Hugo Guerra is a Psychologist and Mental Trainer for several Taekwondo sportspeople. Listen to his strategies to maximize sports performance and how he deals with some situations.
In this episode, Coaches César Valentim and Hugo Guerra talk about the importance of Mental Training in our sport.
In this episode, you can get some tips and listen to how Hugo Guerra deals with athletic anxiety and issues Taekwondo players can overcome with mental training.
This podcast is supported by Hawkin Dynamics, Firstbeat Sports and Athlete Analyzer!
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Have you been looking for a Taekwondo Podcast with qualified people, who know what they're talking about, who help you keep up with everything going on in the Taekwondo World? Well you found it. This is the Taekwondo Podcast. Taekwondo news, competitions and other events, training and sports science, keeping the fans, coaches and high performance athletes up to date with the latest news and trends in Olympic Taekwondo. Let’s do this! This is the Taekwondo Podcast. And now your hosts Coach César Valentim and Peter Nestler.
Coach César Valentim (00:41):
Hello and welcome to the Taekwondo Podcast. We are a Podcast based out of Austria in English language for everyone out there who likes Taekwondo. In this episode we talk with Hugo Guerra, psychologist and mental trainer. We will discuss the importance of mental strength and mental health in Taekwondo. Welcome to our podcast , I am coach César Valentim and with me is Hugo Guerra, psychologist and mental coach of several Taekwondo players. Hi Hugo, how are you?
Hugo Guerra (01:14):
I’m fine, thank you César. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Coach César Valentim (01:17):
The pleasure is all mine. For everyone who is listening out there and doesn’t know who you are, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hugo Guerra (01:22):
Sure. I am a psychologist. I was educated in Lisbon, Portugal in organization and health psychology and recently I have encountered this field of sports psychology which is something I have been doing for the last 4,5 years.
Coach César Valentim (01:43):
So you mentioned that you are a psychologist and I introduced you as a mental coach. What is the big difference between a mental coach and a sports psychologist?
Hugo Guerra (01:50):
Well, they both work on the mental side of the sports people. The big difference is that mental coaches don't normally have a psychology education background and the psychologist usually has the same education, which means they do the 3 years of psychology and then they get a specialization, which is my case.
Coach César Valentim (02:20):
You said you’ve been in Austria, but you are from Portugal. You have been working with sports psychology for the last 4 years. What is the difference between Austria and the other countries, especially the current status of sports psychology in Austria, neighboring countries, Portugal, whatsoever, all these differences?
Hugo Guerra (02:37):
Sports psychology is relatively new. I mean, in Portugal I know that it has been growing lately and now I am more familiar with this side of Europe. I know that in Germany it is very well developed. The olympic federation of Germany, they work a lot with sport psychology. They have a great website where they make a lot of material available. And in Austria the ÖBS, the Austrian federation of sports psychologists, has started and it is growing and growing. The topic here is getting bigger and I am happy about that.
Coach César Valentim (03:35):
You’ve mentioned that the Olympic organizations of course have an interest in sports psychology. You coming from Portugal, most of the sports psychology is not developed by olympic sports, but by the Football clubs. Do you see similarities here or is it very different?
Hugo Guerra (03:49):
In Portugal it is true that sports psychology is more connected with football, because it is the major sport there. Here in Austria I think it is mainly close to the snow sports like ski and snowboard and related disciplines and football too and a little bit I wolöd say everywhere, but the main thing here is also football I would say.
Coach César Valentim (04:24):
We mention sports psychology in high level sports, high performance sports, either Olympic or professional sports. Do you see that sports psychology and mental coaching for athletes being developed also for the grassroots level or only at the high peak level?
Hugo Guerra (04:39):
That’s a good point that I like to develop a bit. I would say we have been talking about the differences between countries. In Germany that side of the discipline where you can have a sports psychologist everywhere, at the basic levels and at the top levels. Here you can find it maybe more on the top levels, which is normal, makes sense, but the tendency is to diffuse the discipline throughout all the sports and the categories.
