Posts Tagged ‘performance’

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

3D Coach: The Most Effective Sporting Results Can Be Found In Another Dimension

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

It’s only human to have good days and off days. And to most of us an off day isn’t such a big deal in the whole scheme of things. But to a professional athlete these off days could spell trouble.

3D CoachIf bad days become more and more frequent and the machine of expectation that surrounds a professional athlete has them completely derailed, it follows that their performance is likely to resemble a train wreck.

And this could mean the difference between being re-signed for the next season or dropped from a team and potentially losing millions of dollars in payment and endorsements. So once their attitude and synergy has turned festy and poisonous – these professionals look for something different.

Traditionally when athletes completely miss their mark and their performance begins to glide southwards their first instinctive response is to do more of the same – and that is physical training!

As a former athlete I myself have been put through the ‘traditional’ avenues coaches and athletes favour in an attempt to either avoid or turn a bad situation around – and it is within this tradition of reactivity that lies the systemic problem.

More gym work, more kicking practice, more hours of the same training… more… more… more… more…

The issue may be a technical anomaly or a physical inefficiency or even a lack of performance history and focus, but the head-down bum-up more, more, more approach typically perpetuates the emotional baggage and tainting of process that comes with these performances: the sense of desperation; the sense of expectation; the sense of anxiety; and ultimately the sense of failure.

On the surface I can see the thought process behind this traditional approach. Let’s face it, athletes are physical performers therefore focusing on the increase in physical response it ‘should’ in theory give them results.

3D CoachBut does it?

Stop for a moment and analyse this philosophy: if an athlete or group of athletes have just under-performed and experienced a poor result, irrespective of the cause, where is their mental and emotional objectivity likely to be focused?

Are they focusing on improving, correcting and moving forward? Or has the painful performance cemented in the mistakes made and the outcomes they delivered?

Like many dedicated humans their focus externally will be on correction, because that is what they consciously tell themselves, but in reality their mental and internal focus will be completely on the mistakes made and how NOT to repeat them.

If the mental focus is on NOT to repeat the mistakes, where are they likely to emotionally and cognitively end up? …  Repeating the same mistakes… and thus perpetuating the cycle of poor results, uncontrollable emotions, and more poor results.

It was reported that the Australian Rugby Union team went from one of their poorest performances at the Rugby World Cup 2011 straight into a training session the next day, trying to put right where they had gone wrong.

So if rushing from the competition venue to a training session is not the answer – then what is?

FOCUSED OBJECTIVITY

The two main reasons many athletes and coaches rush to do something active (and in their model of the world ‘actively’ deconstruct their performance) with more physical repetitions is because:

1. Athletes associate action with physical action not necessarily mental action and feel more in control if they are physically ‘doing something.’ So this is feeding their emotions rather than their technical issues.

2. Historically, it is what athletes have done. It has been traditionally handed down from coach to athlete. When things go wrong get back on the horse and just do it again. The legacy continues.

The solution lies in the ability to analyse.

Rather than embedding emotionally anchored physical repetition and doing something just because you have done it before, a more effective approach is to step back and analyse. Just analyse what worked, what didn’t work and how it can be mechanically corrected.

This level of objectivity allows an athlete to distance themselves from perpetuating the same result; to learn from the mistakes and to analytically correct the issues before they become embedded into their programme.

The 3D Coach™

The innovation of the 3D coach™ allows the athlete to analyse their performance in the following way:

First Dimension:
Look at their performance from their own perspective with all the emotions attached (associated to the event);

Second Dimension:
Look at their performance as another would see it mechanically, systematically and chronologically (dissociated to the event)

Third Dimension:
Once the athlete can see the performance for what it really was then they can see their performance from the perspective of how it would impact the long term outcome both corrected and uncorrected.

This process can deconstruct and reconstruct the event without the blurring of the facts with heavy emotion and allows the athlete to tweak and tinker with the skills without the fears associated with the past performance.

This all sounds very simple, and it is, but unfortunately under utilised. So the next time you or one of your athletes have an off performance, resist the urge to dive back in the gym and instead understand just where the improvements need to be!

