“I feel like I’ve let myself down, let my coaches down, let everybody I’ve ever trained with down, let my mum and dad and brother down.”
The is what the British judo medal hope Euan Burton said after losing his first contest at London 2012.
But can having such high expectations be positively harmful to an athlete’s chances? The sports psychologist Steven Sylvester C Psychol thinks so.
I want to invite our athletes to lower their expectations about winning. I would love them to consider the thought that holding an expectation of winning is as dangerous as smoking. Instead, they need have an expectation of ‘no hope of winning’ a medal.
This can be achieved by simply helping athletes to become more aware of the need for a mindset change. Such awareness will result in our athletes having a greater degree of freedom to express themselves on the start line so that they can be the best that they can be.
Taking time to look into the mirror and consider the truth behind how you perform is a vital first step. Our deepest fear is the thought of losing the love and approval of the people closest to us. This triggers our stress response and means we unwittingly “get in the way of ourselves”. Our Ego (conscious thought) becomes overactive and we over think which reduces our decision making and freedom. We become closed and less effective. Athletes, therefore, need to ask themselves the following important questions:
- Who do you want to win for?
- Who do you fear letting down?
- Who do you need love and approval from?
Euan Burton felt he let everyone down including himself. Hopefully over time he can begin to appreciate his achievement in becoming an Olympian and realise and accept that he has let no one down and there are bigger things to come from him.
By contrast, Rebecca Adlington, who achieved our first medal in the pool when she won bronze, had this awareness. She said: “After this morning I know what to expect only qualifying in eighth. Tonight there was no pressure on me at all. I know everyone else wanted to say… Oh, you got the gold in Beijing but to me I was not expecting that at all, so I am so, so pleased”.
Here she had a ‘no hope of winning’ expectation and as a result performed with more freedom and achieved a medal.
When athletes lower their expectations on winning they are able to fulfil their potential and express their skills and talent freely. They can get immersed into executing their techniques and processes whilst simultaneously savouring the magical moment of performing in front of a home crowd. Here they have a complete love for mastering their skills for the sheer joy of it. They have clarity regarding their purpose which is much greater than themselves. They understand the important role they play in contributing to the long term development of young people in Britain and across the World. They understand that they have a need to perform in the right way in their sport in order to leave a legacy.
As a result, such athletes have a lower level of stress which ultimately means they can express themselves with a greater degree of freedom and joy.
Good luck to all our athletes for the rest of London 2012.
Article in the British Psychological Society