One of the incredible things about Villarreal as a club is that they are very willing to give us at Villarreal USA an inside peak at what happens at a world class club. This week, Berta Peris, sports psychologist with Villarreal’s International Department, took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions. Berta’s work focuses on players in the Player Development Program and the international academies which gives here particular insight in working with young athletes.
As we know, sports is more than just how fast someone is or the technique they possess to strike the ball. The mental aspect of the game, how an athlete thinks about the sport and prepares to compete, are vitally important as well. Sports psychologists study the processes and psychological aspects of the sport in order to help an athlete optimize their performance. At Villarreal, the psychologists are considered part of the technical staff, this way they know what the athlete’s are going through in the day to day and they can offer insight to the coaches to get the best out of the players. As Berta explains: “This helps us to be updated in all the players’ current situations as we can follow the team dynamic and we can share our point of view and provide some new ideas or needs that because of our different role within the technical staff and what we can see about the players from that different point of view that we have than a coach does.”
I asked Berta about these ideas in the context of youth sports. The system for youth sports is different here in America than it is in Spain, but some thing remain the same. Every young athlete has a point in their life where they are sure they’re gonna ‘make it’, whether that be to play in college here in the states or to graduate from the academy and make it as a professional player in Europe. For both situations, the young athlete is under a lot of pressure, not only from themselves but often from folks in their support system. Peris tells us that that to counter this they focus on the other things sports can offer young people, such as a place to learn life values. If both parents and coaches see young athletes’ careers this way, she believes it will take the pressure of winning and achievement out of sports and thereby create a more healthy environment for the young people.
To that end, it is important that our coaches in our academies nurture these principles with the young people they train. Berta works with these academies, and told me how she tries to communicate this to coaches: “For me, and for Villarreal Academy our coach education is very important. For us, sharing knowledge is one of the most powerful tools we have to improve as professionals so that I enjoy a lot when we have education talks about different topics in which we learn from each other.”
Elsewhere, she mentioned: “it is important to consider the differences every player has, meaning that some of them may feel more comfortable than others being part of a team so that if coaches know this is easier that they can help the players to complement each other in order to create a better team.”
In what has been a consistent theme with every aspect of Villarreal I have interacted with, personal interaction and communication are the keys to everything. I see this in how Berta talks about her job as well. She is focused on the athletes as people, not simply as machines to play a sport, and she invests time in showing our coaches how they can best invest in those individual people as well.
But it’s not just a matter of talking to the coaches about how to handle their players, Peris also provides an outlet for young people that may feel they can’t talk to their coach: “Sometimes the athletes are having some personal problems, ones they don’t want to tell the coach just in case it affects their possibilities to play, or the way coach treats them. So what I have found is that, when they believe in the psychologist is someone who is not going to judge them, someone who is going to keep the secret (we have that as a code of conduct with the patient privacy), and someone who is going to help them solve the problem, it is much more beneficial.”
I’m extremely thankful that our club sees the importance of players having people they can trust within the walls of the organization.
Since there are so many challenges currently going on all over the world battling the COVID-19 virus, I asked Berta if she had any advice to give to people, especially young people, on how to handle the stress and anxiety these times bring: “This situation can be very difficult for everyone as we are at home all day and it can affect you mentally, emotionally and physically. It is very important to establish your own schedule in order for you to maintain your routine, keep yourself active doing some exercise, try to maintain some social contact via video calls, be aware of your diet and try and maintain your schedule as it has an effect on your mood. It would be also beneficial if you set some goals every day so you keep busy and you do productive things during the day.”
I couldn’t help but note that this idea of a schedule was also something she had mentioned about sports psychology in general. She talked about helping athlete’s “organize their day”. I guess it should be no surprise that the same type of skills that make someone excel at a sport are also crucial for general psychological health. It is hard to maintain structure in a world where most of our normal structure has been suspended, it is hard to think about eating well and exercising when the latest news reports make you afraid to even go to the grocery store, but they are vitally important.
Berta closed our interview with a message to anyone who might take the time to read this: “I would just like to send my support to everyone in this difficult situation that hopefully we can get through it soon and say thanks a lot for doing this interview with me.”
Thank you, Berta, for taking the time to speak with us, thank you for the work you do helping the people of Villarreal football club, and thank you for being such a great representative of what makes this club special. Endavant!