I love the variety in my job and one of the things I often get asked about is the famous athletes I work with and how I can coach a sport I don’t play. The simple answer to that is I do not coach the sport, I coach the person. The body has physical limitations and it requires someone very proficient in the theory of the sport to train a professional athlete, but the brain has no limitations but the ones we set upon it with our beliefs. A sports coach coaches the subject, I make sure that their student has the drive, determination, willpower, motivation, belief, confidence and mental fitness for the job. I coach the psychology.
I have been working in sports psychology for a number of years now, triggered by my love of rowing and tennis which both tend to get a tad competitive and although I do of course coach rowers and have been involved in the sport since I was 17. Here is a picture of me with one of my Cambridge men’s eight’s after they won their race (indicated by the green in their hair) not a fashion statement! Some of them had only been rowing a few months which shows it’s mentality as well as talent.
I also coach professionals in sports I have very little interest in such as football and also coach clients who compete in sports that I am developing an interest in such as yacht racing.
The principle is the same, my job is to keep their head in the game, make sure they leave their ego at the door and rocket their self-belief and internal drive to the greatest heights. If you think the physical training for competitive sport is tough, the mental training is another level. However, it produces winners ever time. I don’t accept average and neither do my clients. That’s why they win the medals and go on to play a sport they love and get paid for it!
Should I keep something in reserve?
I understand why people ask themselves this question as it could be seen as a tactical advantage to pull out the stops at the end, however, the short answer is if I was your coach, I would say definitely no do not keep something in reserve – give it your all from the very start.
There are two reasons I say this, the first is that keeping something in physical reserve is a mindset, where you are putting limiting beliefs on your body that there is a reserve. What if today was the day you had 10% more energy and skill than ever before? The second reason is no one ever became successful by giving 75%.
There is a good scene in a film called “Gattica” where the protagonist was asked how he managed to defy his genetics and out swim his brother (who was genetically superior in every way) to a rock in the middle of the sea. His answer was simple. He stated he never saved any energy for the swim back. His mental concentration and commitment to getting to the rock first enabled him to give 110% because he was not saving himself for anything else. Contemporary swimming pools with a solar pool cover serve this purpose as well.
It is commonly said in the Sports Psychology arena that results do not yield themselves to the person who refuses to give himself to the desired results. In fact, a person might be considered a ‘hold out’ if they are keeping something in reserve. Which in itself doesn’t seem so harsh but when evaluated, it has been said such ‘hold outs’ lack the motivation to invest themselves 100% in competition and therefore do not achieve their highest attainable goal or performance. With that definition to the label, which is a polite form of the childhood “loser” jibe you can now see why keeping something in reserve is not the aim of the game in high level competition. You really do have to give it your all. Sleeping like a baby is better left for the afterlife.
What motivates people?
The component under analysis here is human potential and the inner motivation or drive to make productive use of both one’s genetic potential (i.e stature, gender, IQ etc..) and one’s acquired potential (i.e knowledge, experience, skills etc.) As we saw above with the “Gattica” example inner motivation can override acquired potential if the will is strong enough. Your beliefs are stronger than your physiology. We see this time and time again where “miracles” occur. Patients cure themselves of cancer, mother’s protect their children from danger with unfettered strength and world records are smashed. These miracles come from belief and intention. It’s these components that drive people forward. Some people refer to such drive as motivation.
Motivation itself comes in two forms – inner and outer. Inner motivation is the natural inner drive or urge to use the talents and knowledge we possess to achieve far in excess of what others believe to be possible. People do this by utilising all the gifts they have been given and an unshakeable belief and drive in themselves. Whereas outer motivation is where someone motivates someone else – perhaps a coach or cheerleaders or fans even agents/managers providing bonuses etc. Motivation can also be based on fear or reward but this too is outer motivation as it is not coming from a place within but an external set of circumstances.
How can sports psychology help in daily life?
Three elements that make up a person’s potential are talent, empowerment and psychology. If you have the know-how, and you have a good sports coach all you need is the right psychology and your goal will become easier to grasp.
So in answer to the question how can sports psychology help you in daily life, it can teach you how to give 110% every day without giving up your energy. In fact, you can feel more energised by that which you are achieving. It can teach you how to win at the tasks you need to accomplish in your day. It can also teach you how to get paid for doing something you love. It can be adapted for every area that you desire to achieve a goal in even if not a sport.