Life’s Brutal Pounding

Ever get the feeling that you have taken a brutal pounding over the last number of years, and even if you have had some success you feel fatigue in this new complex life?  If yes, now more than ever before Mental Resilience is a critical attribute for success and at times survival.

Ray Boyne Head of Performance Analysis Dublin Senior Football Team and Head of Corporate Affairs in Ulster bank shares his personal views in the area of mental toughness, because there are also real possibilities that the techniques employed by athletes can benefit us all.

Many GAA  players attend collective and individual training sessions 6 days a week. Not only do they build speed, endurance and strength, but away from the football pitches they also work on their mental game.

These top athletes succeed because of their physical talents and their dedication to training. However the psychological pressures of a sport require mental toughness and resilience if you are aiming to be the best..

Players from top performing teams will engage in training their psychological readiness. At the root of mental training in sports is this question: Are you mentally tough enough to compete?

The skill in dealing with the stress of strong competition. Recovering from mistakes and failure quickly. Determining strategies to tackle tough situations, adjusting with each circumstance in the game, collaborating with their team, celebrating small successes, but not becoming overconfident and keeping positive before, during and after the game (could so equally apply to most businesses)

As mentioned in the opening, most of us have taken a brutal pounding for the last four+ years.  For the teams who played in the All Ireland final in 2012, Donegal were heavily criticized, almost vilified for their style of play last year, Mayo were cited for internal conflicts as recently as the start of the championship.

So for both teams, for us as individuals, just as with athletes, we can’t rely only on knowledge, skills, ability or past success to traverse difficult situations. We need to draw on an attitude, a toughness that allows us to push through hard situations and face adversity with confidence.

As we look forward, we need to think about whether we are “game-ready”, are we leaders who not only have technical skills in sport, in business but mental toughness as well.

There are at least six markers of mental toughness from sports psychology to apply in football, that apply equally well tomots businesses. As with Mayo and Donegal, every one of us as business team players need to ask, am I mentally tough enough to compete?  Consider the questions, below.

1. Have I real Flexibility.
Game-ready leaders have the ability to absorb the unexpected and remain supple and non-defensive. They maintain humor even when the situation becomes tough. If something isn't going well or doesn't turn out as expected, they remain flexible in their approach and look for new ways to solve the problem.

Also, leaders must continually be open to re-educating themselves, even in the basics, which they may have taken for granted for too long. They need to exercise caution in defensively falling back on ideas they know and are comfortable with rather than looking for new ways of doing business.

2. How is My Responsiveness.
Game-ready leaders are able to remain engaged, alive and connected with a situation when under pressure. They are constantly identifying the opportunities, challenges, and threats in the environment. They understand that they need to think differently about how their environment and business operate.

The problems we encounter now are messier and more complicated than ever before. They often can't be solved in the ways others were. Game-ready leaders look for new ways to think about these problems and, more important, look for fresh ways out of these problems. They have a sense of urgency about responding to the changing face of business.

Just as a coach may change strategies at halftime in response to the way a game is going based on the opponent's strengths and weaknesses, game-ready leaders in business must respond to changes in the environment and the players.

We must pay close attention to and understand global, national, regional and local economic trends, market trends, consumer trends, industry trends and competitor responses. Relying on old assumptions about how business operates and assuming that last year's trends still hold today is dangerous. Leaders make decisions and act based on up-to-the-minute and in-depth knowledge of what is really going on in business now.

3. What about my Strength.
Game-ready leaders are able to exert and resist great force when under pressure and to keep going against insurmountable odds. They find the strength to dig deep and garner the resolve to keep going, even when in a seemingly losing game. They focus on giving their best and fighting hard until the end, with persistent intensity throughout the game.

Just as athletes dig deep to find the physical and psychological strength to continue through adverse and tough situations, game-ready business leaders must exhibit the same strength. As James Loehr puts it, top athletes think, "While this is tough, I am a whole lot tougher." Game-ready business leaders bring the same intensity, through all the continual pounding.

4. How am I on Courage and ethics.
Game-ready leaders do the right thing for the organization and the team. They suppress the temptation to cut corners or to undermine others so they come out on top. They have the courage to make the hard but right decisions for the organization. A famous story as an example of courage and ethics in sports is that of the tennis player Andy Roddick. In 2008 Roddick was the No. 1 seed at the Rome Masters. He was at match point and about to win. The umpire called his opponent for a double-fault serve. Walking to shake his opponent's hand, Roddick noticed a ball mark on the clay--in bounds. Roddick got the umpire's attention and pointed out that the ball had nicked the line but was in fact in bounds. The match continued. Roddick went on to lose the match, and his beyond-the-call-of-duty honesty made him famous as an upstanding person, an opponent who would do the right thing. Game-ready leaders in business do the same.
5. What about Resiliency.
Game-ready leaders rebound from disappointments, mistakes and missed opportunities and get right back in the game. They have hardiness for enduring the downs of a situation. They remain optimistic in the face of adversity and quickly change when necessary. They resolve to make things better and are experts at figuring out ways to do more with fewer resources. I have a tendancy of telling anickdotes of Americam sports, because they celebrate humility better than most, so, How about the resiliency of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, who was just one out away from pitching a perfect game when Jim Joyce, the first-base umpire, called a runner safe who was indeed out? Joyce had made an error. Galarraga was certainly deeply disappointed, but he continued to pitch and get the next batter out. Afterward, Joyce admitted the error and apologized. Galarraga shrugged it off, saying, "Everyone makes mistakes."
6.  Do I display Sportsmanship.
Game-ready leaders exhibit sportsmanship. They don't let the opponent know when he or she has gotten them down. Chin up, my mam says. Clearly we all experience disappointment, attacks from others, an occasional blow to the stomach. However, the behavior exhibited by game-ready leaders after losing or being attacked by others or the situation sets the tone for the rest of an organization. Additionally, top athletes support their teammates and their roles. If teammates start competing with and attacking one another, it is definitely difficult to win.

Again my fixation with American Team sports, but, Kyle Orton quarter back with the Denver Broncos in 2010 did an outstanding job of displaying sportsmanship while under public scrutiny. Brought to the Denver Broncos, he had been the subject of constant press speculation about possibly being replaced. The drafting of Tim Tebow brought on another press outcry, that Kyle was out and Tim was in. Kyle handled it with grace and dignity. Putting his mind to the game and the team, he got on the field and simply practiced hard, welcoming his new teammate. In the face of even internal competition, Kyle Orton exhibits the mentality of "Bring it on!".  Tim Tebow signed for the NY Jets this year.

We all need these same markers of toughness to succeed and lead in today's business environment. We cannot succeed on technical skill alone. Companies have tough questions and situations to address. Game-ready leaders go into today's business environment with their best mental game and with the attitude of "Bring it on!" After all, who doesn't love the challenge and fun of a demanding, complex game?

My thanks to Professor Christine Riordan, Dean and Professor of Business at Denver University for the Sports and Business cross over insite.

The answer for key championship games lies in the 6 elements and which team will display them more.

Thank you

Ray Boyne



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