Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Understanding How Mindset Can Affect An Athlete’s Potential

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has been studying mindset for over 20 years. She has marvelled at the fact that there are people with natural athletic abilities who feel they cannot improve on their God given talents (Fixed mindsets) and those who believe their potential can always be improved upon (Growth mindsets).

Athletic scouts tend to look for natural talent, not potential. Potential is different from natural talent, as talent tends to be more obvious. However, potential can make a champion, as long as they have the right athlete mindset.

Scouting for Talent

When sporting scouts are out looking for recruits they tend to focus on talent. However when we look historically at the qualities one might look for in a prize fighter surprisingly Muhammad Ali lacks almost all of the traits one would expect in a natural: He is not built like a champion, nor does he have the fists or reach of a champion and yet he was arguably one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time.

Golfer Ben Hogan had a wild hook that could have cost him his career had he not persevered through practice and self improvement. Often in sports when people are not viewed as naturals they are in essence being told they lack potential. Yet many prime athletes have proven this theory wrong through tenacity, focus and practice, demonstrating a growth mindset.

Harnessing Potential

A student of Dweck’s did an honours thesis that showed that those athletes who believed that success is reachable through determination and hard work proved to be more successful the following season. Athletes who felt their coaches supported this view also had greater success.

Further studies by Dweck tested the theory of mindset intervention by trying to teach students to have a growth mindset. Her studies found that students who were taught and understood that the mind was able to constantly grow and form new connections that would help them become more intelligent were able to grasp and embrace their growth. They were able to apply themselves and see improvements in their grades which motivated them to continue to strive to improve their grades and performance.

This demonstrated that there was the possibility to teach growth mindset. The effects this could have on athletes have proven to be quite remarkable.

Coaches who choose to work with the athlete mindset and performance intervention could teach athletes, even those who have suffered set backs, or are disenchanted with their sport, that practice will allow them to reach their full potential and learn to love the game again. Therefore potential is the seed required to groom athletes into champions.


The Meteoric Rise of Extreme Sport

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


As soon as the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games drew to a close and the hangovers started to fade, we start to look towards the next gathering of these outstanding athletes.

Lets not beat about the bush – there were many shortfalls at the Sochi Games for a world class event. Along with the lightning fast, slightly overweight computer-screen critics pointing out the shortfalls over and above any of the successes, there were also the frantically shared and well documented gaffs with accommodation and venue equipment, course inconsistencies and the ever present political games the organisers and associations played that stole way too much of the spotlight from those who should have been basking in it.

However for me these games shone a more positive light on some of the exciting developments in competitive sport. With the introduction of a number of new Olympic events at these games, most of them straight out of ESPN’s X Games format – this winter world just got sexier and a lot cooler. And this can only be a good thing for the evolution of the sport and the games.

I was asked by a social commentator what I thought was the reason why we have seen a significant spike in interest in such traditionally viewed extreme sports and why they are the new ‘sexy side of sport.’

In reality many of these sports have been around for years in one form or another – and it’s not just the winter wonderland that has benefited from the rise of unconventional sport subcultures.

In the last 5 years the interest in extreme sports has skyrocketed to overtake some mainstream sports, and for me there are a couple of realistic, significant and psychologically relevant reasons for this positive trend towards them, and away from the sports that would be categorised as traditional sports.


The first reason is our ability to be part of the action – to be part of these sports from the comfort of our computers, TVs and devices. As an active observer we can get up close and enjoy the real-time action from the athlete’s viewpoint, enjoying the thrills and spills and adrenalin filled success, without the physical investment.

Technology is in every aspect of our life today and with over 90% of the population owning a smart phone with a camera, we can capture, edit and share an event instantly. This makes it reachable, even for the most unsporty, uncoordinated or unwilling of us.

These sporting subcultures have embraced technology, innovating new and exciting ways to integrate us into their world and share it in real-time. in stark contrast, traditional sports have been slower off the mark in adopting the technology we all take for granted. The fastest growing medium today is video and these extreme sports have tapped into that niche nicely.

T20 Cricket has seen this trend towards the interactivity of sport and has been experimenting with umpire-cam, player microphones and wicket cam, and it’s paying off with an increase in audience participation. And lets be real, that also transcribes to the audience can now be accessed instantly too by those who wish to tap into our imagination and thus our pockets bringing more money into the game.


As I touched on earlier, many of these “new” sports are in fact old sports that had their start in humble, uncontrolled beginnings – either in back streets or as play things for the not-so-serious, and for a long time attracted little media, little interest and no funding.

And it is this ‘back street’ catalyst that makes them activities for the everybody inside us, a psychology of street-crafting and honing before being set free in the world. This gives these sports a lineage all of us can feel as the underdog. Whenever we give something a handicap it is socially accepted and championed by the masses, a shot at the establishment by the commoners.

It’s been well documented the astronomical amounts of money some traditional sports demand just to survive, with their disproportionate coaching staff to athlete rations, ever growing media departments, medical entourage and sponsorship wagons. When we measure this against the extreme sport environment many of these athletes not only do not expect the support and trappings, it is not actually on their radar. And it is this purer aspect of competition and sport that we crave, less Hollywood and more grass roots feel, the opportunity for a “normal” person to win.

Anything that isn’t mainstream, that isn’t overly regulated and is a little edgy is by definition “cool” – and provides a stimulation that speaks to our primitive side and rawness to our competitiveness.


We are primarily pack animals. The majority of us need our society in order to feel part of something bigger. We also gauge our views and beliefs from that which is, in the main part, socially accepted.

