Enjoyment and Sport

Chris Pomfret explores the common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success.

Enjoyment and fun want to be part of all sports and at all levels.

Enjoyment And High Performance

A common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success. In other words, the higher up the ranks an athlete climbs, the more ‘serious’ things need to become in order to reach the pinnacle. Or to put it another way, pure joy gets lost as their passion becomes just a job. And this does happen.

Elite athletes are often instructed to “just have some fun”. Or “relax and enjoy yourself” during times of hardship or pressure or form slumps. You can imagine how confusing this must be for many athletes. One minute they are meant to be all business and the next it’s ‘party time’. The implication here is that it is easy to simply tap into the pleasure pot. Like turning on a switch. But how many top-level athletes actually practice the ‘fun factor’? Is learning how to approach ‘game day’ with a smile part of the overall process?

Some Applied Exercises You Can Do Now

Try to describe why you do what you do. What drew you into it in the first place? What is keeping you there? Why do you want to continue? Why is it important for you to perform well?

Enjoyment involves some form of fun. Typically, tasks that feel good and put a smile on your face. Enjoyment is also driven by some deeper concepts. For example, achievement, pride, satisfaction, growth, and progress.

Usain Bolt was a great example of someone who enjoyed what he did. He worked incredibly hard so that when a competition came around he could just chill. Take a look at the below video UB had a very relaxed competition mindset. Enjoyment doesn’t mean we are always smiling and laughing. But we need to stay in touch with the things we love about our sport or art or music or business or another performance area.

Quantification Is Essential

As with any concept in performance, quantification is essential. When we quantify something we can put structures, values, and measurements into play. If you can describe something you can start to understand it. This then means you can start to improve it. Enjoyment is typically a vague concept so we have to work harder to define it.

You might use the term ‘fun’ in conversation with your coach without actually talking about the same thing. Fun to one person could be fitness-related. While for someone else it’s beating people. Yet for another, there might be a certain social connection that needs to be really fun.

Regardless of your age or skill level, one relatively simple means of quantifying your experiences is to break things down into the following domains.

  • Mind, which includes thoughts (the words and pictures in my head), attitudes (the general ways I am looking at things), and beliefs (how I view myself, others, the future, and the world).
  • Feelings (your emotional energy and how intense it is).
  • Body (the messages you are receiving physically from head to toe).
  • Five senses (what your attention is drawn towards in the areas of sight, touch, hearing, smell as well as taste).
  • Actions (what you are doing, what you’ve stopped doing, things you are speeding up or slowing down, doing more of or less of, etc.).

Practical Suggestions

Because enjoyment is a personal experience there are no universal rules to reignite your passion for the game. In a practical sense, however, you might benefit from any of the following.

  • Reward yourself with fun non-sporting activities before and after training/practice.
  • Separate performance into preparation and competition. Now take all your seriousness and push it into the preparation side. Blood, sweat, and tears want to be more related to practice than game day. As the great Jonty Rhodes once said “I got more bruises, grass burns, and cuts in practice than in match play”.
  • Create small windows of pleasure and light-heartedness during practices. This might be arriving early to mess around with teammates. Or getting pumped up during certain segments of training such as racing people in fitness drills.
  • Indulge yourself in relaxing or fun or special non-sporting activities on the morning of competitions. It’s too late to improve anything. You are better off just chilling and trusting the work you have done.
  • Emphasise interactions and activities with your teammates or peers after competitions to enhance a sense of community. Do you see your teammates as people or just athletes?

Four More Ideas …

  • Become more invested in the process (journey) and less in the results (destinations). Although having a ‘win at all cost’ mindset sounds useful. It’s not, trust us. Just ask Lance!
  • Look over your season schedule and break it into smaller chunks. Any tangible evidence of improvement can be celebrated as a reward for your dedication and passion. Months lend themselves very well to reviewing and planning. This then frees you up to focus on the processes in between monthly reviews.
  • Glance at your weekly schedule. Do you have enough balance between sporting and non-sporting activities? This a reminder quality and quantity are not the same. We want quality to be as high as possible. But quantity wants to be “somewhere in the middle”. Too much and too little are dangerous.
  • Consider getting some assistance from a professional who is qualified in this area. For example, our team of sport psychologists and performance psychologists.

Final Thoughts

Enjoyment – and in particular a sense of fun – may not be as easily defined as other core components of performance such as physical capabilities, technical consistency, or tactical wisdom. However, if you are able to conceptualise what you love about your chosen sport and take steps to improve upon this you will give yourself every chance of climbing toward the top and staying there.

