By Jeremy Snape, a former England cricketer and managing director of sport and business psychologists Sporting Edge
There are few tournaments as mentally demanding as Wimbledon, where a global audience watches transfixed as highly tuned athletes push their minds and bodies to the limit. In split seconds, points are won and lost and careers are defined.
Here I will highlight the psychological pressure Wimbledon stars, such as Andy Murray, have to deal with and their lessons for managers, executives and business owners dealing with business pressures.
Whether we are in business or sport, every one of us has a psychological breaking point under pressure. One of the reasons we find sporting events like Wimbledon so fascinating is wondering whether the athletes will be able to handle the pressure.
The individual sports like tennis distil these psychological demands down further, making Wimbledon’s Centre Court a crucible of pressure.
For the amazing feats of concentration and endurance, not to mention skill that you see in Wimbledon the athletes have spent huge amounts of time preparing their mind – not just their bodies. In business, the expectation of winning and hitting deadlines can make the pressures just the same. Here are tips to help you deliver your best game:
1. Concentrate on executing you next skill well, not the consequences of failing: In any high pressure situation our natural reaction is to think about what can go wrong. This creates a thinking chain which can quickly spiral into catastrophe. Champions have learnt to break this chain by bringing their focus back to the next shot as that’s all they can control.
You could do the same whether it’s a sales call, a trade or a difficult conversation with a peer, prepare well and then focus on a flawless execution and the rest will take care of itself.
2. Know when to take risks or play safe. In high pressure moments it is easy to forget your basic skills and get tempted into taking crazy risks. Great sports performers know that more often than not, doing the basics well beats a high risk strategy when the heat is really on, so know your strengths and calculate your risks wisely.
3. Turn anxiety into energy. Our fight or flight instinct kicks in during uncomfortable situations. Many crack under the pressure but champions learn to get comfortable in these uncomfortable situations. Stepping outside your comfort zone will be a shock to the system but embrace it because that’s where the fun begins and where you learn your greatest lessons.
4. Build your own dream team. Andy Murray has been strict in selecting who helps him behind the scenes: from his physiotherapist, dietitian, his coaches, to the support network back at home. Even as an individual entrepreneur, you will need a great support team around you – is yours helping you reach your goals?
One of the best things that you can do to prepare is to simulate high pressure situations so you get accustomed to them. In our research into top athletes Boris Becker, the former number one tennis player and Wimbledon great, highlighted that “Novak Djokovic practices the high pressure moments, not on finals day but quietly in the outside courts way ahead of the big game. Those moments shouldn’t be a surprise, you need to practice your concentration to handle the pressure.”
We also interviewed former British number one tennis player Annabel Croft who said: “confidence is everything. If you don’t have confidence then you don’t have any belief in your ability. Confidence comes from an ability to draw upon your training and everything you’ve done in practise and repetitive nature so that you come through in a performance when it matters and its actually just believing in yourself at the most crucial times.”