Wimbledon: What managers can learn from Andy Murray and sports psychology

If you were lucky enough to buy Wimbledon tickets or if you are one of the tens of millions of people who watched the final game live you probably wondered whether Andy Murray would collapse with the strain in the final few minutes of the match.

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The pressure of seventy seven years of disappointment and a nation’s expectations was visible on his hunched shoulders and etched across his face.

So, how did a man who looked in such agony between the last few points of the final manage to refocus so effectively for each rally? How did he get so “in the zone” that immediately afterwards, he couldn’t even recall how he won the final point?

Murray performed successfully under pressure because he mastered his emotions at crucial moments.

In our experience business professionals can face potential “clutch moments” every day of the week.  While the pressure may not always be at Wimbledon final levels the big decisions, client presentations, one-to-one meetings that make up our daily working lives all require us to keep calm in potentially stressful situations.

Managers tend to have prepared logical contingency plans for these situations but they often miss a critical element; the ability to prepare emotionally to perform under pressure.

To address this we employ sports psychology on the Diploma in Leadership and Diploma in Executive Coaching that equips executives with basic and easy-to-learn mental preparation techniques that will enable them to focus, and perform under pressure.  Three of the key techniques are;

Self talk: Under pressure, the voice inside most peoples’ minds tends to catastrophise, focus on uncontrollable factors and accentuate weaknesses. Star performers develop the discipline of recognising such negative patterns, and consciously focus on replacing negative statements with positive questions.

Mental rehearsal:  The more you vividly practice something in your mind, the easier it will feel in real life.  Meditation of this type, over time, lets you build a subconscious expectation of success.

Breathing control: Under pressure, the brain’s natural response is to override thought with emotional action. By consciously focusing on deliberate, controlled, slow breathing, we can mimic the body’s natural relaxation process, and buy ourselves “time to think”.

We don’t know just yet what precise mental preparation formula Murray deployed to get him through the Wimbledon cauldron (though we can be quite sure book deals are being discussed already). But when it comes down to it, regardless of the context, the key to performing under pressure is to consciously practice your chosen mental preparation techniques so frequently that they become automatic responses.  If you can do this, you will develop the ability to remain unruffled … Be it calming a disgruntled colleague who has stormed into your office, or winning the championship point in the Wimbledon final.

Dr. Simon Boucher is Chief Operating Officer at the Irish Management Institute. His expertise is in the areas of leadership development, leadership coaching and enabling peak performance.

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