Over the course of the summer months I have trained for a half marathon which I ran yesterday with my husband. This is the third year in a row that I have trained to run a half marathon, and this year was the hardest. I had a very busy summer where I did not get much of a break until September long weekend.
There are a lot of factors that affect a run; food, water, heat, cold, humidity, rain, sleep to name a few. Beyond a certain amount of variables, the list of affecting factors may differ from one person to the next. I really like to run in cooler if not cold temperatures, but others like to run in heat. I also run early in the day so later race starts are hard for me mentally and for my body to adapt.
It is a fact that the brain is a big part of sport, any sport. A good example was this summer for the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Canada when Nigeria faced Germany in the gold medal match. The Germans scored once to win the game, they only had one really opportunity and they made it happen. The Nigerian team didn’t score once with multiple shots on goal. The day after the match I rode to the airport with a FIFA delegate from Rome and we talked about the game. She said Nigeria never thought they could win, so they didn’t, it was that simple. Nigeria fought hard for that opportunity against Germany, they were not expected to be there. The German’s were. Perhaps they were overwhelmed? Or fatigued from the tournament? Or just didn’t see themselves on the podium?
External factors affect athletic performance, but with Nigeria as an example, so do internal factors. If they never thought they could win, did that alone make it virtually impossible for them to win? My run yesterday resulted in likely my worst time (I haven’t checked because I don’t want to know) and my husband had a similar experience. In fact most of the people that I started with finished with me and no one looked like this was fun. It rained, a lot. I mean it rained about 10 mm for about sixteen of the twenty-one point one kilometers. Everything was saturated, completely. Eighteen hours later my shorts were still wet even though they were hung to dry.
Besides the rain, which made everything heavier and uncomfortable, the start of the race affected my mental focus. The race was due to begin at 9:30 AM, late for me, and with the 15,000 plus participants usually by the time you get to the start line it’s about five minutes later. But the race organizers changed things this year. A lot of races put you into your goal time corral which is acceptable, faster people start first, makes sense. But this year after the start gun they held each corral for ten minutes or more. It was brutal. To alter the presumed start time of the race made it really hard for me because I had mentally prepared for a start around 9:30, so that means I can start moving at 9:30 which was a difficult thing anyways because remember, I run early in the morning. I think I crossed the start line about twenty or twenty five minutes after the start gun.
It was warm and humid, an expected late start that ended up being considerably later, heavy rain pour and a need to urinate resulted in a perfect storm of mental warfare. I guess if you run enough races you will have to have a few that are not that good. My husband had a similar experience and there were a lot of people down along the route throughout the last ten kilometers of the course. I think it was a tough one for many.
So, would it have made it easier if they had told us we were going to be held from starting? My opinion is yes, that’s why coaches, trainers and a million other people suggest you train and mentally prepare for the race, or game. That is a critical piece in the success of any task. Admittedly both my husband and I have had very full brains the last few months, and that affects our sleep and creates mental lethargy. I believe it was that mental fatigue that beat us both, with the addition of key influencers – being physically held back at the start and the excessive rain.
If you take all of these examples of the necessity of mental acuity and apply them to your business life; what are you holding your team back from starting when planned? What affect does that have on their stamina? What are they dealing with that is taking up space in their brain that maybe affecting their ability to perform well? What do they not believe about themselves or your company that causes them to miss every chance they have at a goal? Are you constantly raining down on them so that they feel beaten? Is sharing more information the way to help them prepare mentally for the next challenge?
It was important for me to figure out how much the lack of mental space and mental lethargy affects my ability to perform optimally. What do you need to figure out about how your team is functioning on the mental level? How are you preparing them for an upcoming project or change?
Something’s I have to experience to really learn, sometimes I simply; don’t listen to all the people, the research or my own signals. Sometimes I’m stubborn. My obstinance ultimately became part of my race challenge.
What are you ignoring that could affect the performance of your team? What do they need to get to your gold or your finish line? Do they have enough information to mentally prepare for what lies ahead? Are there any surprizes that will throw their game? Do they see themselves as champions? And if not, why not?
There is always more races, so there is always more work to be done and more opportunity to get it right or at least, a little more right.