When Agustina De Giovanni She was already a swimmer for the Argentine national team that broke national and South American records in the chest specialty, yet the world did not recognize that an athlete could suffer in the face of the different scenarios that were presented to her in her career. Much less when retirement knocked on the door and after a long time of getting up at dawn and going into the water for about eight hours a day, life seemed to exhaust the most desired chapter.
“In 2011 I didn’t have such a good time. She had another language, a green card, she was in another country. A career, the divine contacts that the US has and, even so, I more or less passed it. So after that, I thought to the people that she doesn’t have that opportunity. I did not win millions as it happens with other sports, that’s why I decided this”, De Giovanni confessed to Infobae about how he experienced his farewell to sports activity and why he decided to bet on helping to improve the mental health of athletes.
From the United States, where today she works as director of mental performance and culture at DC Unitedone of the franchises with the longest history in MLS soccer, who tried out as a soccer commentator in Copa Libertadores broadcasts and worked in the media as a presenter, is currently one of the world references of how athletes must exercise their mentality in order to achieve improvements in their performance and improve their quality of life.
The Santa Fe native was a two-time Olympian. She competed in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. At that time, Agustina was already studying at the University of Alabama and had been seduced by the speech of one of the historical coaches of college football as Nick Sabanan iconic character who changed the culture of an entire city and who invited her to rethink what she wanted for her future.
“My mission is for you to know that the one who has no limits is you”, Agustina repeated when talking about what are the strongholds with which she fulfills her function of mentally training the players of the first team squad. But of course, she who knew how to be a great athlete, not only focuses on the world of soccer.
De Giovanni has been working for a long time with the management of the All Blacks, in which is his only connection to rugby. It also does it with World-class soccer players preparing to play the World Cup in Qatarwith athletes at conjunctural points of the Olympic cycle, and in the NFL, MLB, MLS and, as he knows the university circuit for having been part of it as an athlete, he does so with several teams from the NCAA.
The Argentine a few months ago was incorporated into the technical staff of the Washington team. She presented her project to the owners, she convinced them of the value of her idea and that is how she currently travels with the team and works with the players on a day-to-day basis. What does she rely on when she sits in front of an athlete to help her mental training?
“We do mental training, which differs from ontological coaching, which is much more reflective. In this branch, the initiative must be taken by the player/athlete. It is more directional. Remember that we athletes are animals that are used to hearing what we have to do. So, the difference with the rest of the coaching is ‘I tell you what you have to do’, that’s why we take it as a ‘mental gym’, because in reality, if they tell you ‘three sets of eight biceps’ and you go and you do, here is something similar. But what happens is that, instead of doing biceps, coaches we have different approaches (approaches) but always the same base. For example, I do my planning parallel to that of the teacher, to the PF. There are three columns, where the first column talks more about what kind of mind you want to have, the second is what kind of preparation you want to have and the third connects with the team in relation to culture. But always, even if it is teamwork, we start with you”, De Giovanni analyzed for Infobae.
“We do not have a mental gym because they are weak, but rather it is to strengthen their mentality”, he added. The Argentine has her own room in which she summons the protagonists to have daily talks. “My office is far away, so no one knows who is joining.”
Precisely, on the door of the office where Agustina spends several hours a day, there is a sign with an image of a brain and a text that says: “Mental Gym”. It is a clear message for those who enter, they know that this is a space to train another aspect of the sport, as is the case with other pieces to preserve it.
“Mental training is based on all the scientific discoveries that are added and how it is applied to sport. There is some research that we do with my colleagues. If you explain it easily, it is the best help you can give the athlete. That is what fascinates me, giving the players options so that they can take the one that best suits them”, said the former swimmer.
“It is key that they understand that they need it, but that does not mean that they have a problem. The topic would be like this: why do they go to the kinesiologist if they are not injured? To avoid injury. It is an educational part, I also work with the General Managers here, but we all have the same life situations. It is to understand that it is one more training ”he added in his explanation.
In addition to meditation and visualization tasks, De Giovanni shares the information he exchanges with the player/athlete in an online document, which they can access whenever they want. And, as she says, ongoing treatment is necessary. Not just the day before the competition.
“For example, the player comes to me and says ‘this happens to me in the game, it bothers me’, or sometimes they don’t give him a name, but they tell you and give me the definition and I give them the name. Or we have a back and forth until the player names his problem, and that’s a lot. That he takes ownership of what happens to him, ”he explained.
“Another thing we work on is when the player goes out of focus. In my case now, 90 minutes is a long time for the brain itself, how it works. So, everything you want to have in the game, you tell me and we train it from Monday to Friday. There is no chance that I will tell you ‘see you on Saturday’. It is very late,” she added.
In recent times, the issue of mental health has gone from ostracism to light thanks to several world sports stars reflecting on their experiences. From the talks he has been giving Michael Phelps after his retirement, added to what happened with figures such as Naomi Osaka or what he suffered Simone Biles during the last Olympic Games, so the topic became popular.
What impact does this diffusion have for the treatment of these problems? “Hopefully it will happen not only in sports. But you have to be careful because, perhaps, many think that it is something new, and since it is new, it is ‘cool’. And then don’t go straight to the root. The appearances of Naomi or Simone were great, what happens is that sitting down with a coach is an effort. To everything that becomes fashion, I have respect. Because fashions pass, but this is a philosophy of life”, answered Agustina.
“Here in May, Phelps came out to speak for mental health care month and that helps. But having a plan behind. In my role, it’s the only MLS club he has. And I’m giving talks. In the NFL, or baseball, they have to dig deep. In the MLB they have more of the same. What mental training gives you is that it stretches your career. But it’s good that they talk, because it makes it less taboo. But that’s where I still see the gap,” she added.
De Giovanni took a few minutes to talk about his future connected to his past after leaving the sport as an athlete.
“I have to invest more time, or make it more public, which is to focus on retirement. Not only with the players, but with their families. My analysis and my book. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Agustina repeated.
“It is hard to think that you are retired at 35, 40. I was at 27. And you go from beautiful to ugly, at the same time, it’s just that never again… It sounds ugly when I say it like that. It is very difficult, because now I am recreating it, feeling what you felt before. Why don’t you compete again? But I think you can recreate that feeling with an intention. Maybe now it happens to me when I achieve that, thanks to what we do, the other realizes that he himself was his limitation. But they are things that take time ”, he closed.
Before saying goodbye, that girl who swam around the world and whom mom and dad tried to follow in some way in times when social networks still did not have as much exposure, opened her heart and remembered the day she had to face the mirror and look into the future. “Yes, I had a bad time. But she can always go out, you reinvent yourself. That is another value. From who are you That was the ugliest, and the prettiest. I had to face who she was”. And so he did. That is why today he provides the help that she lacked.