Posts Tagged ‘competition’

Is that an Athlete or a Movie Star? The Mighty Sports Marketing Machine

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

 

As the armchair assassins sharpen their tongues, polish their sniper skills on their regular columns and frantically distance themselves from any allegiance to Australian sport, the patriotic finger of blame is ready to be pointed.

Swimmers through the lens

Whilst all this public posturing is going on in Australia, the athletes, coaches and organisers are undoubtedly strategically gearing themselves for a hostile return to Australian soil and to the waiting kangaroo media.

Fair or not it appears to be the Aussie way, known colloquially as the Tall Poppy syndrome – if you are not an under dog and beating the rest of the world then you are fair game to the armchair assassins.

However, there are no easy retorts to the many questions being asked of these heavily funded and high profile Aussie sporting organisations.

They have not performed to what the history and hype had lead the Australian taxpayers to believe was almost a guaranteed medal haul at the London 2012 Olympic Games and a smart investment in their sporting greatness.

In the verbal tsunami of media commentators, posturing on this shock and horror Olympics for high profile sports such as swimming, athletics and cycling, there are many emphatic reasons as to what went so wrong and who is to blame – the metaphorical lambs you might say – are being lined up.

The usual excuses such as underfunding, geographically disadvantaged, not enough or correct support staff, and the banning of sleeping pills – and the list goes on and on.

I agree that some of these claims may have had, on some level, an impact but nothing these athletes don’t deal with on a daily basis. These are professional, full-time and seasoned competitors who continually travel the world competing week in week out in less than perfect conditions – its part of the game.

And for most of these athletes the Olympic games is the pinnacle of their sporting calendar, preparing for many years to perform no matter what. No athlete prepares to lose or even get second, athletes at this level all believe they are there to win and nothing else is on their radar – it’s the athletes way.

OK, so what did go so wrong at these Olympics with Australia’s campaign?

Some of you may have read my recent post  Athletes and Fame: Do They Compete? – this article looked at the immediate impact media and social media can have on an elite athlete’s ability to maintain focus and keep things in perspective during the insular world of  international competition.

I also believe there to be a much deeper culture in Australian sport at the moment, deeper than just the pointy end of the athletes individual performance. I believe the bigger issue is the focus and reliance these high profile sports have on just a few top athletes and the lack of depth developed in many sports due to the ‘now’ mentality.

Historically this has been the realm of the underfunding argument where the few receive the bulk of the measly funding and the rest fall by the wayside due to not being enough to go around, only the fittest survive.

But today with millions of taxpayers dollars being pumped into the ‘sexy’ Australian sports plus the private sectors undisclosed sponsorship funding – the story is very different.

Whereas underfunding may have been the viable excuse several decades ago, I believe today the issue is more by design than attrition – a design where the sponsorship dollar is a far higher sought after commodity than the evenly distributed development of the sports resources and the building of the longterm talent pool.

Realistically there is more than enough financial support to go around, to be effective on a world level and to create the required depth in these selection groups Australia wide.

However some of today’s higher profile athletes are more like movie stars than performing athletes, are better commercially funded than some businesses and utilised for marketing purposes as living commodities rather than their skill-set. This inequality creates a divide that can only be likened to the social divide, where the marketable few get the funding and are kept on the team at the expense of maybe the better performing athlete.

This marketing focus by the governing bodies in some sports, rather than natural talent selection process has lead to this shortfall in selectable talent and reliance on what sells, it also nurtures a short term thinking process.

Taking focus off development needs to be corrected if Australia is to once again return to dominate world sporting events. Its clear the talent is here, the athletes are at the club level, I have seen them – they just need the right opportunities and a more even playing field.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Flickr noobits

Sports Commentary: Is The Past Really In The Past?

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Does the past always influence the future based on fact, or is it all psychology?

When economists forecast the rise and fall of financial trends or when political commentators predict the swings in government – and get it right – are they just clever predictions based on past events and cold statistics, or is there more to it? Could they be psychologically influencing our decisions and future choices unwittingly with the words they use?

If we take the same parallel with sport, sporting commentators speculate on the outcome of a game based on past results of the player or team.

Again is this just the sum total of interesting statistics, relevant information and probable mathematics, or does their suggestibility hold a more subconscious influence over the players and impact on the potential outcome of the game.

In the same way people are influenced into believing and blindly following social, economic, health and even fashion trends, covert use of targeted language can also heavily influence our athletes into following performance trends.

This could result in either psychologically winning or losing a competition before they ever step onto the pitch – all based on the expert’s analysis.

Most sporting commentators are past or current players, coaches or influential people within their sporting community and often hold a great deal of respect from within that code.

So clearly their opinions and predictions matter to those who they are commentating on!

