Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Daley's Christmas mind games

It is at this time of year that I often think of the athlete who was my sporting hero when I was younger; the double Olympic gold winning decathlete Daley Thompson. This was a man who could not only perform to the highest level whenever it really mattered under the most severe pressure but also could get into the heads of his main competitors. At the height of his powers, his rivals were the West German duo J├╝rgen Hingsen and Siggi Wentz both of whom towered over Thompson in stature and yet seemed to wilt when they were within his close proximity.

Hingsen, was his main threat. He’d held the world record 3 times but never managed to beat Thompson in a head to head in 7 years’ of competition. One reason for this was that Thompson was the king of the mind games. I particularly remember watching the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles noticing that whenever Hingsen and Wentz looked nervous or seemed to be lacking in energy, Thompson would be parading in front of them, laughing and joking as if competing for a gold medal was the easiest thing in the world. The gold medal had effectively been won before the first race, the first throw or the first jump.

The reason I am reminded of Thompson at this time is that his attitude to training over the festive period wonderfully illustrated how he constantly looked to maximise both his physical and mental superiority over the rest of the field. There would be no day off training on Christmas Day for him, as he said himself, "I train twice on Christmas Day because I know the others aren't training at all, so it gives me two extra days". Those two sessions may seem a small factor in the big scheme of things but psychologically, any opportunity to get one over the opposition would have played a huge role in improving his self-belief and motivation.

Next time you are wondering how to get the edge on your competitors, take a leaf out of Daley’s book and you won’t go far wrong.

Andy Barton
Performance coach
The Sporting Mind