The Confidence Myth

The Confidence Myth is the notion that we generally tend to OVERVALUE how important confidence is in sport and performance. Read more here.

The Confidence Myth = You Need To Be Confident To Perform Well

What Is The Confidence Myth?

Let us start with a fact. You do not need to be confident in order to perform well. I know it feels like you do, but you don’t.

A feeling of confidence is not an essential ingredient to performance consistency and excellence. In other words, human beings are more than capable of performing very well with little or no confidence.

So, The Confidence Myth refers to anything that suggests otherwise. And I’m well aware that this will come as a major shock to many and may produce a bit of controversy around this article. If you disagree, then I recommend that you do the following. First of all, read this article twice in detail. Once you have done this, provide a counterargument via the comments section below, and I will do my best to respond as soon as possible. 

This Myth Is Very Entrenched

Many people involved in competitive domains will preach about the importance of being confident. I hope that this article goes someway to correcting this very common furphy.

If you Google quotes containing the word confidence, you will find thousands of statements from the past perpetuating this myth. There are some real stinkers out there. I will list just two of them:

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”

Carl Lewis

Sorry, Carl, I mean no disrespect, but this is completely incorrect.

“If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.”

Arsène Wenger

Sorry Arsène, but this is not true. Recent sports psychology research confirms this.

What Is Confidence Really?

Before going through why chasing confidence directly is risky, I thought learning more about the word itself would be worthwhile. The origin of the word confidence comes from Old French. Here is a screenshot from Etymonline:

The word trust appears a few times above, so this appears to be meaningful.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines confidence as “the quality of being certain of your abilities or having trust in people, plans, or the future”.

Hmm, more trust … with a pinch of certainty in there, too.

A Thought, A Feeling Or A Combination?

Putting confidence under the microscope from a psychological perspective is essential here. Some may experience ups and downs of confidence in a very cognitive way. In other words, being full of confidence will essentially be automatic thoughts like “I know I can do this”.

On the other hand, a lack of confidence will be mainly experienced via self-doubting thoughts. The most common might be “I suck, I know I’m going to fail etc”.

Others might experience variations in confidence in a much more emotional manner. This may be as simple as feeling confidence via bodily sensations, commonly associated with being relaxed. And on the other hand, feelings of underconfidence may show up as nervousness and the like.

How Do You Experience It?

In psychological flexibility frameworks such as ACT, thoughts, feelings, and actions are not as linked to one another as initially believed. In other words, you can feel hungry and not eat (an action). Or you can eat (action) whilst not feeling hungry. You can think about the consequences of missing the spare (ten-pin) but still execute your pre-bowling routine and start the ball on the ideal line (action).

Confidence is NOT an action.

PsychFlex is a big deal for us at Condor Performance. We attempt to help the performers develop skills that will allow them to execute their required actions and processes, regardless of how they are feeling and thinking at that time.

One way that it was explained to me many years ago, which I like, is that it removes a lot of unnecessary conditions that we inappropriately put on ourselves to perform well. 

I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y to perform well! Wrong!!

In reality, it’s more like this:

To perform well, I need just A, B and C. With A getting there on time, B having the best possible pre-game prep, and C having your equipment. Of course, there is a strong argument that a certain amount of quality preparation would be useful, but come competition time, that’s all in the past.

Although I’ve referenced this throughout the years, I think it’s very important to use this article to clarify why “to perform well I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y” is such a barrier to the Holy Grail of consistently excellent performances.

If D, E, X and Y are specific thoughts and feelings, and we know that our influence on these is tenuous at best, we will always struggle when those thoughts and feelings are not showing up in the way we’d like to. Not through lack of intent but as a natural byproduct of how the human mind works.

Examples Please!

Of course, you can try to think a particular way via some preparation or previous rehearsal. Maybe you are a cricket or baseball batter who likes to think, “Watch the ball” when the bowler or pitcher is about to release it. There is nothing wrong with using these cue words unless your actions of actually fixating on the ball depend on these three little words.

Unlike actions, such as the trigger movement, which after a certain number of repetitions becomes virtually guaranteeable – this mantra, as simple as it is, may actually abandon you when you need it more. Maybe the crowd is so loud that you cannot hear yourself think. Maybe the pressure is so high that your thoughts become self-protective in nature.

Interestingly, some high-performers have worked this out. In the short YouTube video clip, you get to hear from some outstanding cricket batters on what they are doing in order to watch the ball, but none of them actually reference saying “watch the ball”. 

Summary

It’s important for me to summarise by clarifying that a feeling of confidence is by no means a bad thing. In fact, in our latest definition of what performance mental toughness actually is (coming soon), we actually include confidence as something we regard as beneficial. But it’s crucial that we accept that any feelings of confidence are simply a natural by-product of us being competent. 

Since 2005, we have helped countless individuals and teams to improve their confidence, but we don’t do this talking about confidence directly. We have done this by assisting them in optimising their performance. And surprise surprise, greater confidence normally follows.

And this is exactly the approach we’d use with you if you decided to become one of our clients too! To make a formal enquiry about our 1-0n-1 performance psychology services, please Get In Touch via this form here.

Pre Competition Routines

How do you spend the hours before you compete? More importantly, does this time help or hinder your performance?

How do you spend the hours before you compete? More importantly, does this time help or hinder your performance?

Pre Competition Routines

Although most of our 1-on-1 clients come from sports, we also work with a select number of non-sporting performers. Some are doctors (medical personnel), others are students, and there is also a heathy group of military and special forces performers in there too!

If there is one thing that all of these Condor Performance clients (past and present) have in common, it’s this. Their abilities will be tested via some upcoming event or events. For the athletes and coaches that we work with, these tests tend to come in the form of sporting competitions. For the rest, it could be an exam, a speech, a board meeting, a concert, a sales pitch, a procedure or an operation.

Pre-competition Routines should really be called Pre-Performance Routines, but either way, they are a significant tool in modern-day performance psychology.

PCRs – The Basics

Regardless of what type of event it might be, the same basic rules apply. You’re trying to time your “A-Game” for that event … for when it matters. And if your A-Game is not possible, then being smart about your preparation to guarantee your B-Game is essential to performance consistency.

In many ways, the work that performance/sport psychologists do is just that. We help athletes, coaches, sporting officials, and non-sporting performers be as good as possible when it counts. Note the ‘as possible’ part. Trying to be excellent 100% of the time is impossible and counterproductive. For more on this, read this feature article on Perfectionism.

But how exactly do we go about helping performers to be as good as possible when it counts?

Pre Competition Routines are Mental Skills

For a start, we take the individual differences that exist between people very seriously. What this means is that although all of the mental skills we suggest are scientifically based, the way we introduce them is highly tailored to the individual.

