A common mistake for coaches and athletes is to slip into a “more is better” attitude. Australians are known for their work ethic and when we are under pressure, our default switch is to work harder. It is the undoing of many an elite athlete, coach and CEO. Pushing into the red, believing an increase in work ethic is a sign of dedication and commitment, when in reality it generates junk training, poor concentration and emotional fatigue.
NRL coach Shane Flanagan has just returned from the USA and UK for tips on how to make his Premiership winning team bigger and better in 2017. Interestingly I have just returned from the UK having met with the English Premier League to share the work we do in Australia on player wellbeing. Player performance and player wellbeing are intimately linked. This is something Flanagan is more than aware of having supported both Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita with their personal challenges through 2016. Overcoming his coaching ban and steering the Shark’s to their first Premiership win after doping scandals that plagued the club in 2014. Flanagan is obviously doing something right and sometimes more of the same, is what is right.
This week I was sent a You Tube link to a documentary on my former husband of twenty years, Robert de Castella. The link was on the 1983 showdown between de Castella and America’s Alberto Salazar for the title of the world’s greatest marathon runner. Apart from the nostalgia of reviewing my life in the sporting fast line, my interest was piqued by what happened to Salazar after his defeat in Rotterdam. The impact the loss had on his life when the world’s greatest marathon title was won by de Castella, and the agony of his psychology.
de Castella knew he was doing something right and kept training the same way, building on his strength year after year, being consistent and remaining injury free. Salazar on the other hand thought he had to train harder. He substantially increased his training workload, far exceeding de Castella’s, only to become obsessed, injured and ill. De Castella loved to run while Salazar in 1994 was reported to have said in John Brant’s book ‘Duel in the Sun’
"For most of the last 10 years, I hated running. I hated it with a passion. I used to wish for a cataclysmic injury in which I would lose one of my legs. I know that sounds terrible, but if I had lost a leg, then I wouldn't have to torture myself anymore."
Today Salazar is the controversial coach of multiple Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah. (He has been questioned for using the World Anti-Drug Agency’s medical exceptions clause, to access performance enhancing medications for his athletes).
To work hard is in our culture, but at the elite level, there are only small gains to be made from increases in physical training. As a nation we are already at the forefront of sports science and innovation in this area. Building consistency and working smarter is the way to go, especially in the psychology of wellbeing, sport and business because this area is still under-utilized.
Next article on how to work smarter.
Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”. She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions. Clews applies science to success in her “Wired for Success” business workshops for emotionally intelligent organisations. Contact Gayelene via firstname.lastname@example.org. To purchase her book www.wiredtoplay.com.