Reflective, focused and always going at things with 100% commitment: Leandro Barreiro sometimes seems wise beyond his 22 years. The Mainz academy product has collected plenty of experience in his young career, both in the Bundesliga and for the Luxembourg national team. He’s been helped not just by his sporting ability but also by the progress he has made in terms of his mentality. Barreiro has been working with sports psychologists since he was 17. “Mental training does me the world of good. Every day I get to know myself a bit better and I understand why I feel the way I do in certain situations. I can also change things so that I can deal with certain things better. It’s a never-ending process.”
Blue skies, mountainous surroundings and heavenly quiet all around. There are worse places for an interview than the terrace of our team hotel in Grassau near Chiemsee. Having returned to training alongside the rest of our international players at the start of the week, Barreiro has been involved in camp with the rest of the Mainz squad since Wednesday. Despite having played four games for Luxembourg to end last season, the 22-year-old feels “totally fit. Everything has gone smoothly and I had a great time after the international matches. I managed to switch off from football.”
Barreiro captained his country for the first time during the 2-2 draw with the Faroe Islands. It was a special and proud moment for the player and his family. “That also just shows that all the hard work is paying off.” Barreiro is enjoying taking on ever more responsibility as he matures on and off the pitch. Back when he first made the step up to the Mainz first team at the tender age of 18, he was always happy to help out those around him even as he tried to soak up everything he could and learn from the older players. “Obviously I have more experience now through playing matches, but that was always a part of me and my character,” he says.
“I want to urge others to speak more openly”
In order to reinforce his mentality and keep developing day in, day out, he’s been putting the work in since he was a youngster – “but without calling it mental training. My family knew early on the path that I wanted to take. When I moved to join the Mainz academy, I started to work with a sports psychologist. I’ve been doing so ever since.” Barreiro has always been a focused young man with his eyes firmly set on a career in professional football. And when success or progress has been slower than he might have hoped, he has sometimes put too much pressure on himself. Working on the mental side of the game has helped the Luxembourger to cope with such situations. “I’ve learned that everything has its time and that it isn’t right to put all that weight on yourself.” It’s helped Barreiro to realise that he is still really young and “that being a footballer can have its ups and downs.” That realisation has aided Barreiro in establishing himself in the Bundesliga.
It’s my thing and I learn a lot about myself
A few weeks ago, the 22-year-old took to Instagram to share a post using the hashtag #MentalHealthAwareness. In doing so he didn’t just want to share his own story: “My post aimed to highlight how important it is. I also wanted to encourage others to talk more openly about it. There is still not enough of a discussion within football. But you shouldn’t feel forced into anything. I’m lucky to work with some really good people in this area. It’s done me a lot of good.” In the past, people usually only visited psychologists when they had a problem to deal with. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. “They’re always there. If you go in feeling good then they can bring out a load of positive things that can help you in your everyday life. I’m happy to do it and I’ll continue to do so. It’s my thing and I learn a lot about myself from it.”
Keeping spirits up among the squad
Thanks to everything he’s learned over the years, the 22-year-old is refusing to put any pressure on himself ahead of the new season, even despite the increased competition for places in midfield. “I want to always give 100% and improve the things I’ve been working on. At the same time I also want to further improve the things that are going well. It’s not necessarily about numbers and statistics, that’s not the right way to think about things in my opinion.” The Luxembourger says that competition remains healthy – and that’s a good thing. He sees it as an important part of developing and maintaining a healthy atmosphere around the team. “The lads who have just arrived here are all great guys. Our job is to integrate them as quickly as possible so that they feel comfortable here.” That’s Leandro Barreiro, always there with a helping hand when needed.