Welcome to our Road to Rio series!  

You’ll hopefully have seen by now that the Great Britain Women’s Hockey qualified for Rio with a superb series of performances throughout the World Hockey League in Valencia. They won the whole tournament, winning every match they played, and happily booking the team’s place for Rio next year as a result.

So, qualification is a really big deal at the moment for all of the Olympic sports, so we thought we’d share some thoughts about the whole area of qualification. Knowing qualification is on the cards, here’s some of the stuff Andrea was focusing on in her role with the Hockey team, as they got ready for their chance to qualify.

What are the demands?

Qualification for the Olympic Games occurs in the year preceding the Olympics.  2015 is that year.  Olympic Qualification events are happening all around the world for every sport.  Whilst we won’t want to bore you with the exact process we will highlight the seemingly obvious point – if you don’t qualify for the Olympics in the qualification year you do not get an opportunity to compete in the Olympics!

Given the Olympic Games are considered the pinnacle for many sports it’s easy to understand that actually qualifying carries some pretty major pressure.  There’s pressure to book the place and have the chance to take part in what could be a career-defining tournament. There’s also pressure from a governing body perspective as funding levels are based on the level of success, which is measured in Olympic medals or placings.

Although the Olympics and qualification has its unique demands, every year is an important and challenging year in the development of confident and robust performers and you have to use each and every one of those years to help everyone be ready to step-up when qualification opportunities are in play.  The daily pressures and demands are relentless because every training session and competitive opportunity in a 4-year cycle will be contributing to the level of success you ultimately achieve. So, when it’s time to qualify, you have to use all of the belief that’s been built up, to that point, to give you the best chance of qualifying, in the knowledge that as soon as you qualify, the pressure’s on to keep building even more!

What is the high performance perspective?

Different coaches and their teams will have different approaches to qualification.  The two most common are i) making sure that ‘peaking’ occurs at the important events so you’re ready to seize the unique opportunity, while ii) treating all competitions the same and not getting overawed by the importance of a specific situation! A difficult balance to get right!

The “do or die” events like qualification tournaments, have the capacity to become uber-important, and so keeping everything the same, and having a routine that is followed in all competitions means you end up ready to test yourself from a position of strength. Getting too focused on making specific changes because of the importance of the event can lead to reduced confidence, second guessing and letting the outcome hijack your thinking and focus.

Consistency is the thing here, and all opportunities leading up to the major event are seen as a chance to train your skills and test your preparation and competition routine.  Keeping everything the same and focusing on the process, while knowing that the result is vitally important, helps provide some security, familiarity, and control for the athlete when the pressure is on. Keeping faith in tried and tested approaches is critical, so you have to work hard to ensure your mind isn’t suddenly going to let the pressure get to it and think a cunning change of plan is in order!

What are the recommended actions?

Preparation for key events is crucial in terms of setting habits that you know work and will give you confidence in the lead up to the event.  Here are three actions to help prepare:

1. Talk about the demands of the event so that there is a strong sense of understanding and familiarity to help you be ready. Face up to your hopes and fears and be clear about your attitude towards the event. It’s great when you level with yourself so you’re 100% clear about what you’re choosing to put yourself through!

2. Know what works for you in key performance moments through trial and error.  Build a recipe or routine of what you need to do. Mental preparation, physical preparation, using support, rehearsing, etc. All of these elements are essential ingredients in that recipe, as well as knowing how you want to be thinking and feeling when you’re in the thick of performance.

3. Decide your intentions for the event and set your goals.  If you go into the event with really clear personal goals that you’ll be able to focus on delivering, you’ll feel a lot more in control. The goals will maximise your focus and critically, they’ll help you evaluate and learn about your own performance, regardless of the final result.

What does this mean for the business performer?

The business world consists of important events so what we’d suggest for you are the following:

  • Accept the fact that your world and the demands placed on you are constant and you never have an ‘easy year’.  
  • Know your ‘Olympic Qualifying’ event equivalents.  Know what they are and when they’ll be in your year. 
  • Spend time preparing for what you want to happen and focus on those.  It’s fine to think about the ‘what ifs’ but spend much more time on the plan for what will happen!
  • Accept that when the stakes are high and the pressure is on sometimes things go wrong.  Be ready for that and be ready to provide support for others in your team. 
  • Make sure you set some really clear goals that give you a measure of your success. These need to be both performance (the things you’re doing) and outcome (the results).