Rugby Union, Attitude and Those Who Influence It

Friday, October 7th, 2011

The Right Athlete, the Right Coach and at the Right Time Will Naturally Gravitate Towards Each Other  –  This Is Where We See Magic Happen.

As an avid rugby fan and former School and County Player (scrum half) I have found myself glued to the current Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, as many other diehards have.

As I watch the big hitters such as New Zealand dominate in their opening games, the Springboks play their usual cheeky tactics, the Australian’s scramble due to selection and injury crisis and the England team typically struggle with on and off field discipline and finding form.

I found myself strangely drawn down to the grassroots and intensely study the nuts and bolts of the Welsh Rugby team. They are only just getting the job done in most cases but doing it in such a crude yet inspiring way it is mesmerising – even my Australian wife catches herself barracking for the Welsh (fleeting though it may be, they haven’t played the Wallabies yet).

Wales versus South AfricaI mean I am passionately English through and through and will be ecstatic when Jonny Wilkinson and the boys again take out the Rugby World Cup for England! But, I started to realise there is something about the performance of the Welsh team that is very familiar to me in their attitude and approach… something that isn’t flash, spectacular or even overtly entertaining – but effective, ballsy and synergistic in drive, discipline and passion.

I should have realised this familiarity was due to a mutual connection when I saw his signature style permeate this team. It was, after all, the same person who influenced the direction of my sporting career and beyond to my chosen profession today.

Over the past few weeks as I watched this Welsh team jostle for the ball and make plays out of scrappy nothings, I found myself thinking about my own sporting career, no not my low level Rugby Union success, but International Gymnastics.

“Gymnastics?” I hear you say!

I know – it is not the most socially accepted, publicly revered, or indeed sexiest sport out there – but one I was passionate about and therefore found I excelled in.

To be honest with you, I was more physically suited to Rugby Union than I was Gymnastics: I was stocky, exceptionally inflexible, had the coordination of a three legged rocking horse and, due to a hearing disability, the balance of an intoxicated old man on a Sunday afternoon. NOT the traits of an aspiring dynamic and nimble Gymnast. However, what I lacked in talent I made up for in heart, tenacity and a willingness to learn.

All I needed was someone who was patient enough, technical enough and stubborn enough to mould me into a true sportsman!

But I had a problem (I know I had a few) but this one was huge!

I was very young, inexperienced and oblivious to what I needed…

So how would a young one like me identify and recognise that certain person who had the correct skill-set to get the most out of me; the person who had the opportunity and the drive to push me in the right direction; and the foresight to see beyond my physical shortcomings to see my passion.

Well, I didn’t know where, how or even why I needed to find that coach. That is not to say that I didn’t have the right person, because I did – only I didn’t have the maturity to recognise the right person at that stage of my life. (Funnily enough, these days as a consultant I find this scenario repeated week in week out.)

So I got to thinking as the Welsh pushed on and through their opponents in a scrappy dog fight – does the athlete select the coach or does the coach select the athlete?

As an athlete I would have said unequivocally the coach was along for the ride on the coat-tails of successful, talented and hardworking athletes. As I look back now I would have said the athlete needed the coach in order to be the athlete they have buried deep inside them… and often could not make it without them.

I think it is one of those process of natural selection: the right athlete, the right coach and at the right time will naturally gravitate towards each other, filling the void and finding their positioning.

And this is where we see magic happen. If all the stars line up and the timing is perfect, these two can create a sustainable champion, an athlete, a team even a club that is something special, something unique. It takes both sides to be shining at the same time to make them something special – and therein lies both the skill and the problem.

You see I realised what I was seeing in the Welsh Rugby team was the influence of a special coach-player dynamic, a belief and passion and a synergistic drive.

What I saw was in fact my coach – LITERALLY my coach. Yes, my Gymnastics Coach of many years ago, Mitch Fenner had recently been working with the Welsh Rugby team. The same drive, tenacity and passion he had helped nurture in me was now shining through these hard hitting, scrappy, rough-around-the-edges work horses.

