Bogotá — After four years, soccer fans on all continents are eagerly awaiting the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will bring together the world’s 32 best soccer teams in eight stadia to do battle for the golden trophy.
And while for the more than 1.2 million tourists that FIFA expects will visit Qatar, the event will inspire passion and euphoria or joy, for the players the event is more serious as they undertake a huge personal challenge and face enormous pressure, as well as stress, anxiety or even panic, feelings which must be worked on and managed to maintain their emotional and physical stability on the field.
That is the opinion of Sergio Díaz, a mental trainer of high performance athletes from his native Colombia and other counties, and who will travel to Qatar to accompany several players, including Ángelo Preciado, an Ecuadorian player and midfielder for Belgian team KRC Genk, and fellow Ecuadorian Alan Franco, who currently plays for Argentine club Atletico Talleres.
“The truth is that elite sport is very demanding mentally and subjects people to continuous demands that force them to face adversity and continuously adapt to the new scenarios that high performance presents,” Díaz says, and who received his training in schools of human development and leadership such as Tonny Robbins and Richard Blander, and has spent more than a decade exploring human development techniques that foment soft skills and management programs for sports and corporate professionals.
He works with players from a young age, having accompanied the above-mentioned Ecuadorian players since they were 18 when they were at the start of their careers.
“During all these years, we have a teaching process of self-knowledge and mastery of emotional and mental management tools,” Díaz explains. “However, each competition implies a specific level of stress and in this case the World Cup is the elite event of all, so we work in a more personalized way, seeking to increase the ability to focus and the performance required for this competition, and we also synchronize our work with the national team so that the coaching staff and the player and his family know the work plan we have.”
Díaz’s high-performance program focuses on the physical, mental and spiritual, taking a holistic approach with each athlete and covering everything they need to become stronger as human beings and to turn them into ‘all-round’ athletes who are able to generate results both in his or her sporting and personal life.
The tools or techniques of self-knowledge and leadership are developed through different practices of emotional skills, social skills, life project and financial intelligence, and include use of the Johari Window, a technique designed by psychologists to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others, and accelerated learning techniques, Kung Fu wisdom; conscious eating, and family therapy, among others.
“When I started, around 2017, I decided to put into practice the theory of this program to support athletes to develop their mental, emotional and physical skills in the long term, to achieve a certain result when competing, playing a match, running a marathon or even fighting in a ring,” Díaz says, and who has worked with other players, including Juan Fernando Quintero, Nicolas Benedetti, Camilo Zuniga and Abel Aguilar.
Working with these great athletes has allowed him to accompany many of them in building their greatest potential, both physically and mentally, in elite competitions or world championships such as the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Copa Libertadores, Copa America and UEFA Champions League, and he also leads workshops sometimes considered ‘extreme,’ such as walking on burning embers or immersing themselves in ice.
Among others who have trained with Díaz are Colombian soccer players Jorge Carrascal, who plays for CSKA Moscow; Yoreli Rincón, who plays for Italian team UC Sampdoria, Wilmar Barrios, who plays for Russian club FC Zenit, and triple jumper and world champion Caterine Ibargüen, as well as Colombian gymnast Jossimar Calvo and Mexican soccer player Heriberto Jurado, who plays as a midfielder for Mexico’s Necaxa.
Emotional well-being and mental training is becoming increasingly important in the sports world. According to a report by Euromericas Sport Marketing and Sport Hub Innovation Center, for which more than 4,000 athletes from the Americas and Europe were interviewed, four out of 10 athletes suffer from anxiety, while two out of 10 reported having suffered from depression at some point in their career.