The one-on-one conversations that dominate our working time ensure that the psychological skills are all based on the needs and wants of that person. Not the client before or after, but the one sitting in front of us right now. In some situations, these can be the exact opposite of what we suggested to his/her teammate an hour beforehand.

But sports science ensures that despite the highly tailored nature of our work, there are still common threads that keep the complex tapestry together.

What’s The Main Aim Of A Good PCR?

One such common thread is the importance given to the lead-up to a competition. To put it bluntly, the day or three before the competition is a time that is often skipped when looking at optimal performance strategies. It often slips between the cracks of practice and competing.

In my work, I consider it to be part of the competition. In other words, competition for my clients starts with their Pre Competition Routine, not the actually completing part. For sports that either last a long time (cricket) and/or have long tournaments, this process can last for days rather than hours.

But despite this variation in duration, the overall intention of these routines is always the same. They are designed, through actions, not thoughts, to help the performers become as present and focused on their processes as possible. Trust the work that has taken place and let their muscle memory do its thing.

Easier Said Than Done!!

Here are four golden rules to help you.

First, the word routine(s) is probably not the best choice of words here. The word routine can suggest it’s got to be the same every time. This can be distracting and, therefore, defeats the purpose.Pre-event preferences’ is arguably the best semantic label for this mental skill.

In other words, there wants to be a certain degree of flexibility built in from the very part. This is crucially important and is the first of the golden rules for good reason. Think about it. Putting on your lucky socks and accidentally forgetting them at home. You really want to listen to your favourite playlist, but your phone runs out of battery just before you click play on Spotify. For every single part of your routine, there needs to be a backup that is guaranteed. And an acceptance that your actual performance does not depend on your PCR. Analogy: it can be helpful to know some Japanese when travelling to Japan, but it’s not essential. Useful, not crucial.

Second Golden Rule

The second golden rule is to remember what works for you works for you. Individual differences in sport psychology are a very big consideration. Even if you are an athlete who is part of a team sport, ideally, the majority of your lead-up to kick-off time is spent doing things you want to do and not what the coaches think is best for you.

The third rule is that practice makes permanent. In other words, if you want to ease through your Pre Competition Routine on the actual day of the competition, it’s a very good idea to practice it multiple times beforehand. One of the best ways to do this is via visualisation.

The final golden rule is to try to get in front of someone qualified if you want help with this mental skill (or others). There is a growing number of pseudo-professionals out there who mean well but do not have the appropriate training to assist you / anyone with mental health/toughness changes.

The Condor Performance team is made up of only qualified psychologists, so get in touch if you’d like to learn more about who we are and what we can do for you.

Psychology of Luck In Sport

What role does luck play in sporting outcomes? Mentally, how do you deal with good and bad luck? Our Founding Sport Psychologist looks at the psychology of luck in sport and performance.

Which way will the ball go? One way, you lose the point, the other, and you win

“The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get”

Samuel Goldwyn (1976)

The Concept Of Luck In Sport And Life

Luck in sport … I recently rewatched the 2006 Woody Allen movie ‘Match Point’. The film starts with slow-motion footage of a tennis ball hitting the net and then going straight up. The voice-over says, ‘There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win.’

During the days after I watched the film, two of my sporting clients mentioned luck during our Zoom sessions. One spoke about ‘good luck’ and the other about ‘rotten, filthy luck’. One even asked me, ‘Mentally, how should I deal with luck?’ The question came at the end of the session, which luckily allowed me to do a little reading up before replying via email the following day (one of the massive benefits of our monthly approach to mental training is the ability of our clients to communicate between sessions at no additional cost).

First of all, I wanted to consider what exactly luck is. More specifically, what is it in the context of competitive sports? And is there a healthy way to interpret what luck really is from a mental toughness point of view?

Before we go through some common examples, let’s try to define luck in sports as a generic concept. Luck would appear to be the word most commonly used to describe the variances in outcomes most impacted by chance.

Lexico defines luck (the noun) as …

‘Success or failure is apparently brought by chance rather than one’s own actions’. For sport, I would adapt this to something like the following. Luck (the noun) is ‘success or failure apparently brought more by chance than through one’s own actions’.

In other words, some sports have a greater luck component than others. And indeed, this is the case. The video below shows the results of Michael Mauboussin’s research on this very question. It’s worth the watch and should automatically without you having to leave this page if you click play.

Examples of Luck In Sport

There are too many sports and too many examples to choose from to do any justice to the section. So, I will go through three scenarios I have found quite common in my work as a sport psychologist.

Example One – Luck In Sport

Let’s go back to the footage that was used at the beginning of the movie Match Point. But let’s make it more specific. You are a tennis player who is serving to stay in a match that is of great importance to you. The second point turns into a slugfest from the baseline after losing the game’s first point. An attempted cross-court winner from you results in the ball smashing into the top of the net, where it bounces right up. It then drops down millimetres onto your opponent’s side of the net. You win this point and the game. You then go on to win the set as well as the match. 

Example Two – Luck In Sport

You are a young baseballer who decided to specialise as a pitcher early on. You live for your fastballs and your curveballs. When you finally make it onto your Division One college squad, you realise that this particular team has a much better pool of pitchers than batters and fielders. It feels like rotten luck that your place in the team will probably depend on others either getting injured or underperforming in the upcoming season. Dirty, rotten luck.

Example Three – Luck In Sport

You are a cricketer who picked up a significant ankle injury just before the coronavirus turned into an official pandemic. In normal years, this injury would have resulted in you missing the season’s first ten games. However, you could complete a full rehabilitation program during lockdown due to measures introduced to contain the virus. This resulted in you missing no games at all. The coronavirus turned out to be a very lucky break for you from a performance point of view.

Spectrum of Influence

We can try and see the role that luck plays in many ways, not just in sports but in everyday life. One of the cornerstones of our approach to psychological performance enhancement is The Spectrum of Influence.

How much influence do you have on various aspects of your sport? This involves two tricky considerations. First, you have to be able to separate things that don’t normally get separated mentally. For example, the rain and putting up an umbrella or someone shouting at you and you walking the other way.

The art of mental separation is a vital pre-requisite in being able to manage Lady Luck in the most effective way. The second skill is knowing what aspects of training and competing you have lots of influence on and which you have little or no influence on.

Try It Now …

Go back and read through the three examples above once again. This time, pick out which aspects contribute to good and bad luck scenarios. Now, try and mentally separate these from one another. And finally, put them into order from most influenceable to least. In doing this, does it change the way you look at the situation in your mind’s eye? Let’s go through them together.

Example 1: The tennis ball hitting the top of the net.

