Sustainable Life Lessons From a Sports Performance Development Expert
When you think of sport, and what drives the pursuit of trophies and accolades within it, your mind will start to manifest images of supreme physical condition and chiselled technical ability. These same mental scenes may also preserve moments where years of dedication and deliberate practice have either climaxed into a dream realised or collapsed into an aspiration skeined; and all in just the blip of a stopwatch or the clack of a camera shutter.
As a result, in sport and in our general lives, there is an obsession with the technical and a fixation on the physical, and perhaps this is justified. These things help achieve goals, win games, meet briefs, secure new business, look impressive to shareholders, produce great artistic works, instigate and consolidate many different kinds of progress, build huge skyscrapers, intimidate opponents, produce scientific breakthroughs, fight (and win) critical cases and produce that sound in a piece of music that you will never forget. However, despite their undoubted significance, it is never where I start when I meet with a player for the first time.
Being technically excellent and in the best of physical condition, being able to execute your chosen role better than anybody else in a specific domain is no guarantee of individual fulfilment, of increasing joy, of incremental growth of complete condition, of a present mind, of emotional engagement, of loving relationships, of an empowering perspective on the world, on the ability to do good for others with sincerity and humility; the myriad things that drive the peace of mind, self-assurance and connection with others that makes life such an unrivalled opportunity.
Where I start focuses on the above. The direction I take gives the recipient and I access to the most potential laden perspective honer and incremental improver of their own choices, and, when used honestly, smartly and focused over time, this can help deeply connect them with their own level of growth, joy, fulfilment and connection that they experience on a daily basis. It also forms the most dynamic yet stable foundation upon which our relationship can be based.
The first step I take is to help them articulate their first set of personal values.
But why does leading them to think about their values help so much? How does it create the potential for all those things I mentioned before?
Firstly, it makes what really matters to you real in your mind and daily life. Virtue is taught to us so vicariously as we grow up as moments of experience are either consolidated or prefaced with a nod to what apparently matters, almost always without the accompanying knowledge or experience of all the wisdom that underpins that apparently cryptic axiom your family drum into your mind throughout your childhood. My process, particularly for someone who has never thought about things this way before, starts with inviting the person to look across their unique experience of life, encompassing all of those such moments, and ask themselves what they want to personally embody because they saw it as important.
This step brings ideas to the fore, and is akin to the difference between having an idea for a sculpture in your head – running through all the potential manifestations of it (what it will be made of, what it will embody, what finishes you will you, where it will be place) – and getting a large lump of clay, wopping it down in front of you, and starting to shape it with your wetted, naturally dexterous hands. The former, to steal a Marcus Aurelius phrase, is ‘stage scenery’; apparently elucidating the image without having any real consequence on the action; the latter, a tool with feeling, experience, practice, control, ideation built in and these things are all essential because your values will change. Over time, new experience, new information, new feelings, will prompt you to reshape them continually so it best reflects who you are and want to be, incorporating each extra nuance at a time, one after the other, as things take on an increased significance in your life. I change my own late in December to better reflect my appreciation of effort and honesty.
The idea captured in that final sentence – how honest introspection turns into effective iteration – is the second way in which having a set of values helps so much. Once articulated, your values become this filter through which you pass every decision you make. This means that your effort, attitude, habits, heuristics, and the consequences thereof, can be put into their most powerful context: what is most accurate according to your own understanding of yourself – your capability, onus and industry – as well as what can do most for those your life reaches. This means no action you take will slip through the net by being overwhelmed by the apparently heady context – ‘Oh well, no one will ever know if I…’, ‘Well, x did y so I suppose that makes it ok’, ‘People are only expected to do z where I work’ – and instead will be dictated by what is reflective of your best self, what creates a special experience for others and can be shared accurately if someone asks you what makes you who you are.
This ultra consistent lens for your actions is pivotal because in life you have to be your best supporter and critic; equally as effective at critiquing yourself as jolting your memory of moments of greatness whether in light of a historic success or isolating failure. Externally, people can help hone your view by giving you the tools or a perspective on events that forces you to question your own, but it will always be up to you to provide the most honest and empowering evaluation of events, and facilitate your own growth by being a happy, honest and effective autodidact.