Mental Strength – It’s not always what it looks like

Over the course of the 2018 Commonwealth Games the Radio ABC612 created a daily segment that addressed the hot, and not so hot, topics of the Games. 

Introduced as the 'Athlete Whisperer' my role was to provide insight into the world of high performance so the listeners would have a greater appreciation of what the athletes might have done or might be going through when competing. 

A quick thank you to Bec Ryan, Nick Poulos, Russel Hansen, Jake Winwood, Brendyn Appleby, Will Brown, Drew McGregor, Nicolai Morris, Brant Best and everyone else who shared their thoughts, insights and data in helping me prepare each day.

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One heated topic was the day swimmer Emily Seebohm blamed the media for her 'poor' performance (she'd medalled at the event she was being criticised for).

She'd achieved a silver in the 100m backstroke and a bronze 200m event. She said the media was to blame for 'disappointing' bronze because they criticised her silver and she felt down about it. 

As one might imagine, this sent the media and the Dial-A-Quotes into a frenzy... 'Who does she think she is'? 'Mentally soft'... 'Tune out the media'... 'What is she doing reading the media??'

My take was different based on what I've seen many times before but we won't get into that just yet. 

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Working in sports, particularly development sports, we often hear the words 'ownership', 'responsibility' and 'accountability'. 

While those three words are at risk of becoming cliches, most of the time it is important that our athletes develop and demonstrate these valuable skills. 

In fact, most of the time it can be very difficult to improve if one is always deflecting and blaming.

So for most people, most of the time taking ownership, responsibility and accountability is a good thing and a way to improve. 

And, if you haven't worked long enough with high performing people, it is difficult to see the benefits of shifting the blame elsewhere as positive attribute. 

So here is some insight I shared on the radio program. 

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Let's imagine Seebohm takes ownership of her two 'disappointing' performances. 

She might internalise these issues (e.g. I'm not good/fast enough) or she might start doubting her coach (she shouldn't - he's good!) or her S&C coach (again, that'd be silly) or her training or her tapering. 

None of these would be able to be changed in the short term. None of these thoughts would help her perform in the following events. 

So what we see in some high performers in some cases is that they 'externalise' their thoughts: they blame something outside of their control. 

In this case Seebohm 'blamed' the media. 

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Once she settles on it being an external factor, she can move forward with full belief in team, her training and her taper. 

It wasn't mental weakness, it was a mental tool. 

Now let me be clear, I hardly know Seebohm. I've watched her train once or twice. And I cannot say she did this deliberately. I am only giving the same insight I gave on air that there are occasions where shifting or deflecting can be a good thing for performance. 

The next question is: What contexts can this be beneficial to our athletes?

Reach out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or comment below and we can chat. 

PS After blaming the media, Seebohm came out to grab two golds for her events. 

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