Interview with Carlos Barea, Sports Psychologist and Coach

Carlos Barea is from Cadiz and has a degree in Psychology from the University of Malaga. He is an expert in Reciprocal Interaction Therapy, a model created by Roberto Aguado ( ). He is also a specialist in clinical hypnosis, in Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), he’s a neurolinguistic programming ( )(NLP) practitioner as well as an expert in sports coaching. He practises in Malaga, offering a variety of services from clinical hypnosis to neurolinguistics programming training. He also writes on the subjects of psychology and culture. We asked him for his views on some aspects of children and sports participation from his perspective as a sports coach and psychologist and with the benefit of his first-hand knowledge from the cases he has worked with.

Firstly, regarding the issue of combining studying and sport for children, how would you advise parents to ensure a balance between school studies and sport?

“Ultimately, sport is a parallel educational activity and the challenges are the same as they would be if a child were studying, say, music. To combine these requires a compromise on the part of parents and children. For example, let’s imagine that we have a child who is especially gifted at tennis and has no interest in maths, what type of tutor would you send your child to? If you’ve answered maths, then you’re fairly typical and the child might end up similarly able in both maths and tennis. They are small points but if I had to recommend two things, I would say that parents should enable their children to develop their talent and that they give them boundaries. We should not forget that work is just as important as talent. A child needs love, support and boundaries, these aspects help them to feel safe and if they have all this then it doesn’t matter so much what field they dedicate themselves to”.

At what age do you think a child has the capacity to decide for him/herself whether to continue their sporting passion with a view to becoming a professional in the field?

“For a child who is used to playing sport for fun, at the age of about 10-11, it begins to feel more like work. If the young person has a high level of proficiency at their sport, they are often able to incorporate this and begin the pattern of a working life early, their workplace being a court or a pitch instead of an office etc”.

What do you think the psychological effects are on children if their parents shout at referees during matches their kids are playing in, or insult the opposing team or tell their children they have to try harder in their game etc?

“From what I’ve seen in the cases I’ve been involved in I can say that when this happens the majority of the children feel embarrassed. They are receiving a bad example from their principal role model, which makes them begin to doubt themselves too quickly. This threat to the bond with one of the people they are closest to is very hurtful and can even begin to cause a slow alienation. And having had a bad role model, this also could lead to poor decision making and erratic behaviour on the part of the child”.

How does playing sport and joining a sports club help children at the ages when they are beginning to socialise?

“Sport prepares children for future life, also it expands their circle of friends if they are not just doing sport at school. The coaches often play a key educational role in the lives of the child and are often great mentors whom the child can open up to. Coaches study to be coaches, but nobody gives a parent an ID badge saying they’re qualified as a parent”.

Are there many cases of young people who leave home to play for prestigious clubs when they are still very young. How can this affect the child and how should we deal with these situations?

entrevista carlos barea psicólogo ertheo

Carlos Barea

“This often happens in clubs which have significant resources and an infrastructure to support the young people. There are kids who can cope with this and those who can’t and end up going home. This is a key factor in whether a young person can go on to play elite sport or not. Clearly a child is going to miss their home, their mother’s cooking, this is much more so at a very young age. Conversely perhaps if their parents are the type that shout and behave aggressively in their football matches they could be better off away from home”.

What do you think should be the attitude of coaches and clubs when it comes to managing young children involved in sport? And with regard to the importance of combining their academic study and sports.

“In Spain there is a problem with this. In the US, for example, university sport is very important and young people who have a particular sporting talent can obtain scholarships for study, which means they have the time to fit everything in. It is positive that young talented sports people are encouraged to cultivate more than one possible route, not only their sport of choice, and good coaches know this. Nevertheless, despite the challenges and difficulties, many young people have shown great aptitude at combining their academic study with their sport – ‘Mens sana in corpore sano‘(healthy mind in a healthy body)”.

Do you think that team sports are better for children than individual sports (for example golf and tennis)? 

“The truth is that I don’t believe they’re better or worse, just that there are different personality types who adapt better to team or individual sports. A child who has suffered bullying in a football team may be very talented in judo. Or a lad of two metres something, heavy footed on a gymnastics floor, can be the heart of a basketball team. However, even in individual sports collaboration and team work is important – people are training with others and competing against others”.

How does a child cope with the pressure and stress involved in sport at very young ages?

“The pressure is going to affect the child according to the way their parents manage the situation. It can be damaging to a child’s self esteem if they feel they will only be loved if they do well. On the other hand, it doesn’t do their humility any good if they are told that regardless of how they perform, they are a little prince/princess and everyone else is useless”.

What values do children learn from sport?

“Cooperation, fun, responsibility, creativity, discipline, effort, growth, humility, courage, self knowledge….. I could go on, but sport fills a person with resources, capacity and values that will help them face up to life and be more resilient”.

Do you think it’s sensible to punish children by withdrawing them from training if they have been suspended or had an incident of bad behaviour?

“This depends on the priorities of the family and of the child themselves. When the training is a parallel educational activity that requires a compromise I don’t recommend it. But it is the responsibility, obligation, right and responsibility of the parents to educate their children adequately and impose the restrictions that are necessary to help them develop in the best way possible”.