Sports psychology has a lot to teach us about managing the business mindset. Both arenas make emotional demands and both impose performance requirements that don’t stop.
Whether you’re an athlete or a business owner, you’re always “on.” You work even when you’re tired. You constantly motivate yourself; a coach can help, but ultimately your drive comes from within a deep place. You constantly remind yourself of your “why.”
Both athletes and entrepreneurs encounter strong highs and lows, which take a toll mentally and can affect every area of their lives. And both need to learn how others in their position have dealt with these challenges and moved on.
Here are 3 examples of the lessons entrepreneurs can learn from sports psychology.
Choking or Panicking
Writing in Psychology Today, Psychologist Jonathan Fader writes, “Every athlete in the world from high school to college, from professional to Olympian, one time or another, has choked under pressure.” Fader defines choking as “a drastic decline in performance in any high-stress situation. It’s when an athlete becomes overly concerned with the outcome that they switch off their mental “auto-pilot.
Entrepreneurs encounter the same pressures whether it’s launching a program that’s bigger than anything they’ve done before or giving a special talk in front of a huge audience.
The cure is threefold. First, focus on process, not outcome. Play – or work – like you’re just having fun.
Second, slow down. Basketball players take extra dribbles before a free throw.
Finally, don’t overthink what you’re doing. You’ll perform best when you relax into the moves.
Fear of Failure
As entrepreneurs grow their businesses, they become more cautious. The stakes are higher. Visibility is greater. They become more conscious of their status and the approval ratings they get from others.
Writing in Peaksports, Patrick Cohn says, “When you think too much about avoiding mistakes, you focus on what not to do and perform more tentatively or controlled.” But instead of overcoming the fear, over control actually makes you more fearful and mistake-prone.
Sports psychology expert Suzanne Pottratz, a former gymnast, suggests facing the fear of failure head-on. What’s the best outcome? What’s your worst-case scenario? What’s the surprising benefit of failing?
Like athletes, entrepreneurs and their coaches tend to avoid considering failure at all. But becoming more tentative and avoiding risks can be seriously detrimental to growth in any field.
Related to fear of failure is the fear of just making a mistake. As you move up the ladder, mistakes can be more costly and more damaging to your career. But when you’re tense and determined to hang on, it’s too easy to invest time in routine activities rather than getting creative and going for the big win.
A lot of people focus on being vulnerable, but sports coaches emphasize the importance of looking confident and acting “as if” you were your strongest self. In a podcast for BuzzSprout, performance coach Dan Abrahams said, “A game face is the personality you want to be on the pitch. It’s the attitude you want to portray… ”
Players, says Abrahams, have an inner narrative. They talk to themselves about their performance. A game face helps you simplify and manage your narrative.”
Todd Herman, another superstar performance coach, makes a similar point by recommending players establish an alter ego – a personality they assume when they need to make a big play. You borrow the attributes of your alter ego so you can do something you ordinarily couldn’t do – something beyond your usual skills.
You can choose an alter ego based on a world-famous athlete. And as an entrepreneur, you can identify with someone you admire. You’re choosing someone’s attitude and approach – not their approach to business and certainly not their message or copy.
Bottom line: Sports psychology can teach us a lot, way beyond sports. In business, sometimes working through a stuck place can make a difference. I’ve seen people frozen when they have to build a website or write a sales letter.
I don’t work on the psychology, but I can make life easier for a business owner who’s stuck on implementation. Unlike sports, in business you can get more than coaching – you can get someone to do the work for you. That often clears the path to more productive use of time and energy. Visit my website, HTTP://Cathygoodwin.com, to learn more.