So the main elements involved in this are:

  • the player (me)
  • the ball
  • my racket
  • the net
  • the winner of the point (also me)

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the weather played no part at all. No breeze helped push the ball to the lucky side of the net. In order of most influenceable to least, I would suggest the following:

  • me ~ most influence
  • my racket
  • the ball
  • the result of the point
  • the net ~ least influence

So you could say I have a lot of influence over the intended shot and none over the net (the height, what it’s made of, etc). With this in mind, there is a strong argument that your mindset wants to be more orientated towards yourself. In other words, instead of thinking you won that point because of the luck of the net, consider the amount of power you managed to get on the ball that still allowed it to make it over – albeit by the smallest of margins. Maybe a better mental response at the moment is a change of game plan that would allow you to hit fewer shots so close to the top of the net.

Example 2: The baseball pitcher is competing against other excellent pitchers for the first time.

In this vignette, the issue is mentally joining (fusing) the desired outcome (to be one of the starting pitchers) with the abilities of others and the decisions of the coach. Teammates, other baseballers and coaches are just other people. How much influence do you have on them? None, a little, some or lots? I would lean towards some for those you are close to and only a little for the rest. Although I can totally understand why teammates’ abilities can be perceived as a threat (bad luck), the data suggests it will have the opposite effect.

In other words, as you will have to work harder (lots of influence) due to the healthy competition, you will likely become even better. So, it might easily be said that the above example (#2) is actually a good luck scenario rather than a bad luck one. Regardless, the best mental responses will always be similar. Direct your limited mental energy towards the “stuff” you have a lot of influence on. Elements such as your own effort, your own plans and your own actions. Don’t get too caught up in the abilities of others.

Example 3: The cricketers who got lucky due to Corona Virus.

This is the trickiest vignette as it seems the most innocent. But there is a mental gremlin hiding. Can you find it? Go back and read it and ask yourself what is the danger of this situation.

As an experienced sport psychologist, I can see the issue from a mile away. The player in the example is potentially giving too much credit to this once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) pandemic. In fact, the majority of the credit wants to go to how the player responded to the setback. Of course, this is different (mentally separate) from the setback itself.

Depending on how luck or chance is perceived, you can imagine two very different statements from this cricketer at the end of the season.

“I got really lucky, you know. The virus gave me an extra ten weeks of rehab. In fact, due mainly to the pandemic, I didn’t miss a match in the 2020 season.”

Verus …

“At the start of 2020, I picked up an ankle injury. As soon as I had my rehab program, I was determined to stick to it no matter what. In the end, I managed actually to regain full fitness by the start of the season. Oh, and the season started late that year, from what I remember.”

So luck plays a part in the outcomes of sport. Sometimes a big part, other times a small part. Sometimes, luck will help you, but it will do the opposite at other times. Accept this as the ‘price of entry’ and return to your trusted, practised processes.

Want Some Help With That?

If you’d like to receive details about our sport and performance psychology services, you can get in touch in several ways.

Want to learn more about how we work first before getting in touch? Watch this 2-minute video by our General Manager David.

Perfectionism in Sport

This free article by one of the acclaimed sport psychologists from Condor Performance looks at the pros and cons of Perfectionism.

Can we learn to strive for excellence without it coming back to bite us?

What Is Perfectionism?

I thought starting this article on perfectionism with a couple of dictionary definitions would be useful. First of all, this is how The Cambridge Dictionary defines it:

“perfectionism”UK  /pəˈfek.ʃən.ɪ.zəm/ US  /pɚˈfek.ʃən.ɪ.zəm/

The wish for everything to be correct or perfect

And now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable

I have added another few possible definitions of perfectionism of my own that might lean more towards the sport and performance context:

  • Not satisfied until certain things can no longer be improved and/or
  • Unhappy and unsatisfied with anything short of the perceived best and/or
  • Obsessed with the improvement of something, often to the detriment of everything else.

Not All Bad

Perfectionism, as is the case with anxiety in my last article, often gets a bad rap. But as is the case with anxiety, I will argue below that there are actually some aspects of perfectionism that we want. As some of my clients will know, I often talk about keeping the beneficial aspects of wanting to be perfect but moving away from the negatives.

This is easier said than done. What helps a lot is when you have used the methods on yourself. Yes, that’s right. Yours truly is correctly labelled by many as a perfectionist. But I have learned, via decades of self-reflection and hard work, to manage it in a way in which it’s mostly useful. I have tamed the tiger. 99% of my perfectionistic traits benefit myself, my family, clients, colleagues and my endeavours. The final one per cent still ruffles a few feathers!

Most Of Our Clients Are Perfectionists

It should come as no surprise that many sporting and non-sporting performers who consult with sport psychologists are chasing improvement. For a start, many of our clients are amongst the most successful at what they do in their particular domain. We are blessed to work with some of the best golfers, tennis players, motorsport drivers, MMA fighters, and cricketers – you name it – in the world.

Occasionally, we are part of their journey from wannabe to world record holder. Or we join them when they have already reached the top 1% of their performance domain. But this is still far from where they would like to be.

Many of our clients are typically already very good at something but are remarkably unhappy about how good they are compared to where they want to be. Our clients, therefore, range from extreme and obsessive perfectionists right through to mid-range type of perfectionists.

I would find working with somebody at the opposite end of the spectrum much harder. Somebody who did not give two hoots about their performance, equipment, training environment, nutrition, etc. Wow, that’s a tough case. 

Origins of Perfectionism

According to this excellent article by licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin, ‘the root of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements’. Wow, that’s a big clue. Guess whose achievements are more noticeable/visible than the everyday population? High-level performers and athletes, that’s who. The text below in green is a direct copy and paste from Sharon’s article and is in line with the reuse guidelines on her website.

“Perfectionism is often present when some combination of these factors exists:

  • Rigid, high parental expectations
  • Highly critical, shaming, or abusive parents
  • Excessive praise for your achievements
  • Low self-esteem or feeling inadequate
  • Believing your self-worth is determined by your achievements
  • Black-and-white thinking
  • Efforts to feel in control
  • Cultural expectations”

As you browse this list above, do any ring a bell for you? They certainly do for me.

How To Manage It

Often, one of the most useful ways to start looking at the solutions to something is first to examine the issues that can occur when it is left to be as it is. Basically, what might happen if you decide to do nothing at all?

Most of the issues are related to striving for the impeccability of something that is only partially under our influence. For example, the perfect lap time. Or the perfect round of golf or perfect race. Obviously, it depends on how the individual is defining these, but mostly, it is about some form of result. This is a very difficult position for anybody to find themselves in. Wanting certain combinations of results so much that anything short is a disaster, but only having some influence on whether or not the results actually happen. You can see why, for so many perfectionists, this combination can cause a lot of issues.

I often likened this to chasing the Loch Ness Monster. Many people will tell you it’s real, and you can buy a T-shirt with a picture of it and spend countless hours and dollars looking for it. But you ain’t gonna find it because it doesn’t exist.

