LaLiga launches ‘Mental Health’, for football without taboo

Psychological problems have always existed in sport. As much as we think we see our heroes with capes and armor. It should be remembered just this week that marks 12 years since the tragic death of Robert Henke, that German goalkeeper who passed through Van Gaal’s Barça and who confirmed on a bad night in the Cup against Novelda that he had an invisible injury in the head. His ordeal and subsequent suicide was a brilliantly reconstructed sledgehammer in the book Too short a life by Ronald Reng. As a preventive measure, and also to improve the performance of their athletes, the United States and Russia already had half a century ago the first specialized sports psychologists. That advantage is what has led the NBA to necessarily introduce a specialist in each franchise. Spain has always gone later. Perhaps because it has a third of the psychologists (six for every 100,000 patients) that the rest of Europe has in its public system. The good thing is that in the sport of our country cruising speed is being taken on this issue. Among other things because many stars and locomotives like LaLiga raise awareness and pull the car.

If attention to the psychological aspect is more pronounced now, it is thanks to the courage of many professionals who, by publicly asking for help, are helping to end the taboo. Before, they did it secretly. Despite the fact that 22.5% of the population in Spain has ever been on the couch, the problem has not really attracted the spotlight until a few have recognized their problems and they have made a need visible. Iniesta, after going through a depression, Simon Biles in the last Olympiad and Pau Gasol with his continuous pleas to end the deficiencies as soon as possible have given the definitive push to make everyone aware that mental health is a priority. A maxim that LaLiga has been spreading for years in its educational department LaLiga Bussiness School, with a module dedicated exclusively to Sports Psychology, in addition to inoculating its affiliated clubs with the urgency to improve their medical departments and to train the quarries in these values. An obsession that has been crowned with a fabulous documentary. One more chapter in the cycle Talking Football which is broadcast on Movistar LaLiga and which sees the light this Friday on LaLigaSports TV (9:00 p.m.).

The cases of Simon Biles and Iniesta have helped prioritize mental health

Mental health it is a song to reflection and, more than anything, to hope. The journalist Guillem Balagué dialogues with four protagonists who know as few people how things have changed when it comes to normalizing psychological illnesses and who, with their experiences, show that requesting help not only does not make the affected person weak, but also contributes to improve as a footballer and citizen. In addition to Iniesta, Toni Soldevilla and Marcelino Elena testify, two professionals who went through a particular hell. But the great protagonist of the film, despite having a world champion involved, is Inma Puig, a sports psychologist specialized in high performance who has been a benchmark in Spain with her work for 40 years, who worked at Barça for 18 years, even treating some figure of the Dream Team, and that it has helped Iniesta and other stars to resurface.

His vision of how Sports Psychology has evolved makes the viewer breathe relieved, encouraging him not to lower his arms. “Most of the time, problems come from fear of not meeting expectations that have been deposited on the player. The past belonged to the strong; the future belongs to the sensitive. When I started it was a desert and everything was hidden. It was recognizing a weakness. The players didn’t want the coach to find out. Cruyff told me ‘more doctors, more sick; more psychologists, more crazy … ‘. Years later he recognized me that it was something basic and indispensable. Some come now and ask me if, being in the well as they say, they can go back to being and playing as before. I tell them no. That they will be better because they come out strengthened and liberated to do things that they could not do before ”.

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“The past belonged to the strong; the future belongs to the sensitive”


Inma Puig, sports psychologist

Three stars in trouble

Iniesta’s words in the documentary are overwhelming. Because of the size of the protagonist and the depth of his suffering. His downturn appeared in the middle of Barça’s best football years and increased with the loss of his friend Dani Jarque: “When you are down there, you see it very difficult, very black. And you have to detect what happens. I got down to work because if I didn’t get help I would see it very crude … It was a long but positive period from which I emerged a better person. I’m not a hero but I’m glad I encouraged people to ask for help. “

“I got down to work because if I didn’t get help I would see it very crude …”


Andrés Iniesta, legend of Spanish football

Soldevilla recounts how he debuted (with expulsion included) at the age of 18 at Espanyol, with which he played 115 games with the first team, and in what way he mixed stages of success with real sufferings for not knowing how to properly manage the sudden passage of the dirt fields in youth and adolescence, with the maturity to which the First. “I had depression and you are afraid to say it because if not, they will not count on you. If you are not well in your life it is very difficult to perform at the highest level ”, he confesses now from Alicante, where he is part of the AFE team to help the players not to go through those drinks.

“I had depression and you are afraid to say it because if not, they will not count on you”


Toni Soldevilla, former Espanyol central defender

The case of Marcelino Elena, ex-center for Mallorca and the National Team, focuses on the importance of adaptation for a player who emigrates abroad. He had to leave for Newcastle at the peak of his career and what he experienced yesterday was a very negative turning point, to the point of not leaving his home for a year and ending his contract early. “My father died and I did not raise my head. Help is needed. And whoever does not recognize it is not telling the truth. Just as football leaves scars on your legs, it also leaves them on your spirit ”. That is why Marcelino is now a representative, to accompany footballers on a path that is not full of roses.

“My father died and I did not raise my head. Help is needed”


“Marcelino Elena, ex-international from Mallorca and Newcastle

Rare is the professional LaLiga club that currently no longer has a Sports Psychology department or, at least, is building it. These days we can see Joaquín Valdés often next to Luis Enrique. It is increasingly normal to see some interest in more modest teams from First and Second RFEF. Unión Adarve, current leader of his group, has been one of the last to bet on it for his quarry. And you would be surprised to see how teams ameteurs Very modest in Madrid (Electrocor, Racing Villaverde, Guindalera…) and in many other parts of Spain (Alcázar, Noblejas…) they allocate a large part of their tight budget to watch over the players. If Henke would like to see something these days, it is that he spreads the example, from the base to professionalism, and that Mental health, the necessary documentary that LaLiga premieres and that deals with the crucial role of coaches and families, as well as the perennial feeling of guilt, achieves high ratings. It would be a clear sign that something is changing in our society and that lives like yours will not be forgotten because they are still worth it.

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