Mind games: Jari-Matti Latvala’s mental training

Meet Christoph Treier, the mind coach who’s turning Jari-Matti Latvala into a winning machine.
Jari Matti Latvala Rally Sweden 2014 win Volkswagen Christoph Treier
Latvala celebrates his Rally Sweden 2014 win © McKlein Image Database
By Greg Stuart

When Jari-Matti Latvala held his nerve to win Rally Sweden 2014 earlier this month, Volkswagen’s Finnish star was quick to credit the win to one man: Christoph Treier.

Treier, a Swiss-born, Finnish-residing psychologist who used to train two-time WRC champion Marcus Grönholm, began working with Latvala in November of last year and it seems that his mind coaching techniques have already had a profound effect on Latvala.

“[Christoph] has helped me a lot,” Latvala told WRC.com after his Rally Sweden win. “Mental training, I believe, in every sport, you can do work.”

Redbull.com sat down with Christoph Treier to get some tips on how you go about making one of the world’s best drivers even better…

Imagery is important

Christoph Treier: “I work a lot with imagery. For example, at Rally Sweden, with Jari-Matti we worked with the image of dancing. Because these stages were so rhythmic, he was imagining that he was dancing with his car and then he could find really a good rhythm. Because when you dance, you do it smoothly and with elegance, you don’t use power and strength. That helped him a lot, because often when conditions are difficult, you steer too hard and with too much power.”

Jari Matti Latvala Rally Sweden 2014 win Volkswagen Christoph Treier
Latvala "dancing" with his car at Rally Sweden © McKlein Image Database

Think happy thoughts

“Drivers need to have some tools, particularly breathing exercises, so that they know how to relax, even when they are in the car. Another tool to improve the self-confidence is to repeat key words or key sentences five times or 10 times. For example, ‘I know that I can keep myself calm in all situations.’ You repeat that 10 times each day the week before the competition. Then when you’re in the competition, you really know that you can keep calm in all situations and that helps a lot.”

Confidence first, results second

“Many drivers still think, ‘If I have good results, then I will have confidence.’ But it doesn’t work that way. First you have to have the confidence and then you can go for the good results. That’s why we were starting in November already to work with Jari-Matti’s confidence step-by-step. The other thing that Jari-Matti is still working on is concentration. He made a few stupid mistakes last season because of lack of concentration, so we’re working a lot with that.”

Jari Matti Latvala Rally Poland 2009 crash
Latvala in tears after his Rally Poland 2009 crash © McKlein Image Database

A driver with great mental strength? That would be Sébastien Loeb.

“I think the one driver who really was very, very strong was Sébastien Loeb; that was amazing to see how strong he was. I’ve spoken with him a lot about it and I’m quite sure it has to do with his youth when he was a gymnast. In gymnastics, you develop the coordination and with the coordination you also develop how the brain works. But it’s too late to start Jari-Matti doing gymnastics!”

Visualise what you want, not what you don't want

“For a driver, it’s essential that you learn to visualise – it doesn’t matter if it’s on a circuit or rally. When most people visualise, they form pictures of ‘I have to avoid that and I have to make sure that I don’t lose concentration in this corner and I can’t forget to brake early here.’ And that’s completely wrong; you have always to think what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. If you take a taxi, you tell the taxi driver where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. And you have to do the same thing with your brain; you’ve always got to say to your brain what you want to achieve and not what you want to avoid. And this really helps.”

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