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The Psychology of The Loser

Despite the loss, Tom Brady will continue to be a top competitor in the NFL.

With the Super Bowl recently concluded, there has been a lot of talk about the game, and the endless comparisons that inevitably follow. Does the Giants’ win mean Eli is a better QB than Tom Brady? Than Peyton? Do the Giants have what it takes to maintain their high level of competition? Is Tom Coughlin really a better coach than Belichick, or did he simply figure out the Patriots on this occasion?

One of the things that has always fascinated me though is the psychology of the “loser.” Whenever I watch a championship game I can’t help but feel for the coach of the losing team who is invariably put in the spotlight and asked “what went wrong?” That said, focusing on the psychology of such a loss, and more importantly, how to recover and move on from such an (often traumatic) event is key for any athlete or high performer to understand.

Time heals all. This may sound trite and clichéd, but in this case it also happens to be true. In the moment immediately following a loss at a big event such as a world championship or Olympic Games, athletes can often be inconsolable. Everything they have worked so hard for – all the training, careful diet planning, travel, and sacrifice – seems to be for naught. Feelings of failure are commonplace at one’s failing to achieve an ultimate goal. That said, taking some time afterwards to decompress is always a good idea. In order to properly evaluate what went wrong (and learning how to correct things in the future), you need to have a clear head. Taking a few days (or weeks if possible) to achieve this is a much better plan than trying to watch game film the next day while the wounds are still fresh.

Not all goals are created equal. One the things that I preach to my clients the most is the importance of setting goals based on one’s personal performance, rather than simply on outcomes. If this is a new concept, allow me to explain. Performance goals are those goals in which the measure of success is a previously established personal performance. The amount of time it took you to complete a run. The number of consecutive free-throws you can hit. Basically, something in which you are competing against yourself, and the standards of performance that you maintain. With outcome goals, the focus of competition is completely external. Winning a race, beating an opponent, any type of situation in which the focus of competition is interpersonal. The key distinction between these two types of goals really comes down to one thing: control. When sitting down and evaluating things after a big loss, it’s really important to focus on improving those things that are directly under your control. Trying to win a big game is important, but there are so many factors involved, that at the end of the day, you need to focus on those things that you can control, and leave the rest to play out as it will.

Looking to the future. Immediately after a big loss, its tough not to dwell on what could have been. Second guessing is an all too common occurrence that affects both professionals and amateurs alike. That said, its important to remember that, despite the loss this time, there are other events in the future which have yet to crown a victor. Shifting focus from the past to the future can be a good way to gain some perspective, reassess, and recommit to one’s goals. Its important to remember the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them, but keeping one’s focus and attention towards the future is the best way to continue progressing towards one’s ultimate goals.

Brendan Shanahan: Making the NHL’s Hardest Job Just a Bit Easier

 

Brendan Shanahan looks to be as effective in his role with the NHL as he was on the ice during his craeer.

The NHL season starts tomorrow, but already we have seen a flurry of activity within the league. Most notable among the goings on have been the record number of suspensions handed down by the NHL’s newly appointed VP of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan.

In addition to being the face of the NHL’s new “tough on head shots” policy, Shanahan has not only been making waves for the number of suspensions he’s handed down thus far, but also for the manner in which he’s doing it. No longer content to rely on a press release outlining the player, infraction, and discipline applied, Shanahan is taking to the internet, and has produced a small video explanation of every single disciplinary action that has come to his attention. These videos include a short clip of the incident(s) in question (from multiple angles and slow motion), a citation of the applicable rules, what, if any discipline has been decided upon, and, most importantly, his reasoning behind why or why not a certain decision was reached (The videos can be found on the NHL’s website, in the video section under the Player Safety channel).

One of the things I most remember about the discipline handed out by Colin Campbell (Shanahan’s predecessor) is a total lack of transparency. He would make an announcement that a certain player was under review, then shortly thereafter issue a decision via press release, often with little to no explanation to how he applied the rules in making his decision. Often times these press releases were criticized in the media for failing to set guidelines for players and coaches that were easy to follow, and that Campbell’s discipline was often inconsistent and arbitrary. This often set up a very acrimonious relationship between the players and the NHL as an organization, since there was such a perceived lack of clarity or consistency in the application of discipline.

