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Sports personalities, performance psychology and making changes in 2013


For anyone with even a passing interest in sport it was hard not to feel in awe of the performances of our athletes, Olympians and Paralympians in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award recently. LPP Consulting are proud to have played a small part in the preparation and support some of the athletes and sportspeople representing Great Britain this year.

However, with New Year upon us, many of us will have made our annual resolutions to improve some aspect of our own performance. So what can we learn from performance psychology, inspired by the personalities of sport, to make these resolutions last?

1. Start with Values

Our sports personalities were ‘driven’ towards goals. However, goals are most powerful when they have meaning. In a brief interview with Didier Drogba, with reference to Chelsea’s champions league win, he was asked what it was that drives him. His answer: “fun”. Watching Bradley Wiggins going about his business, it is clear that a sense of fun is also of importance to him. Values are chosen ‘directions’ that describe what is important to us. When our clients consider making changes (including ‘resolutions’) we often encourage them to ask what motivates them and what they really care about in the most important areas of their lives.

2. Set motivating goals

Athletes have an obvious goal in mind: this could be an outcome like a championship, world ranking or selection to a team. It might also be a performance: improving a split time or a measure of their efficiency. However, goals are useless without a defined process of specific steps and actions that make success more likely. No doubt Andy Murray is well aware that he has minimal control over the form that Roger Federer or Raphael Nadal is in. He can and did work hard on technical and physical improvement that gives him the best chance of beating them. So choose goals that are motivating because they relate to important values and then focus on behaviours that are likely to make those goals more achievable.

3. Expect discomfort

Aside from the glamour of the BBC footage, there were glimpses of agony: Sir Chris Hoy cycling on a machine until he looked like he would pass out, Sir Steve Redgrave actually passing out on a rowing machine. Very often our clients’ lives have become centred on avoiding physical or emotional discomfort. However, it is often impossible to make important life changes without some kind of pain.

4. Pay close attention

When asked what it was like to stand at the top of the diving board before his bronze medal-winning performance, Tom Daley’s response was that it was “terrifying”! Whilst we often perceive “confidence” as being the key to performance, what did Daley do? He brought his mind back to the task: of course it was terrifying – it was the culmination of many years of practice – but it was also a dive he had performed countless times. He didn’t try and get rid of his terror; he focused on the relevant performance cues he has spent much of his life working on. We encourage our clients to identify the relevant ‘performance cues’ and to practice a mindful approach, bringing attention back to what is most important to them in the moment.

So, to capitalise on the inspiration of our Olympic year and the motivation of the New Year:

  1. Focus on what is important to you.
  2. Set meaningful goals.
  3. Expect and accept discomfort.
  4. Practice focusing attention.

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