Posts Tagged ‘champion’

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

Olympic Pole Vault: Hooker Needs a Better Imagination

Saturday, August 11th, 2012


Pole Vault London 2012Anyone who has ever watch the pole vaulting knows its not for the faint hearted!

Sticking a long bendy pole into a hole in the ground and positioning yourself upside down as you patiently wait to be catapulted into the air and over a 5-6 metre bar before landing on a mat can seem nuts to the average person.

Of course this is what happens when it all goes to plan – but sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and its then we see the true character and mental toughness of these outstanding, if not a little crazy athletes!

At the recent London 2012 Olympics, Lazaro Borges’ (Cuba) pole snaps into multiple pieces during his qualifying jump, throwing him upside down into the mat.

He simply dusted himself off, returns to his very long kit bag, selects a new pole and does it all again – he clearly has the right mental toughness.

Pole vault has always intrigued me, I love the biomechanics of the sport, the sheer guts and determination required and the mental difference that these athletes have – its a very primal sport and one that resonates well with my days as a Gymnast.

When I first saw Australia’s Steve Hooker jump, I was amazed that this fuzzy haired dude could actually jump – I almost wrote him off before he had even put one foot in front of the other let alone sunk the pole into the ground to launch himself skyward!

But Steve Hooker clearly has massive talent and incredible guts. He has been Olympic Champion 2008, World Champion 2009, World Indoor Champion 2010 and Commonwealth Champion, so the guy knows how to jump despite his unassuming appearance.

That being said, this past year or so Hooker has a very public nemesis who has recently been beating him, who trains with him, lives with him and, dare I say, sleeps with him.

No, not is partner – but himself, his mind and his own very maverick imagination.

Last year Hooker misjudged a jump and toppled off the landing mat and onto the ground, damaging his knee. Of course the physical damage could be repaired and after physical therapy he was able once again to jump.

The Australian Athletics community gave a collective sigh of relief, thinking this sporting champ was once again back on track and heading towards the London Olympics to defend his title.

However, he was physically repaired but the psychological damage was running much deeper. Hooker had lost his nerve and confidence in jumping and London 2012 was looking shakier than ever.

As a gymnast, who had practically come to be on first name terms with many of the medical staff at the local hospital, I can certainly understand what an injury of this nature could do to your mind.

The random thoughts of it happening again, the physical changes you would subconsciously make to the pragmatics of the technique would rock your sense of familiarity and control and feeding an over active imagination…

… Your mind running through multiple worse-case scenarios as you stand there looking down the lane towards the jump, trying to collect your thoughts and think about what needs to be done…

It’s not like twisting an ankle on the track, the emotional monster goes into active overdrive, thinking that maybe next time it could be more than just a buggered knee, it could be spinal or even worse.

And so I imagine this is what began Hooker’s internally animated downward spiral, missing and avoiding jumps and worrying about what could be just around the corner. The knee was the catalyst but the mental torture was relentless in proving to himself why he shouldn’t jump.

Hooker publicly acknowledged at the 2011 World Championships whilst defending his title he felt lost on the runway. He admitted to being very nervous and even scared of the jump, choosing to run through three times, culminating in his being eliminated from the competition.

Back home in Australia, Hooker was dubbed as having the ‘yips’. (Urban dictionary – The Yips: Overthinking something so much you become unable to do it. You will often proceed to implode.)

Steve Hooker is just one example of an athlete mentally letting something in, something that eats away at you, as your confidence collapses and your imagination takes on a life of its own.  I have seen this in a number of sports and with a number of different catalysts.

Steve Hooker may not have even thought about the Rio 2016 games just yet as he comes to terms with his dramatic loss in London. However, as a Mind Coach, I think it needn’t have been this way, there are as many ways to combat the ‘yips’ as there is to get them and Hooker just needs to learn a better strategy of dealing with his imagination and more specifically his fears.

Hooker needs to learn to acknowledge what he fears and then, without emotion, deal with it. This very straight forward strategy could have enabled Hooker to have a different outcome in London 2012.

Something that I feel is paramount for all athletes is learning how to read, understand and effectively manage their emotions, they can drive you forward but can also hold you back, so understanding them is paramount.

To have such a grasp on what makes an athlete tick and what is likely to give them the wobbles can help manage them when a sniff of the wobbly wheel occurs, nipping it in the bud and bringing them back on track, maintaining direction and ultimately giving them back their control.

Fear becomes debilitating when our primal imagination becomes overly active and we begin to not only imagine all sorts of hairy things, but ultimately convince ourselves that its a forgone conclusion.

Having strategies that bypass this and keep you well and truly on the straight and narrow enables an athlete to do what they do best, whatever sport it is and to leave the worrying to the parents in the stands.



