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Former University Coach Gustavo Ruthes Talks About An Athlete’s ‘Perfect Mind’

Former University Coach Gustavo Ruthes Talks About An Athlete’s ‘Perfect Mind’

Gustavo Ruthes, Owner & Mental Performance Consultant at Perfect Mind Consulting – Training & Coaching, provides athletes and sports organizations with the tools that they need to stay in the right frame of mind so that they can increase their chances of success in sport, education, and/or career. In sport, all too often is mental health overlooked when it comes to overall athletic performance, and we forget about the pressures and stresses that sport professionals face on a daily basis. Regardless of what is going on at home, professionals need to bring their best game on the rink, field, or court – which I’m sure, isn’t always an easy thing to do. The brain powers the body after all! Gustavo Ruthes explains in his role-specific skills that he has consistently worked on, and how this benefits him today. He touches on the impact that language, education, and of course, OUR PARENTS can have on how we view sport! So let’s hear what he had to say:

Please note: The interview with Gustavo Ruthes was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

Tell us about your role as Owner & Mental Performance Consultant at Perfect Mind Consulting – Training & Coaching

At Perfect Mind Consulting – Training & Coaching, I work mainly with individual athletes and sport organizations providing them with ongoing training and coaching on everything Mental Performance-related. One of my areas of work includes a preventative yearlong approach, featuring pre-season, in-season, post-season and off-season in-classroom and on-field sessions. I did this for the Western University Men’s Soccer Team for six years, for instance. I also work with individuals who are struggling with something and feeling the need to talk to someone. In these cases, I provide them with empiric research-based strategies and tools that increase their chances of success in their sport, education or career; wherever their challenges may lie.

I also often participate in speaking engagements within the community where my main goal is to break the stigma and challenge some misconceptions surrounding Mental Health, all while teaching and talking about Mental Performance Training. My favourites so far have been the several talks I’ve done for the Ontario’s Ministry of Education at their Specialist High Skills Majors Program (SHSM) at different Ontario Schools, the speaking I have done for Volleyball Canada and their Regional Centre of Excellence at Fanshawe College, and at the yearly LEAP Conference with the London Catholic District School Board’s Catholic Central HS. I strive to spread to everyone not only academic research but also all of the knowledge and experiences I have acquired throughout my athletic, professional and academic careers.

Most of my clients tend to be sports teams and athletes (more often than not high school and university/college student-athletes, of all ages). But I also work with professional athletes, performing artists, business organizations/groups and professionals from a wide variety of fields, ages and backgrounds, always focusing on and enhancing their mental performance effectiveness applied to their specific needs. My work usually revolves around improving time management, motivation, resilience, self-confidence, communication skills, cooperation and teamwork, as well as effective decision-making skills, goal-setting strategies and stress and anxiety management.     

What does your typical day-to-day look like?

Busy! I try to use every hour of my day efficiently. It is no coincidence that time management is one of my biggest strengths. I wasn’t born with it, I had to figure it out and I continue to work on it constantly. By the way, that is something I always tell my clients: everyone can learn “this stuff” (mental performance skills)! It is not a matter of being born with it or not. It can be learned by anyone and improved upon practice.

Anyway, I realized early on that if I wanted to stay and succeed in the sports industry, while still maintaining good work-life balance and my lifestyle, I needed lots of structure in my schedule. I mean it: LOTS! (lol) I have specific times allocated in my calendar for everything: not only client sessions, planning and marketing the business, running the social media page, etc., but for everything else too. From meals to my own training time; from bedtime to romantic getaways with my wife; from mental breaks and time with friends, to my surf trips around the world. Side note: I grew up in a small island in southern Brazil – Florianópolis, so surfing is more than a hobby for me, is part of my identity, it is who I am. I go abroad six times per year to surf and “recharge”. It varies from year to year and what my client portfolio looks like at the time, if they are able to see me online via Skype or Facetime or not, etc., but it could be a short four-day trip to during Easter to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, or a two-month-long family expedition to hidden surf breaks in Brazil or Europe over the summer months of July and August. It depends, but for a few years now I have been able to pull it off, which balances out my fast-paced London, Ontario lifestyle. Though you can (and I have) surf good waves here the Great Lakes too! But that is another story….

Family time with my wife and soon to be 6-month old daughter is very important too. So I always reserve a couple of hours every day with them. The rule is no phones, no email. I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about 10 hrs per week. Though I have slowed down a bit (I used to teach kids classes and volunteer as Program Director at the martial club I train at), I still stay active and compete for four to eight times per year now. I have won the Ontario Provincials, Canadian Nationals and have participated at the IBJJF Worlds twice. Local competitions are usually on the weekends. If I am not competing, I am either accompanying, coaching and analysing my clients/athletes at their own competitions, or putting in work for my other job which I also am passionate about: I am a full-time high school teacher – I teach Health & Physical Education, French, and Spanish, depending on the semester, at Saunders Secondary School – Thames Valley District School Board. 

