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How to play at a professional level? with Roger Esteller

We had the opportunity to exchange with Roger Esteller on how to play at a professional level, specifically on how to focus one’s mind to reach the professional level.

It is during a live session that Roger Esteller opens the doors of his home to us through the screen of his camera. Surrounded by the iconic jerseys of his teams, including Barcelona, the Spanish national team, the European team, and of course, the Catalan national team, he seizes this opportunity to share his journey as a player and later as a mentor, emphasizing the importance of mental aspects.

To watch the complete live session (in Spanish) : visit here ! 

His experience as a player and his transition into a mentor role.

I played in the 90s, starting at the age of 17 for FC Barcelona and retired at 32 after playing for various teams and the Spanish national team. I spent two years playing in France and was named the league’s best player both years.

After retiring at the age of 32, I shifted my professional career towards management and leadership.

About a decade ago, I decided to assist teams and players in focusing on their motivation.

Throughout my career, I had to clearly target my motivation, and this experience, along with all my training and knowledge, allowed me to establish a system that helps players achieve their goals.

como jugar a nivel profesional con Roger Esteller

To what extent is the mental aspect crucial for playing at a professional level?

The mental aspect is absolutely fundamental. I had the opportunity to play with great players, far better than myself, and against many other top players.

What became clear to me is that success for one player and failure for another is not just about physicality, technique, tactical knowledge, or even courage. The most crucial aspect of becoming a professional is the mental part.

I’ve seen so much talent wasted, players who never made their debut in the league or didn’t become professionals, primarily due to concentration and motivation issues. On the flip side, I’ve seen players with much less talent than others still have successful careers.

In the end, all of this allowed me to identify certain aspects of motivation and how it impacts players and their careers. In sports, it’s essential to know what you truly have control over and what you have little to no control over, whether directly or indirectly.

What I discovered is that players who base their motivation on what they directly control are the ones most likely to succeed.

Indeed, as a player, you can have direct control over many things, such as the goals you set and how you define them, your error management, your reaction to the fear of failure, your response to mistakes or failure, your self-esteem, your ability for self-critique, your discipline, your adaptability to change, your tolerance for pressure, your commitment, and finally, your ability to work as a team.

This is the part you have direct control over. But there are also other aspects over which you have less or no direct control, such as your relationship with coaches, teammates, sporting recognition, salary, satisfaction with your talent, etc.

What I did was build a measurable tool, scientifically validated by the psychology faculty at the University of Barcelona, and I combined the results of this tool with my experience as a former player.

Could you specify what coaching is and what mentoring is ?

I am a certified coach with qualifications in coaching. Currently, I am studying psychology, and I have specialized in mentoring.

As a coach, I must adhere to very clear rules to avoid crossing certain boundaries, such as giving my opinion, for example.

However, I prefer mentoring, especially due to the origin of the word. Mentor is the person Ulysses left in charge of his son Telemachus when he set out on the Odyssey. Mentor took care of Telemachus for 20 years, becoming his guide and advisor.

In mentoring, my job is to accompany individuals because I have lived the same experiences as them, allowing me to courageously tell them what they should and should not do.

I work with many professional actors and athletes, guiding them clearly through a measurable tool with a test. I inform them about where they stand, their motivational balance, their performance, areas for improvement, and how we can act accordingly.

Regarding the action plan, I can give my opinion without the rigid rules of coaching.

In my opinion, both coaching and mentoring work, provided that the individual has the will to achieve new goals.

Personally, I feel most comfortable in mentoring, as I can give my opinion and share my experience.

Recently, I was talking to a player I train at a university in Florida, USA. Despite being a man and never attending an American university, I could feel what she was telling me, understand the challenges she might be facing, and empathize with her emotions. I identified a lot with all these sensations, and being able to provide advice, having gone through the same process myself, has a special value for me.

Tell us a bit about your methodology, how do you operate?

