How to apply sports psychology in business

Shelly Guni

Sport is, and always will be, a powerful metaphor for business.

Fierce competition, winning by the smallest margins, achieving goals, determination and teamwork are all key components of both worlds.

There’s strong evidence that sport strongly reinforces certain personal characteristics, things like; responsibility, courage, teamwork, mental focus and persistence, humility, commitment and self-discipline.

But beyond metaphors, principles from the world of sport psychology can be applied to organisations to enable them to perform better.

This concept of ‘mental toughness’ comes straight from sport psychology research and focuses on the personal resilience needed by an individual to perform at their peak.

Zvishavane-based athlete and Sports Psychologist Blessed Chinyangare believes athletes who have developed mental toughness are able to find ways of keeping symptoms of stress under control.

Research with some of the world’s best athlete’s shows that mental toughness is the capacity to respond positively to multiple, and sometimes conflicting, pressures in order to deliver consistently high levels of performance.

Stress can result in both behavioural and physical symptoms that are often difficult to manage.

“Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, visualising a calm pre-performance routine and challenging negative and unhelpful thinking patterns are extremely helpful in controlling these symptoms, and are used frequently by athletes.

“Employees can start to tackle their reaction to pressure by first identifying factors that exacerbate stressful situations – such as not getting enough sleep, or not eating properly – and tackling those head on.

“Athletes who lack focus may result in loss of the team, injury and poor performance. Paying focus is crucial not only to participating athletes but as well as those on the bench.

“In most instances, athletes off pitch don’t pay much attention to the game and given the opportunity they make the same mistake hence costing the team. This is similar in business, focus is key as it helps see where the business is coming from, going, the competition within the market, ways to boost employees to perform better such appraisals.

“Being focused helps set a target on which a certain task is completed. Focus also helps reduce injuries and the damage of company property,” he says

Chinyangare added that, mentally tough athletes are also able to identify what is within their control and what is not so that they can exert as much control as possible.

“They accept that there are factors in their performance environment that they cannot influence, identify what they are and then focus on things they can control. For example a golfer can’t control the course conditions, or the scores of his competitors, but can focus on his foot positioning and swing, which will have a beneficial impact on his own performance.

“Employees in an organisation can’t control the actions of a competitor, or the market conditions, so shouldn’t stress about them. Instead, concentrate on the options for action that they have in the situation, and make wise choices.

Chinyangare said talent identification in sport has very sophisticated methods and programmes to identify and develop talent, with some athletes having been involved in programmes since childhood.

“They test for the obvious things required in sport – physical attributes (such as height for a rower) and skillsets (such as hand-eye co-ordination for hockey) but they also attempt to test their potential talent by looking for a learning mind-set.

“A learning mind-set includes a belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – a belief that creates a drive for learning and a resilience that is essential for any great accomplishment.

Chinyangare believes good learners are also able to critically reflect on their own performance, take others’ perspectives, embrace feedback, accurately understand their own strengths and weaknesses and embrace opportunities for stretch, amongst other things.

“Never before has a learning mind-set been more important in business – Since the future is unknown, the ability to learn and adapt is likely to be an important predictor of future high performance.

“The ability to learn from experience (both positive and negative experiences) will be a key differentiator of talent for the future.

“Learning and adaptation is important to enable individuals and organisations to thrive – now and in the future. Specifically, the high performers of the future are considered to be those most willing to embrace new experiences, stretch themselves and adapt,” he says.

“Motivation is the pillar of both sports and business. Motivation can be intrinsic which comes from within or extrinsic which is a result of benefits. Better salary, bonuses, fringe benefits are all motivators that may help in the growth of the business. Employees who are motivated are likely to perform better and this boosts production,” he says

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