More specifically, I get about six hours of sleep a night on weekdays. Upon waking up I immediately do a 15-minute meditation routine, shower, have breakfast and go teach at the school. I try to make good use of my time there too: sometime between leading and mentoring groups of students, coaching soccer and language clubs (French DELF and Spanish DELE), lesson planning, supervision duties and marking, connecting with colleagues and students, I also have time to…err… actually teach my classes (that goes without saying…lol). I usually structure everything in a way that allows me to get things done within my prep period and on Sunday nights, so I can leave school not too long after the school day is over. At that point, I either work for Perfect Mind Consulting – Training & Coaching (running group/team sessions, or private sessions, or doing administrative work), or I go home to see my family. It all depends on my clients’ availabilities and our session times for that week. I am pretty flexible with my scheduling. I can see them at my office space downtown London, at their competition/training space, at their own homes, or even online (the latter, only after we have established an in-person relationship). Finally, at the end of my day, five times per week from 8-10 pm is my own training time: competition classes at Gracie Barra London Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club. Soon after that, I have my (very) late dinner and go to sleep, hoping I can get those six hours in (haha).

In summary, I love everything I do! Working with sports, high performers from different fields, pro athletes, kids, teens, university students-athletes and all makes me very happy! I do live a busy and highly structured life, but I think it is a balanced lifestyle. There are quite a few structured routines embedded in my day-to-day life, but there is also some room for flexibility, breaks, trips, fun and family time always! I wouldn’t change it for anything!

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

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What is the challenge you face when consulting athletes?

The challenges are many! I, honestly, feel that the more I study, the more I seem to want (and need) to learn, as the variety of situations that come my way is great. Recently, I seem to be getting an influx of post-injury (more specifically, concussion) athletes. Typically, hockey and football players who are clinically fully recovered, for months or even a year, after their last concussion, but who still struggle to find their best performance due to a number of socio-emotional reasons. I focus on those through Mental Performance skills training and, usually within a few weeks, or a couple of months, by getting back their self-esteem, confidence and motivation, they can again, be the athlete they were before (or better). They are back to performing at their very best! Luckily, there haven’t been very many cases where we were not able to pull through successfully and achieve our goals.

Notwithstanding, perhaps given my parallel teaching career and experiences, I also tend to receive many clients that are at high school age and university student-athletes. Often, they just need to work on the mental skills necessary to balance the challenges that come with juggling schoolwork, a part-time job, and varsity sport training commitments, for example. They either are in or aspire to make it to, the NCAA or U-Sports in the near future.  

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

The toughest challenge is when young clients (let’s say 12 to 17 years of age, for instance) who are struggling are brought in by their parents. What some parents don’t realize, but from a third party professional perspective it quickly becomes clear, is that THE PARENTS THEMSELVES many times are the ones who may be causing major problems to their kids or getting in the way of their children’s wellbeing. Early sport specialization, extreme pressure, and overly emphasizing results above learning or fun are often the most common ways I see parents, unknowingly, adding these “issues” to their own kids’ lives. Having this conversation and explaining this to the parents is not an easy task, though I am sort of used to it, given my teaching position at a high school. My main client is a teenager (the child). Therefore, their wellbeing is my priority and responsibility. To this day, I am proud to say I have never run away from having that “tough talk” and eventually we tend to all get on the same page and work together to set a course that is the most beneficial to the child.

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

How do you maintain a positive mindset through tough situations?

I basically “walk my talk”. Leading by example is a powerful way to showcase my skills and the Mental Performance strategies I teach and coach others to do. I often get asked by friends and family: How do you do everything you do? How do you fit everything in your day? How do you manage to be a full-time teacher, business owner/consultant, coach, train and compete at the international level, travel often, watch your diet and spend time with family and friends, etc.? The answer is rather simple: mental performance! A bit of time management, prioritizing certain things over others, not a lot of time on social media (maybe that’s why my business Instagram Page does not have as many followers as I wanted it to? LOL (@perfectmind.consult, follow us! haha).

So, to answer your question, how do I stay positive through tough situations? I proactively meditate daily as part of my morning routine. Throughout the day, I strive to be mindful – to be in the present moment. No matter what I am dealing with at a given moment, I know (and I remind myself) that it shall pass. I have trained myself to systematically use positive self-talk.

