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Your Performing Edge - Sports Psychology Coaching

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Battling the competition, breaking records, scoring goals - it's a wonder business is not classed as an Olympic sport. If you were inspired by top athletes at the Sochi Winter Games you may have wondered how they do it.

Dr JoAnn Dahlkoetter, the California-based sports psychologist who coaches sports teams and business people alike, explains how techniques used to help sports stars excel can make you a winner in business too.

"There is a close parallel between sports and business. Each involves competition, time pressure, anxiety and self-doubt”, says Dr Dahlkoetter. "That’s why techniques used to train athletes can improve your confidence, sense of direction and ability to reach goals. They can improve the performance of your team too."

Improving your performance

Dr Dahlkoetter's book, ‘Your Performing Edge, Sports Psychology Coaching.’ explains many business coaching techniques drawn from her work with sports stars.

She recommends that leaders practice the 'Three Ps' daily - positive images, power words and present focus.

"Positive images can be used when you face a task such as pitching a new idea to a client or making a speech. Try 'seeing' yourself doing it successfully. Do a mental rehearsal of putting your point across well," she advises.

“If you find yourself plagued by negative images of failure, perhaps drawn from past poor performances or as a result of anxiety, imagine you are a film director and mentally shout CUT!" she says. "Then replay the footage in your head with you giving a sparkling performance."

Dr Dahlkoetter compares this to a hurdler 'seeing' themselves clipping a hurdle as they jump over it, then re-visualising the race but clearing all the hurdles. "Your body is more likely to follow the successful mental instructions," she says.

Power words are key words and phrases that get results. "Positive self-statements can help you change anxious perceptions of a business situation to make it less threatening, allowing you to focus on what you need to do," she says. For instance, counteract self-doubt by repeating phrases to yourself such as "I am confident in business and moving towards my goals."

Women leaders are particularly prone to an inner voice telling them they are not good enough. Tackle this by listing your self-doubts down one side of a page, so as to cleanse them from your mind. Then make a longer list, opposite them, of positive statements, such as, "I am becoming more confident in business every day." Ensure all positive statements are in the present tense so you avoid 'should' statements that can pile on the pressure.

The third P, present focus, is about being relaxed and focussed on the here and now. If you find yourself getting anxious and feeling that you are falling behind, try 'centering'.

"Place one hand on your stomach and imagine a balloon about two inches inside your navel. Breath in through your nose to fill the balloon slowly and mentally repeat the word that describes the quality you need right then, such as 'confidence' or 'strength'. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine you are breathing out stress," says Dr Dahlkoetter. "It makes you more focused in the moment and that reduces anxiety."

You can also counter negative thoughts by replacing 'why' questions (Why can't I do this) with 'how' questions such as ‘How can I turn this situation to my advantage?' Sports stars use this to turn round losing situations.

Dr Dahlkoetter cites Canadian bobsledders Kayleigh Humphries and Heather Moyse, who were trailing the leaders at the Sochi Winter Games by 0.23 seconds, a lifetime in sliding. Humphries asked Moyse if they could win and Moyse said: 'It's possible'. Their positivity paid off - they came from behind to win gold.

Improving your team's performance

As the sports coach works to develop cohesiveness in their team, so should the business leader, making each member feel a valued 'player'. Sports coaches do not focus solely on the stars but encourage everyone to feel interconnected, sharing a common goal.

Dr Dahlkoetter suggests the team and leader imagine they are a grove of giant redwood trees. Though the tallest trees in the world, giant redwoods have shallow roots, but nevertheless remain upright through storms because the roots within a grove are all interconnected. "It is as though they are holding hands underground," she says.

You can also improve team performance by improving your own, because leaders are seen as models for their teams.

Here again, athletes can be role models. Athletes are trained to break barriers, ranging from the personal best to world records. Women leaders in particular can learn from this, says Dr Dahlkoetter.

"Our biggest barriers are the ones we erect ourselves, but like athletes we can develop the mental strength to overcome them, and see barriers as challenges to be beaten."

And she recommends: "Watch videos of great women athletes to get a sense of their confidence and power. It will help you develop your own confidence that whatever your goal, you can reach it."