Many professional sportspeople travel much of the year around the world in order to compete in events for their livelihood. This is why professional athletes and performers are accustomed to living in a different city or country, sometimes as often as weekly, with different cultures, languages, food, environment, weather, resources, transport, etc. without any familiarity of a consistent home base. This requires major and constant adjustment. Even the way they train and prepare for competition physically and mentally will be slightly different in each place. This is one of the reasons champion sportspeople are valuable to model when we need to learn adjust-ability, resilience and creating comfort out of discomfort in times of uncertainty.
So how do sports champions conduct their lives in a way that allows them to thrive in a new normal, week in and week out, whilst on their international tours? They do, of course, have the privilege of having a team of specialists which assist them to perform at their peak. However, on their way towards the top, before they have a specialist team, they take ownership of constructing new similar routines for themselves in each new place.
Champions have nothing else to do while on tour but focus on their preparation and training routines that serve peak performance when it counts. They also need to ensure that their attitude and their mindset is optimal for pressurising conditions. This is a way in which we can approach this repetitive period of lockdown.
In speaking to and working with a number of sports champions at this time, there is a common pattern in all of them: Whether they have chosen to use lockdown to recover and maintain mental and physical fitness, or to work on developing new skills, their intentions are to own the path of what they want to receive from this time, so they can emerge from lockdown having progressed.
The three essentials that create champions under intense pressure
- Champions own their commitment to their progress
- Champions access the support of a specialised team
- Champions train their mental toughness as they do their physical toughness
Two of the above essentials will be unpacked below and the third will be shared in detail in my next article.
1. Champion’s own their commitment to their progress
The two keywords here are “own” and “commitment”. If anyone wants to achieve anything really in life, probably the most important driver toward accomplishing it is being fully “committed” to making it happen. Commitment means learning about whatever is needed in thought, attitude, and action in order to receive what you want for yourself, regardless of the kind of goal or sporting code you are in. It is easy to commit to your progress when the conditions are good, but the true test of commitment is determined when situations are tough. This does not mean that you deny the conditions; in fact it is quite the opposite. You acknowledge the reality of them first, like in lockdown – the repetitiveness, the lack of ideal conditions, the stress and uncertainty of it all. You then use these negatives as your compass for direction towards what you do not want.
This is one of the best points of departure towards creating the best situation to continue your daily commitment to your sport or goals. The second word is to ‘‘own’’ something or admit that it belongs to you. In this case, it is owning your path of progress in this strange time in our lives. All greats in every sport have learned that it is them and only them who needs to take the responsibility regarding how their sporting journey is going to unfold. Taking responsibility means that no other person, for example a coach, teammate or parent, can be blamed when things don’t happen in the way you intended. It also means when it comes to whatever is needed for you to do to fulfil your quota of daily training, it is initiated and completed with quality by you. When any athlete can get their head around what it really means to take ownership of their success, they will be taking a major step ahead of everyone else. Of course there will be few ‘‘flop’’ days of poor commitment or even just lockdown fatigue. However, the best path to getting back quickly on track is to allow for these few times, and revisit the intentions and routines you have set for yourself . In this way ‘‘flop’’ days won’t be worsened by negative self-talk; instead you merely take note of it, redirect or reset it, and intend to make up for it the following day.
2. Champions access the support of a specialised team
Champion sportspeople do, of course, have the privilege of a team of specialists who assist them to perform at their peak in diverse environments. One of the reasons champions continue to perform at their peak – despite the constant changes and uncertainty they are faced with as they travel on professional tours – is the consistency and predictability which their specialised team provides. A champion’s specialised team is usually made up of the following aspects: management, coaching, fitness, health (physiotherapy and nutrition), psychology or mental training and, just as importantly, relaxation and relationship time. The fact that their pie of life and training is divided up into these different slices of the “whole” pie is the actual tool which supports their feeling of safety and predictability in a life of change and pressure. It is also a tool that ensures that every aspect of the pie supporting peak performance is taken care of. In order to make a significant mark in any sport or career in today’s world, it is important to explore all aspects of your sport or profession, which constitute high performance in sport and life. Lockdown for most of us is a time of change and uncertainty, especially in the sense that it is radically different from the way we lived our lives before. By emulating a champion’s specialised team and dividing your time into the specialised aspects of your sport, you will be creating a context of predictability, safety, and consistency. In this way, all bases are covered when it comes to keeping yourself physically and mentally strong. You will also be factoring in, as in the different aspects of the champions specialised team, relaxation and relationship time which, more especially in an isolated environment, facilitates motivation and energy to persevere in your best way regardless of when this period of lockdown will come to an end.
So take the path of your success and happiness (it is the same principles) into your own hands by owning your attitude and your actions of each day. When you remove other people and conditions from the equation of progress, it becomes easier to focus on what you can control instead of what you cannot. Also by emulating a champion’s specialist team in lockdown and beyond, you can feel secure that each slice of your pie of success will be covered, and most certainly maintained.
by Toni Gaddie
Sports & Clinical Psychologist