Cassie Campbell didn’t score a single goal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. As captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team, she wisely left the scoring chances to her younger, fitter teammates while she focused on being a leader. Campbell’s strategy worked: her squad skated away with the gold, and the Richmond Hill, Ont., native became the only captain to lead a Canadian hockey team to the top of the podium in consecutive Olympics.
Entrepreneurs could learn from Campbell’s example, says Peter Jensen, a Rockwood, Ont.-based sports psychologist who works with both corporations and athletes. “She had been great, but the younger players were sensational,” recalls Jensen, who has worked with more than 40 medal-winning Olympic athletes, including Campbell. “She moved on to play third or fourth line, not complaining about it, took on more leadership capabilities and became indispensable to the team.”
That you need a realistic view of your skill set and should play to your strengths isn’t the only thing entrepreneurs can learn from Olympians. You can elevate your game by heeding these other tips that have helped athletes win gold:
Embrace fear — but manage anxiety
Whatever it is that makes your palms sweat and your heart race — closing a big deal, making a keynote speech at an industry event — know that you are not alone. Athletes hurtling face-first down a skeleton run or about to take off from a ski jump are equally filled with anxiety and doubt, even if they’ve competed hundreds of times, says J.P. Pawliw-Fry, founder of the Institute for Health and Human Potential, a Barrie, Ont.-based performance-training firm whose clientele includes Olympic athletes. “They’re as fragile as anyone,” he says.
Some anxiety is a good thing. “The adrenaline that comes from fear also keeps us sharp,” says Steffany Hanlen, who coached Olympic ice dancers in 1996 and was the NHL’s first on-staff female skating coach. But too much adrenaline can be detrimental. If you’re cranked up and need to calm down before a stressful event, Hanlen recommends breathing in to a count of four, then breathing out to a count of six — a trick she has taught to both her athlete and business clients. This avoids the carbon dioxide build-up that occurs with nervous, shallow breathing. Eye-tracking can also help: focus on one thing outside your body, such as the family photo on your desk. This will help bring you into the present moment and gain perspective, Hanlen says.
Always be pumped
If you’re feeling flat before an important meeting, you’ll have to bring your energy up. Too little adrenaline can make you come across as indifferent and can seriously hamper your performance. “If I’m delivering to a team that I don’t feel nervous around, I don’t perform at my best,” says Pawliw-Fry.
Different athletes have different ways of boosting their energy, says Hanlen. “Some use upbeat music to get them going, some work out and some link their thoughts to their ‘whys'” — the personal values that motivate them, whether that’s winning an Olympic medal, amassing wealth or building the best possible life for their families. “If this is for my kids, then all of a sudden, my gosh, what wouldn’t I do?” explains Pawliw-Fry.
Prepare for a stressful event, such as telling your staff about a restructuring plan, the way Olympians prepare for competition: by walking through it in your mind. As far as your amygdala (the emotional part of your brain) is concerned, you’re actually living the event each time you rehearse, and that helps you get better at doing the deed before you actually have to do it. Pawliw-Fry also recommends recalling a time “when you’ve presented and you’ve connected with the audience and you’ve been sharp.” That’s your “me at my best” image, and you can use it to bring that same clarity and focus to the forefront anytime you need it.
Craft a contingency plan
“No golfer wants to be in the sand trap, but the best ones anticipate and prepare for that possibility,” writes Jensen in his book, Igniting the Third Factor: Lessons from a lifetime of working with Olympic athletes, coaches and business leaders. In other words, the best way to bounce back from a setback is to be aware, ahead of time, what might go wrong and what you could do to fix it. Sounds logical, but not everyone does it; that’s why some figure skaters fall apart after a stumble in competition, while others nail every subsequent big jump in their routines.