Coach César Valentim (05:22):
Is the mental coaching and sports psychology something that should be done by someone else than the technical high performance coach or should it be a combination of both?
Hugo Guerra (05:33):
I think if you have a combination of both it is a major privilege, because if you have a coach that is specialized on their own field and specialized in training and then you have someone who is specialized in the mental part, who got education in that field, in that area I think it’s an immense advantage. Because then we can work specific parts, which includes the life of an athlete.
Coach César Valentim (06:08):
Well, I am privileged I am working with you. You joined Wien Taekwondo Centre a few years ago. WHat is your role in the club?
Hugo Guerra (06:16):
My general role is to be a support for all the participants at the club. All the categories, all the athletes, all the people enrolled in the club. More specifically, I am responsible of the mental training for the competition teams, which means that I am in close contact with the athletes that take part in the official season.
Coach César Valentim (06:50)
Of course I know how you work and who you work with, because it is my club and we do have a high performance team that gets the mental training as a mandatory part of their training, just as strength training, just as technical training. But you do actually support the other teams during the pandemic with their mental health, the grassroots level. What is the difference between a grassroots level and a high performance athlete?
Hugo Guerra (07:17):
Well, I would say at this level the differences are huge. While with the grassroots level you can work the normal things, I would say basic things, well-being of the sporting activity. When we are talking about the top level, the competitive level then you have to have a more focused and more reliable work and you have to go through the process with the person you are working with. So it’s much more developed work.
Coach César Valentim (07:59):
About the process that you developed with the athletes of high performance, can you tell us a little bit about the work you do there? So what are the planning strategies and the techniques you use the most?
Hugo Guerra (08:07):
Yeah sure. So, I work with all athletes, with some I meet more often than with others. Normally we work based on the planning of the season.According to that plan we work specific parts of the training and of the season, namely how an athlete A or B prepares himself or herself for the competition that’s ahead the next weekend, in two weekends. The work is based on that. We work in person and we also do online sessions and I am always available for spontaneous questions and the work becomes more and more specific as I work specifically with the different types of athletes.
Coach César Valentim (09:16):
Is the sports psychology field something that is associated with mental health? And how important is the mental health of the players.
Hugo Guerra (09:22):
Mental health is a great topic. I’m not sure if you are referring to the clinical part, but yes of course, when I am working with athletes, me being a psychologist with clinical health training, I am also capable to detect several things in the person. But my main focus is not that. Of course one of my focuses is to be sure that the person feels good, but my focus also goes beyond that. It goes also to the sporting performance and how the athlete is capable of trusting himself or herself to overcome the difficulties ahead.
Coach César Valentim(10:14):
I have a lot of questions about that. I think we will do a little break and then we will come to the second part and talk a little bit about those strategies.
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You're listening to the Taekwondo podcast. Now back to your hosts, coach César, Valentim, and Peter Nestler.
Coach César Valentim (14:01):
Welcome back. We have been talking to Hugo Guerra, mental trainer and sports psychologist. We were talking about the work he does with young athletes in Taekwondo. Hugo, let’s talk about what topics are most common for you to approach with the young athletes?
Hugo Guerra (14:18):
Okay, when we are working with an athlete we have to look at the big picture, first if all. Which is as previously explained, you have to look at the moment previous to the competition, the competition itself which is the fight, and after the competition, the debriefing.
So, speaking of the phase that is prior to the competition, we are talking about activation, preparation, and setting goals. So when we are talking about the competition itself, we are talking about the moment right before the competition, the focus, the concentration, the mentalisation and visualization of situations that might happen and of course the moment after the competition, where we debrief. We talk about how we deal emotionally with the results and how we stand again sometimes or to find goals and objectives for the things to come.
