Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Gold Medal Learnings: What The Olympics Taught Us

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In the days and weeks following the Olympics the media is full of highlights, lowlights and “moments” from the games. And the London Olympics certainly had it’s share:

  • Usain Bolt’s dominating performances.
  • Michael Phelps… what can one say?
  • Andy Murray’s gold-medal performance over perhaps the best tennis player ever.
  • Gabby Douglas’ gymnastics performance.
  • Mo Farah’s double gold-medal runs.
  • Missy Franklin’s performance in the pool.
  • Eric Idle singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life in the closing ceremonies!

Definitely one of my favorite highlights was 15-year-old Katie Ledecky’s 800-meter gold-medal performance. And I absolutely loved what she had to say in this interview afterward: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/swimming/story/2012-08-03/London-Olympics-Becky-Ledecky-swimming/56752270/1. She talks about being in the moment, about there being no expectations or pressure, about enjoying herself, and just having fun.

In fact, my big take-away from this year’s Olympics is what so many of the U.S. athletes said before and after their events. It was obvious to me that someone has been “working” with these athletes, because I’ve never heard so many talk about “being here to have fun,” and “I just want to enjoy this experience” before. When athletes are having fun, they perform better.

There’s also a pretty good video that captures some of the highlights at http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/2012/lasting-images-of-the-2012-london-olympics.html. Enjoy!

In fact, just have fun!

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A-Rod’s Record Lesson

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Thank you, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. You hit home (excuse the pun) the impact that focusing on results has on one’s performance.

Daniel Gilbert, in an August 4th article in the New York Times, wrote about Rodriguez’ challenge as he tried to hit his 600th homer.

“Rodriguez hit his 599th home run on July 22, bringing himself and his fans to the brink of celebration. And then, for 12 long days, he not only failed to drive the ball out of the park and into the history books, he also went hitless for 17 consecutive at-bats. This wasn’t the first time Rodriguez has stood at the precipice, and then stood there some more: after hitting his 499th home run in 2007, he came to the plate an excruciating 28 times before finally hitting his 500th.

“What made all this so frustrating for New Yorkers… was that everyone felt certain that Rodriguez would have slammed several homers in the past two weeks if only they hadn’t mattered so much. Watching him struggle to break the numerical barrier was like watching a man frozen with fear on the last step of a tall ladder: we knew, and he knew, that the last step was exactly the same as all the steps before it — so why couldn’t he just take it?

“One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down. In one study, subjects practiced sinking a putt and got better as they went along — better, that is, until the experimenter offered them a cash reward for their next shot, at which point their performance took a nosedive.

“Golfers in another study were told either to take their time and think about their stroke or to step up and swing as quickly as possible. Although novice golfers did better when they took their time, expert golfers did worse.”

It seems almost counter-intuitive that the harder we try, the worse we get; the less we try, the better we perform. At least that’s the way it works with things we’ve done many times, things that we’re “good at.” If it’s a brand new task, then intense focus can help. But once the task has become mostly-automatic, the less thought we put in the way, the better.

Gilbert went on: “When Rodriguez stepped to the plate in recent days, he may not have heard the roar of the crowd as much as the sound of a record book opening and a pencil being sharpened. The more important his next homer became, the more he probably thought about how to hit it. The more he thought, the less he hit; the less he hit, the more he thought, and the cycle spun on

“Until Wednesday, that is, when Rodriguez finally hit his 600th home run. Forty-six agonizing at-bats separated that homer from the one before it, but the moment the ball sailed over the center field fence, Yankee fans knew that a great burden had been lifted, a great slugger had been liberated, and that a great bat would once again be free to find the ball — naturally, effortlessly, and in its own sweet time.”

What records are you facing? What record-breaking barriers are you putting in front of others? In what areas of your life can you shut your brain off and just trust your well-seasoned swing to take over again?

Facing The Problem

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Why do people who are facing a problem talk to other people about it – people who can’t help with the problem – rather than talking to people who can help? Could it be human nature? Or just that it’s easiest?

Tom plays a forward position on a soccer team, and he has a problem… with a teammate named Kurt. It seems that he feels let down by Kurt, that he isn’t doing his share and yet is getting a lot of attention from the coaches. Too much attention. Other players on the team have noticed the same thing, and yet none of them have done anything about it. Well, except complain amongst themselves.

Tom: “Why does Kurt get all the attention?”

Sergio: “I don’t know, but I’m getting tired of it.”

Adam: “Yeah, I’m getting tired of Kurt not holding up his end, and getting all the credit.”