This red flag can be extended to all important areas of performance that are not guaranteeable (most of them). Want the perfect equipment all the time? Sorry, sir, your bags did not get put on this flight. Feel like you play your best in perfect weather conditions. Oops, it rained too much last year and not enough this year. What are you gonna do about it? Do you believe you need to be feeling and thinking great to perform at your best? Good luck with that, pal.

The Clinical Underbelly

There is the clinical underbelly of an extreme quest to be perfect. Everything else important in your life often gets neglected and put to one side. Yes, as tragic as it is, there is a pile of divorced people out there because their spouse cared far more about what happened at the home ground (sporting venue) than at home (place of abode).

And with this example, we find our first clue to the first possible solution. More often than not, elite athletes and performers will define themselves far too much by what they do. Ask one of the world’s best surgeons who they are, and they’ll probably say, “I am a surgeon”.

Of course, the real question that would warrant this exact response is “What do you do?” and not “Who are you?”. So, one powerful psychological strategy is to help the person define the answer to these questions separately. “I would like you to tell me who you are without replying with any clues about what you do (for work, or school, etc).”

One Person But With Many Hats

When I do this, I often use the notion of humans having multiple hats they wear. Often, this will range between half a dozen to a dozen hats. Each hat represents one significant aspect of the person’s life. As is the case with actual hats, they can be taken off and put back on. And they can look nothing like one another.

For elite performers, two of these hats should be related to their sport or performance area. Not three, not one, not zero, but exactly two. One of these hats ought to be The Trainer. Obviously, depending on the domain, it might be more appropriate to use the word preparer. The second hat wants to be the Performer or Competitor.

Conclusion

In summary, trying to be perfect has some benefits, but like a runaway bull, it needs to be tamed to be useful. If you would like some professional help with this, flick a quick email to our Intake team below, and they’ll get back to you within a few days.

Email Us Now

Win At All Cost

In this recently updated sport psychology article we look at the pros and cons of having a Win At All Cost approach to your performance. After reading, join the conversation by adding a comment or a question below.

The ‘Win At All Cost’ Mindset

I know for a fact there are many athletes and coaches out there who still believe that having a “Win At All Cost” mindset is something to be admired and developed. For those who understand the downside of an obsession with winning (outcomes), it is far less appealing. The irony is that very few of the world’s best try to literally win at all costs. Most of the time, it’s more of a ‘win at some cost’ type of mentality.

It is more their obsession with effort and their training processes that got them to the top. We are much less likely to hear about the athletes, coaches and performers who had/have a Win At All Cost way of thinking. Why not? Most of them crumble under the weight of frustration, pressure and disappointment well before they become newsworthy.

For many years, when I thought about a well-known athlete who personified the ugly side of Win At All Cost, it was Lance Armstrong. He was so obsessed with winning that he was willing to use systematic doping to improve his results. I must admit, before he got caught, I was one of the many who loved Lance. Without knowing the full story, I thought he was the personification of mental toughness.

It’s Fine To Want To Win But …

There is nothing wrong at all about wanting to win. In fact, there is little wrong with always wanting to win. But there is when it comes at the cost (detriment) to others and yourself. So it’s really the ‘At ALL Cost’ aspect of trying to Win At All Cost that is the central issue. All cost, think about it. Is the amount you have to spend more significant than what you can get back? What is the cost to your mental health and your relationships? How many failed marriages are worth an Olympic medal?

At Condor Performance, we encourage those we work with to push this obsession with winning towards their preparation and their processes. Why?

For a start, we have a much greater influence over our processes compared with outcomes. This is a really key concept. Let me generalise. In individual sports, like motor racing and badminton, for example, an athlete has some influence on whether they win or not. It cannot be more than that because there are a whole bunch of other people who are also trying to win. When we consider a result such as who wins a tournament, there can only be one winner, so your result is highly dependent on what the other people do. For team sport athletes, the amount of influence an individual has on winning is even less. Why? More people are involved in the outcome.

A recent example is the goalkeeper of the England Women’s Football (soccer) team. Mary Earps basically did not put a foot wrong in the final of the women’s FIFA World Cup versus Spain – which included saving a penalty – but she still ended up on the losing side.

Spectrum of Influence

With this in mind, one very beneficial exercise is to do the following. Grab a blank piece of paper and draw a line in the middle. On the far left-hand side of this line, write the words ‘zero influence’. On the opposite side, jot down the words ‘maximum influence’. If you want to, you can write ‘some influence’ in the middle. Now brainstorm all the different types of results and training sessions you can come up with for your sport/performance area. Try and write them roughly in the correct position on this Spectrum of Influence. Less influence to the left, more influence to the right.

Notice anything? If you did, add your observations to the comment section below.

Improvanism As A Solution

One way to find the correct balance between winning and everything else is to become an improvanist. What on earth is an improvanist, I hear you ask? An improvanist is basically more interested in constant, slow improvements than bigger-picture outcomes. These improvements are ideally measurable subcomponents of their sport or performance area. For example, maybe a gymnast is trying to become more physically flexible. So he puts more emphasis on the quality and quantity of his weekly stretching sessions compared to how many points he accrues on the weekend. In other words, his main goal (where his energy goes) is to improve a bunch of stuff that he had a lot of influence on. But in the end, he is hyper-aware that his chances of a medal depend hugely on the happenings of his competitors.

The Japanese even have a word for this. Kaizen, roughly translated, means constant improvement. Improvanism will be the topic of a future Mental Toughness Digest article, so if you have yet to sign up for our email notifications, you can do so here. This way, as soon as this and future articles are ready to be read you’ll get an email direct to your inbox.

As always, if you feel like you’d benefit from a professional helping hand, then get in touch. You can either complete the Contact Us form here or just send an email to [email protected]. We will try to respond in less than 48 hours.

The Upside of Anxiety

Why does anxiety have such a bad reputation – especially when it comes to the impact on sport and performance? Our Founding Sport Psychologist addresses this question and many more in this brand-new feature article.

Is there really an upside to anxiety?

What … There Is An Upside of Anxiety?

Not too long ago, I was pulled into the General Manager’s office of one of the sporting teams that I’ve been working with for the last two years. I was told that my intensity was creating some anxiety for the players, especially before matches. He asked me, “Isn’t a sport psychologist supposed to reduce anxiety rather than increase it?”

My answer was simple … “no”.

What this short conversation made me realise is just what a bad reputation poor old anxiety still has. And how the general appraisal of anxiety is far, far worse than this very normal, common, sometimes helpful human emotion.

The concept that anxiety is bad and that eliminating it or reducing it is good for performance is arguably one of the most damaging myths floating around out there.

