An inside look with The ICEF’s Mental Performance Expert and Football Psychologist
Last month, the International Center of European Football welcomed Matthieu Ruffet, a mental performance expert and football psychologist, to the technical team. Upon speaking with Matthieu, we were able to get a better understanding of his role and the objectives of his position, including insights into how he guides players to develop mental strength and confidence.
Career and Background
Matthieu’s educational background is in Sociology and Psychology. He holds a Bachelor’s degree (B.S) in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Sociology, and a PhD from the Advanced School of Social Sciences of Paris making him highly qualified to help the ICEF players reach their maximum potential.
Prior to joining the ICEF, Matthieu held positions at Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea F.C. He was a Sport Scientist, Psychologist & Sociologist for Paris Saint-Germain for 4 years, and was recently in charge of Scouting & Methodology for Chelsea F.C.
A key role for players’ success through mental and psychological support
Matthieu works on instilling in players the important values of sport, developing their professionalism and love of football, and works on forming with them a state of mind that is needed to perform at the highest level. Matthieu’s hands-on approach is based on observations and analyses, through forming close bonds with players.
Along with working individually with players, Matthieu implements a holistic approach by also working with the staff to enhance player development on and off the field. Players receive all the necessary tools to tackle their daily struggles and trials that come with wanting to become a professional football player.
“Through observation, individual interviews and a holistic analysis encompassing individual situations, personality, and the environment, I engineer a global improvement strategy at different levels (sports, organization and methodology, cultural integration, etc.), that is implemented in collaboration with each player.”
Matthieu also creates and leads workshops on themes with tactical intelligence which appeals to the new area of sport performance innovation. Topics include intellectual dimensions of football, the ability to understand the complexity of the game (as a tactical work) and the intimate link between the player’s personalities and their role on the field (as sociological work). Matthieu’s innovative work and approach stems from his unique role within the ICEF, not typically seen in other academies. His support provides a competitive advantage to the ICEF players.
A clearly defined process
Matthieu mentions that for the process to be effective, a real relationship based on trust and benevolence needs to exist. He wants players to see him as a resource of help and advice. The first contact is usually made through first interviews to “get to know” the players and break the ice. “The goal of this first interview is to build a base upon which players can develop. We [Matthieu and the player] set goals together and gradually move forward and try to see structural progress.”
The second step in the process is to gradually assess the progress players have made throughout the season. Assessments can be done through one-on-one talks, introspection exercises, or by asking a series of questions where players reflect upon their progress. Throughout this process, Matthieu continues to observe the players in training and matches to note the developments and compare them with the players’ own feelings.
Matthieu also writes individualized reports and summaries of players’ personalities, strengths, and things they need to work on. The process does not stop here for Matthieu, as he continues to be present for all players and is available before big matches, tryouts, and other important moments so players can feel extra prepared and confident.
The importance of psychology and the mental aspect of football at the ICEF and beyond
Becoming a professional football player is a long journey and it is essential to be aware that it is all about determination. Matthieu understands that knowing how to face and react to the trials and failures of everyday life is a key component for players to succeed in football and in life. He mentions that “Players must aim for permanent improvement and never give up. They have to be rigorous, involved, determined and have enough self-confidence to always take the next step.”
Matthieu works with the players to implement this ideology that there is no failure but only lessons to be learned, to develop a winner’s mindset which consists of passion, know-how, faith, rigor, and determination.
Helping players develop this mindset and ideology prepares them for all the obstacles they may encounter at the ICEF and beyond. Factors such as defeat, fear, injuries, and pressure can become the daily life of high-level players and knowing how to stay calm, practice self-control and having that winner’s mindset will guide players to consistently seek improvement and have enough humility to progress to the next level.
Through the professional environment Matthieu creates by working with players and the coaching staff alike, along with his constant availability, knowledge, and advice for players, the ICEF establishes itself as a development Center where youth players experience a unique holistic football development and are expertly prepared, physically, and mentally to reach the next level.
The ICEF is the most complete football academy, providing a holistic training program that encompasses all aspects of football preparation, including psychology and mental support to optimize players’ chances of success at the professional level and in life.
Only a few spots remain available to join the ICEF for the 2021-2022 season