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Jakarta Post

Guntur Cahyo Utomo: Pumping up Mental Coaching in soccer

  • Diyah Hayu Rahmitasari

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Mon, October 7, 2013   /  12:49 pm
Guntur Cahyo Utomo: Pumping up Mental Coaching in soccer

Guntur Cahyo Utomo. Zaik Habibi

The Indonesian squad has just won the 2013 U-19 ASEAN Footbal Federation (AFF) Cup, marking the nation'€™s first victory in an international championship in 22 years.

One of the people behind the victory is Guntur Cahyo Utomo, a sports psychology specialist from Yogyakarta who was the mental coach for the young players.

Guntur, born in Sukoharjo, Central Java, on Sept. 19, 1980, holds a master'€™s degree in clinical psychology from Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. He says that the application of psychology in sports is mostly done as '€œfire fighting'€ in Indonesia.

 '€œPsychology is only used as a treatment when a team is defeated,'€ he says. '€œIt is a common sense to see psychology as magic that turns anything round. That is a fallacy.'€

Guntur says playing high-performance soccer requires mental '€” as well as physical '€” training. '€œThe human body consist of physical substances and mental substances, so we need to design a training program that contains not only physical elements but also mental elements at every level. It needs to include tools like relaxation, cognitive restructuring and so on.'€

Mental coaching is relatively new in Indonesia, though sports and psychology has always been combined. Guntur, however is apparently the first in the nation to work as a mental coach.

Guntur'€™s passion for soccer started when he was young, joining the Arseto Solo junior team when he was still a teenager. The club collapsed before it reached the big league, leaving Guntur to play pickup games until he was injured and had to stop playing.

For three years he abandoned sports in favour of journalism, working for the Bulaksumur Post student newspaper at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta

Eventually, Guntur returned to athletics. In 2004, he joined the staff of Kickoff!, a soccer coaching magazine, and after graduating in 2007, he started an internship to learn about coaching from trainers in other sports.

 '€œI was part of the team who coached [runner] Suryo Agung Wibowo and [shuttler] Simon Santoso, Guntur said. '€œThough I was just observing, I learnt a lot.'€

Guntur'€™s career as a mental coach began in early 2009, when he started his master'€™s degree studies and a lecturer asked him to be a team psychologist for the Pro Duta Football Club.

After he became a lecturer in psychology for the Indonesian Football Association'€™s (PSSI) coaching license course, he met Indra Sjafri, currently the head coach the national U-19 squad.

Sjafri, who was then the coach of the U-12 squad, asked Guntur to help him turn his team around.

When creating a general program, Guntur said he would first develop a pre-test working with the coaching staff. '€œEvery coach has full access to the data, so we all know our strengths, our weaknesses and how to manage them.'€

 '€œAny sport '€” including soccer '€” is not a solitary science,'€ he adds. '€œIt need contributions from other sciences, such as medical, psychology, nutrition and so on.'€

A specific mental coaching regimen is situational, depending on the current needs of the team, which Guntur said he diagnosed through observation, conversation, developing motivational statements and classes. The process covers pre-game planning, the time just before matches begin, and in-match and post-match coaching.

On the day before a match, Gunter says that he meets with the coaching staff to learn about the tactics that will be used on the pitch, such as where to strike or when to chase other players.

Based on that discussion, Guntur decides what players to focus on. '€œThe night before the game, I talk to the key players of the team, one by one, sometimes by giving a simple massage to make them feel relaxed, and giving them affirmative messages so they will play as they should.

On D-day, after the head coach announces the line up, Guntur'€™s role is to keep enthusiasm low so that the players will not be too excited or too exhausted. They have simple conversations, make jokes and try not to discuss soccer '€” especially the upcoming game.

 '€œOn our way to the stadium, I play some driving music like '€˜Garuda di Dadaku'€™ to rouse their spirits,'€ Guntur said. '€œOnce we have arrived, I repeat what I did on the night before. I talk to the key players and accompany them. I keep whispering the affirmative messages to reinforce their beliefs.'€

According to Guntur, players are the most nervous just before warming up. He recalled one time when a usually cheerful player suddenly became quiet and withdrawn before the match, his hands trembling and playing music extrelemly loud.

Guntur approached him, touching him on his shoulder and asking him to do relaxation techniques like breathing deeply.

After the player relaxed, Guntur asked him questions to evoke his previous successes: '€œHave you ever played soccer?'€ '€œHow long have you been playing?'€ '€œHave you ever successfully passed the ball to your friends?'€.

Guntur knows the players well because he has been with them for months. '€œWe meet at least five times a day, and I am not only meeting them but I am also observing to understand them better so I know when they have problems.'€

When the game is on, Guntur'€™s job is to observe the players and to find unusual movements or behavior.

'€œWhen we faced Malaysia in the group phase, we played ineffectively in the first half. The midfielders were reluctant to pass the ball, so they could not pass it to the strikers,'€ Guntur said.

He then took action. '€œDuring the break, I talked to the mid-fielders. I motivated them. I recapped their successes. I stimulated their confidence. I asked them to communicate with other players. I refreshed their minds. I keep whispering affirmative messages such as '€˜we can do it'€™ or '€˜believe in yourself'€™ until they were about to enter the field. As a result, in the second half we played much better and we made it to the final.'€

Guntur, however, is phlegmatic about what he can do. '€œA mental coach is not a dukun [witch doctor] who can heal anything in an instant. Mental coaching needs to be included from the very beginning, even when designing training.'€

Guntur is working with the U-19 squad as it competes in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-19 Championship, which runs from Oct. 8'€“12 in Jakarta.

The squad, grouped with South Korea, the Philippines, and Laos faces a tough fight. Guntur, however, is upbeat. '€œThere will be a problem with overconfidence after the last victory, but I'€™m positive we can win.'€