Tom: “This sucks! Kurt is ruining this team.”

Antonio: “I agree, he’s a jerk.”

And on and on. But note who’s involved in these conversations, and who isn’t. Everyone but the one person that should be – Kurt.

What happens when Tom complains to his teammates about Kurt? They, in turn, complain about him as well, feeding and adding to the problem. In fact, what may have been a small problem in the beginning turns into a big problem because Tom and his teammates didn’t face the problem.

If Tom or his teammates addressed the problem where it began – with Kurt and/or the coaches – then the problem may have stayed as a small one instead of festering, building, and turning into a big problem.

There are problem-identifiers and problem-solvers – which one do you want to be? If you have a problem with someone on your team, in your workplace, or anywhere for that matter, deal with it with the one person that can do something about it. Don’t talk to others about the problem, because all you’ll do is make it worse.

Address problems at the level they began; with the person at the center of the problem. Do not complain to others, or pile on when others complain. If someone complains to you about someone else, ask them, “Have you addressed this with that person?” If the answer is no, suggest that complaining to you will not make the issue go away. In fact, it will only make it worse.

Of course, if you need someone to just vent to, or want to talk about the situation in hopes of working out how best to handle it, great. Just choose someone who won’t pile on and make the problem worse. Teammates and co-workers are often not the right person; find a mentor or friend who is not intimately involved to discuss the situation with.

If someone else complains to you about a teammate or co-worker, by you agreeing and adding to the feelings, you are contributing to the problem just as much as the person identified as the problem. In fact, you may be making things worse than they really are.

Face and address problems with the one person that can do something about it, and don’t get dragged into a situation where you add to it. That is, if you want your team to perform at a high level.

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Best, Worst & Memorable Performances of the Olympics

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Let’s talk Olympic performances. What are your votes for the Best and Worst performances from this year’s Winter Olympics? Tell me what you think were the best and worst performances by clicking on the comment tab below and letting me know.

And while you’re at it, share the one image that sticks in your mind as the most memorable from these Games.

I’m most curious whether there will be a consensus on the best and worst performance, or if the votes and opinions will be all over the map. I’m wondering if what I think is the best performance, for example, is the same as yours or anyone else’s.

Was it the performance of a skater, a hockey team, a skier, a team, a coach, a country, someone in the opening or closing ceremonies, a TV commentator, an advertiser, a sponsor, a facility, the weather, a judge or referee, or… You get it – anyone or thing that had anything to do with the Winter games. The best performance, the worst performance, and most memorable moment or performance.

When I ask about the best and worst performances, I’m talking about performance, and not necessarily the result. In other words, someone could have turned in an amazing performance, but due to circumstances, they didn’t win a medal. Or, it could have been someone or something that wasn’t eligible for a medal. So, think beyond the medals, and think about performance – best, worst and most memorable.

For me, there were performances that stick in my mind as some of the best, and yet didn’t necessarily result in a medal. There were poor performances – or should I say, athletes who didn’t perform very well – that did end up with a medal. And there were moments that I’m not likely to forget for a long time – memories of athletic, artistic, and organizational performances.

A comment that a friend posted on Facebook will stick with me. He asked why people talk about an athlete winning a silver or bronze medal. He points out that second and third place are not winning, that first place is winning and every other result is something other than winning. Interesting perspective, isn’t it? I’m sure there are some who would wholeheartedly agree, and those who wouldn’t. What do you think?

Finally, what can we learn from the Olympics, the ones just past or any other games? What can we learn that can be applied to other areas of our lives? Anything? Or are the Olympics simply that – games? I’m going to write about some Olympic lessons in my next blog, but I’d like to hear your thoughts in the meantime.

I really hope you take a moment to share your Olympic memories and thoughts (especially those of you who attended the games, or live in Vancouver, since you will have had a much different view than those who simply watched on TV). That’s a performance I’m looking forward to.

Lazy, Unmotivated or Stupid?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Most business people are lazy, unmotivated, or just plain stupid. Many professional athletes are the same. How else can one explain why so many business people and athletes do the same thing over and over and expect something to change? How else can one explain why so many don’t care if they or their organization (company or team) improves? How else can one explain so little emphasis on improving performance?

Most business people would rather sit back and complain about the state of the economy than really dig deep into what they and their people can do to make things better. Of course, it’s much easier to blame the economy than it is to take responsibility for making changes to improve things.

Many athletes continue to approach their training the same way they have for years, thinking that more of the same will lead to better performance. Many of them think that what got them to where they are now will take them to where they want to be. And in most cases, they’re wrong.

