Transform Pressure into Power: Tokyo Olympics 2020

We are now heading at great speed into spring. For many of us our New Year’s resolutions will be a distant memory – maybe already forgotten or even perhaps accomplished! One of our New Year’s Resolutions at OnTrack was to look at learning and development in a creative and different way. This led us down the track of sponsoring a highly regarded, accomplished, international Italian horseman – Daniele Bizzarro. We decided it would be interesting to look generally at how he prepares his team and his horses for the coming season and in particular how he is going about achieving his dream and goal of competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

One thing that has surprised us has been the similarity between the world of horses and the world of business. Many of the skills to be successful in the highly demanding and dangerous sport of three day eventing, producing peak performance from yourself, your horses as well as the team that supports you, are very similar to the skills required to maximise performance and achieve success from teams within a business.

Over the next twelve months we are going to examine some of these similarities and see what we can learn from an elite athlete preparing for the ultimate challenge of qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which is not just about his performance but also that of his equine friends.

Positive Thinking

One of the first things that Daniele has had to do in preparation for the new season is to ensure his thinking is positive, realistic and focussed to prepare him for the task in front of him. As Daniele and any other horseperson knows it’s not enough to have incredible horses, the best trainers, support team  and supreme talent as a horseman or women – it is also vital to have a brain which ‘thinks it can’. As the old adage says: ‘If you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re probably right’.

Sports Psychology

For elite sports people, ensuring the power of the brain is trained is a fundamental skill which will help to make the difference between success and an average performance. To this end many of them will utilise the skills of a dedicated sports psychologist – and in this, Daniele is no different. Helen Rennie – a leading equestrian performance coach has been instrumental in ensuring he has strengthened his mental game so he improves his performance and therefore competition results.

Helen strives to unlock every person’s riding performance potential so they can perform at their very best and achieve the results that they want. So as we can see there are many similarities between riding and the world of business. Every team leader, every manager, every CEO, every business owner wants to do exactly the same to ensure the success of their business.

Negative Mindsets & how to deal with them:

The time leading up to performing in a competition is no different to the lead up to delivering a major presentation, having a challenging performance conversation or entering a difficult and sensitive negotiation. Helen Rennie advises that we have to ensure in all these situations that our mind set is positive and is part of our all-important self-awareness to avoid the ‘chimp’ brain taking over and affecting our success. She identifies a number of potentially negative mind sets:

  • Stage Fright Mind Set

This produces a fight or flight reaction where all objective rational thinking is destroyed. We often see this happen before a presenter delivers a major presentation in front of a high-level audience. Sometimes they cannot even remember their name at the start of the presentation as stage fright takes over their thinking.

There are three effective ways to deal with the Stage Fright Mind Set…

  1. Accept the feelings – they are perfectly normal. Rather than thinking of them as being negative think of them as positive. A sense of controlled fear sharpens our mental capacity and helps us perform well, so tell yourself you feel excited rather than you feel nervous. The two emotions feel very similar but one is positive whilst the other is negative.
  1. Ensure your visualization prior to the event is positive. Your brain does not know the difference between a real and imagined act so if you imagine coping with the situation well your mind set will be so much more positive as you go into it
  1. Practise managing your breathing – imagine as you breathe in you’re taking in helpful energising and calming oxygen and as you breathe out you are expelling negative thinking, low self-esteem and imagining disaster. Or do as Helen Rennie suggests and breathe in imagining cold air entering the nose and warm out being breathed out.
  • Constant Critic Mind Set

A self-critical pass or fail mode of thinking. Focussing on negatives will ensure you discard all the positives. Prior to opening that difficult performance conversation how often do we consider all the times when it went wrong or the outcome was less than positive? Try the following to manage the Constant Critic mind-set:

~ Imagine you have two characters on your shoulders – one is the Critic and one is the Coach. The Critic says negative things to you such as: ‘this conversation will go badly wrong’ or ‘my team member will react aggressively’ whilst the Critic will say positive things: ‘you will handle this situation expertly or ‘you have had lots of experience of coping with this kind of scenario’. Imagine that you have a volume dial on each of these characters and you are physically turning down the volume on the Critic and turning it up on the Coach.

  • Analysis Paralysis Mind Set

Where too much time is spent thinking and analysing so draining mental energy which impacts on our focus. It becomes difficult to take the right action because our mind is too busy. This can often happen in situations where we are being challenged and are feeling out of our comfort zone so we may coin the phrase: ‘I can’t think straight!’ Counteract this mind set by:

~ Utilising some proven relaxation techniques. Helen Rennie suggests her equestrian athletes do simple things like putting the tip of the tongue behind the bottom teeth to help relax the jaw – it really helps! Try breathing out slower than you to breathe in to help create space to enable you to think more clearly. It’s about slowing down your thinking and getting focussed on the most important action you need to take right now. Simplifying your thinking will help you make better, faster decisions.

  • Distraction Attraction Mind Set

Energy flows where attention goes so if we spend time worrying about things we can’t influence or we can’t control it will mean there is less space to concentrate on aspects which we can influence and control. A good example of this is before a presentation where we imagine the audience being hostile, challenging and difficult as opposed to them welcoming us and being responsive to our ideas and proposals. At all times ensure you remember to:

~ Remember the difference between what concerns us and what we can control. These are two different things. We may be concerned about how nervous we may feel before that important business event but we can’t stop the symptoms. What we can do is to manage the feelings and influence their outcome by ensuring our preparation is complete, we have researched all the facts and have practised articulating some difficult parts.

The brain is a hugely powerful instrument – and it’s up to us how we manage our thinking. After all if we think we can……we can! Managing your thinking is an essential part of your armoury as a leader and a vital part of achieving our personal and corporate goals just like it is for Daniele in his quest for equestrian success. It’s up to you – you can think negatively or you can think positively…it’s very much your choice!!