If the commentators believe a particular team is certain to lose and they publically verbalise these beliefs, boosting their point of view with statistics, history and plays as proof then the self-belief of the players on the potentially losing team will diminish – thus becoming a self fulfilling prophecy instigated from the commentary box.

Humans are socially and psychologically pack animals, guided by the community, socially driven to assimilate and conditioned to believe and follow our leaders – especially those we emotionally adorn. So it stands to reason when a well respected social influencer tells you you’re destined to lose, the doubt enters your mind and becomes a focus point now giving you the option to lose – as it is expected.

The same outcome is achieved when statistics are highlighted as a probable outcome of the future such as ‘the last time these teams met they lost by 100 points’ or ‘this team have never won at this venue before!’ All these factors and the social expectation weigh heavily on their minds and performance.

So has our thirst for up to the minute knowledge, opinions and statistics and the medias willingness to supply that information begun to influence how an athlete physically and mentally performs? Athletes will tell you ‘No!’ They will say the media plays little part in their preparation or performance – they say this because they are told to say it not necessarily because they believe it.

So as a coach or commentator we have a duty and responsibility to understand that what we say could have an impact on the outcome and psychology of an athlete.

Performance Strategies to Combat Fear

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Learn How To Overcome The Invisible Pull of Irrational Behaviour

Performance FearIn male gymnastics, the horizontal bar is a singular steel tube typically 10-11 feet (3-3.4 metres) off the ground and 3cm in diameter. Male gymnasts swing around the bar conducting many one and two hand combinational movements, directional changes and release and catches before a multiple somersault and/or twisting dismount.

It is a spectacular event to both watch and take part in. It is also one of the more dangerous apparatus too as a fall at best is quite painful and has occasionally been fatal.

As someone who excelled at this complex discipline over and above the other five apparatus in this sport, I made my name as a dynamic and innovative High Bar (Horizontal Bar) worker.

Back in the 80s my routines consisted of some complicated one and two handed release and catch moves and a very intricate and unique one arm sequence before my multiple somersault dismount – for it’s time a radical and difficult routine by International standards.

Not being a very tall gymnast, the High Bar always appeared so incredibly high to me. This was both daunting and advantageous at the same time. It gave me more time to fit in complex somersaults and my small stature made the biomechanics of the moves more efficient… on the other hand I also had further to fall! A big disadvantage when things didn’t go to plan.

Our disciplined team trained hard and it was all about dominating on competition day.

I can still remember the feelings as I nervously waited for the judges to give me the nod to commence my routine. As I paced up and down in anticipation, I felt the butterflies in my stomach more so on High Bar than any other apparatus but this seemed to give me an edge.

I had earned the reputation as being a tenacious competitor and one who was reliable during tough times, however we had one of Great Britain’s tallest gymnasts in our club, Alan Hay, so the bar was often placed on extension blocks to increase it’s height by another 10-12 inches. This was something I found particularly unnerving on competition days (…interestingly, it was not an issue during training?). At the time, I believed my nerves came from my fear of what may happen to me if I fell or injured myself, I had certainly experienced my fair share of injuries as a Gymnast during my training over the years.

I can vividly remember one particular competition day when I was the last to compete… the atmosphere was electric! The competition had been fiercely close and the expectations placed on me from my peers, my coach, my parents and the audience were overwhelming.

I had trained my high bar routine hundreds of times without mistake and it was my specialty – a ‘good’ routine from me was all that was required for our team to win – yet I was scared, more scared than any other time or competition before.

The fear I was feeling was consuming my every thought! It was uncontrollable and all I wanted was to find a way out, to run away and not have to do the routine at all.

The pressure was too intense, the bar had grown to 20 feet tall (at least in my mind anyway) and I was sure I hadn’t done enough preparation.

‘Just one more practice run,’ I thought, ‘One more training session was needed – surely if I explained it to the judges they would understand! They would allow me a little more preparation time – I mean they had taken so long doing their thing a little ‘me’ time was only fair, right?’

As every moment ticked by, I was creating multiple scenarios in my mind…

The longer the judges took to be ready for me

The more unready I became for them

The more possibilities of failure I could imagine…

The more damage to my body I could think of…

And the more ways my parents, my peers, my coach and the audience could voice their disappointment in me

…Aaaahhhh! It was all too much.

For many years after I thought of that competition and the wild thoughts that had been dominating my mind – maybe it was the danger of the sport that made me fearful that day… maybe I hadn’t prepared enough… or maybe I just wasn’t as brave as I had initially thought I was?

Whatever mind malfunction had caused the mental meltdown for me that day – it had left a lasting imprint and impacted greatly on my performance as I missed both my release and catch moves and fell on my landing.

We came second.