Every now and then someone comes along who helps you become that little bit more than you would have been. They help you shine just that little bit brighter, for that little bit longer.

The secret is to recognise that and embrace it at the time, as together champions are forged and apart athletes are lost.

Jonny Wilkinson: In Need of a Reboot

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

 

The Rugby World Cup 2011 rumor mill is in full swing today, hinting that England’s golden booted superstar Jonny Wilkinson is to be benched.

The talk is that Wilkinson will be replaced as England chief kicker and number 10 as England moves unconvincingly into the knockout rounds. This is a devastating blow not only for Wilkinson but us diehard England fans who know just how important a steady boot can be.

Most associate Jonny as England’s archangel from the 2003 Rugby World Cup when England secured the title in the dying moments off the tip of Wilkinson’s boot. But like most professional athletes Wilkinson’s career is defined by much more than that one moment in time. Just seven points shy of reaching the record of all-time highest scorer in test rugby, Wilkinson is clearly in a class above the average, someone who has proven that he can sustainably perform to reach career defining milestones such as this.

So why now is Wilkinson looking down the barrel of the bench, being replaced just when England could once again benefit from his cool, calm, golden touch?

Wilkinson is, without a doubt, off form. His percentage at this Rugby World Cup is at the bottom of the averages for kickers, not his usual top spot. When most performers are peaking Wilkinson finds himself falling off the conveyer belt and out of the team. This will surely be Wilkinson’s last RWC and his last chance to cement his name in the global Rugby community’s mind.

So what has happened to Wilkinson’s signature ‘crouch, shuffle, clasp, kick’ midas touch in this campaign?

The purists are blaming the new championship ball…

The knockers are saying Wilkinson has past his prime and should move over…

The players are blaming the stadium conditions and unusual wind currents…

The press are blaming England’s lack of discipline…

… and Wilkinson has said the blame rests with him!

So what is the truth?

Where should the blame (if any blame at all) lay? Or is it all just part of the peaks and troughs athletes expect to move through?

There is no doubt Wilkinson handles pressure and has proven time and time again he can put the boot to work at the right time under extraordinary conditions, and for this his technique has been studied and copied across the globe.

So could it really be the new aerodynamics of the match ball?

Maybe.

But any player of that caliber should be able to adapt and maneuver their skill-set to cope with the different reactions the shape may give. One or two kicking sessions would see them roll with the changes and be back on form, I don’t believe skill-set is that tenuous.

So, surely not – could it be that he is over the hill? Maybe, at 32 years old, but why now? He has been on form leading into the RWC and hasn’t suddenly aged significantly overnight!

Could the England teams reported lack of on and off field discipline be causing this disjointedness? Some England players certainly are gaining attention for approaching this RWC like a club tour of Spain and enjoying the after-game entertainment much more than the on-field battles. But Wilkinson, again over many campaigns, has proven he can rise above any in-house behaviour issues or lack of performance discipline.

So, that leaves us with Wilkinson! What is he doing differently, what has he changed or attempted to correct or has left out that has his historically reliable steely boot – misfiring?

When we disregard the other options we are left with performer error, Wilkinson just isn’t performing – as simple as that!

Unlike a lame horse this is not the time to have Wilkinson put down, replaced or moved to the bench. Now is the time to stop and re-evaluate, to look at where the stitching began to unravel, the point at which the tried and trusted was replaced with an inferior replica. This is the time to reboot the boot and bring back the successful pattern.

Wilkinson is a play-maker and a game winner – so Jonny if you are reading this (and I am sure you are ;)) it is time to go back to what was working, recognise the patterns of success you had and reinitiate them. It is time to remove yourself mentally and emotionally from the whirlwind of misses and break the unsuccessful pattern and mentally REBOOT.

This all sounds a little pie-in-the-sky but it is the basics that work, the understanding of what was done to achieve, then replicate that. Disassociate from the emotions of failure and clinically assess and reapply.

All the excuses in the world ONLY allow us to blame someone or something else and not correct the issues. If we could do it before we can do it again (as long as we are physically capable of course).

So all Jonny Wilkinson needs is a mental re-boot to bring back his successful operating system.