Our Valorant team

Interview with Hitaka - Mental coach of the Mandatory team

In order to develop the Mandatory team at different levels during the VRL split 2We decided to use mental coaching. During this second period of the year, our players were able to benefit from the expertise ofHitakaHe has been a mental coach for several years now. Whether it's in sports, esports or poker, performance is his domain.

From sport to esport, mental coaching has its place

Mandatory : Welcome Hitaka. We are very happy to have you in our interview! Could you introduce yourself?

Hitaka : Hello ! My name is Yoan Pinaz, my nickname is Hitaka. I am a mental coach for professional players in the esport and poker world. I'm passionate about understanding how, from the mind, we can become more efficient.

Meeting with Hitaka, the mental coach of the Mandatory team

Mandatory: Before we go into more detail about your background, could you explain what mental coaching is?

Hitaka : What is mental coaching? This is not an easy question. In fact, there are many different answers. Each mental coach will have his own vision of coaching. Personally, what I like to answer is that mental coaching offers the possibility to take power over oneself.

Human beings function very much with habits. We all have our behavioural habits, things we like to do every day, our emotional habits, our thinking habits. When faced with similar situations, we tend to have the same reactions.

Mental coaching allows one to understand that one can be the cause of one's experience, and no longer a consequence. A coachee learns, in the same context, to create a different response, more adapted to the performance. It is creating a new experience for oneself.

Sometimes all these automatisms serve us, and sometimes they serve us badly. Somehow they are limiting in some contexts and they are facilitating in others. With each player, it is therefore very interesting to ask yourself the following question "What are the reflexes, the automatisms that I feel limit my performance at a given moment?".

The mistake not to make in these situations is to think that everyone is the same. So it's essential to do tailored coaching rather than repeat the same advice. I can give you an example. In the past I had two sports players who had a different relationship with feeling their heartbeat during their games.

One was very disturbed by the fact that he could feel his heart beating when he felt stress in competition, the other on the contrary was boosted by this same information. Feeling his heart beat helped him to give it his all, as he felt fully invested physically. It's funny how you can have two different ways of reacting in the same context.

Mandatory: How does one choose to become a mental coach?

Hitaka : The main reason I went into mental coaching was passion! I didn't plan this and yet it became obvious. During my studies in Staps, the university of sport, I discovered subjects such as psychology, sociology and mental preparation. Then I read a lot of books until I became completely passionate about this field, without really knowing what I was going to do with it. 

As the years went by, during the bachelor's degree and then the master's degree, it became very clear to me that putting these skills at the service of performance was of great value. We can work with high level athletes for example, but also with all people who are looking to achieve some form of performance in their lives. 

Interview with the mental coach of Mandatory

Mandatory: Can you tell us a bit more about your professional background?

Hitaka : Poker and video games are the areas I am currently working in, but I have explored many others.

Initially, I worked with the National BMX Division of Saint-Etienne  For the record, I did my dissertation research on : "The modelling of the emotional process in competition in BMX riders". 

The team's coach, Julian PerrierThe coach I followed was incredible, very open to mental preparation. He gave me the opportunity to work alongside 18 international athletes, including 2 world champions Christelle Boivin and Mathis Ragot Richard. For a first professional experience, it was exceptional and above all very formative, I loved it.

Afterwards, I worked with entrepreneurs for three years. This period allowed me to travel, but also and above all to understand the psychology of people who build a project, who have a vision. This was also very enriching.

Then I had the will to join the esport world because I'm a gamer too, it's a field I'm passionate about. I went to live events and I quickly met some great people. 

Esports also opened the door to the poker world, which is a big part of my business today. To name a few, I have worked with Romain Nussmann, Alexandre Reard, or Julien Pérouse who had the pleasure of receiving a World Champion title. It is a game that attracts me a lot because it is a game where psychological pressures are legion, it is a magical object of study for a mental coach like me! 

Mandatory: We want to know more about your taste in video games!

Hitaka I tend to be a tryharder when I play, so there aren't many games I've played. But I've been faithful! I've played a lot of Call of Duty on PS3, then to League of Legends on PC. I also loved small independent games like The Binding Of Isaac or Super Meat Boy.

Mandatory: Sportsmen, entrepreneurs, professional video game or poker players... How do you manage the transition from one field to another?

Hitaka : When you change audiences there are obviously difficulties, especially the need to adapt. In the end, this is also what was most formative.

Each area of performance is subject to pressures of different kinds. Then each of them has its own culture, its own codes, its own language. Gathering information, adapting to these different environments and audiences allows me to understand more precisely the common determinants of performance.

For example, in esports, since the public is younger, there is a big educational dimension concerning mental coaching, which I have less to do in poker. "How can I, as a player, take power over how I think or how I feel during a performance?", "How can this influence my results?"... These are interesting questions to discuss with the players. 

While it is indeed a challenge to work with people who are a little younger, it is also a wonderful opportunity. At their age, the brain adapts enormously, it is particularly plastic and, consequently, the learning can be extremely powerful. As a mental coach, you can change life trajectories. It is to give an extra string to the bow to people who are going to adapt, to performance in competition, but also to everyday life.