If you do want to make things better, then you’re going to have to dig deep, asking yourself and others what it’s going to take.

If you’re okay with the way things are now, then continue to do what you’re currently doing. But don’t complain.

In the past few months I’ve talked to many business people who want their business to improve. When I ask them what they’re doing to improve it, they talk about what they’re doing to protect it – cut backs, watching spending, and so on. When they talk about an employee who is not performing, I ask them what they’re doing about it. The answer could be defined as wishful thinking.

What’s your strategy for improving your performance and the performance of those around you, on your team, in your organization? If you can’t answer that question, you’re either satisfied with what you’ve got (and shouldn’t complain), lazy, or delusional. Okay, maybe there’s one other option: you don’t know what to do to improve performance. But if that’s the case, there are people who can help you figure it out. But they’re not going to magically appear. Seek them out. Talk to people, tell them what you’re looking for, and ask questions. That’s being proactive.

One of the biggest differences between good performers and superstar performers is that the latter are proactive. They don’t wait for there to be a problem before addressing it. No, they go out of their way to find ways to improve. Constantly.

If you’re satisfied with your performance and the performance of those around you, do nothing. If you think you or others could improve, I challenge you to do something about it. And if you want people to stop complaining about the economy and actually do something about it, I urge you to forward this post on to others and challenge them to effect some change.

Or you could sit back and do nothing… Your choice.

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My Turn to Perform

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I get to focus on my own performance this weekend, rather than other people’s. Okay, I suppose I do that all the time, but this weekend my performance will be a little more visible. I’m racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race. Yep, driving for 24 hours. Well, not just me… I have three co-drivers. But as this is the biggest and most famous endurance race in North America (second only to Le Mans internationally), I better be at the top of my game!

Actually, I’ve been preparing for this race for the past three months – coaching myself (yes, at the race I’ll have my own coach). This being the 16th time I’ve competed in this race, and having won it once, I know what it takes… and yet I’m stupid enough to come back for more each year!!! I say that because it’s a brutally tough race to compete in – one that I’ve sworn I’d never do again a few times (why do I always forget that feeling when it comes time to do it again?!).

I’m racing a Porsche (can’t go wrong with a Porsche in a long distance endurance race) for the Bullet Racing Team (www.bulletracing.ca), which is based in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada (hey, I hear Vancouver has a little sporting event coming to town next month…).

There are two things that make this year’s race really special.

First, it’s an all-Canadian team. My co-drivers are fellow Canadians, all the crew members are Canadian, and the car is painted red and white with big maple leaves in the graphics. For any athlete, getting to represent your country is something special, and that’s how we’re feeling, being the only Canadian team at Daytona this year.

Second, we’re raising money for B.C. Children’s Hospital. For every lap we do during the race, we’ll be helping the sick kids. And yes, you too can help them by going to www.bulletracing.ca and clicking on the donate button and pledging your support. To know that no matter what happens during the race, we’ll win for the kids is an extra inspiration.

Preparation for a 24-hour race is not much different from preparation for any major event, sporting or business. Only this one takes a little more than usual because of how mentally and physically demanding it is. Preparation is not just one thing – it’s everything.

I have stepped up my fitness training considerably in the past three months, as well as my mental training. Building up my cardio stamina is important, but even more important on the physical side is muscle stamina. Not so much outright strength, but the ability to hold that strength for a long time. In 24 hours I will drive at least four separate stints, ranging from one-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours in length. You may think that driving for an hour or two is not that difficult, but the physical strains from the g-forces will keep my heart rate above 160 beats per minute for the entire time. And just holding my head up straight, with the g-forces pushing on my head and helmet non-stop, is a challenge. Especially after going for 20 hours or so, with next to no sleep.

And then there’s the mental stamina… the mental strain. When I’m driving at speeds of up to 180 MPH with the car on the ragged edge of traction through the turns, I cannot afford to lose focus for even a fraction of a second. It’s unlike any other sport. The competition doesn’t just score a touchdown against us, or I miss the green with a chip shot. No, the consequences of the tiniest mistake are not pleasant. To keep that level of focus for that length of time is something that I train for.

I also prepare through mental imagery (visualization), for as many different scenarios as possible. For the past couple of months I’ve been imaging a variety of scenarios on the track. That does two things: If one of those scenarios occurs, I’m ready – in fact, I’ve already done it before, so I don’t even have to think about what to do. And most importantly, by mentally rehearsing beforehand, I just feel ready. I’m in a performance state of mind. When you consider that on the straightaways I’ll be covering the length of a football field in a second, you can see why being mentally prepared is so important.

