting context and leverages sports as a tool for rehabilitation, inclusion, and prevention.
Emphasizing both these goals is crucial because, despite society’s focus on performance, the idea that personal psychological well-being is essential for excellence is gradually gaining recognition. In recent years, professional athletes like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Marc Jacobs have highlighted the importance of personal psychological well-being in achieving exceptional results. Feeling good is vital for peak performance.
In my work with individual athletes, I guide them in self-discovery, valuing their skills and accompanying them in their personal challenges. I teach them specific mental training techniques to handle competition effectively and encourage personal growth and development. My role is not that of a magician but of a guide who collaborates with the athlete. Success requires time, dedication, and consistent training, both physically and mentally.
Sports psychology often takes place outside traditional settings, integrating studio work with field observations and on-site training sessions. Tonight, we will explore some common psychological challenges in sports and how to address them in contexts like marathons and tennis.”
But let’s move on to the questions from the guests in the room. Here below some of the most significant questions and answers that characterized this meeting with Dr. Costa, aiming to provide additional insights into improving sports performance through mental preparation.
Facing the ’30 km Wall’ in the New York Marathon: Mental Preparation Tips
The first question to Dr. Costa is posed by Giulia Cirelli, Delegate for Bergamo of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation.
“In less than a month, I will realize my dream of running the New York Marathon. I am thrilled and cannot wait to be there, but I am afraid of hitting the ’30 km wall.’ How can I prepare myself psychologically?”
“Thank you, Giulia, for your question, which I find very interesting and relevant, as it applies to both tennis and many other sports.” Dr. Costa begins.
“The so-called ’30 km wall’ represents a significant challenge for marathon runners because, often, when they reach that point, their energy starts to deplete, and the body no longer responds as it did at the beginning of the race. This can create the feeling of encountering a genuine obstacle that makes it difficult to continue and successfully complete the marathon.
From a mental perspective, each athlete is a unique individual and may require a personalized approach. However, I can offer you some general suggestions.
First and foremost, it is essential to become aware of your inner dialogue during the competition and work on transforming it from an opponent into an ally. Create a kind of ‘internal coach’ within you capable of motivating and emotionally supporting you on one hand, and providing clear and specific instructions on how to tackle various phases of the race on the other.
Additionally, in the weeks leading up to the marathon, you could employ visualization. Imagine how you might feel when facing the ’30 km wall,’ what difficulties you might encounter at that moment, and how you’d like to confront it. Visualizing the strategies you could adopt to overcome it. This repeated visualization will help you feel better prepared to face that moment.
Remember that in situations of prolonged physical effort, in running as well as tennis or golf, it is essential to have confidence in your mental strength. Although each athlete will develop this ability through a unique and subjective journey, these suggestions can serve as a foundation to start working on your mental preparation.”
How to Harness Emotions for Peak Performance and Overcome Challenges
Giulia presents the second question to Dr. Costa.
“I get easily emotional during races, especially when there’s a lot of crowd involvement, as is often the case during the New York Marathon. These emotions can help give me the necessary push to continue the race. However, I’ve noticed that these emotions sometimes turn into tears, causing difficulties in my breathing and making me feel breathless. How can I manage this situation during the marathon?”
Dr. Costa responses: “Emotions play a crucial role in sports, be it in running, tennis, or any sporting discipline. While they can increase motivation and energy, they can also lead to extreme situations, such as the ‘crying’ you mentioned. But emotions are not necessarily obstacles; they are our compasses and provide valuable information about our experience.
To effectively manage emotions, the first step is to recognize them when they manifest. Give them a name and welcome them without judgment; there’s nothing wrong with feeling fear or excitement. These emotions communicate something important to you. Only when you can recognize and accept them can you adopt strategies to regulate, channel, and make them functional to your performance.
In your case, where emotions often translate into breathlessness and tears, I suggest working on recognizing the early signs of this emotional activation, so you can intervene in a timely and targeted manner, regulating the emotional intensity before it peaks. Practicing mindfulness, positive self-talk, breathing and relaxation techniques, as well as visualization, can help you maintain emotional balance during the marathon. Remember, these are skills that require constant practice.”
Closing the Gap Between Training and Match Performances
Daniela Manzoni poses the third and final question to Dr. Costa.
“Why is it often the case that you feel you perform well in training but can’t replicate the same quality in a match? Why does this happen, and how can you overcome this obstacle?“
“The feeling of performing well in training but not being able to replicate the same performance in a match is common and can result from various factors” Dr. Costa responses. “In fact, this is an aspect that applies to both tennis and sports in general.
One of the key factors is motivation and goals. Unclear or overly results-focused goals can generate anxiety and interfere with performance. Ineffective emotional management can disrupt the fluidity of learned automatisms in training (the famous ‘practice shots’ in tennis) or the clarity of decision-making during the match. Low self-esteem or a lack of confidence in one’s abilities can make the challenge of the match seem insurmountable.
During the match, attention can also be distracted by external or internal disturbances, making concentration difficult. Mental training in tennis focuses precisely on these aspects: motivation, emotions, self-esteem, and concentration. Integrating these skills into your daily training routine is essential.”
Dr. Costa’s contacts
For further information, Dr. Vanessa Costa can be reached via these contacts:
Dr. Vanessa Costa, Psychotherapist and Sports Psychologist
Facebook: Vanessa Costa Clinical and Sports Psychologist
Instagram: dr_vanessa_costa LinkedIn: Vanessa Costa