I use a motivational state analysis tool, as mentioned earlier. This tool has been validated after 5 years of study by the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Barcelona.

It is a platform that all my clients, whether individual players, teams, or even entire clubs, can use.

Currently, I have over 100 clubs as clients and have conducted analyses for more than 15,000 players and coaches.

My tool covers different age categories, from mini to cadet, junior, and senior. I also have a tool dedicated to coaches. I can then offer a mentoring service that is not done with an automated tool but rather through question sessions and a manually prepared report.

During these sessions, I am the person interacting with the player. I ask questions and then provide feedback on the results.

The automated tool is part of the service for clubs, and it applies to clubs in all sports, including multisport clubs.

It is used to understand the motivational state of each player, coach, and team.

From this overall analysis, we move on to mentoring, the individualized service where I can provide a report on the motivational state during the season, and another to track the changes during the season.

Additionally, there is a weekly or biweekly session to guide action plans with the players. I use a lot of videos to work with the players.

I primarily rely on three things: the player’s sensations, the results of the report providing information on over 70 different motivational indicators, and the videos they can send me.

These videos allow me to have more information about their relationship with their coach, error management, goal-setting, self-esteem, self-critique, and the ability to be competitive. These are the three information bases I work with, and honestly, it’s something very comprehensive and what I would have liked to have as a player

Some very interesting questions were posed by coaches and players during the live session...

First question from Christian, a coach: Roger, do you have any advice on how to help young players avoid mental blocks on the field?

Response from Roger Esteller:

It’s something very, very common. It’s one of the aspects I analyze: tolerance and pressure, in the first place.

There are two questions:

The first concerns pressure. When someone gets blocked on the field, it’s because they block themselves. Do you like taking responsibility in pressure situations? Some people don’t like it…

And the second: how do they react in pressure situations? Whether they perform better than expected or worse. Some people perform better under pressure, and others perform worse.

I think in this case, there’s a word that is the word ‘pressure,’ which is in itself a harmful word, meaning bad. Often, we confuse it, just like we confuse leadership with protagonism, self-esteem with ego, self-critique with punishment.

So, the word pressure must be changed. When a word is not good for everyone, it must be replaced with another word. Semantics is important. Let’s not talk about pressure.

For example, I loved pressure, and I liked when someone said ‘pressure’ to me. I loved it as a player. But that doesn’t mean everyone should like it.

Instead of talking about pressure, let’s talk about challenge. No one likes pressure, but there will be more people or players who like the challenge. When you’re in the last second of the clock, your team is one point behind, and you take two free throws, there are two ways to shoot those free throws: either to make them or not to miss them. Supposedly, it’s the same thing to succeed or not to fail. The difference lies in how you shoot that free throw, how you approach that situation. You may miss it if you shoot it to make it, yes, but you will have much more chance of making it than if you shoot it not to miss it.

So, for me, the difference is when we approach such a situation as a challenge, the player has higher motivation.

Semantics is very important, as is the inner dialogue a person maintains. We must nurture this inner dialogue because we have a huge tendency to have negative thoughts. We need to change this tendency and speak positively about ourselves. When a player talks better to themselves, they are more likely to sell themselves better and are more motivated.

If you talk well to yourself, you must think ‘this challenges me,’ and this inner dialogue is what makes the difference, no matter how much talent you have.

Second question from a player: What would you recommend to a player who has a lot of passion but feels like they're stagnating and not progressing enough?

Response from Roger Esteller:

I believe that passion alone is not sufficient to overcome the hurdles.

Often, we believe that if you do something you’re passionate about, you will succeed. That’s not the case. First, you must know what you excel at, and then seek passion in that area.

I would suggest that the player talks to themselves better, has an inner dialogue, and lists their strengths, what they excel at. Speak positively to yourself and be honest about your skills – that’s what’s crucial, not what you’re bad at, but what you’re good at. Who helped you develop your virtues, your positive traits that helped you succeed?

