Anyone who has a competitive drive understands, and is generally driven to want to compete and to win. Yes, in just about every scenario, and no, second place is never satisfactory for them. However, we know that not everyone is driven to compete at the same level, and this applies to both business and sports teams. I work with both, so I get to see how they both differ in their approaches, and how there are many similarities too.
When I first started working with sports teams, I was under the impression everyone had the same level of intensity and focus in terms of wanting to win. Spoiler alert, this wasn’t the reality of what I experienced. This was both perplexing, and an amazing challenge to sort out. For context, I competed myself in both business and sports, and I was orienting my thinking based on my bias of how I thought about competing.
The interesting thing about competing is the various processes and ways you can get to a final outcome. Desirably a win, but this doesn’t always play out the way you want it to. Although, I have found that beyond someone’s skill level, one of the factors which significantly contributes to being competitive is your mind set. I know this for a fact, because although I would consider myself to be highly competitive, my approach is quite different from others to get the results I am seeking.
One of the sports team’s I was working with was having a difficult time with being able to win. I didn’t start working with them until they were partially into their season, so there were many aspects and layers to uncover to appreciate what was going on in the minds of the athletes.
Understanding how the athletes thinking was impacting their physical output and how at times it was significantly contributing to their losses, and other times, it was simply a minimal impact. However, enough of an impact which tipped the results to favor their competitor. Seeing this happen in either of these scenarios was painful to watch, and at times it felt like it was like watching a car accident happening in slow motion.
So, was there something which could be done to first address the mentality side of the athletes thinking? Yes, there was, and it was actually a very simple approach. Brace yourself for how simple this first step is. It might surprise you. What I do in these scenarios is to have a conversation with each sports coach and athlete and I ask them if they truly want to win? If there is any slight hesitation, if they don’t look me in the eye with their response, or if they can’t convincingly express to me they want and expect to win, I know we have our work cut out to do.
Yes, it might be shocking to hear there are some people on a team who are not actually thinking their team can win, and if you can get to the root of why this is happening, you can begin to diagnose what is contributing to this happening. No, it isn’t as easy as you might think to get people to admit this. Some of what they are expressing to you will require you to read between the lines, or have you listened intently to the words they are using to indirectly tell you why they think the way they do.
When I come across a person or pockets of people on a team who can express that they don’t think they can either win a particular game, or have a winning season, I actually find this refreshing. Why? Because although the people might want to win, they have to believe they can. If they don’t think they can, the unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy kicks in, and often becomes their reality. Is this a learned behavior? Can it be course corrected, and how long might this take?
From my experience, the self-fulfilling prophecy of not winning can be interrupted, and yes, it can be addressed to mitigate the risk of it continuing to happen. Here are some suggestions on how to do this, and it can apply to both a business and sports team.
- Stop blaming others. There is likely something you might be doing which is contributing to why you are not winning. What might this be, and what can you do about it?
- How’s your attitude? Even if your team is a .500 team, or your team is heading towards meeting its goals, what are the aspects of each game and business goal that are making it difficult to achieve?
- As a leader, or individual team contributor, ask yourself what can be done to have your team look like they are really working together?
- Who inspires your team? Are they self-inspired, inspired by one another, or are there people one the team who are no longer able to provide the inspiration they once did?
- Is your team open to having a conversation about why their performance is what it is?
- Do people individually understand what motivates them?
- If you are a leader, do you understand how you contribute to motivating your team?
- Why do you want to win or accomplish your goals? Can you articulate this and convince yourself or others about your authenticity of your “why”? Try recording this, and listen to what you have to say and how you express this. Are you convinced by what you hear?
Of course, there are many more ways to approach helping a business or sports team how to get to the place they want to be, whether that includes meeting or exceeding their goals, or understanding what it takes to win, and win more often. The challenge is to admit you don’t have all the answers to get there, and might need some help. Keep in mind that it doesn’t mean you are a weak leader or sports coach by asking for help, it means you care about others, and the desired outcome collectively everyone wants to attain.
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