Winning the inner game

Whilst watching the England versus Panama match on Sunday, I heard that the Panama coach had conceded his team did not have the same levels of fitness as European players. I noticed two different strands of thought emerge;

  1. What effect does this have on the mindset of his team?
  2. What differentiates the best teams if they are equally fit?

Sending a message to his players that they are physically inferior is unlikely to instill confidence before the game! However it could explain the tactics of repeated fouls to stop the England players. England went on to win the game very comfortably, but technical ability and mindset also played a significant part alongside their greater fitness levels.

The fittest teams don’t always win, nor do the most skilled, the third aspect of elite performance is in the mindset of the team and individual players.  This was recognised and identified in 1972 by Timothy Gallwey in his seminal work,

The Inner Game of Tennis: The ultimate guide to the mental side of peak performance

Body, occupation and mind

Top coaches, elite sports people and increasing numbers of business leaders understand that there are three areas in which to train to achieve peak performance;

  • Body

We can train the body through exercise, diet, rest and recuperation.  Clearly, when it comes to sport, physical fitness is an integral part of the training regime.  Top football teams also know that diet is crucial, not only what to eat but also when to eat. All effective fitness regimes also understand the need for rest and recuperation after matches and physical training. Increasingly businesses are aware of the importance of a physically fit and healthy workforce for performance. Larger organisations may provide gyms on site whilst others will provide discounted or free gym membership as an employee perk.  Some employers also recognise the effect of diet on health and well-being, with many staff canteens now offering healthier options. Work-life balance is also increasingly considered by employers with increasing numbers of organisations discouraging the sending and responding to emails out of work hours. Staff well-being days offer yoga and mindfulness sessions to help staff rest and recuperate.

  • Occupation

Training is mostly associated with developing knowledge and skills in what we do, what occupies our time, our craft. Football training will focus on technical ability and tactical awareness. The very best elite footballers will spend hours every day honing their craft in addition to formal training sessions.  They also employ coaches to help them further develop their skills and abilities.  Coaches are often not as skilled as those they coach, a coach is not a mentor, they help improve performance by bringing focus and direction through effective questioning and observation. In the workplace employees are trained to develop their skills and knowledge of the sector in which they operate.  Staff training is designed to ensure employees know how to do their job as effectively as possible, to enhance performance.  Coaching is provided to maximise the impact of formal training. A key element of coaching in sport and business is raising awareness of what is happening in a given moment and the options (techniques) available.  It was whilst studying for my Advanced Diploma in Leadership and Performance coaching that I became aware of the the use of mindfulness in leadership coaching. Mindfulness is training in paying attention to what is happening in the moment and creating the space to be aware of the choices and options available.

  • Mind

The Inner game, identified by Timothy Gallwey, is the battle we all face each day, our mindset.  This is the area where coaching and mindfulness truly come into play.

In the 88th minute of the Spain/Portugal match on 15th June, one of the games of the tournament, Ronaldo scored a magnificent free kick. It was the minute before that though that planted the seed for this blog. Ronaldo stood, motionless, eyes closed, focusing on his breath. Ronaldo was focusing his attention on that moment, he was being mindful, he was meditating.

Increasing numbers of elite sports people are using mindfulness and meditation to maintain focus and win the inner game.  It comes as no surprise that The Mindful Athlete is one of the books being read by members of the England World Cup squad. In business too, meditation and mindfulness is being used not only for staff well-being but also by succesful entrepreneurs and business leaders. As Business Insider reports, the benefits go well past just stress reduction.

A level playing field

Now that the group stages are over, and the knockout stages begin, differences in fitness levels and technical ability become smaller. Matches will be decided on tactics (the awareness of team managers) and moments of brilliance from individual players (awareness and ability). Arguably two of the greatest players at this, and any world cup, Ronaldo and Messi, both regularly meditate. How many moments of magic will come from moments of meditation in this world cup?

A winning team

The best managers and teams will constantly look to improvement in all three areas, fitness, ability and mindset.  Could mindfulness give your team the winning edge?

Mindful Therapies provide mindfulness training, courses and taster sessions to businesses across the North East of England, get in touch if you want to bring the benefits of mindfulness to your business.