Image Credit: Flickr mrtopp

Athletes and Fame – do they compete?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

London 2012 is set to excite the world with it’s unique sense of pageantry and individual take on what it means to hold the world’s biggest event in your back garden.


It’s finally here – the Games of the XXX Olympiad is an especially exciting games for me as it’s in my old neighborhood. However now that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth (Australia), due to the conflict between my passion for the games and my geographical location – I am set for two weeks of being sleep deprived, but I am sure it will be worth it and, after all, always have another 4 years to catch up on sleep.

Track MedalsAs a former athlete who spent many of my years competing for Great Britain at an International level, I have that unmistakable ‘British pride’ pulsing through my veins. I’ve been described as a competitive Brit on more than one occasion. With an Australian wife our house can sometimes be just as competitive as the sporting arena – our three kids have however learnt to play the odds and back whichever side is winning – v. smart 😉 …

So on a pride level I understand the talking-it-up of a nation’s chances, the chest beating by coaches and commentators and the cheeky jibes athlete to athlete. Lets be honest its what makes it even more exciting when you pit the best against the best and you commit your allegiance to one team over another – it’s tribal.

But amongst all this festivity and good-hearted competition there is a slightly sinister side to the games, one that is currently being playing out in the media here in Australia and probably in many other countries around the world too. It’s a side that was always destined to cause heartache and controversy and frequently at the cost of these young athlete’s dreams and reputations.

Australia is one of those outstanding countries that always appears to do well at world sporting events and has sport running deep into the average Aussie psyche – irrespective of their own sporting prowess. As a professional sports mind coach myself – I LOVE living amongst that competitive culture – be it the Rugby, Cricket or the Olympic Games – Australia has to win and doesn’t suffer loss well, which is probably why I fit in so well.

But the ugly downside to this expectation is probably the interruption of focus to the athlete and their number one objective – competing. The belief of sporting superiority that is cultivated and fed by the media, unethical politicians looking for a photo opportunity and the bar-room and BBQ experts across the nation can cause an athlete to take their eye off the ball.

We all love a champion and in todays world we feel we know them intimately, their every move, their every thought and their private lives.

By buying into the commentary, some of these athletes are being set up with massive expectations on their shoulders and an attitude that is less than attractive or productive on the world stage.

Media favours controversy and much of the story is driven by the marketing machines behind them and the products set to profit off their backs. Harmless banter frequently becomes replaced with a dirty war of words, which is normally the speciality of battling politicians, but has in recent years spewed into the sporting arena, adding a new dimension to the world of an elite athlete.

It is a supply and demand economy and some athletes are taking it to a stage where it is cringeworthy, bordering on cockiness in an attempt to be noticed and picked up by the lucrative sponsorship dollars.

My professional focus is always squarely on the athlete and their sporting development, so I get very frustrated and disheartened when I see them ‘playing the media game‘ or treating the healthy banter like an opportunity to get personal and inflict carnage in order to gain a financial advantage.

For me, in my game of mental and emotional efficiency, this focus on playing politics frequently just diverts the athletes attention away from their main job of perfect performance onto creating controversy and a dollar.

When their focus becomes more about marketability and their competitor’s vulnerability rather than their own preparation – this just hands the control over to the opposition. Posturing outside of the arena is not going to result in a focused athlete inside the arena. It just obligates a competitor to hold down multiple roles, that of the professional athlete and all that goes with it and the character assassin looking to sell their controversy to the highest bidder.

When I work with an athlete I reiterate to them that their job (whilst competitive at least) is as an elite athlete and to perform at their optimum, to replicate precisely each and every time irrespective of their surroundings or competition. If their attention is even partly divided they are not 100% focused on their objective.

I recently had a client who was striving to make the National Australian A team. He was doing all the chasing, he was putting himself in the obvious places, doing the obvious stuff that he thought would get their attention. What he wasn’t doing, however, was what he did best – performing as an athlete!

This meant he was always two or three steps behind the selectors. By the time he observed what they were looking for and delivered it, they had found it elsewhere and moved on – leaving him thoroughly disheartened and bewildered as to how to get selected. We identified this and set about re-calibrating his focus back on his performance and skill-set, NOT on the selectors.

Within a few weeks the National team had not only noticed him but had invited him in. They saw what they were interested in and were looking to add to their dynamic.

Had he added to his sporting talent? – No. He only changed his focus point. The result was what he had been chasing for years, then achieved within weeks once he had this awareness.

Another athlete had 100% of her focus on beating a particular national rival. She and her coach built her entire programme around beating this one rival and putting her into the number one spot.