Coach César Valentim (15:35):
I imagine that as a sports psychologist your approach to each athlete must be individual, the same as the training, strength and technical & tactical. Can you give us a few examples of how you prepare the athletes for the different stages, so the weeks prior to the competition or the day of the competition?
Hugo Guerra (15:52):
Sure, so before the competition, I’m talking about two weeks before, we normally define what the goals are, we manage the expectations of what is possible, what is realistic. During the competition we are not there, I will not be there, but we predict, so we do a lot of visualization of what might happen. And as I explained before, the moment right before is crucial, where the athlete is normally nervous, so we try to use a lot of psychoeducation. What is this big word? It is to educate the person to know his or herself how to relax by his or herself. So, that’s an example. Then, during the fight there are mental attitudes that can be used, for example I remember a case where the constant looking at the scoreboard was a factor of distraction. And so we trained the athlete to look less at the scoreboard in order to focus more on the process and not so much on the result.
Coach César Valentim (17:21):
You do all this training with the athletes, you implement some strategies, how is your connection with the technical coach? How can you talk and what can you not talk about, that should be kept confidential between you and the athletes?
Hugo Guerra (17:32):
Of course as a principle me as a psychologist, we as psychologists, have a strict policy regarding what is talked inside the session. Nothing very concrete and personal is passed to the coach and he understands, so no problem with that. We generally discuss topics and goals or guidelines to the athlete AB or C and of course, me also working sometimes with the coach. we try to survey and to analyze the collective mood and how things are going and redefine goals. It’s around that.
Coach César Valentim (18:30):
Do you also approach the players in a group session together with the technical coach or just in individual sessions?
Hugo Guerra (18:36):
Normally we do individual sessions but we also try to do workshops and work as a team. In this case we are not talking about a collective sport in the sense that the athlete goes to the sporting event and fights for him or herself. But I think because they share a lot of things: the trips, the rooms, the meals, a lot of social time, training, of course, I think a lot of work can be done for the team in groups.
Coach César Valentim (19:24):
Can you tell us a few examples where the intervention was extremely helpful? You mentioned the one about the player, who was constantly looking at the scoreboard. Can you share some more without sharing any names of course.
Hugo Guerra (19:35):
Yeah, there are some cases I remember. One of the cases has to do with a more nervousness- situation. From the point of view from the mental process of this athlete is based on being anxious and nervous and when we are talking about the preparation for an event, this is something that can complicate the life of the athlete. So, sometimes not only the focus and relaxation techniques can be helpful, in this case they have been helpful but they take time, but also the communication skills. A lot of the problems that are around situations like this have to do with communication. So, I have been using communication techniques and skills in order for the athlete to develop a better understanding of what a social environment is. This may sound a bit abstract, but I think you get the point. These things seem less important than they are, but if the person is suffering from something, all the good influences can make a difference.
Coach César Valentim (21:18):
I understand. Communication is still important. How you communicate with your coach, your teammates, everything is important. Any other examples you might share with us?
Hugo Guerra (21:28):
For example I mentioned the anxiety before and this is a question that is quite often mentioned by the athletes, which is making the weight. Normally it’s a source of stress, extreme stress, because especially at these ages, we are talking about 18,19,20,21, where the food ingestion is sometimes a topic, especially with women, with girls. And having to make this weight is sometimes very problematic, because it also involves discipline and emotional strength, emotional control. So, I would not say that I have worked with only one athlete, but this is something that I work with more than one athlete, constantly.
Coach César Valentim (22:35):
That’s already touching on a topic that is quite trendy right now, it's nutrition psychology, right?
Hugo Guerra (22:41):
Right, yeah good point there. Good that you mentioned it. A nutritionist is also part of this multidisciplinary team. He focuses on the best nutrition for the athlete. He or she focuses on that and wants to do the best job, but still this process has a lot of emotional burden attached. And I try to deal with that emotional burden and try to go through this question in the best way possible.
