After players signed away access to earlier psychologist, U-17 women’s team now left unsupported

The Indian Express can reveal that ahead of the tournament which began on October 11, the players in the team unanimously decided that they don’t want that particular mental conditioning coach and wrote a letter to the AIFF stating the same. Now, after their 8-0 loss in the opener, the young players have no one to turn to-not a mental conditioning coach nor a sports psychologist in the squad.

Since all the players had signed the letter, which was sent in mid-July while the team was training in Bhubaneswar, the AIFF had to relent. With all the pressure on them as hosts and being in one of the most difficult Groups of the tournament with Morocco and Brazil apart from the USA, having mental conditioning sessions is imperative.

A player who had signed the letter, told this paper on the condition of anonymity that the sessions ate into their resting time.
“The sessions were very long and usually happened when it was time to rest. We used to have high-intensity training every day since we were preparing for the World Cup and we needed to recover properly for the next day. While the sessions helped us initially, it got too tiring later on. Players felt it was a waste of time and therefore we wrote the letter,” the player said.

Sources say that the federation didn’t want to hire a new mental coach so close to the mega event.

Top teams focus on mental conditioning 

Teams worldwide, especially women’s teams, have been focusing tremendously on mental conditioning in recent times. Most of the top nations have a sports psychologist travelling with the team at all times.

Kenio Gonzalo, coach of the Spanish team who are the defending champions of the U-17 Women’s World Cup, explained at a recent press conference how his team prioritises mental health.

“The Spanish football federation has given us a lot of resources and one of them is the department of psychology and mentorship. They’re in charge of managing our groups when we are travelling and when we are in training camps in Spain. They provide these young players a massive support. When we’re travelling there’s always a member of the team travelling with us. Psychologists, mentors, speak with our players every single day. It’s helped our players become very mature. The result of that is seen in how the players prioritise the group over themselves,” he said.

The Indian team had a baptism by fire against the USA in their opening match. They seemed lost, tactically and physically, against an attacking masterclass that the USA displayed. After the match, some of the players slumped to the ground in despair. Coach Dennerby tried to distract them from the loss by having an intense training session the very next day.

Shaji Prabhakaran, who was recently appointed as the AIFF general secretary, told The Indian Express that coach Thomas Dennerby and his team are taking care of the mental aspect too.

“When I enquired why psychologist’s services were disconnected, I was told that just before the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, all the players had given in writing to the federation that they did not want the previous psychologist to be associated with the team. At present, there is no psychologist with the team but the chief coach and his staff are ensuring there is proper attention paid to every aspect,” he said.

On Friday they take on Morocco, who lost 1-0 to Brazil in their opening match. If India want to keep themselves alive in the tournament, it’s essential that they come with at least a point from the match. It’s not going to be easy considering Morocco are very strong defensively and India are very weak on the attacking front.

It’s also the only game they could get points from considering their following match is against Brazil.

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