Catalonia's human towers tackle mental health as tradition professionalizes

Pioneering physiological program aims to help castellers cope with pressure, nerves and fear

Assaig psicològic dels Castellers de Vilafranca
Assaig psicològic dels Castellers de Vilafranca / Gemma Sánchez Bonel
Oriol Escudé Macià

Oriol Escudé Macià | @oriolsqd | Barcelona

June 29, 2024 09:41 AM

June 29, 2024 09:50 AM

Castells, one of Catalonia's most famous traditions, captivate people around the world with their breathtaking and complex human towers.

This unique tradition, deeply rooted in the history of Catalonia, was recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. Check out our latest Filling the Sink podcast for more on this quintessential Catalan tradition:

Throughout Catalonia, thousands of individuals, organized into groups known as colles named after their towns, come together to build gravity-defying human towers.

Despite being a voluntary and unpaid activity, castells has become a highly professionalized activity, and the physical and mental demands on castellers are more and more demanding.


In response to these pressures, mental health awareness has begun to take root in the community. 

Castellers de Vilafranca, one of the largest colles, have introduced a pioneering mental health program aimed at supporting the emotional well-being of its members.

With a monthly group session, the colla aims to strengthen the emotional security of the castellers through tools that help them manage pressure, nerves, fears and joys. 

"We've had cases of people quitting castells because they couldn't handle the pressure, and that's unthinkable," says Ernest Gallart, the president of the colla

Mental health takes center stage

The Castellers de Vilafranca have always been at the forefront of professionalizing the field. 

They were the first colla to increase the number of training days from one or two to three a week, and a few years ago they introduced nutrition and physical training. Now they are doing the same with mental health.

"We do castells because we like it, and people should feel comfortable doing it. The colla has to provide the tools so that everyone is comfortable and has fun," he says. 

Gallart explains that the mental health part is just as important as the physical. He says they are now tackling issues that have been observed over the years, but haven't been addressed before.

The psychologist who leads the sessions, Andrea Pérez, specializes in sports psychology and has no background in the castells world. She says she was surprised at how professional the tradition has become.

"In this colla the goals are very demanding, like in high-performance sports, the goal is to bring your practice to a very high level of excellence, where you master every detail and do things that are unique," she says. 

Manage nerves, pressure and fears

Pérez celebrates the attendance of between 50 and 80 people at the first sessions and welcomes the growing recognition of mental health within the castells world. However, the number of attendees is still far from reaching the more than 1,000 members of the colla

By the end of the season, the castellers who attended the sessions will be better able to identify stressors and manage them effectively, which is now a major problem for many. 

"You go through so many stages. Before you do a castell there is nervousness, pressure. Doing it, the pressure of not wanting to fail, and afterwards, if there was a fall, the fear of failure, the fear that it won't go well again," says long-time member of the colla Emma Andreu, who welcomed the initiative. 

Quicu Fernández, with fourteen seasons of experience, considers mental health training essential to learning how to use emotional resources effectively during performances.

"You feel anger, helplessness and nervousness, but also joy. Sometimes there are moments of climax when you need to reconnect and get back to full focus," he says. 

Other colles have approached the Castellers de Vilafranca interested in adopting similar programs, a sign that mental health is increasingly becoming a priority in the castells world.