Coach César Valentim (23:23):
That is something that I don’t remember if we mentioned it in our episode of the podcast we had with our nutritionist Dr. James Morehen, but I know in the workshops we did several times with the team we do mention that a nutritional psychologist is something very important. And of course the cooperation between the psychologist and the nutritionist as well as the technical coach. The fact of being a multidisciplinary staff that takes care of the health and human performance is something that is unfortunately not as spread out as in our case. In Wien Taekwondo Centre we do have a team that talks, they have very good communication with each other. Do you see that this is a problem that many teams don’t have such an approach. Do you think psychology should be there on a regular basis, not as an external but someone who is part of the staff?
Hugo Guerra (24:12):
As far as I know, yes. I do not know so many cases, but I would say I feel privileged that I can work in such a well organized club, with such a multidisciplinary team where everyone respects everybody and understands the role of everybody. So, I think that's a really huge advantage and I see people around me happy and respecting that side and emphasizing that.
Coach César Valentim (24:47):
That’s something that I should have probably asked you before, but most of the listeners probably have that question: What’s the initial approach for sports psychologists and a team? Because most of the athletes have this prejudice regarding psychology, they think: “ If I’m not sick I don’t need to go to a psychologist.” And then they understand that mental coaching, mental training is a part of the training, as any other part, as nutrition, as sleeping, as regeneration, physiotherapy, S&C, kicking, punching, all that is involved in Taekwondo. How was it in the beginning for you talking to the athletes, getting them to accept you as a part of the training staff?
Hugo Guerra (25:28):
Good point there. It’s been a process. You’re right. Going to a psychologist is still somehow seen as problematic, someone who you only go to if you are mentally ill or something like that. Of course, it is difficult to admit that you have a psychological problem, but it’s not necessarily like that, especially in this area. I’m, like I said before I am trained as a health psychologist and a clinical psychologist, but especially on this side of the psychology, sports psychology, talking about our focus is on the development of traits and the development of the competences. So we are not talking about psychopathology or clinical questions. Everyone can have something clinical of course, but we don’T focus on that, me and my colleagues don’t focus on that. As soon as I detect someone who suffers from a clinical question and needs help, then I try to send this person to a clinical psychologist. It’s not because I can’t do it, but it’s not my role here. So, answering your question, it’s been a process and now I think people understand more and more that they don’t come to the psychologist because they are crazy, but they go to the psychologist because they want to be better and they want to be stronger mentally and more well prepared. That’s the main challenge here.
Coach César Valentim (27:18):
Thank you very much, Hugo. If people want to know more about you or reach out, where can they find you on social media accounts?
Hugo Guerra (27:25):
Well right now I do not have any professional account, I have a personal account. People can search for me and contact me through facebook for example. And I use my phone, my method is still mouth to mouth, but yeah, I’m changing that a bit,I am working on that side trying to build a professional website to be more present as a professional.
Coach César Valentim (27:53):
Ok, so we can let people know that they can reach out to you at the Wien Taekwondo website.
-Hugo Guerra: Exactly-
Well thank you, Hugo. It was a pleasure being here with you again and with everyone who is listening. This was the Taekwondo Podcast. If you haven’t already listened to our other episodes, they are available online, wherever you listen to your podcasts. We are releasing new episodes every tuesday. Stay tuned, subscribe to our podcast, leave us a positive review and share it with your friends. See you next time!
You've been listening to the Taekwondo podcast, keeping the fans, coaches, and high performance athletes up to date with the latest news and trends on Olympic Taekwondo your host coach César Valentim has all almost 20 years of experience with high performance Taekwondo and has worked all around the world. As a Taekwondo trainer. Peter Nestler has been teaching Taekwondo for more than 20 years, and he's currently one of the top referees in Europe. We hope you enjoyed the show, make sure to like, rate and review and we'll be back soon. But in the meantime, find us on instagram @taekwondopodcast on Facebook @taekwondocast and the website taekwondopodcast.com. See you next time.