A Neurochemical Look At Anxiety

Let’s take a neurochemical look at anxiety first and foremost. Obviously, with full appreciation of individual differences, most people’s experience of anxiety is generally an increase in arousal (not that type 🤦). Not always, but often, this takes place before or during an important event or moment. Due to this, our bodies try to help us by releasing hormones like norepinephrine, adrenaline and dopamine. These hormones are typically very beneficial, but they do often feel unsettling. So, in many ways, anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe some of these many internal sensations:

  1. Thoughts related to appropriate worrying. “I really hope I don’t stuff up in tomorrow’s final”.
  2. Bodily Sensations – Feeling nervous, restless or tense. Having an increased heart rate. Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling. Having trouble sleeping. Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems (butterflies). Wanting to go to the toilet more than normal (for both numbers ones and number twos).

You will see that I have not listed the word ’emotions’ above, as typically, this refers to an individual’s unique experience. For example, when I am nervous, I tend never to sweat, but for others, this is the very first thing that might happen.

Misinterpretations Galore

Where many people go wrong is that they essentially misinterpret the above internal stimuli. Instead of seeing them as either very normal in the lead-up to something important (or even useful), they see them as a problem. They drastically misread these sensations as being an impediment to optimal performance.

So they don’t just worry; they worry about worrying. Or worse, they panic about the worry. This is called metacognitive worry. Sometimes, it can be useful to break down an individual’s experience of anxiety and just determine whether or not it’s actually possible to perform competently.

For example, lack of sleep. Next time you have a poor night’s sleep, go out and train and see what happens. The scientific evidence on sleep deprivation is incredibly clear now. Individuals would need to experience five or six consecutive nights of very poor sleep before it started to have a dramatic impact on anything that they were highly skilled at. One night of prank calls from the team’s practical joker isn’t going to do much.

Some of these misinterpreted reactions of anxiety are actually very beneficial. Look at how the body generally will increase our need to go to the toilet before an important event. Particularly in sports, it is obviously better if you have “emptied” your bladder and bowels well before the gun goes off. That’s all your body is trying to do. To help you. And yes, the fact that you have to go to the loo more often than normal is just a natural consequence of this.

And an increase in breathing rate …. fairly obvious, right? You get the picture.

Not All Anxiety Is The Same

I want to be absolutely clear here that I’m not suggesting that all forms of anxiety are harmless and/or beneficial. Clearly, there are some situations where the original experiences of nervous energy are so powerful that they genuinely block other homeostatic processes. Such as breathing, for example. However, even in these extreme clinical situations, a portion of the problem is caused by the misjudgement of the original internal stimulus.

But the vast majority of ‘anxiety situations’ that come across our desks as sport and performance psychologists are not these extreme types. It’s the normal kind, the healthy kind. It’s the upside of anxiety because the client is invariably involved in some fairly important stuff. Think Olympic Games and/or performing open heart surgery on a toddler. That kind of stuff.

The Inverted U Hypothesis

A large part of anxiety’s poor reputation can be traced back to a theory that is often called the Inverted U hypothesis. In summary, it suggests that too little or too much anxiety is bad for performance. As per the above graph, an upside U or inverted U. I remember very clearly being taken through this theory during my Masters of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Western Sydney University back in 2004. Back then, I did not question it for a nanosecond. Even worse, it was a significant part of my consulting in the first years of Condor Performance. I organically moved away from using it when I realised that the frameworks related to Psychological Flexibility were far more effective.

But it was only earlier this year, when we had the pleasure of having legendary sport psychologist Jonah Oliver attend our annual Condor Performance Summit, that I realised just how ridiculous this theory was.

You see, the theory is one of the most flimsy ever from a scientific point of view. The Yerkes-Dodson Law’s original formulation derives from a 1908 paper on experiments in Japanese dancing mice learning to discriminate between white and black boxes using electric shocks. This research was largely ignored until the 1950s when Donald O. Hebb’s concept of arousal led to renewed interest in the Yerkes-Dodson law’s general applications in human arousal and performance. But virtually no thorough investigation was ever done to prove that elite human performance depended on some anxiety and suffered from too little or too much. Yet, it was assumed to be true and still is in most circles.

So I Leave You With Some Facts …

  • Well-rehearsed gross motor skills are incredibly independent and stable of whatever emotions are being experienced at that time. But as long as these emotions are allowed to exist in their natural state. Anxiety is just one of the many different emotions we experience. In brief, you can perform optimally whilst you are very, very nervous.
  • Fine motor skills and/or novice motor skills are more vulnerable to some common byproducts of anxiety (e.g. shaking), but even in these situations, it’s still the misjudgement of the anxiety that is the greater threat to performance.
  • Anxiety, as with all emotions and many thoughts, is an outcome. It’s a consequence, a result of something. And therefore, we only have a small amount of influence on it.
  • The best way to manage anxiety is to accept it as a normal, healthy part of the human experience. It is even better to see it as an indication that something important is on the horizon. Notice it and commit to the actions/processes of the task at hand.
  • Trying to reduce anxiety is an example of experiential avoidance. Below is a great 4-minute video on experiential avoidance that is worth watching.

And As Always, If You Need A Hand …

Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology

What happens when one of our sport psychs sorts through the facts from the fiction of the immensely popular Apple TV series, Ted Lasso?

LOS ANGELES – JUL 15: Ted Lesso Cast at the Ted Lasso Season 2 Premiere Screening at the Pacific Design Center Rooftop on July 15, 2021, in Los Angeles, CA

Ted Lasso Is A Brilliant TV Show But …

Let me just start by saying I’m a massive fan of the show, Ted Lasso. 

For those who haven’t seen the miniseries on Apple TV, it’s well worth watching. The premise is a little bit far-fetched but highly entertaining. On top of the fun factor, there are some fantastic sport psychology concepts and messages contained throughout the seasons. But hidden subtly between the laughs and the logic are some lies. Due mainly to the popularity of the show I felt compelled to point out some of the aspects that are either inaccurate or unhelpful or even both.

I want to be absolutely clear that this is not a criticism of the storyline, acting, writing or premise of the show. But as an applied sport psychologist who has been working in elite sport for the better part of 15 years, there are just some things that are easier for me to spot compared with the layperson.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology – Possibles

Before I get to the inaccuracies, I thought it would be sensible to point out a few aspects of the show that are totally possible and/or useful.

For those who have not seen it the main character Ted Lasso is an American football coach brought in to be the head coach of an English Premier League (football/soccer) team. It is entirely possible for an elite coach from one sport to pivot and apply his or her expertise in another sport. The reason for this is very simple. When we break down sporting performance into the five most important subcomponents, only two of these are highly sports-specific. Meaning three of the five parts are not. Using this logic it means that the majority of the work required at the pointy end of sport is very psychological in nature. This is the case with Ted Lasso, who is mainly operating as the team’s mental coach.

Yes in 2023 it’s still rare for a head coach to come from a sport other than the one he or she is known for but this is no reflection of the plausibility. The rarity is more a result of some uncreative decision-making at the Board and CEO level.