In my opinion, part of what makes Shanahan’s new approach with these video such a great idea is that Shanahan is announcing that his tenure will be much different from that of Campbell’s without openly criticizing his predecessor. By showing the exact play, quoting the exact rule, and clearly outlining his decision making process, Shanahan has put himself in a much different light that those who have held his role before him. In many ways he has announced his presence, in addition to the dawning of a new era in the NHL with regards to headshots, in a very clever way. Not only that, but he has put himself in a better position with regards to the league, the players, and the media since he has preempted any attempts to call his judgment into question. Players, coaches, and teams may disagree with his decisions, but he has set up a system that is easy to defend and is accessible to all.

Most importantly, in my opinion, the transparency that he has introduced into this aspect of professional sports is a stroke of genius. It has so many potential benefits, and relatively few drawbacks. Among the ways that this approach can be beneficial, some of the following are what appeal to me:

1 – Trust. One of the biggest things that these videos do is instill a sense of trust that anyone appearing before Shanahan’s desk will receive a fair shake. By clearly outlining what his criteria are for legal and illegal plays, he is setting a bar that is equal across the league. Gone are the days of “you’re suspended because we said so.” Players, coaches, and teams may not agree with Shanahan’s decisions, but at least they are able to see how he came to a decision.

2 – Clarity. One of the factors that can erode relationships within a group faster than anything else is a lack of clarity. A lack of clarity of roles, of rules, and of repercussions can often lead to frustration amongst everyone involved. By showing a clear decision making process, Shanahan is allowing the rest of the league to buy-in to his process, as well as giving crystal clear examples of what types of plays will and will not result in suspensions.

3 – Consistency. In addition to holding players to set guidelines with regards to their play, the other thing that Shanahan has done is very subtly set himself a set of guidelines. Players will be able to judge how consistent Shanahan is in applying discipline based on his previous decisions – a fact of which I am almost positive Shanahan must have been aware of when he made the decision to release his rulings via video. By allowing himself to be held to certain standards, he once again is  building the relationship between the NHL and the players employed therein.

All of these really contribute to the players’ understanding his decision making process, as well as having the added benefit of building a more cooperative relationship between Shanahan’s office and the players under his purview.

Time for a J.A.W.B.?

 

Welcome to the first entry for RW Consulting. First, I want to make clear – I am going to make every effort to make sure this isn’t Just Another Wordpress Blog. I want to be engaging, or at the very least, thought provoking with these entries, and with the website as a whole.

So what am I trying to do here? Well, my intent is two fold. First, I’m looking to provide commentary about the athletic and business worlds from a decidedly psychological perspective. Rather than simply commenting on the state of affairs, my intent is provide psychological commentary about the key players of various events. What was an athlete or leader thinking? Where did a certain reaction come from? How are current events likely to affect athletes and/or groups? – I intend to try and answer those questions and more.

Second, I am going to educate the general public about what sport psychology, mental strength and conditioning, and the psychology of performance entail. What they are, and especially what they aren’t, will often be key talking points for me. Perhaps this is the best place for me to start.

Too often I’ve found that Sport Psychology (the main area of my own training) and the Psychology of Performance is stigmatized as the last bastion of a desperate mind, just this side of Tony Robbins and the self-help gurus of the 90’s. In some cases, that has been true in the past. However, from my own perspective, the psychology of performance has so much more to offer beyond the over-simplified view often held by the public that all we do in the field is get people to “imagine” doing things better. The field is full of concrete activities and exercises that can have real effects on a person’s performance.

Ultimately the field really boils down to insight – both about one’s self (in the form of self-knowledge) and about those one may interact with (be they competitors or co-workers). Sun-Tzu, the ancient Chinese military philosopher, is often quoted as saying the following

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sport psychology, in its purest form, is about gaining such types of insight. My hope is that the following posts help in your own development…