Friday, 31 October 2014

Who's responsible?

I once worked with a footballer who’d been struggling with his performances for several years. A few years previously he had been feted as the next big thing. At the age of 18, those in the know were expecting him to take the Premiership by storm and inevitably take a leading role in the England set up but now, aged 23, things hadn’t panned out quite how he had hoped and he was even struggling to keep a place in the starting XI of the mid-table League One team that he was now playing for.

A reluctant client (he was only seeing me because his agent insisted) the main problem appeared to be that he didn’t seem to accept that he had any control over his world or how we acted or felt. An explosive temper had led to a number of incidents which usually end up in a yellow card, and very often a red. His progress had flatlined and, he even admitted he had been a better player 5 years previously. As a result, he had moved from club to club; each one buying him largely based on his old reputation rather than his present form. And yet, he didn’t believe that any of the responsibility was his. He was very quick to blame everyone and everything apart from himself.

In the sessions we had together at various times he blamed his coaches, his team mates, the tactics, the referee, his fitness coach, his diet, his girlfriend, his boots, the fans and even the pitch. Hand in hand with this was that he also didn’t feel that he had any influence on his performance. He referred to himself as being a ‘confidence’ player. A term you hear quite a lot in football and essentially means he is the type of player who will only play well if he wakes up feeling confident. Unfortunately, those days were becoming few and far between. At no point did he consider anything to have been his fault.

You may be aware of the concept of Cause and Effect (C>E), where one action causes another to happen. The problem is that a lot of people seem to live their lives on the Effect side of the equation where their mindset has them believe that what they do and how they feel is a consequence of external factors, i.e. everyone and everything else. If the world decrees that they are going to be confident that day then so be it, they can go out and perform. However, if the world decides otherwise, then it’s going to be a bad day. Successful people live their lives on the Cause side of the equation, where they feel that they are responsible for what they do and how they feel. Confidence, then, becomes a choice not an aspiration. One way to put yourself on the Cause side of the equation is to take responsibility for what you do and how you feel. Unfortunately, my client saw responsibility as being a bad thing and, unsurprisingly, after a few sessions decided that it wasn’t working for him. The last I heard was that he was playing semi-professionally for a non-League team.

It seems to me that there is very little benefit to surrendering your responsibility to the world, apart from the fact you can have an excuse when things don’t go to plan. Taking responsibility allows you to shape the world in the way that you want to and feel confident, happy, motivated, energised and fulfilled when you want to and not because someone (or something) else decides for you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt so deftly put it:

"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Andy Barton
Performance coach

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Feeling bad? Change the label

It was fantastic at the weekend to watch the Ryder Cup victory by the Europeans. The whole competition was an illustration of sport at it’s most intense. Some players, like Justin Rose and Rory McIlory seem to just thrive in these situations and others just find it completely overwhelming.

Have you ever had that feeling when you’ve gone into a competitive situation or even done something out of your comfort zone like making a speech when you feel ‘nervous’? Unless you are devoid of emotion, we have all experienced this feeling at some point. Interestingly, according to psychologists  Shachter and Singer (1962) we don’t experience a particular emotion such as ‘fear’ or ‘nervousness’ immediately.  According to their Two Factor Theory of Emotion they state that we actually experience a level of physiological arousal and then take in our environment and only then put a label on the emotion. So when Webb Simpson stood on the first tee to play the very first shot of the Ryder Cup, he would have been experiencing high levels of arousal and would have then taken in his surroundings (large noisy crowd, 1st tee, European and US flags etc) and quite possibly would then have given this arousal the label of ‘nervousness’ or even ‘fear’ (which would certainly have accounted for the bad mis-hit that followed).

Initially, the physical manifestations of ‘nervousness’ and ‘excitement’ are identical. The head spins, the heart beats fast, hands get a bit sweaty etc. It is only when one of the labels is put on it that we respond accordingly. So, if we call it ‘fear’, we will then put ourselves into a negative spiral which can be quite hard to undo. If however, we describe it using labels such as ‘euphoria’, ‘pumped up’ or ‘buzzing’, then we tend to greet the racing heartbeat as being a good thing. Great sports performers don’t necessarily need to calm themselves down, very often they just need ride the wave of excitement.

When Rory McIlroy was asked how he felt about being drawn against in form US player Rickie Fowler for the Ryder Cup singles, his answer typified his mental approach.

“I’m really excited. It’s going to be a great match.”

When you are feeling strong emotions make sure you pick the right label!

Have a thrilling day!

Andy Barton
Performance coach