More Coaches Swapping Sports

This will eventually change. As will the frequency whereby qualified sport psychologists start becoming assistant coaches and head coaches. I talked through this latter prediction during my chat with fellow sport psychologist Dan Abrahams on Episode 103 of The Sport Psych show.

The second aspect of the Ted Lasso show that is realistic is the American’s coaching style. Again without wanting to spoil it for anybody who is yet to watch it, it would be fair to describe Lasso’s coaching style as laid-back and consultative. There is a lot of literature on the standard coaching styles in sports, but there is no doubt that fewer and fewer elite sportsmen and women benefit from a benevolent dictator. The players of the fictitious Richmond FC are not scared of their coach. They want to play well, in part, because they like him.

There are lots of other aspects of the show that real-life sporting teams would benefit from borrowing, such as:

  • Training is a healthy mix of fun and bloody hard work.
  • Players and coaches are encouraged to be vulnerable (I’m currently working on an article entirely dedicated towards this topic. If you are yet to subscribe to our notifications, you can do so here).
  • Good mental health underpins good everything else.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology – Near Misses!

Let’s start with the sport psychologist that appears from time to time in the show. The character’s name is Dr Sharon Fieldstone played excellently by actor Sarah Niles. It is possible due to the popularity of the show that this depiction of this particular sport psychologist is the most visible since the professional was first conceived more than 100 years ago.

However …

Is the work that she appears to be doing in the show an accurate portrayal of what real sport psychologists do? Well, not the one writing this article I am afraid.

In most of the scenes in which we can get some sense of the topics discussed between Dr Sharon and the members of the club, she appears to be operating more as a therapist than a sport psychologist. Is there a difference, I hear some of you ask?

If not universally, there ought to be.

The majority of the work carried out by sport psychologists would ideally want to be around mental aspects of performance. At least 60% but possibly more. Sometimes the remaining work can and should be around general mental health, depending on which other qualified professionals might be available to the players and staff. Not on a single occasion can Dr Sharon be seen to be targeting an improvement in football (soccer) specific mental skills.

The Ideal

Given the budget at this level of sport, every club should have a minimum of at least two full-time psychologists working side-by-side. The first wants to be a qualified performance psychologist to predominantly target performance consistency through mental skills training. Working alongside this individual should be a non-sport psychologist who is in charge of the players’ mental health. There are dozens of recognised professions that – on paper – are able to do this role. These include but are not limited to:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • All other types of psychologists
  • Psychiatrists

So, despite Dr Sharon using the title of ‘sport psychologist’ she is not really carrying out the role of one. This is confusing and unhelpful for anyone trying to get a clearer picture of what we actually do.

In other words, the work that she is shown to be doing on screen – which is very much around mental health – does not have a direct link with winning more football matches.

Note above I use the word direct very intentionally. There is now absolutely no doubt that good mental health underpins sporting mental toughness. In other words, there is a robust indirect link between the two. In the same way, good physical health underpins excellent physical capabilities such as fitness and strength. But working on mental health does not automatically guarantee sporting mental toughness. Because the latter is a separate layer of the pyramid and needs to be targeted directly by different processes.

Get Out Of The Consulting Room

One reasonable way to get a quick idea of what the psychologist is working on is where the sessions are taking place. When I am physically in the same location as my clients very little of the work is occurring in a consulting room. It’s mainly in the locker room or on the training ground (see picture to the left).

When we see Dr Fieldstone doing her stuff in the Ted Lasso show it’s taking place in a consulting room. Highly valuable, but not typical sport psychology work as per the title on the door of the room.

Ted Lasso’s Four Keys To Success

Throughout the episodes, there is a crescendo towards the completion of a very special list. This list is basically the four key ingredients that Ted Lasso regards are the most important for success.

Spoiler alert!

The fourth one below is only revealed at the very end of the last episode of the third season so if you are yet to get to that part, then you may want to stop reading now.

  1. Conditioning.
  2. Versatility.
  3. Awareness.
  4. Self-belief.

I don’t have an issue with the first three of these. They might be fairly obvious to most operating in professional sports, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be added to a list. I love the second and third ones, but I wonder what processes need to be implemented to approve them. Not only in soccer/football but any sport where they could be regarded as performance benefits. But I do have an issue with the fourth one.

Self Belief Is Overrated

Self-belief is a controversial concept in modern-day sport and performance psychology. Self-belief is predominantly a collection of thoughts that revolve around how competent somebody feels they are at something.

The issue is when there is an implication that these actions need this self-assuredness. In other words, without a certain level of self-belief, the motor skills are in jeopardy … even if they themselves are highly proficient.

This is not true. Certain thoughts and feelings are (at best) a bonus to performance consistency but not a requirement. In other words, Ted, you don’t need self-belief to play good football.

Given this, to improve The Ted Lasso Sport Psychology list from above I would replace the fourth item with Psychological Flexibility. And if you want a hand in improving yours then get in touch by completing the form on our Contact Us page. We will try to get back to you within two business days.

Mental Skills Etc.

Mental Skills are often confused with the methods aimed to help improve mental toughness. One of our sport psychologists sets the record straight.

Mental skills play a monumental part in sporting success.

Mental Skills Are… umm … Skills

The term mental skill (or mental skills) is one of the most misused in elite sporting circles. In fact, it’s used incorrectly almost everywhere in my experience. And here’s why.

The skills are the outcomes, not the processes yet most people accidentally refer to them as the latter.

When we talk about an athlete who is technically skilful we are referring to the amount of technical skill (ability) they already have. We are not referring to how they became skilful only that they are skilful. So with the technical side, it’s quite easy to separate the outcomes (ability) from the processes (how).

Let’s take a soccer (football) player as an example and consider the skill of dribbling the ball. Because the most common way to become better at dribbling is by actually dribbling a ball then the skill and the process got mixed up along the way.

But actually dribbling is NOT the only way to become better at dribbling.

As I explain in this 2020 visualisation video imagining yourself dribbling can be just as effective. So what we end up with is a variety of “methods” that can be used to become more skilful. And these skills are not limited to technical skills. They can and should include physical skills, tactical skills and of course mental skills.

The main reason that the term mental skills is used incorrectly is it is often used to describe the methods when it should be describing the outcomes.

Let’s All Use The Correct Terms

If I were in charge of the “sports science dictionary” so to speak I would insist on the following. All processes (activities) should contain the word ‘method’ or ‘process’ and all outcomes (abilities) should use the word ‘skill’. So for example catching a baseball is regarded as one of the technical skills of baseball. But there might be dozens of processes that coaches use to help their players hone this particular skill.