We will leave the final word to Jonty Rhodes. legendary South African cricketer and fielder. The below is taken from this full article.

What is the key to being a good fielder?
First and foremost you have to enjoy being out there. If you’re enjoying it, and you’re loving what you’re doing, even if it is 90 overs in a Test match, it never really seems like hard work. That allows you to stay sharp and focused. Commentators often complimented me on my anticipation, but I was expecting every single ball to come to me. In fact, I wanted every ball to come to me. Fielding can become hard work, but if you’re enjoying it then it doesn’t feel like work.

Another article – called The Fun Factor – by the same author and on the same general topic can be viewed here. Due to the very different way in which Chris addresses this sport psychology concept in the two articles we highly recommend that you read both.

Breathing Psychology

‘Breathing Psychology’ is a 2023 article by Condor Performance’s James Kneller on the psychological benefits of better breathing.

There Are A Lot Of Benefits In Learning To Breath Well.

Breathing Psychology Basics

We often hear that the best moments in life are the ones that take our breath away. And of course, that’s meant to be a good thing. Unless you are an athlete competing in an important moment. Then we need our breath as a crucial performance optimisation skill.

As one of the sport psychologists at Condor Performance one of the more common issues we deal with is performance anxiety. Basically, competitors who often struggle to focus when it matters most. Many of us have heard of the fight-or-flight response. I like to remind people there is a third “F” – a freeze that can occur. 

These stressful moments can trigger responses and our body is pre-conditioned due to millions of years of evolution to deal with this in a physical way. It prepares us to run or avoid the situation (flight). Or it helps us get overly aggressive (fight). But it can also shut down and pretend we’re not there (freeze). So part of the work we do as psychologists is to help athletes to recognise, manage and work through these moments. 

Easier Said Than Done?

Research has shown that deep breathing can have many positive benefits for overall health along with the management of moments of high stress or anxiety. Deep breathing impacts the Vagus nerve which runs from the brain to the gut and is a key player in the FFF response. When we breathe in, this excites the nerve and the response. When we exhale, we relax the nerve and calm the response. If you’ve ever calmed a young crying child by getting them to breathe more slowly and deeply you’ve seen this process in action. 

Take a moment now as you read this to try it out. First, focus on your breath in. Now hold it for a moment longer than normal and then exhale in a slow, controlled, and calm manner. You’re likely to feel a sense of calm within your body. 

That’s the immediate benefit. But long term when we learn to breathe more effectively and deeper there are a string of other gains that have been reported. Below I list the most important from a ‘breathing psychology’ point of view.

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improvements in chronic pain
  • Improved mental processing particularly around cognitive and emotional recognition tasks
  • Better sleep outcomes
  • Faster physical recovery from injury and/or delayed onset muscle soreness
  • Shorter recovery times between high-intensity workouts

Optimal Breathing For Performance

Some researchers have suggested that there is such a thing as optimal breathing for performance. More importantly that it can be trained and achieved by most (if not all) when practiced regularly. So what exactly is optimal breathing? Like most areas of sport psychology, we are not 100% sure however the early evidence suggests the following:

  • It is built around a nose-to-diaphragm way of breathing. In other words when at rest there wants to be little or no mouth breathing and/or upper chest breathing.
  • Depending on age and fitness levels these nose-to-diaphragm breaths ideally take place between 6 and 10 times a minute. This part is crucial as it sends the strongest possible single to our body and mind we are safe and just ‘do your thing’. This is the very essence of this new concept of Breathing Psychology.

High-Pressure Situations

So better breathing definitely has the potential to be one of those 1%’ers that we hear coaches and athletes talk about all the time. Plus, optimal effective breathing will never be placed on the World Anti-Doping Association banned substances list 😀. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the bloke on the left and see how he is preparing to take a free kick in a high-pressure situation.

You might wonder why many sport and performance psychologists are trumpeting actions like breathing more than thought-based interventions. The answer lies in the amount of influence our clients have on each. Trying to change your thoughts ‘in the moment’ is very hard and even if you do not always beneficial. There are heaps of quotes on our sport psychology quotes pages that explain this in more detail. But breathing, as it’s an action, is something we have a lot more influence over. This influence is maximised when we take it seriously as part of our practice.


When you breathe better you deal with pressure better and think better. When you deal with pressure better and think better you perform better! And if you need a helping hand to get started then take a deep breath and get in touch.