So, I see problems as challenges simply by changing the language in which I approach them (for example, instead of “this is too difficult! I can’t do it!”, I may say in my inner dialogue: “ok, this is not going to be easy. But I can do it! I’ve got this! Let’s try this… or that… and see what happens!

What can I learn from this situation? How can this issue help me become a better athlete/husband/son/teacher/coach/person? Well, that was worth it!”, etc.). I also make lots of mistakes, (lots, hahaha), but I always try to learn something from them every time. Which means mistakes can actually be A GOOD THING! Would you imagine that?!? Encouraging mistakes/risk-taking???

Additionally, I have learned and trained myself to problem solve systematically. That means that, now, my way of operating is I automatically come up with a step-by-step plan (goal-setting) and spend some time using visualization (imagery skills) beforehand. That is, I spend time imagining/seeing myself performing the task at hand in different ways, predicting alternative outcomes for each approach and eventually choosing the best approach based on the imperfect information I have to solve said problem. Afterwards, I take the time to reflect on what did I do that was effective, what I did that wasn’t so much, again, constantly re-evaluating and learning from my experiences, achievements and errors. The list of things I do goes on, but that is a small sample of what I do in my personal, professional and competitive/athletic lives.

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

I noticed that you are both a teacher and consulting on mental performance with Perfect Mind, when did you realize you wanted a career in sport?

I realized early on when I briefly made it into professional soccer (futsal, back home in Brazil). Talking about early specialization, it is not uncommon for kids in Brazil to sign professional contracts at the ages of 14 or 15 (with the consent and/or pressure of parents, of course). My parents were different though. They forced me out of it and refused to sign the long-term contract for me, despite my frustration with them at the time. They told me to “go to school” instead. From that moment on (at 15 years of age), I decided I wanted to be a Physical Education Teacher, or a Coach, or SOMETHING related to sports.

I started with coaching. I co-owned a soccer academy with about 40 players and I got a position coaching at the high school soccer program I was proud to be a captain of during my high school years. I eventually became a phys. ed. teacher there too in Brazil. It always intrigued me, as a player and later as a coach, that 2 given teams would play each other on the same week – same squad, same technical skills, strategies, and physical conditioning levels. However, their performance could change SO MUCH from one day to the next. I figured out what that “magic variable” was during my undergraduate education: it was the Mental Game! I needed to master that to ensure the successes of my teams, so I went deep: I took as many sport psychology-related courses as my time-table allowed me in my undergrad and graduate educations. I conducted research and wrote papers about it from a perspective of a variety of sports (from “Analysis of Pre-Competitive Anxiety in Surfers” to “Imagery-Visualization for Football/Soccer Players”). After gathering all that knowledge, one of my professors at Western (Dr. Natascha Wesch) encouraged and mentored me to share what I had learned not only with teams I was a part of as a coach but with a broader audience through this Mental Performance Consulting business.

Gustavo Ruthes | Perfect Mind Consulting - Training & Coaching

Today, I am so happy to have what my journey in life has given me. A couple of undergraduate degrees and a Graduate degree in Coaching & Sport Psychology, I competed at the amateur levels in surfing (which allowed me to live in Hawaii), for 14 years now embraced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as the sport I practice most often, have played and coached soccer at the university level here in Canada, and am able to learn a lot about all kinds of different individual and collective sports through my clients here in Canada. I mean… who knew that “boy from Brazil” would one day be doing mental training, coaching, working with hockey teams, snowboarders, American football players, skiers, figure skaters? In addition to, obviously, all the other major common sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball, wrestling, MMA, etc. I really do love my job!

What are three words you would use to describe your sport career?

1 Passion

2 Discipline

3 Persistence

What are three essential skills someone needs to succeed in sport business?

1 Flexibility

Be ready and willing to change as demands do (change as needed).

2 Growth Mindset

Constantly learning and updating yourself and actions using research-based strategies and instinct.

3 Commitment

Be honest and humble. Put the time in, work hard and smart. The clients (and the money) will follow!

Amber’s Final Thoughts

As a final thought, it was quite humbling to hear about the different types of people that Gustavo Ruthes works with that struggle with mental health issues – from high school and university students, to professional athletes and performing artists; we are all human and all need to devote time to our mental health. Whether it be working on improving our time management skills, increasing our self-confidence, or learning how to deal with stress and anxiety, we all need to take the time to self-reflect, give ourselves mental breaks, and learn how to stay in a positive mindset despite any struggles we may be going through. Easier said than done, right? Maybe I will even consider hiring a mental health coach for myself? I’m happy to have been able to connect with Gustavo Ruthes of Perfect Mind Consulting, as he sheds light into the stigma of mental illness, and how it connects with performance.

Gustavo Ruthes

Interview by Amber Somerville
Posted November 8, 2019 in Industry Profiles