Soccer players need mysticism as well as psychology

A constructive idea of the CBF and the technical group of the Brazilian soccer team was to invite Regina Brandão, a psychologist specializing in the field, to accompany the players to their games. Psychological accompaniment had already existed for several years with the German soccer team. The purpose is clear: to create an atmosphere of inner serenity, to celebrate victories in a controlled way and to create the conditions for sound resilience in defeat, that is, to know how to turn around, learn from the mistakes and improve performance.

But I think that is still not enough. Psychology can be enriched by mysticism. Please do not tell me that I am introducing religion into soccer. Before anything, we must demystify mysticism. Mysticism has many meanings, two of the principal ones being the sociological and the spiritual, but not confessional, meanings.

I will give two examples that will clarify it better than words: on May 17 and 18, 1993, Fray Betto and I organized an open reflection on mysticism and spirituality. It was during the week, morning and afternoon. More than 500 workers came, most of them from metallurgy. They wanted to know what the devil was that about mysticism and spirituality. We had two opening lectures and the rest was very interesting debates. It was all recorded and published in the book, Mysticism and Spirituality, (Vozes 2014), that already has gone through many editions.

Another example: every large gathering of the Landless Movement, in which hundreds of people participate, starts with a «mystic». What do they do? They act on problems experienced by the participants, create meaningful symbols, sing songs, listen to testimonies of struggle and life. God is not always discussed. What comes up is the meaning of life, a reinforcing of the will to carry on with the projects, to resist, to denounce and create new things. The final effect is a general enthusiasm, lightness of spirit, and harmony among all. Through these «celebrations» the most profound dimension of the human being is touched, that is where our finest dreams, our utopias, our determination for a better life, reside. That is the sociological meaning of mysticism, that is found in the famous talk Max Weber gave the students of Munich in 1919 about Politics as Vocation. To Weber, a politics worthy of the name (not living off politics, but living for politics), implies mysticism, otherwise it is trapped in the mud of individual and corporate interests. Mysticism, to Max Weber, is the collection of profound convictions, the grandiose visions and strong passions that mobilize people and movements, inspiring practices able to confront difficulty and hold on to hope when facing failure.

That type of mysticism can and should be lived by soccer players, particularly by those of the Word Cup teams, so that they may see that it is not only about psychology with its motivations. It is about values, good dreams, enthusiasm. The question is how to get there.

This is where the second meaning of mysticism, the spiritual meaning, comes into play. But a clarification is necessary: we have an external side, our body with which we enter in contact with the others, with nature and with the universe. Soccer trains every possible capability of the body to create the athlete, the star player. But that is not enough. We have our inner selves, that is, the psyche, inhabited by passions, loves, hatreds, profound archetypes, the dimension of light and shadows. Everyone’s task is to domesticate the demons, and activate the good angels in such a way that we may be at peace with ourselves, and not a victim of our impulses.

But we also have the profound, that is our spiritual side. In our profundity we find the inevitable questions that accompany us throughout life: Who am I? What am I doing in this world? What can I look for beyond this life? What is the meaning of playing in the World Cup? All things are interdependent, and help each other to exist. There has to be something that links and re-links them all. We also have a profound self, with the suggestions and projects that mobilize us.

Enthusiasm arises there. Enthusiasm in Greek means «to have a god inside»: the Energy that is bigger than us, that takes us and leads us through life. Without enthusiasm we approach the world of death. Modern science of the brain identified what scientists have called the God point, or the spiritual intelligence, in the brain. Always when we deal with the fundamental questions of life, or seek a more global vision, when the powerful and loving Energy that sustains all is asked for, there is a greater than normal acceleration of that neuronal zone. We are endowed with an inner organ by which we capture that which we call Tao, Shiva, Olorum, Allah, Jehovah, God. What is important is not the name, but the experience of a Totality within ourselves. To activate the «God point» makes us more sensitive to others, more careful, friendly, understanding, and courageous.

I think it would be good for a player, before training, to retire to a corner, concentrate and listen to that profound self where are born the good ideas, good feelings, and where «entusiasm» is strengthened. There are people such as Fray Betto, Marcelo Barros and others who could do that job magnificently. They would put the players in tune with the «God point» and do away with the magic of «Tois».

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,


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