Mind games working wonders for Colombia

Colombia are the one and only Spanish-speaking side left in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™. Despite going down 2-1 to England on Wednesday, Las Chicas Superpoderosas (The Supergirls) still won through to the last 16, where they will face reigning Olympic champions and Germany 2011 runners-up USA in Edmonton on Monday.

Having achieved two firsts at Canada 2015 – their first women’s world finals goal and a maiden win in the competitions – the Colombians are in fine fettle, even if the assignment now awaiting them is as tough as they come.

In preparing for it, Las Cafeteras will leave nothing to chance on a physical, tactical or, for that matter, a mental level, with coach Fabian Taborda relying on the services of a psychologist to help his side rise to the challenge of taking on the world’s best. “It’s only 90 minutes on the pitch but it’s years of training, sacrifice and dreams, and the dreams here are big, as are the goals. It’s all a question of working hard and being intelligent.”

The professional in question is Dr Angela Valero, who talks to the players on both an individual and group level, helping them to get the best out of themselves for the good of the team. Speaking to FIFA.com, she explained her approach: “We do mental training. On an individual level we work on the players’ abilities and we develop the skills and strengths they each have on and off the pitch. We also do group dynamics to increase the level of cohesion.”

Nervous disposition In going about her job, Dr Valero is in constant communication with the coaching staff, working with them to detect and address weak points, focusing her efforts on players who might be experiencing a problem or two. It is also a two-way street, with the players themselves seeking her out to share their concerns and ask for advice.

“Relaxation and meditation exercises are all part and parcel of the process,” added Dr Valero. “Nerves are a good thing, though. They shouldn’t be seen as negative, and we can either use them to our benefit or let them get the better of us. And if we learn to how use them properly, we can be more alert, more awake and react more quickly, depending on the needs presented by each game.”

Judging by their efforts at Canada 2015, the Colombia players have been heeding Dr Valero’s words. After kicking off with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Mexico, they earned a deserved and notable win over group favourites France. Though Las Cafeteras then went down to the English, they had done enough to secure a place in the Round of 16, having impressed everyone in the process.

The core of the squad cut their teeth at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, where they earned their Chicas Superpoderosas nickname in claiming a stunning fourth place. They have continued to live up to that name ever since, as a proud Valero explained: “They’ve built up this image as real go-getters. They’re determined, intelligent and big-hearted. That’s what these girls are all about.”

Flag days Over the last month and a half she has been helping them gain full awareness of their capabilities: “They are all very intelligent and what we’re trying to achieve with positive thinking is to create and search for alternatives and solutions.”

The technique Dr Valero employs is called positive visualisation, one used by England striker Wayne Rooney, basketball star Kobe Bryant and a host of other elite sportsmen and women. A key feature of these visualisations with the Colombia team is the national flag, one of which occupies a prominent position in the dressing room before every game and on which is written myriad messages and names.

“It’s a national symbol that’s always there. Our colours represent so many values for us and it’s a great source of motivation,” said the 32-year-old specialist. “The girls’ dreams are encapsulated in that flag. It also represents their families and the millions of compatriots who share the same love for the colours and the same pride in the whole team for being here to represent them.”

Music plays another crucial and defining part in the team’s mental preparations. Where they go so do their Colombian beats and rhythms, played at deafening volume on the team bus, in the hotel and in the dressing room. “These girls know how to enjoy themselves,” commented Dr Valero. “They’re having fun at this tournament in a very professional way, and the music they play serves two purposes: it’s a link with home and it gets them going, it gives them the mental stimulation to go out and give it all they have on the pitch.”

If there is one thing we can be certain of when Monday comes around, the all-singing Chicas Superpoderosas will be in the right frame of mind, visualising victory and another big step forward in their compelling campaign.