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Title [Martial Arts Globe] Mind Matters in High Performance Judo
The athletes interviewed. From left to right: Daniel SERATILA, Raquel BRÁS, Guilherme KOBAYASHI, Saba DANELIA, Felipe DA CRUZ, Rafael SIQUEIRINHA, and Célio DIAS.
Mind Matters in High Performance Judo : A Call to Action for Judo Club and Federation Managers
- Caio A. Gabriel -
I brought together high-performance judo athletes, coaches, managers and mental health professionals in a pioneering series of interviews, entitled “Unshakeable: The Mind of the Champion Judoka”¹, under the common purpose of strengthening the mental aspect of athletic training in judo and highlighting the power of sport as an important enabler of sustainable development. Participants were invited to provide their perspectives on mental training, champion mindset and mental health in the global context of high performance judo. Our mission is ambitious and bold: to break out of obsolete paradigms and present a completely new vision of mental health; show judo stakeholders that the mind can be trained, and the power of mental training to optimize health and performance; invite reflection and raise the awareness of managers of judo clubs and federations around the world on the mental aspect of athletic training; and then encourage them to implement quality programs and management policies that promote mental health and well-being in their organizations.
The integration of interviewees' perspectives demonstrates an emerging trend in high-performance judo that represents a unique opportunity for club and federation managers: the success of athletes, clubs, federations and nations around the world will increasingly depend on a more intentionally humanized and genuinely athlete-centered organizational management approach. A key component of this humanized management is the recognition that the mind matters in high performance, especially in elite judo.
With advances in research in psychology and neuroscience, we now have a new understanding of mental health as a positive concept and resource for daily living that allows us to lead our lives successfully. We have known for a long time through the concept of neuroplasticity that we can modify the structures, functions and connections of the human nervous system towards health through the deliberate training of specific mental techniques. However, now we are finally discovering the mechanisms of how mental training can also optimize sports performance, as an innovative training modality for judo athletes capable of revealing new frontiers of performance that will help them to optimize results, get on the podium and win medals—a potential still little known and rarely explored in judo.
Healthy Mind, Golden Future: The Power of Mental Training
Indeed, judo athletes recognize the importance and influence of the mind in competitions, training and daily life, and they want to train the mind. For Guilherme Kobayashi², “mental training is one of the main factors that bring success to an athlete”, capable of “greatly increasing the health and well-being of the athlete, in addition to optimizing their performance to the maximum”. In that same positive perspective of mental health, for Saba Danelia³, “mental training facilitates for athletes to reach the level they want to reach much faster and easier”. According to Saba, mental training is a necessity, and says that “I would like mental training to be a specific training for all athletes”.
Safeguarding Champions: Athletes’ Mental Health Comes First
We should also be
mindful of the fact that athletes are just as likely to present mental health
challenges and clinical diagnoses as the general population. In elite judo,
there is a diversity of risk factors that can favor the development and
maintenance of mental health challenges throughout each stage of an Olympic
cycle. In this regard, athletes may be at maximum risk of experiencing mental
health challenges during the peak of their competitive years. For these
reasons, in Felipe da Cruz's⁴ perspective, “the athletes' mental health comes
first”. For Felipe, mental health is a matter of safety and safeguarding the
integrity of athletes. He completes by stating that investing in an athlete who
is not mentally healthy is “tearing money”, no matter how talented he is; and
that a judo athlete, lacking appropriate levels of mental health, will find it
very difficult to deliver the results expected by federations and nations. This
is the same line of thought as Raquel Brás⁵. She invites us to an important
reflection: how would it be possible for athletes to reach their maximum potential
and then contribute to the realization of stakeholder interests, such as
results in competitions, profit and visibility, if the means of work of
athletes, the mind and body, are not well and do not receive due attention from
The New Meaning of Thriving in Judo: Progress On and Off the Mat
In addition to athletes' experiences on the mats, gyms and pavilions, we are moving towards a more holistic understanding of high performance, in which excellence in performance is achieved only when there is also optimal personal development in daily life, off the mat. For Daniel Seratila⁶, athletes are not numbers or result machines; they are above all human beings. He says that athletes also have their personal lives and that “there are several cases where challenges that happen outside the sport are dragged inside, which then influences the athlete's performance”. For athletes, thriving in high-performance judo means winning medals while using the sport to fully grow as people. For Rafael Siqueirinha⁷, “mental training [...] can help you evolve as a person, not only in the championship to have a different mindset, but to improve as a person”.
Achieving Excellence: Mental Health is a Right and Request of Athletes
The mind is the source of the human capacity for choice and change, so if the human mind is responsible for the challenges we face in high-performance judo, the human mind is also responsible for the awareness of those challenges and the actions that will make solutions possible. As a solution, mental training is a necessity and a right of athletes, a fundamental ethical principle of Olympism and a basic universal principle of good governance. In the words of Célio Dias⁸, “we—athletes—are now capable of breaking our armours and yell the world and show our true skin and essence—opened wounds, deep scars and untold histories […] our mental health is the arche⁹ of our medals, tears, blood and performances that set entire crowds on fire! […] I would go further on telling that training the mind is a request!”
Respectfully, the united voices of these athletes roar and resonate, demonstrating as agents of change and through attitudes the essence of what it is to be an Olympian, and calling judo club and federation managers to action to recognize the mental aspect of athletic training and implement quality programs and management policies that promote mental health and well-being in their organizations. Finally, as a mentor to judo athletes and host of this interview series, I am honored and privileged by the friendship I have with each of these athletes. There is still a long way to go to consolidate mental training—but I can guarantee one thing: this is just the beginning, because mission given is mission accomplished!
※ Views in this writing are the author's own.