When we started working together, that was clearly her entire focus in and out of training. She had 100% of her drive invested in one adversary and her game plan reflected this. When the first trial came round this rival was ruled out due to injury. You would have thought it would have been a walk in the park! But no, she under performed and came in 6th, just scraping into the finals! It was not the performance her or her coach had anticipated.

With her only motivator to the National title ruled out, what changed her performance? In looking back, her focus was on matching and beating her nemesis – her game-plan was all about her competitor and not about how she was to perform at her optimum.

Would she have performed better if her nemesis wasn’t injured? – Probably not as she would have waited for her to act before she could react and would always be behind or waiting.

After spending just a few hours with her and re-calibrating her focus and getting the motivation back onto her and her objective, 24 hours later she went out and won the National tittle by a considerable margin! The difference was not in any physical skill-set but rather a tangible and measurable focus on her own set of objectives.

So when an athlete splits their focus, they split their efficiency, be it on a single competitor, on selectors or on being marketable.

I watched the Australian men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay in the pool and this sure thing team that were going to bring home the gold crashed in dramatic style. I was asked what I thought went wrong from a performance perspective and for me it was simple.

Swimming RelayI had watched these very talented athletes leading into the games spend almost as much of their time focused in front of cameras doing promos, fulfilling sponsorship deals and answering media speculations as they did in the pool. Looking purely at behaviour, it was clear to me that they were not 100% focused on their primary job as swimmers but also focused on building the media attention.

So is this the responsibility of the athlete, the coaches, the governing bodies, the media or us as fans?

Well I believe its all of these contributing factors. Our social media hungry society is not satisfied with not knowing our stars every move, nor are the media particularly respectful of their number 1 job as athletes. Their coaches and governing bodies should be the ones in front of the cameras answering the questions and fronting the world. However, we know they are not the real story, supply and demand!

I also feel the athletes want their cake and eat it too. They want to be super athletes, ruling the world one performance at a time and still turn a dollar off the back of it.

Do we demand these super human athletes to be more than athletes? Is it possible for them to focus on the job at hand and once retired their focus can then turn to their marketable profile and turning a dollar?

We cannot deny them their opportunity to cash in on all those years of training when they are finally successful, but maybe not at the cost of their focus, their goals and their dreams!

Fighting Fit: The Mental Game of MMA

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Building endurance-based fitness is a very precise and scientific process, typically associated with building lean efficient muscle fibre and effective cardiovascular fitness – mechanically designed to not only withstand long periods of output but to sustain it at the consistently high levels required.

However, a sport you may not immediately associate as endurance-based is the hugely popular MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). MMA has become one of the fastest growing martial arts disciplines globally – in no small part due to the massive publicity and production machine that is the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships), where competitors from varied martial arts backgrounds compete for 2 – 3, 5 minute rounds.

I worked with a Mixed Martial Artist prior to his entry into the UFC in 2008 and became engrossed in the grueling physical preparation, training these athletes endure and the psychology of the sport.

Something that became immediately obvious to me was their outstanding level of fitness. These athletes work exceptionally hard on both their technical fitness on each of the martial art modalities, and also their overall general fitness, consistently training at an output way beyond the 10-15 minutes they spend in the octagon (the cage) on fight night.

However, the thing that was not immediately obvious, when I watched in competing in their fight environment: their sustainable fitness was often (on the surface at least) questionable. So I started looking at what was the contributing factors to their apparent fitness depletion.

I believe it’s their pre-fight levels of anxiety. Their emotions are not only unpredictable but not as controlled as they like to think (irrespective of what they may outwardly say) – they demonstrated dichotomic swings between being outwardly aggressive to inwardly reflective and nervous pre-fight behaviour. And this rollercoaster can begin days before the fight.

We know from a psychological and neurological perspective that those deep emotional peaks and troughs are just as physically, mentally and emotionally fatiguing than pure, physical exercise alone. So it appears these peak performance athletes were essentially knobbling their own results by not controlling these emotional highs and lows before and during the fight. They were effectively wearing themselves out before stepping foot inside the octagon.

Armed with this observation we implemented a pre-fight strategy that carefully crafted a specific and replicable order and sequence into the preparation. This mental preparation is initiated during the training phase and steps up its intensity days prior to the fight.

This process involves specific stage and point to point visualisation, observational mechanics (mental triage™), specific breathing techniques, hypnosis and an ‘internal time’ process. Using these key skills lowered anxiety levels, gave clarity and perspective to thoughts, pragmatic NPR (neurological points of reference) and allowed instant focus and the ability to be smarter with both physical and psychological expenditure.

Using these techniques has had a massive positive impact on performance results, especially in lowering fatigue-based injuries.

What do you do to impact your performance?