How This Plays Out For Mental Skills

There are two main reasons why this doesn’t happen for mental methods and mental skills as much at the moment. First, the mental side is less visible and less tangible than say the physical and technical aspects of performance. Secondly, there is very little agreement within the sport psychology community pertaining to exactly what are the most significant mental skills for optimal performance. How many are there? What are they called?

At Condor Performance, we have been diligently working away behind the scenes to come up with our own consensus. It is still too early for us to publish these findings, but I am happy to reveal exclusively to the subscribers and readers of the Mental Toughness Digest that we believe there are, in fact, six primary mental skills. And these six in actual fact all contribute to a seventh, the mother of all mental skills … consistency.

Inspired By Physical Skills

The area of sports science that does the best job of separating methods from intended outcomes is the physical side. Try to finish these sentences off by just using what comes to mind …

  • I could improve my flexibility by …
  • To improve my cardio fitness I could …
  • A great way to improve your upper body strength is by …

In these three examples, the word in bold is the skill – the thing you’re aiming to improve. Therefore the processes need to be added at the end. For example:

I could improve my cardio fitness by running, skipping, rowing, walking, cycling and/or swimming.

One physical with many physical methods. Probably hundreds if we really did some thorough brainstorming.

Now let’s see how you go with the mental side of performance by me revealing two of the six mental skills I alluded to above.

  • I could improve my composure by …
  • A great way to boost concentration is to …

Not Quite So Easy Is It?

Remember composure and concentration are the mental skills here. So the question is what processes might help improve them? Or maintain them if they are already excellent?

For composure (“the feeling of being calmconfident, and in control“) it would appear as if Psychological Flexibility is key.

For the mental skill of concentration, it seems as if sport-specific routines play a major role. Both routines for before you start competing or performing as well the those for whilst you are competing or performing.

What About The Other Four Mental Skills?

All in good time my friends, all in good time. As many of you may know in the past we have attempted to put some of our core ideas online for anybody to access. Imagine the explanation part of sport psychology consulting only, without the conversation part or the individualisation aspect. We are on track to replace all of these self-guided courses with updated ones by the end of 2024 and our followers will get first access when they are ready. In the meantime, the old version of Metuf is still available to trial for free online via this link here.

And if you want to access the full course you can do so via a whopping 60% discount using this code until the new versions become available:

newmetufcoming2024

Just copy and paste the above at the checkout where it says “Have coupon?” and away you go.

Metuf mental toughness training
Metuf – online mental toughness training

Control The Controllables

There is a lot of stuff we can’t control. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day, training and competition turns out.

Learning to control the controllables in professional surfing is essential.

Control The Controllables

Earlier this year Condor Performance turned 18 years old 🥳 .

As you might imagine there is not too much in common between the organisation we were in 2005 and the one we are now in 2023. But there are a few concepts that have stood the test of time.

One of these is the concept of control or influence as a pivotal aspect of our sport psychology consulting philosophy.

I was first made aware of this idea when I attended a professional development workshop entitled “Are You A Control Freak?”. I can’t recall the name of the presenter but I do remember the phrase ‘control the controllables’ being used a lot. More than enough for it is leave an impression and motivate me to find out more.

The premise was very simple, logical and appealing. There are a whole bunch of things that we encounter in our everyday lives which we don’t have much control over. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day goes most of the time. And of how our training or performance turns out as well.

Classic Examples

Let’s take the weather as a classic example.

We have absolutely zero ability to reduce the wind speed at any given time. But for a whole bunch of pursuits variation in wind speed will play a huge role in the outcomes and enjoyment of these activities. Golfers, for example, of all abilities score worse when playing in very windy conditions. Sailers, on the flip side, all underperform when the wind blows less.

When I first came across this theory almost 20 years ago it was very black and white. Basically, stuff could be broken down into one or two lists. The first list is everything that you can control. And obviously, the second list is everything that you can’t. It was a key part of my consulting weaponry between 2005 and 2010 … to get all of my clients to create exactly these two lists.

I would try to let these athletes and coaches populate these lists for themselves, but obviously part of the coaching process is to steer them towards “better”. “Do you really think you can control your results?”. Typically the uncontrollable list would contain items such as these:

  • Surroundings
  • Opponents
  • The Past
  • Weather
  • Results

And in the controllables list would be stuff like:

  • Myself
  • My Thoughts
  • My Teammates
  • My Effort
  • The Present Moment
  • My Feelings
  • My Actions

But There Was A Better Way

It took me a while to realise this black-and-white framework was not ideal. In other words, I was quickly able to see that there was a lot of stuff that was neither controllable nor uncontrollable. In fact, virtually everything was somewhere in between these two extremes.

For example, sporting results as one of the biggest distractors. Outcomes by their very definition are not controllable. But some are obviously more than others. In basketball, a player clearly has more influence over their own points tally compared with that of their teammates. The same applies to other people. Team-sport athletes clearly have more control over their own teammates than they do over the members of the opposition. “Hey Sue, try dropping back a few meters”.

So it was around 2010 from memory I moved to a spectrum of control. Anyone who attended any of my workshops from around this time would surely have been introduced to A Mental Dumbbell. The dumbbell was an analogy with absolutely no control on the left and maximum control on the right with the bar between the two sets of weights representing the variances between these two extremes. 

I Always Struggled With The Word Control

The word control in the English language kind of implies a yes or a no. So, as a psychologist who believes in the power of words ‘control’ felt like it was still very black and white. Yes, you can say you have some control over something, but why use this word when there is a far better word for this? Do you want to guess before you scroll down?

Time To Think
Time To Think

That’s right, it’s influence.

So the dumbbell was updated. The far left became ‘no influence’. The extreme right became ‘maximum influence’. And between is all the shades of grey needed. Some influence, lots, a little and so on. So when I hear (or read) Control The Controllables I hear (or see) Influence the Influenceables. Watch the video for a much greater explanation of how to “control the controllables”.

What Influence the Influenceables is really trying to do is to emphasise that various different factors are much more beneficial to obsess about than others. And crucially a lot of these are typically not as naturally exciting as a lot of the stuff that is better off being noticed as opposed to forced.

How Influenceable Are Thoughts?

It is impossible not to form some heavy opinions about where key psychological concepts should fall on the spectrum when this is a central aspect of your working life. In particular, thoughts, feelings and actions. Still, to this day there are a significant number of psychologists who suggest that humans have a lot of influence on all three of these. And in changing one you are likely to change the other two as well.

But that is just not true.

Acknowledging slight variations in the person, and the type of thought/emotion/action I firmly believe that this should be embedded in the value system of all performers. Your actions – especially the ones that have been well rehearsed – are highly influenceable. If you prefer the word control then they are highly controllable. When looking to ‘Control The Controllables’ basically it’s mostly these highly reliable motor skills. Thoughts are halfway down the spectrum. We have some influence but far less than our actions. And then feelings/emotions are very close to the left. We have a small amount of influence over them. Not nothing at all but typically less than many people believe.