For me, that’s important. There must be good inner dialogue and honesty with oneself. Often, when we talk, I analyze self-esteem, self-critique, and self-discipline. People with a lot of self-critique (it’s positive, self-critique, as long as it’s not confused with punishment) and low self-esteem. It doesn’t work, and the opposite doesn’t either – high self-esteem and low self-critique.

You need to have high self-esteem and high self-critique.

There’s a very problematic profile with low self-critique and low self-esteem. It’s the worst profile you can encounter, very difficult to resolve.

The first thing a player needs to know is what they do well. That is, having the ability to step back and say, ‘Hey, what are my positive traits?’ You have to be honest with yourself, and really look! From there, you have to ask yourself where that has led you.

Passion alone is like courage alone. I don’t know anyone who became a professional just because of courage, no one. Courage saves you occasionally, but it’s not sustainable to build a process of reaching professionalism, not at all. You have to know yourself. You have to know how to talk to yourself, you have to be honest, but you also have to love yourself and have a great internal dialogue. We need to talk to ourselves much better. Players who don’t talk well to themselves have much less chance of succeeding.

Regarding mistakes and failures on the field, can you tell us more?

Of course. We all make mistakes, and we all fail. The problem is not the mistake: the problem is how we handle it.

The quick reaction after a mistake is what matters. But once the game is over, we need to know what we did wrong and what we did right naturally.

Some people punish themselves a lot, as was my case. I punished myself a lot after playing a bad game, with a massive, very short but very wild punishment. It’s good that the punishment is short and consistent, but it’s not good that it’s so harsh. You cannot be your own worst enemy. That’s why we talked about self-critique not turning into self-punishment.

I know many very talented players who punish themselves. You shouldn’t punish yourself, you have to be clear and self-critical constantly, not only after a bad game but also after a good game. It’s something we forget, and players forget it. They go from one extreme to the other. It’s not because you played a good game that everything is fine, nor because you played a bad game that everything is wrong. You surely did some positive things, and you can surely learn from what you did.

For me, self-critique after the game is essential, but obviously, during the game, we need to react. Error management has a lot to do with reactions. In a sport like basketball, very fast, you can’t stop to think about what’s happening; you have to react.

We must prevent something that is a major scourge in sports, especially in youth sports. ‘How did it go, my son? How did you play?’ ‘Well, Dad, zero out of zero, but I didn’t fail.’ The fear of making a mistake is the worst thing. Not trying because of the fear of failing and not being able to cope or manage failure. There are players to whom I have to say, ‘I need you to fail, please fail.’ I don’t want you not to try something. There’s nothing wrong with failing. If you fail, you can fix that mistake, but the worst mistake is not trying.

Question from Flavio, a player: It was my first match in a new category, and it went very badly. What lesson can I take from it?

Adaptations to changes are crucial in the world of sports. A player may quickly adapt to changes but may not evolve afterward. On the other hand, it can be challenging to adapt to changes initially, but over time, one can succeed.

I like to watch players’ biographies, and I saw Joel Embiid’s, who will probably be the new league MVP, a player from Minnesota. It’s also interesting to see how he was in college, where he was nothing extraordinary, but then, in his first NBA game, he started to stand out.

There are people who adapt very well initially but are not able to progress afterward. The important thing is not so much what happens in a particular game but to have a routine of self-critique, self-esteem, self-discipline, and asking important questions about error management and goal setting.

It’s also crucial to be competitive during training. It’s not about complaining or justifying but focusing on what can be controlled and managing it appropriately.

This reassures players, knowing that they have a foundation to rely on, regardless of what happens. Motivation should be based on what you can control directly, not on external factors. This approach is sustainable and calming.

This applies to any process in life, whether in sports, business, or any other field. It’s important to understand what can be controlled and focus motivation on that, rather than relying on external factors that cannot be controlled.

A question ?

We invite you to leave your questions in the comments, and we’ll be happy to answer them!

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