Learning from The Premier League (Part II)

Ben Lyttleton has written a couple of books on Leadership Secrets from Football’s top thinkers and the psychology of converting the Perfect Penalty Kick.
A couple of weeks ago he wrote an article providing five tips from his analysis of the penalty kick that can help in business when performing under pressure.
(Remember, pressure is a privilege – it means you are challenging yourself to improve – the trick is to deal with it positively and not to let it turn into stress.)
Five tips from Football penalty taking:
1)   Practice with Purpose.
England Soccer Coach Gareth Southgate practices penalties by replicating shoot-out match conditions.  He makes his players take the dreaded walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot; he practices after 120 minutes of training to recreate fatigued legs and minds that come from longer games with extra time.
Southgate wants the pressure to be routine, so the fear/mist is replaced by routine/ritualistic execution.
The All Blacks run set moves; but they don’t stop and restart when they fail in training, they replicate match conditions and continue playing from the failed moment.  No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy!!!
For business, this means practice must come as close as possible to replicating actual conditions.  If you are giving a presentation standing up, don’t practice sitting down.  Don’t practice an uninterrupted pitch; it will never happen.  Practice fielding random interruptions/questions.  Anticipate and practice the inevitable technology glitches.  You can never fully replicate pressure conditions but you can prepare for them if you Practice with Purpose.
2)   Take Your Time.
Successful penalty takers never rush it.  The ref blows his whistle – the great players pause, breathe, compose themselves, eliminate doubt, pursue the ritual and bang (watch Owen Farrell kick penalties for the England Rugby team).
In business, the same rules apply.  Be right, not first.  Listen, listen, listen, observe, think then speak.
3)   Your Reaction Matters.
Studies show if a player converts a shoot-out penalty when the scores are level and celebrates himself, that player’s team is more likely to win.  Body language spreads to both teams – your own and the opposition.  It’s also helpful to hug a player who misses as it sends a message of unity and family to the rest of the team.
In business, I’m a huge believer in learning the art of demonstrating positive body language.
Positive body language is core to Inspirational Leadership and Peak Performance.  Upright posture, eye contact and smiles go a long way!!!
4)   Don’t Obsess.
Overthinking a task usually results in disappointment.  A Cambridge University neurosurgeon ran an experiment with a room of golfers, divided into two groups, by asking them all to putt from the same distance.  The golfers then had a five minute break, during which half wrote down every aspect of their putts, and the other half looked at pictures of beaches and cars.  Then they all putted again.
The golfers who had remained focused on golf in the break all hit far worse putts the second time around.  The second group all did better.
In business, I see so many managers worrying about an important meeting/presentation, or stressing over missing a deadline – worry and stress never lead to Peak Performance.  The time is better spent on the process, the routine – not the outcome.
If the practice process has been conducted with purpose, and the challenge is a ‘just right’ challenge, worrying and stressing about the result is likely to have only a negative impact on the performance.
5)   Confidence Doesn’t Guarantee Success.
Research from penalty takers in Football by a German sports psychologist revealed that the greatest marker of success had nothing to do with levels of self-confidence or even innate ability, but rather the reaction to the pressure of competition and the reliance on ritual – in other words the Timeless Six P’s “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”.
In business, the most confident, the loudest person in the room is not always right, or even the best qualified.  They just happen to be the loudest.  Many managers lean towards the more extrovert personalities.  They should look more deeply for those who can perform under pressure – the introverts could even be better.
Patience, Practice and Preparation – and remember the Six P’s.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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