Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Relating To Your Competition or How to Avoid Being Your own Worst Enemy

Relating To Your Competition or How To Avoid Being Your Own Worst Enemy

September 28, 2010 by duffgibson

In previous posts I have written about the great sportsmen I was so lucky to have competed against in my skeleton career.  Because they were champions in their own right, they knew the value of facing a great competitor in drawing out great performances in themselves (2. Emulating Gregor Staehli).  I was very grateful to have had competitors that wanted me to be at my best because they had the attitude described by the phrase, “may the best man win”.  It created a very enjoyable competitive environment that not only brought out the best in me but allowed me to be happy and supportive of the performances of my competitors.

In creating this blog I have had the chance to interview a great number of very successful athletes including several Olympic Champions and I always make a point of asking them how they view their competition.  In other words, do they see their opponents as friend or foe and invariably the answer is friend.  I accept the possibility that there may be certain sports that are more combative in nature in which a healthy dislike of the competition may serve as a motivator in the heat of the competition but this is simply not the case when athletes compete independently.  I would even go so far as to say that most of the top athletes in combative sports are able to get themselves into an optimal competitive state without having to trick themselves into believing they ‘hate’ their opponent.

Your success in sport is dependent almost entirely upon you and often has little to do with your opponent.  It’s a valuable skill to be able to distinguish between what is and what is not under your control as it allows you to focus on what directly affects your chances of success.  Even if you are of the mindset that athletes can be intimidated, such a tactic will work at times with certain opponents but if your goal to be the best, you’d better rely on something more consistent and tangible, like your own performance.  Athletes are better served to develop friendships with their opponents.  It creates a far more enjoyable environment that is every bit as competitive.

The following is an excerpt from the book Flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  It speaks very well to the value of those relationships and the importance of taking the time to make them positive and enjoyable.

“Unfair bosses and rude customers make us unhappy on the job.  At home an uncaring spouse, an ungrateful child, and interfering in-laws are the prime sources of the blues.  How is it possible to reconcile the fact that people cause both the best and the worst times?
“This apparent contradiction is actually not that difficult to resolve.  Like anything else that really matters, relationships make us extremely happy when they go well, and very depressed when they don’t work out.  People are the most flexible, the most changeable aspect of the environment we have to deal with.  The same person can make the morning wonderful and the evening miserable.  Because we depend so much on the affection and approval of others, we are extremely vulnerable to how we are treated by them.

“Therefore a person who learns to get along with others is going to make a tremendous change for the better in the quality of life as a whole.  This fact is well known to those who write and those who read books with titles such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Business executives yearn to communicate better so that they can be more effective managers, and debutantes read books on etiquette to be accepted and admired by the “in” crowd.  Much of this concern reflects an extrinsically motivated desire to manipulate others. But people are not important only because they can help make our goals come true; when they are treated as valuable in their own right, people are the most fulfilling source of happiness.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Self - Awareness

As I tweeted the other day (@sportatitsbest), I’ve only just started Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, and I’ve already found a reference to what I believe is an extremely key skill that all athletes need to develop if they want to reach the top.  Of course I’m talking about today’s topic, self-awareness.  Here’s the quote:

“Butterflies are funny.  Some days they make you run to the toilet…  Other days they make you laugh, and long for the fight…  Figuring out your butterflies, deciphering what they say about the status of your mind and body, is the first step to making them work for you.”
Hope you enjoy the post.

These days, most national teams in Canada operate under the Integrated Support Team (or IST) model.  Right from the Own The Podium website,

“IST’s are the Sport Sciences, Sports Medicine and other team management professionals that support coaches and athletes/teams. ISTs typically include a physiologist, sport psychologist, biomechanist/performance technologist, nutritionist, physical therapists/athletic therapist, and a physician.  The goal of a IST is to ensure that Canadian athletes are healthy, fit and psychologically ready for optimal performance.”
IST’s are great for bringing everyone around an athlete on to the same page with respect to any aspect of their development.  People from every discipline come together and a lot of great information is shared and it can be very insightful and helpful to have so many perspectives sitting around the same table.

However, when I competed prior to 2006, we didn’t have IST’s and in fact one year we didn’t even have a coach.  We had a very good team leader, which I personally found very valuable, and we had good medical support, but in terms of an on-ice technical coach, we just couldn’t find someone to fit the bill after the previous coach left for other opportunities.  The surprising thing was that it was actually a very successful year overall, and for me personally it happened to be my best ever.

The reason it worked was because my teammates and I each had very good self-awareness with respect to actually sliding down the track.  We didn’t have a coach but we learned the tracks as well or better than we otherwise would have because we coached each other.  At the time there were four of us on the men’s national team so in effect each of us had three coaches.  If we arrived at a new track, after the first run we would meet and discuss our issues.  If someone had a problem steering effectively through a corner that another team member had been successful with, there was a passing along of information.  Occasionally there would be corners that we all had trouble with and in these circumstances we would get together, come up with a plan such that each of us would try a different strategy and then meet again after the run to determine what we had learned.

It was an effective strategy only because each of us were very self-aware with respect to where we were in a corner, when we were steering, how hard and for how long.  In a sport where you can at times be more upside down than right side up going well over 120 km/h and under several G’s, that’s not easy to do.  It worked because we could accurately convey information about a corner and because we were willing to invest in each other’s success.  Your own information was going out to the team but you had three people’s information coming back to you which both speaks to the team environment we had, and the importance of being self-aware.

Now, myself and the other coaches preach two things above all others.  One is the team environment and the other is to listen to your body and learn what it is telling you.  It can take a long time to get there but that information is key.

Duff Gibson

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fantasy Sports Unites Fans All Over The World

While sitting in a New York bar watching the New Orleans Saints successfully open the football season last week, it struck me that there is one thing that unites sports fans all over the world. Whether it is the NFL here in the US, rugby league in Australia or the English Premier League (EPL) soccer, today’s sports fans want to be engaged and actively interact with their favorite sports. They satisfy that desire by playing fantasy sports or by getting involved in forecasting weekly results. In Australia we call that tipping. Technology, fast-speed internet access and our increasing use of social media is making this engagement even easier and more fun for the fan.

The connection we have with our favorite sports now runs far deeper than merely supporting your local team or purchasing a few pieces of replica merchandising as was once the case. Trash talking your colleague over your fantasy quarterback selection is a big part of office culture on a Monday morning (or almost any day for that matter). Similarly, earning bragging rights over your mates with your superior tipping skills is a big deal Down Under.

This is all good news on a commercial front. The sport rights holder extends it product, sports marketers have something else to promote and broadcasters and, more importantly, sponsors have a wider reach.

The numbers involved are staggering. Fantasy sports are recognized as a multi-million dollar business. In 2010, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association “represents more than 110 member companies in a mature industry with a market size…at 27 million adult Americans”. It is estimated that about 85% of participants play on-line. That, of course, makes large consumer-oriented companies sit up and take notice. The industry is worth approximately $1 billion a year and that may well double in the future according to analysts.

Our interest and interaction is still growing despite the poor economy and this is taking place the world over. European fantasy football (soccer) is growing and the official EPL fantasy game has over 2 million players. Tipping is big business in Australia too as tipsters predict scores in most sports including Australian Football (AFL), rugby league, rugby union and soccer.

As I sat watching the Saints’ quarterback, Drew Brees, thread another successful pass I, like many others, had more than a passing interest in who scored the touchdown as opposed to the final score.

Chris Conway