The collaboration with Mandatory is going well

Mandatory: How did the collaboration with Mandatory come about? 

Hitaka : The fun thing about Mandatory is that the context of the collaboration is amazing. The first split was a real challenge for the team, especially during the performance phase. On the second split, there was a desire to integrate something new, to integrate a new dimension to the preparation, namely mental coaching. So I arrived in a context where there were two major constraints: little time and a need for efficiency.

Interview with Hitaka, mental coach of Mandatory

Mandatory: At the moment, you work remotely with the players. Is this not too inconvenient?

Hitaka : Not especially. I'm already used to doing this and working on video because the poker players I coach live all over the world.

Nevertheless, it is true that there is a big difference compared to face-to-face work. You can see this in a bootcamp for example. First of all, the players are in a totally different environment from home, and they are much more receptive to change. There are more things that happen on a relational level, on a cohesion level too. This is the kind of experience I intend to offer in the future. 

Mandatory: Can you explain a little bit about your way of working with the team?

Hitaka : In the context in which I arrived, it was necessary to quickly put the pieces together. Gathering information and understanding the players' environment. 

With this in mind, I've had a lot of exchanges with the staff, with Nicolas in particular, who is in charge of everything, but also with the two coaches, Menegh and CREA^, and of course with the players. I'm going to take the information in individual exchanges and I'm starting to get an overall picture. The idea was to quickly find the most relevant areas to work on in order to improve the team's dynamics and results.

Mandatory: What kind of topics do you discuss with the players? What do you work on together?

Hitaka : To take one example, in any performance there is a common challenge: being able to stay focused. Especially in moments of waiting, such as when holding a line, the mind can easily be distracted by thoughts. One must be able to manage this waiting phase to perform well.

This was one of the challenges faced by some players in the first split. So we saw together how to shut down the mind to stay focused on the present moment, in an attitude of anticipation. This is important, because it allows you to make the best decision, with the shortest possible reaction time. There are a certain number of tools and work methods to improve concentration, which you should know about, and others that you can create to suit the person. 

A nice exercise is to focus your attention on a black dot on a wall for a few minutes. Each time our attention goes to the left or right, we have to bring it back to the dot. But it's a black dot, not particularly attractive! Especially if you compare it to all our screens that attract a lot of attention. Therefore, managing to focus on this black spot by using the will is a real challenge. It is a mental movement that develops the ability to focus attention. We can have fun counting the number of times our gaze has deviated from the dot to see the progress.

Mandatory: Did you follow the team's games?

Hitaka : It was not intended that I should follow them. Nevertheless, I was offered the opportunity to have access to the players' communication during their games. It was an extraordinary object of observation for me, so yes I watched all the games! I took notes on how they communicated and it helped me to understand the dynamics in the team. It also allowed me to analyse the behaviour of the players in real time, in critical situations. Let's say they're one round away from winning, but they're getting pulled back. There are a lot of interesting observations to make: How will the situation transform communication? Does the atmosphere change? Are there any particular emotions one feels?

Mandatory: We suppose so, but are you satisfied with the work done with the players during the second split?

Hitaka : I am satisfied because in terms of results there is a real difference. Mental coaching is one of the dimensions that evolved between the first and second split. It doesn't matter how much of this success is due to coaching. The staff and I consider it a real success. We are very satisfied with the experience we had together.

Statistics of the Mandatory team
Find all the key statistics of the split 2!

Mandatory: Beyond the players, do you intervene in the structure more globally?

Hitaka : The staff is very close to the players and very efficient, so I simply intervened for small adjustments. To take an example, as a staff we can sometimes be affected by wins and losses, so we worked on how to detach ourselves emotionally from a win or a loss to have a more strategic communication.

Mandatory: At the moment, we are in the middle of the mercato. Did you participate in the choice of the new players?

Hitaka : As far as the mercato is concerned, I was not involved in the thinking at all. But if you think about it, it makes sense to integrate the eyes of a mental coach into the recruitment phase in the future. 

It has been known for a long time now that a good team is not the sum of individual talents, otherwise teams that can afford the best players would always be the first. One big difference that is easy to see is the cohesion of the team. In order to have a good cohesion, it can be useful to be able to answer questions like : What is the psychological profile of this player? What is his personality type? How does he/she function emotionally?

Mandatory: Today, not all teams have access to the know-how of a mental coach. In your opinion, is this a practice that is bound to evolve?

Hitaka : As I have worked in very different performance contexts, I have been able to observe that there are several ways of conceiving performance. The observation I have made is that the age of the discipline is directly linked to its degree of professionalisation. The more professional the discipline becomes, the more it integrates new dimensions to support the players' performance. This is how the staff starts to flourish with the arrival of physiotherapists, nutritionists and sports coaches. 

Mental coaching is simply the next logical step and will become an obvious part of player support in the coming years. 

THE ultimate question!

Mandatory: Do you watch the games naked?

Hitaka : I don't follow the matches naked... I risk getting my fingers slapped... So, from now on, I make the decision and commitment to follow the last round with my trousers down!

Find Hitaka on Twitter.