There are many other mental preparation techniques that I use, too – techniques I use in my coaching, which comes from sports psychology, martial arts, neuro-science, and other disciplines.

So, it’s my turn to perform at my peak… in public. In fact, 19 of the 24 hours will be covered live on Fox and Speed channels this weekend. Or, online at http://www.grand-am.com/. And, feel free to follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/rossbentley) – I plan to tweet throughout the build-up to the race, and between my driving stints during the race.

Time to perform… I can’t wait… Watch this!

Best Performance Award

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The winner of last week’s Worst Performance Award is… me, for focusing on bad performance! So, this week I’m looking for nominations for the Best Performance Award. And just like last week, since it’s the first time I’ve done this, I’m open to any exceptional performance, no matter when it was.

I’m going to open the nominations with two of my own picks – the two most incredible performances I’ve ever seen in my life (and I was fortunate enough to watch them both live on TV).

The first is Franz Klammer’s gold medal winning performance in the 1976 Olympic Downhill event. He may have defined the term “on the edge” with this run. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVMJKIx34SE to watch it for yourself. Desire and commitment are words that come to mind watching Klammer’s run.

If Klammer was the first to define “on the edge,” my second nominee made it a way of life. No one has ever driven a race car consistently on the edge like Gilles Villeneuve. And his performance in the 1979 French Grand Prix, in his epic battle for second place over the last couple of laps with Rene Arnoux is legendary. Arnoux was driving a Renault, which was a faster car than Villeneuve’s Ferrari, and yet Gilles’ pure determination, desire, commitment (and some would say his lack of fear) is no match. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr_6mA8Q2tI – if this doesn’t get your heart pounding, well I don’t know what will!

So, there are two nominations from the sporting world to get you thinking. Use the comment form below and send me your nominations for the Best Performance Award – from the world of sports, music, business, whatever. It could be someone you’ve observed, someone you know, or whoever. Since I’ve had so many Worst Performance Award nominations from the business world, I’d love to hear about an exceptional one – someone must know someone who performed well in the workplace?!

By the way, I’m still getting the odd nomination coming in for the Worst Performance Award, so I’ll keep the nominations open for another week. That gives you time…

Excuse me now… I’m going back to watch these two performances again… and again. They’re so inspirational!

Happy Holidays!

The Invisible Coach

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In his book, Sacred Hoops (one of my favorites), Phil Jackson, perhaps that greatest basketball coach of all time, talks about control. He relates the story of Bobby Knight, the college basketball coach who commented about how he could never coach in the NBA “because the coaches don’t have any control over the players.” Jackson’s response to this is, “How much control do you need?”

Jackson talks about a period during the 1991-1992 season where the Chicago Bulls “were in such perfect harmony they rarely lost.” To him, this was exactly what he’d been striving for: to become an “invisible” leader.

In my own coaching, that’s been a goal of mine: To be so effective that the person I’m coaching loses sight that I’m actually doing anything; the person doesn’t realize that I’m contributing in any way and I become an Invisible Coach.

That’s happened a few times, and it’s extremely rewarding. It’s happened with race drivers, and it’s happened with business executives and managers I’ve coached. They only realize the full value of my coaching when faced with a challenging issue, and they come knocking.

While it’s rewarding, it can be a little unnerving from a job security point of view, and even from an ego perspective. Hey, let’s face it – some of the reward of coaching, or managing others is seeing them do what you’ve told or advised them to do, and seeing them be successful because of that. That does feel good. And yet, when you’re invisible, you aren’t able to get that immediate feedback. And you can begin to worry that if you’re not seen as providing great advice or direction, then maybe you won’t be needed.

Great leaders, as Phil Jackson suggests, can be invisible leaders. The challenge for so many is having the discipline not to stick their fingers in where they’re not needed. One of Jackson’s great attributes is his self-discipline, his ability to not do any more than needed.

Coaching, managing others, and leading people can be done in a subtle way, an invisible way. Have you ever experienced a situation where a manager, or leader, or coach helped you in a subtle way – a way that resulted in you figuring out what was needed, a way that resulted in a great result, a way that made you feel good about how it came about, and yet, in a way that the leader/manager/coach barely seemed to be involved? How did you feel? I suspect you felt empowered.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Are you the Bobby Knight-type, or the Phil Jackson-type when it comes to leading, managing or coaching? Do you use control to get things done, or are you more invisible or subtle type?

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