Our current blog series reviewing the book Legacy: What the All Blacks can Teach us About the Business of Life by James Kerr, has us taking a deeper look into what it takes to create a championship culture and leave a lasting legacy. Through this book, we are reminded by the lessons of Dr. Ken Ravizza, who left an indelible mark on the field of Sport Psychology with his work with athletes and coaches on the mental game. We dedicate this blog series to Ken, to both thank him for his contributions and also continue his legacy to more students, athletes, coaches, and performers.
Our third blog will focus on the concept of pressure. Most often, we think of pressure as an intense desire to perform well, particularly in a moment that counts. The All Blacks were under a lot of pressure – pressure from their nation to win World Cups. To overcome that pressure, they redefined what pressure actually is. All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka said, “Under pressure, your attention is either diverted or on track. If you’re diverted, you have a negative emotional response and unhelpful behavior. That means you’re stuck. That means you’re overwhelmed. On the other hand, if your attention is on track you have situational awareness and you execute accurately. You are clear, you adapt and you overcome.” Essentially, then, pressure is an issue of attentional control. When we are distracted and overwhelmed, the weight of the situation often feels heavy and unbearable. When we are able to focus on the task at hand, then we can manage the moment more effectively and be in control of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. And then, we are more likely to perform at our best!
The All Blacks further simplified this concept to having either a Red Head or Blue Head. A Red Head is “tight, inhibited, results-oriented, anxious, aggressive, overcompensating, and desperate.” A Blue Head is “loose, expressive, in the moment, calm, clear, accurate, and on task.” The two different mindsets simplify the concept of pressure and make it much more controllable. Now members of the team can be aware, or check in, on where their heads are at. And they have a common language to bring each other back to Blue, if they are in the Red. And beyond recognizing which state they are in, players also developed tools to move from Red to Blue. Coach Graham Henry said, “Having skills to go from red to blue, or maintain the blue, was pretty important in the scheme of things.” Players identified their triggers, or warning signs you are in the Red Head, so they can instead manage their reactions more effectively. Each player also had anchors, or actions to reconnect to the Blue Head. For example, an athlete might have a trigger of thoughts of doubt prior to a competition and then use deep breaths and positive self-coaching as an anchor to reconnect with their Blue Head. Our lesson on energy management goes into more detail about how you can increase your awareness of your mindset and helpful strategies to maintain your ideal mindset.
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