Eliminated but proud, Malta have shown steely spirit at the finals – the team's sports psychologist Adele Muscat and two players chewed the fat with UEFA.com.
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Adele Muscat has worked with politicians, Olympic cyclists and wrestlers to name a few. For now, though, her focus is the Malta team at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
The hosts may be all but eliminated after Monday's thrilling 5-2 Group A defeat by the Netherlands, but this generation of players have had unprecedented opportunities and look well-set for their future careers. UEFA.com sat down with Muscat, the team's very own sports psychologist, captain Conor Borg and forward Joseph Mbong.
UEFA.com: How did you first get involved with the team?
Adele Muscat: I have quite a lot of experience in Olympic sports: two Olympic Games, two Commonwealth Games. About two and a half years ago, I was approached to start working with the Malta youth teams. I first started with the group born in 1998, and then this group born in 1997.
UEFA.com: Tell us about your role.
Muscat: The night before each match we focus a lot on getting the boys relaxed and having a good night's sleep despite all the excitement. Some of these techniques can also be used before the game, when the heart starts to beat really fast.
UEFA.com: How has Adele helped you since she has been working with the team?
Joseph Mbong: She makes me calm down a lot before a game because sometimes I have too much adrenaline and anxiety. Then I can concentrate on the match. I have started using her advice with my club side as well, and even passed it on to two of my team-mates – one of them scored two goals!
Conor Borg: She helps me to relax before a game and that removes some of the pressure. We have a lot of anxiety because of this tournament so the sessions with Adele are very important.
UEFA.com: Can you tell us a little about the specific techniques you have been using during the tournament?
Muscat: We have been doing a higher level of visualisation than usual: what is it going to be like standing next to the England players? What's it going to be like having so many fans watching you? How do we deal with the pressure?
UEFA.com: Do you feel like a fortunate generation of players?
Borg: We are really lucky to have this opportunity to be the first Malta team involved in a major tournament. We also have things like a sports psychologist and great facilities, so we have nearly everything we need.
UEFA.com: How important is the mind in sport?
Muscat: Sports psychology is divided into two areas. The first is performance enhancement, which is about what we are doing now – visualisation, relaxation, psyching up, getting more aggressive, setting targets. Then there is the other side, everyday life. This includes schooling, issues at home, girlfriends. How do these situations affect their game?
UEFA.com: Do you help with both of these areas?
Muscat: Yes. I speak to parents on a regular basis, I work with the coaches to discuss particular issues. It's also about thinking beyond this tournament. The hype has been on this, but what happens afterwards? How will they feel? We Maltese can sometimes have a bit of a closed mentality. Our children do not leave home at 18; instead they stay until they are married. So, with the parents and with clubs, I try to get them to think about giving the child more independence, more responsibility, more leadership.
UEFA.com: What does the future hold for you after this tournament?
Borg: Adel doesn't only help us with football. She also helps us with our individual life, our school. It's important for me to focus on football and my social life. Now I know I am well-prepared for this after the tournament.
Mbong: I'm thinking about making it big now. She has helped me to think about achieving my goals and maximising my potential. I am going to try my best to do that. I would love to play as a professional in England or Italy.
UEFA.com: Adele, what's next for you?
Muscat: I am specialising in the migration of players, the difficulties of moving abroad. I can transfer my skills to most things, even singing! It's all about understanding people and putting yourself in their shoes.
UEFA.com: Can I book an appointment?
Muscat: Whenever you want!