When Red Bull took up the challenge to elevate extreme sports into our consciousness, our living rooms and into our newsfeeds, we started to see new and exciting, almost superhuman achievements – and all with the consistent Red Bull logo on it. As we began to be more aware of it, to recognise that it was OK to like this, and recognise it’s value – it caused a groundswell as people flocked to be part of that movement.

Red Bull has done more to change the landscape of sport in the last 10 years than any other single entity. It chose to align itself (smartly) with emerging markets, embed itself into the “cool” group and it’s investment has paid off – not only for market recognition of it’s sickly sugary stimulant drink but more importantly for the introduction of a whole new evolution of sport.

When you hear Red Bull do you think energy drink, or sport first?


This key aspect, I believe, has been critical in the rise and dominance of extreme sports. It’s willingness to adapt and evolve with its audience was due to being exceptionally aware of who it is targeting, the demographics and psychographics of who is attracted to these sports and it has met market needs and exceeded them.

If we look at the more established and traditional sports, they have moved much slower to accommodate the ever changing face of their participants, rather expecting the participant to fit into their system rather than create an ever evolving system. It’s willingness to not be bogged down by who it is more who it’s for has allowed it a degree of agility.

Traditional sports have been more entrenched in the ways in which they operate. Much of that sludgy response is due to the systems by which these sports have grown and continue to survive is through creating feeder systems, development programmes and training paths. This depth has given traditional sports longevity, however like a wise old man, it may know more but cannot activate that knowledge without first taking its arthritis medication and waiting for the pain to subside. By this time the environment has once again shifted and that wise old man becomes less and less relevant.

So the shallow roots of extreme sport have given it the agility and an open platform to morph and adjust, but will it be sustainable – only you can determine that!


Image credit: Red Bull

Mental Disintegration: Strategy or Poor Sportsmanship?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Planting the seeds of doubt can work in any application. It can be used to destroy a strong and lasting relationship. It can be used to undermine a co-workers authority and it can also be used to psyche out the most adept of athletes – IF you know what you are doing.

Australian cricketer Steve Waugh knew all about the seeds of doubt and used them to reduce his competitors’ confidence. In fact, he was so successful at planting the seeds of doubt he coined a new phrase: Mental Disintegration.

Mental disintegration was the secret weapon that allowed Waugh to use the most casual of comments about a competitor’s performance perfectly timed and perfectly worded to plant the seeds of doubt and break their spirit and their confidence. It worked on even the strongest of resolves and most confident of mindsets.

Waugh has since become a mentor for some of Australia’s top athletes. However does that make mental disintegration a rich strategy or poor sportsmanship?

It is not uncommon to see athletes use cockiness to try to undermine their competitors. A little bit of swagger and overt confidence can do much to psyche the other guys out.

Many athletes hold up proceedings in an attempt to intimidate or fluster their competitors – a strategy frequently used in tennis with the use of medical time-out. An issue that was particularly prominent in this years’ Australian Open.

In fact during my gymnastics career, due to my reputation on the horizontal bar, athletes from other clubs would physically block my access to the bar in warm-up in an attempt to intimidate me or make me feel under-prepared.

More recently, I observed this in motor sport with some precariously placed tools inhibiting a driver leaving the pits.

Intimidation by Sledging

In cricket there’s a lot of “sledging” used to intimidate the other team. In fact it can often get out of hand. At the Ashes in Brisbane at the end of 2013, Michael Clarke’s sledging, which included a very well placed “F bomb”, led to his being fined 20 percent of his match fee for using insulting or offensive language.

Australian cricket players have been hailed for their ability to give their opponents “inferiority complexes” to “crushing effect” according to cricket legend Percy Fender, and it was a quality he admired.

Let’s be clear here – there is a distinct difference between a few strategically executed words and the more commonplace verbal abuse. One is part of the mental game and other generally comes from a place of ignorance and disrespect.

Overcoming Mental Disintegration

England’s Spin Bowler Shaun Udal figures being truly sledged is a testament to your talents. It means your competitors know you are better than them so they have to try intimidation as a final recourse to unnerve you to lessen your performance.

This is the attitude of a well balanced athlete who has the proper psychological attitude to face their competitors, regardless of what is thrown at them.

Tommaso D’Orsogna of the Australian Swim Team sums it up well “…the people that achieve peak performance are those that have prepared themselves psychologically, whether they are aware of it or not. They handled the pressure, the distractions and the nerves and maximised their outcome because of that.”

However the question must be asked, if Udal is thinking about the sledging, where is his focus and mindset at that time?

And if D’Orsogan recognises some athletes are unaware of the skills and how to replicate them, maybe we really should be teaching athletes the mental skills just as diligently as our focus on the physical skills?

Mental, emotional and cognitive training is just as beneficial in todays high tech, high stakes world of sport as is the ability to hit a ball, race a machine or swing around a bar.

So is mental disintegration a legitimate strategy? The answer may very well be ‘Yes’ if smart competitors are using psychology to strengthen their resolve and the art of mental disintegration is admired by legends.


Image credit:

Business and Sport – and the Business of Sport

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Recently I sat down with Heather Porter and Andrew McCauley of Autopilot Your Business about key practical tips that work, not only for the elite athlete, but also for the elite business person.

During this short interview we explore some current thinking on successful performance philosophies and the link between creating a successful athlete and a successful business person, rewards and momentum, team building and sustainable success – and the need for everyone to calibrate.