Think about this for a second. Listen to your favourite song, and you might be influencing your mood for a few seconds, you might feel more joy. But try to feel joy for an entire day and you will fail every single time.

This Spectrum of influence, I find is a far better way to explain why at Condor Performance we are such advocates of psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is better understood as accepting thoughts and feelings whilst committing to our actions.

Recently, I put the below comment up on social media and it attracted quite a lot of controversy.

There is no such thing as an unhelpful thought or feeling. They just don’t exist. It is only actions (behaviours) that can/should be considered as either helpful or unhelpful. Nobody ever went to jail because they had some unhelpful thoughts and feelings. It is what they DID they put them in the slammer. Nobody ever won anything due to having helpful thoughts and feelings. It’s what they DID that got them the award/trophy/medal/certificate etc. Try to just DO BETTER whilst at the same time thinking and feeling whatever you just happen to be thinking and feeling at the time. 😎 #psychologicalflexibility

If you are reading this then use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this. Be honest, if you believe it’s wrong then say that but try and justify why you disagree with it. It was astounding to me how many people on social media threw their toys out of the cot when they saw this. But when I pushed them to explain themselves virtually all of them went quiet very quickly.

Working With Coaches

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my consulting in 2023 is working with a new wave of young sporting coaches from around the world. Most of them have realised that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be both a successful athlete in a particular sport and then go on to be a world-class coach.

All of these young coaches recognise the huge importance of sport psychology from a coaching perspective. And most of them don’t want to stop actually coaching in order to get a sport psychology qualification.

So the smart ones are baking their cake and eating it. What does that mean? These coaches continue to coach whilst becoming more mentally astute “whilst on the job” by working with an already qualified sport/performance psychologist like myself and my colleagues at Condor Performance.

In the work that I do with my coaches teaching them to Control The Controllables / Influence the Influenceables is a big part of the work. And making sure they can use this concept directly with their athletes. Coaching is stressful, especially at the pointy end so a chunk of consulting with coaches is also about helping them maintain good mental health.

As these coaches are genuine experts in their sports it is exciting to see how they take a number of different mental processes (like the dumbbell) and adapt them for their particular performance area.

If you are a sporting coach and you’d like some details about how to have a world-class sport/performance psychologist in your corner then get in touch today.

Team Unity and How To Improve It

Team unity, also known as culture, is the glue that sticks together the members of sporting teams so that they work together and not against each other.

LONDON, ENGLAND – July 18th, 2013: The Australian slip fielding cordon on day one of the Investec Ashes 2nd test match, at Lords Cricket Ground in London, England.

Unity, Cohesion, Harmony …

Team unity is also known by other names such as culture, team cohesion, and team chemistry. All of these labels describe the factors that can result in some sporting teams being completely unified. Whilst others can resemble the boys from the famous novel The Lord of the Flies. If you have never read the book I’ll sum it up for you. They end up killing each other!

Team Unity is possibly the most intriguing aspect of sporting mental toughness. It is without a doubt the area that athletes expect to be good at without having to do any work. All athletes understand that to improve muscle strength they’ll need to do some work. Most athletes understand that to improve managing emotions they’ll need to do some work. But most athletes expect their teammates to respect them just by existing.

In other words, the culture of most sporting teams, even the professional ones, is typically not that flash. The second factor is that regardless of the current state of your team’s culture it can be improved. That’s right, if it’s currently poor it can be bettered and if it’s already excellent it can still be improved further.

When Team Unity Falls Apart

Between 2005 and 2015 Kevin Pietersen was the top run scorer for the English men’s national cricket team. However, he was regarded by many of his teammates as a prickly character. They tried to address this but couldn’t. Many sporting teams would simply have accepted this and let him carry on playing.

However, unity was considered so important by The England Cricket Board they eventually stopped selecting their top batsman. This article explains the situation in a lot more detail.

How Is Team Unity Best Improved In Sporting Teams?

One of the best ways (but also one of the most costly) is to engage the services of a qualified sport psychologist. I am sure all psychologists working in sport have their own way of going about this. However at Condor Performance, when it comes to improving team unity we love to work mainly with the coaching staff.

One of the main jobs of the coach of a sporting team is to unify the team and then keep them unified. The problem is most of them attempt to do this delicate work under-equipped. This results in millions of well-intended coaches around the world doing an average job of this key component of performance.

So we work with the coach or coaches and put what we call The 10 R’s under the microscope. The 10 R’s refers to five pairs of words that each starts with the letter R. They provide a great starting point for discussions on how to improve the unity of any given team. Of course, these teams don’t have to be sporting groups.

Roles and Rules

It is virtually impossible for a team to be unified without clear rules and roles. If the individual members are not clear about their roles this will cause frustration and infighting. The ‘blame game’ is rife in sporting teams with poor role clarification.

The same applies to rules. What is and is not acceptable should form a key part of pre-season for all competitive sporting teams. The most effective rules are confirmed in consultation with all the members of the team. Then they are written down. Then all parties sign on the dotted line to agree to abide by them.

Does your team work together or are you just a group of individuals?

Relationships and Respect

It is important to mention that the members of a team don’t actually need to be the best of friends. In fact, they don’t even really have to like one another. But they do need to respect one another. Mutual respect tends to result from teams whereby cliques are not allowed to form. In other words, there is some kind of relationship between all members of the team. 

Reassurance and Reasons

More for the coaches but important nonetheless is giving frequent reassurance and reasons to the playing group. Humans are not mind-readers. Athletes are humans too. Some love getting reassurance that they are on track. Others need less reassurance. This is where the magic of the ‘why’ comes in. Letting players know why they’re progressing or struggling is the magic dust.

Ready and Relaxed

One furphy in elite sports is that one of the best ways to boost team chemistry is to win more. This is like putting the cart before the horse. In actual fact, one of the best ways is to help them prepare very well. Performers who feel ready and relaxed tend to get along much better than their stressed counterparts. And of course that proper preparation needs to include all aspects of performance. What are these again? Physical, Technical, Tactical, and Mental.

Recognition and Rewards

In most sports, the wins are often obvious. If your team wins the grand final you will not need our help in celebrating that. I am a much greater believer in recognising and celebrating the less obvious wins. What about the time that your teammate smashes her PB on the Beep Test? Or when all of you are able to attend training without anyone having an injury concern? Teams with a strong culture recognise these smaller milestones.

At Condor Performance we practice what we preach. Due to the monthly approach that we use in our consulting, we all accrue months. Each time a client pays for another month we add one month to our records for that psychologist. We then celebrate 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 months together. For example below is a short video we made when Brian hit 500 months recently.

Do You Need Our Help?

If you are part of a team and you’d like some info on how we can work with you and your teammates please contact us via one of the below.