Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland – Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls Olympic Champions.

Italy Training Camp, July 2012.

Winning Strategies

Wow! What an Olympic Games. The success was wonderful, the performances outstanding and the nation were proud – and that was just the Gamesmakers!

We saw some incredible success from Team GB throughout the whole Olympics and that success is a testament to the preparation of everyone involved; from the Olympic Delivery Authority, to LOCOG to the athletes and coaches, all have played their part in delivering a celebration sport that will have a lasting effect on many of us for a long time to come.

Whether building the stadia, staging the greatest show on earth or stepping up to deliver amazing feats of human performance at just the right time, everyone who has created the Olympics has exploited their own winning strategies. It would be great if there were one killer recipe to all of those winning recipes that we could repeat forever to guarantee future wealth, success and happiness. However, the truth is that there is no single winning strategy. What is interesting though is that common ingredients that provide a foundation upon which we can all build our own winning strategies for the future can be teased out.

Ingredient 1.

Tell yourself what you need to tell yourself.

Working alongside the athletes and coaches and listening to dozens of post-medal interviews, it was clear that athletes were using different realities to help them perform at their best. Some athletes were telling themselves that this is just another race and nothing different from what they’ve done dozens of times before. Some athletes were promising themselves that this was the last time they’d being do this, so just end on ahigh note. Others were magnifying all of the reasons why no one would beat them at THEIR Olympic Games to maximise their sense of defiance, offensiveness and self-belief that this was their time. None of the above are more right that any of the others. The most important thing is that each athlete believed that what they were thinking was absolutely the right thing for them and they committed to sticking with that mindset.

For any key performance moment for all of us, with the right amount of readying, we can be just as sure that we’re thinking what is absolutely right for us and we can be equally unwavering in our ability to stay focused on our winning mindset.

Ingredient 2.

Use pressure to strengthen your resolve.

The one very predictable thing about the Olympic Games is that there’s loads of pressure. Internal pressure, external pressure, pressure from a nation, pressure from sponsors and the list goes on and on. For those athletes who did not step up and deliver, it is very likely that this pressure became overwhelming and ultimately interfered with their ability to focus on what matters most.

Because the pressure is so predictable, it’s pretty clear that the most successful athletes accepted this pressure, chose which bits of the pressure would be most helpful to them and then most importantly decided what they wanted the pressure to remind them about. So, rather than getting distracted by the pressure, the successful athletes actually became more performance focused as a result of the pressure.

So, when we know the pressure’s going to be cranking up, make a winning strategy choice and decide what you want the pressure to focus you on to. Every time you feel the pressure, you can use it to refocus on what matters most to you. If you’ve got the other ingredients in place, then this pressure exploitation becomes ever more effective. So, where’s the pressure going to focus your response today?

Ingredient 3.

Remember what it was like before it got serious.

For many of the athletes, their journeys to Olympic success started many years prior to 2012. Well away from the amazing crowds, incredible support and eager expectation, there were moments of calm, clarity and huge enjoyment for every athlete. These pure moments of performance are a great reminder for the athletes about why they started their journey in the first place and can be a great source of perspective at key moments. For the athletes, before it got serious, there are typically very simple reasons why they got involved in their sport. Whether a natural aptitude or an immediate connection with the sensation of performing, most athletes began their journey for reasons other than winning Olympic Gold. The possibility of becoming Olympic Champion only became a reality long after the first intrinsic reasons for participating in the sport.

Many of the successful athletes were able to stay connected with their original feelings of starting their sport for the first time during the Olympics. This may not have been a burning thought as they readied themselves for their final, but in the build up to those moments, they certainly stayed connected with their longer involvement in their sport. Motivations shift for all of us in all of our roles and it’s worthwhile just checking in once in a while if the younger, more naïve versions of ourselves would be pleased with how we were currently approaching our daily challenges. Would the younger you be pleased with you?

Ingredient 4.

Ask positive questions.

The final ingredient that seemed to be present in many of the successful athletes at the Olympics was the ability to keep asking questions of themselves that created a desire to find out the answer. In high pressure situations it’s pretty easy to ask questions of yourself that promote worry and are actually difficult to answer: ‘will I be fast enough?’, ‘will the opposition try something they’ve never done before?’, ‘will it be as good as it was in practice?’

With a simple shift, questions can become a great source of motivation and successful athletes were asking the right questions of themselves: ‘I wonder how well I can perform in an Olympic final?’, ‘Can I deliver my best every start in the final?’, ‘I wonder how much I can distract the opposition by staying 100% focused on my game plan?’, ‘How well can I control my thinking and emotions when it matters most?’

With the shift in phrasing, the positive questions help to create a sense of curiosity and raise the desire to want to find out the answers. These kinds of questions also work because there you have to engage with the approach situation to find the answer for yourself. Equally, the questions require you to stay focused on what you’re good at in order to find out the answer.

So, what kind of questions do you ask yourself prior to a big performance? Are they questions that inspire you or ones that suppress you? Check out your questions and see if you need to change them to help you have a great performance when it matters most to you.

Alone, all four ingredients are useful. Put them all together and you get a mindset that is focused on maximising control, confidence and ensuring that you bring the best bits of your entire performance experience to the table when you most need to.

As with anything, the skill of thinking this way requires practice and an understanding that it won’t change things over night. If you commit to seeing how well you can make these ingredients work for you, no doubt you’ll end up with a winning mindset that will allow you to fulfill your potential rather than just have potential. Enjoy experimenting and practising.