It was many years later when as a performance coach I began looking at managing emotional states in other athletes that I realised what exactly had gone on in my head all those years earlier. What I thought of as pure, debilitating FEAR was in fact not fear at all – well, not fear in it’s purest form anyway. It was an irrational anxiety I had personally created in my mind around the self-manufactured, fictional outcomes that would probably never eventuate.

It was a set of worst case scenarios, strung together to create a catastrophic outcome that had little or no rational basis. I had created a horror movie in my mind that I believed to be completely true. Not only did I believe it – I convinced myself it was inevitable. I had trained and competed that routine countless times without catastrophe, without incident and without injury… yet, my IMAGINATION had built an outcome that stopped me dead in my tracks… because I allowed it.

So if I was not FEARFUL of hurting myself – as there was no credible foundation to that basis – what was affecting me? What I was doing was allowing my very vivid and creative imagination to fool my reality, to be out of control, fueled by my ‘heightened emotions’ which, in turn clouded my rational judgment process. Together these two became unstoppable in my systematic personal destruction of my own self-confidence.

Essentially, I believed my own virtual world or doom.

I have seen this same self-destructive pattern affect athletes in every imaginable situation and sport. From world class platform divers to competitive school chess, Formula One racing to lawn bowls, Olympic Ski Jumping to Synchronised Swimming. irrespective of the perceived or actual physical threat level, the perception of imagination and emotionally fueled fear was the same and just as debilitating.

When we explore the science of this situation, when we are faced with physical or psychological threat we become fearful and our ‘Fight or Flight’ mechanism kicks in to preserve our life. Our brain fires into action, our thalamus, sensory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus all kick into gear, hardwired to protect us from harm. When activated, a sequence of nerve cells fire off and chemicals like adrenalin, norepinephrine and hydrocortisone are deployed into our bloodstream – charging into action like the cavalry.

These chemicals, once deployed, cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes, our respiratory rate increases, blood is moved away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, giving extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our awareness heightens, our sight sharpens, our impulses quicken, our perception of pain decreases and we become prepared physically and psychologically for action.

Clearly a ‘controlled’ amount of these physical, psychological and neurological responses would have enhanced my performance greatly that day and on any other day. A heightened sensory awareness without the debilitating emotional drain would have optimised my performance.

Yet I had allowed my imagination to consume me and my senses, my imagination was far greater than my actual physical FEAR so dominated my energy, my clarity and my emotions. My fictional scenario had won the day causing me to succumb to uncontrollable nerves and loss of focus.

So how do we overcome our powerful imagination and emotionally charged responses in favour of a more controlled heightened sense of awareness during performance?

Step One:  Dis-Association

Performance Strategies

Learn to look and assess an action pragmatically and with a degree of dis-association, teach our minds to remove all emotional baggage associated to that action or outcome and look at it for what it is, what it has achieved, what needs improvement and what it can do as an end-step outcome.

Understanding a move, a sequence or a performance as a single action and something that is replicable. So we put it into perspective – removing the emotional charge.

Of course during major events our emotions do increase anyway, however starting from a lower point enables us to control them more.

If you watch tennis and in particular Roger Federer, he plays with a great deal of disassociation, almost appearing disinterested – this allows him to assess a play and choose to replicate it, correct it or remove it without getting emotionally attached to the past action.


Step Two:  Use Your Imagination For Good Not Evil

Visualise the action, the outcome, how it should be performed and lower any anxiety associated to the skill or the event.

Visualisation creates the SAME neural paths with the SAME intensity as actual performance. This allows us to remove the ‘unknown’ factor – lowering anxiety.


Step Three:  Train As Though It Is A Competition

Desensitise your emotions to being judged or the perceived importance of THAT one performance. Use specific words, phrases – add rhythmical chants and affirmations to reinforce continuity.

These three key skills can make the difference between a successful performance and one you wish you could forget.

COMMITMENT

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I was reminded this week – (by the continual avoidance of a client), that a huge part of anyone’s success in whatever area they choose is their attention to details, their ability to identify and build a plan or strategy and their level of COMMITMENT!

As a mind coach who specifically chooses to work with elite athletes, who by nature are normally very dedicated and committed beings, it becomes painfully obvious when they are not demonstrating these vital characteristics – not only in their lackluster demeanor but in their performance results.

And no matter how hard I work, how diligent I am when building their programme or even how ‘nagging’ I can be when they are dragging the chain – ultimately the bottom line is their level of success is a direct reflection of their commitment to the plan and to the end objective.

 

“A total commitment is paramount to reaching the ultimate in performance.”

~ Tom Flores (one of the only two people in Professional Football history to win a Super Bowl as a player, as an Assistant Coach and as a Head Coach)

 

Do you have a plan? And how committed are you to it’s success?