Workplace insights from a sport psychologist
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.
How do you define sport psychology?
Applied sport psychology strives to help athletes harness their mental and emotional resources to compete optimally, practice purposefully, and enjoy sports at their fullest. The field is truly about helping teams and individuals thrive on and around the playing field.
What is the biggest challenge your clients face?
The biggest challenge… Being human. I say this both tongue-in-cheek and seriously. Our thoughts and emotions can truly be a jumbled mess. We only have a limited amount of attentional capabilities before exhaustion kicks in, and we care what other people think about us. These are all things that make us uniquely human, but when not appreciated and refined in performance settings they are also things that can really obstruct us from our potential.
What methods do you focus on to help your clients overcome their obstacles in sports?
“I believe that having one cognitive skill (...) and one somatic skill (...) is a good recipe for most competitors.”Adam Naylor, Sport Psychologist
In my work, it is really about helping athletes, leaders, and corporate clients develop awareness of optimal performance perspectives, embrace a few mental skills that assist with managing energy levels and focus, and use me as a sounding board to understand themselves and their approaches to social and competitive situations. Mindsets are really ones of aggressive-acceptance. Always striving to learn and achieve at the next level, while also accepting that sometimes the outcome is out of our hands. Athletes that compete most freely do everything they can to win while accepting that on occasion outcomes do not work out and they’ll live to compete another day. As far as mental skills are concerned, there are so many out there that are touted and promoted… Goal-setting, mental imagery, positive self-talk, diaphragmatic breathing, and more… I believe that having one cognitive skill (a thought to settle and focus the mind) and one somatic skill (a physical action or activity to calm the body) is a good recipe for most competitors.
Do you think these methods are transferrable to help someone in their place of work?
Absolutely. Self-awareness and stress management skills are universally valuable. The big difference on the playing field is in having to account for the physical demands of athletic tasks (i.e. putting a golf ball is different to skating an energized and focused 40-second hockey shift).
How does a sports mindset or athletic background help (or hinder) a person’s career?
“Sport and work can be serious stuff, but a person with skills to relieve the tension of striving and find joy in thriving really has a wonderful career. ”Adam Naylor, Sport Psychologist
An athletic mindset can certainly be a double-edged sword during a person’s career. The benefits can be numerous. Athletes tend to be good at driving towards performance goals. Also, sports can build great resilience (aka stubbornness) in the face of challenge. Individuals that come out of healthy sports cultures are also solid at working as part of a team. Probably the biggest obstacle for competitive athletes in the “real” world is transitioning from the emotionally intoxicating world of sport and its locker-room culture. There can certainly be a rush from closing a deal or achieving difficult corporate goals, but we’d be remiss to think they are the same as the physical stresses and struggles that come on the playing field. The key to successful transitions from competitive play to the workplace is a person finding work that aligns well with their values and resonates with them at a personal level. This is rarely a quick and not necessarily an easy adjustment.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT SIMILARITIES OR OVERLAPPING CHARACTERISTICS IN SPORTS AND WORK?
Persistence, self-management, and the ability to work as part of a team are all necessary in sport and the workplace.
How do you compare success and failure in the workplace vs. success in sport?
Success in sport tends to be more emotionally dramatic and publically praised. Sure – successes in the workplace are a big deal, but they most often happen behind closed doors. Failure in sport is also highly emotional, but for most athletes, after the mourning process, they will lick their wounds and compete again. In some unique instances, losing a close national championship game or world championship for example, emotional scars are left but believe it or not, most of us know sport is “play.”
Money is one of the greatest stressors in our lives and work is intricately connected to it.
What are some of the challenges that people have to overcome in sports that also apply to the workplace?
The ability to “let go” is a universal necessity in performance settings. When we care about something and are emotionally involved, it is easy to hold on so tight that we smother our true potential. If we live by the gospel of “being perfect” we typically think less clearly, exhaust ourselves excessively, and negatively impact our teammates. Sport and work can be serious stuff, but a person with skills to relieve the tension of striving and find joy in thriving really has a wonderful career.
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‘GamePlan A’ is the first business lifestyle magazine fueled by sport.About GamePlan A
Click here for Part 2 of our in-depth interview with sport psychologist, Adam Naylor, as he discusses the practice of visualizing success and the qualities athletes have in achieving mental strength.