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Sport Psychology & Work

At GamePlan A, we get that your work life is fueled by sport. Often, many of the issues you face on the field are mirrored at work. That’s why we’ve consulted leading sport psychologist Adam Naylor to give advice on how to maximize your athlete mindset to clear the hurdles you face in the office.

In this part of this series (part 2 of 2) Adam talks among other things about the idea of “visualizing”, why “optimism” and “pessimism” carry some misinformed notion and how to be a real team player.

Adam, we frequently hear about athletes “visualizing” – imagining themselves making a great save or scoring a goal when it matters most. Can this tactic be applied in other areas of our lives?

Sure it can, but we really ought to do it better than the anecdotal wisdom. Science has shown us that visualizing outcomes may be fun, but it has little impact on our mental game. When we focus on the outcome and neglect the process of getting to it, we tend to get both stressed and lost on the journey.

The best visualizations for a corporate competitor are either ones that help one mentally rehearse or brainstorm the execution and obstacles during a work plan, or periodic relaxing imagery that, when combined with some settling breaths, provides some nice mental recovery opportunities during a work day.

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson – while he has had a handful of near misses in the majors, he keeps putting himself in position to win them.

Who are the athletes that you think are in best control of their “mental game” and what qualities help them achieve that?

This is actually a really difficult question because of how many factors go into one’s mental game.

  • Resilience and persistence are such a critical part of the mental game. We’ve seen this in Andy Murray’s quest to be one of the greatest in this era of tennis. I actually like this quality in golfer Dustin Johnson – while he has had a handful of near misses in the majors, he keeps putting himself in position to win them.
  • Poise is a great quality of an excellent athlete. We see this in so many successful March Madness student athletes. Game-winning shots and good ball protection are examples of a calm mind and settled body.
  • Willingness to miss is an attitude that is subtle and a bit challenging to appreciate, but one I think is so key to high performance. It would have been very difficult for Kris Bryant to be the MLB rookie of the year last year if he had been afraid to fail. No baseball player hopes to make an out when they are at the plate, but ones that are willing to stand tall and put their ego on the line against tough pitching always impress me. It’s easy to look foolish when playing at the highest level… But willingness to do so provides the biggest potential to be great.

I think these three attitudes can be nurtured in the workplace. A stubbornness to drive forward is in essence the popular idea of “grit.” Poise is too often underrated at work. Being able to step back and take a breath before leaping helps creative thinking, good decision making, and, perhaps most importantly, quality communication with teammates.

Kris Bryant
It would have been very difficult for Kris Bryant to be the MLB rookie of the year last year if he had been afraid to fail.

How important is optimism on the field and in the office?

Optimism and pessimism are funny words. They carry great weight, but also some misinformed notions.There is no doubt that optimism trumps pessimism in the performance realm. This said, blind optimism is not terribly healthy as it can cause blind-spots to obstacles that need some genuine problem solving. Pessimism can prove to be very protective, not the greatest thing when striving for great accomplishments.

Realistic positivity with an emphasis on seeing opportunities instead of risk of failure is really a terrific mindset. It is easy to find and feel threatened by obstacles. Champions see them as challenges to be embraced.

What advice would you give to someone who struggles working in a team environment?

Teams are really about quality communication, appreciation for one another, and positive emotional contagion. To be a good team member, it is important to give the benefit of the doubt to others prior to criticism – this is big-picture thinking that we’d all want for ourselves. Also, being aware of how our own emotions shape the emotions of others and sometimes cloud our ability to communicate clearly is a great skill to develop.

A highly functioning team is like a jigsaw puzzle: every piece is unique and interesting because it is unique, but they all fit together well to make a great picture.

If you could give only one piece of advice to a “business athlete”, what would it be?

I’m not sure I can just stick with one… So here’s two:

  • At a personal level, see challenges as opportunities.
  • At a team level, become aware of how your emotions shape the energy and anxieties of teammates – try to be part of “infecting” co-workers with productive emotions.

7 tips to build a high performance team

Includes examples of the German national football team

Read Now
Adam Naylor, Sport Psychologist

Adam H. Naylor, EdD, CC-AASP – Dr. Naylor leads telos Sport Psychology Coaching, oversees Northeastern University’s Sports Performance Mental Game division, and is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University. He has spent two decades educating Olympians, major and minor league professionals, competitors in major collegiate conferences, and elite junior athletes towards their goals. Of note, his clients include US Open competitors, Stanley Cup champions, Olympic/international medalists, NCAA champions, Red Bull sports competitors, and UFC martial artists. He has written and lectured widely on best practices for player development and how coaches, parents, and organizations create optimal growth environments for athletes. You can follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.

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by Rory 29.06.2016
This is a great read team. It was great to see Dustin Johnson's resistance and resilience finally paid off as well with his recent US Open major win! Further validation that you have to remain resilient in order to win. Redemption at last!
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