Giving yourself a sporting chance

(post by Andrew Thorp)We had a sports psychology angle to our recent Mojo Live After 5 event in Manchester, a chat show format that explores a monthly theme through guest interviews. Ann Bach and Roger Longden joined us and I’ve summarised some insights that emerged from talking to them.
Getting an Edge
Both Roger and Ann are in the business of performance enhancement, and of course in pro sport the different between winning and obscurity is tiny. But it’s getting that way in business now; it’s more competitive than ever before and if ever there was a time to ‘raise our game’ it’s now! That’s why a degree of reflection and analysis is so worthwhile, and that means STOPPING what we’re doing and pondering how effective we are. We may be missing key skills or tearing headlong in one direction when a different strategy might be needed.
Dealing with ups and downs
To a large extent we’re defined as human beings by how we respond to adversity. If we’re ‘emotionally intelligent’, it’s a choice we make (see the work of Daniel Goleman). Those knee jerk reactions to a nasty letter, a flippant comment or a rejected proposal come from the amygdala, a small section of the brain that produced the head butt that was Zidane’s final contribution in his last World Cup Football appearance. But, with a bit or training and developed self-awareness we can choose how to respond. We can rationalise things and detach ourselves, adopting a kind of “mmm, that’s interesting” approach. Emotional intelligence can be called upon to deal with all sorts of challenging situations – at work, on the roads, parenting at home.
Tiger Woods (is he back?)
Woods is noted for his mental strength on the golf course (if not elsewhere!). Once he walks over an imaginery line 6 paces after his last shot, whatever’s gone on before is left behind. “Move on.” Lesser mortals let things bother them for ages – they agonise over a conversation, a confrontation or rejection. You can’t change the past, but you can ‘re-frame’ it and decide to move forward.
The PAR principle
Athletes know they have to perform at certain moments (when the starter’s pistol goes off, when the referee starts the game). It’s ‘show time’ and all eyes are upon them. This is the A in PAR – meaning ‘ACTION’. But what you don’t see is how they’ve prepared for this (the ‘P’) and you rarely get a glimpse of the R-EVIEW they do afterwards. But it’s this before-and-after time that makes their performance as good as it is.
We tend not to think this way in business. An interview or speech or sales pitch is clearly a ‘performance’ and requires preparation and a review – do we always do it? But there are other ‘mini-performances’ too like networking events, management meetings and client interactions. A bit of preparation and review there too wouldn’t go amiss!
Are you still sparkling?
Ann tells her clients they’re all born with a disco ball inside them. It’s full of life and movement and sparkles when we’re a child, but as we get older it can get tarnished and a bit tired. She helps people rediscover their disco ball and make it shine again!
Exploring their boundaries
Roger explained that athletes like being pushed and stretched, and in doing so they redefine what their limits are (their potential). Do we do this in the workplace? Do we stretch ourselves, learning new skills and facing fears like public speaking or cold calling or negotiating? Or do we stay in our comfort zone? Coming out of that zone is how we grow.
Athletes measure their performance from every conceivable angle. Maybe we should do some measuring in our lives or business? How about:
  • time management analysis?
  • calculating who our best clients/contacts are?
  • reviewing the results of our networking?
  • which costs we could strip out of our business?
  • our social media presence (see Klout)
Valuing our services, Valuing ourselves
Before we can succeed in business we have to value ourselves first. Many people offering a service find it difficult to negotiate a price for their time and expertise. They look at what others charge, compare whether they’re better/more experienced and resolve to come in ‘a bit below them’. Instead, try considering the value you’re creating for the client. Andy Bounds talks about negotiating a speaking fee of several thousand pounds. When it was questioned, he related it to the £££ difference the insights he delivered would make to each member of the audience. As there were several hundred of them, it stacked up rather well!
Leadership styles – the importance of authenticity
We look for certain qualities in our leaders, be they sports team managers, CEO’s or prime ministers. Authenticity is certainly one of them. Authentic leaders are known as true to their word and willing to show courage (eg standing up in front of everyone to deliver difficult news, rather than sending an email). But in the simplest terms, authentic leaders are the same on the inside as they are on the outside. There’s no falsity, no pretence – remember what John C Maxwell says about people, “When you’re bigger on the inside that you are on the outside, sooner or later you’ll be as big on the outside as you are on the inside.” Sadly, we all know leaders/managers who are bigger on the outside than on the inside!
Team vs Individual
We had an interesting debate over the amount of focus placed on individual psychology, rather than teams. But teams are a series of individuals bound together by a common cause. They’re all different, and play a unique role in the team, but their noses are pointing the same way! If the individuals aren’t functioning properly, the team effort suffers.
You get more of what you focus on
One of Tony Robbins’ favourite sayings. If you focus on the problems in your business/school/organisation you’ll probably attract more of them! Problems demand attention but don’t forget to recognise (and nurture) what’s working well.
Visualise the outcome you want
Dr Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Successful People) reminds us that “All things are created twice.” We visualise something we want to happen, then it’s more likely to come about. It’s what athletes do when they visualise what their free kick/high jump/golf shot/tennis serve will look like. Paint a picture of what you want to achieve.
Thanks again to Ann and Roger for contributing so much to the event – and to the audience for stimulating the debate. Keep an eye out for more Live After 5 sessions through the MojoLife web-site.

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Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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