I was speaking at an event recently where I got asked:
Do you think your time in education helped you to succeed in sport?
Education taught me many things, but I can categorically say it was sport that helped me succeed in education, not the other way around.
There is one common trait that all elite athletes possess - the ability to perform brilliantly when they need to produce results. On competition day it’s about putting your training into practice and bringing home a medal.
This is exciting. It’s exhilarating. And it’s also really stressful.
When you look at the education sector, this is exactly what students do. Their academic career is geared up towards the exams at the end of it. They prepare, they revise and they have to perform in their exams.
The difference is that athletes are taught how to deal with pressure – to turn the stress of competition into a comfort zone. We learn how to get the most out of ourselves, channelling our nervous energy to increase the chance that we will performing at our very best.
This ability to perform under pressure isn’t something that just an elite few are good at. I choked at crucial moments and experienced my fair share of mental meltdowns as I progressed along the performance pathway, but I was also given a lot of support. I was taught tools and strategies to get the most out of myself and deliver the results I was capable of.
And the better I got at sport, the better my results got at school and university.
Performance is performance, whether in a sports arena or a school. I want to share three simple techniques that help athletes deliver the best results they can when under pressure:
1) It’s all about mindset
Sport might be seen as being predominantly physical, but the real battles are won in the mind. What separates those who win from those who don’t is the mindset, and even small shifts in the way we think has a BIG impact. Elite athletes expect to succeed, instead of trying not to fail – which is a super important distinction. This is about focusing on what we need to do in order to do a great job, rather than focusing on all the things that could go wrong.
Sometimes negative thoughts sneak into our brains without being invited, but we have a choice over whether we listen to them. Choose to ignore them, choose to focus on something else, choose to talk back and tell it that it’s wrong – but most importantly choose to succeed. If you stick to the revision plan, if you keep working hard and set your sights high, then you are gearing yourself up for success.
2) You have a support team – make sure you use it
The best coaches I had were the ones who believed in me, especially during times when I didn’t. They offered positive encouragement, they inspired and supported me, and they held me accountable for my actions. We all have people around us who want to help, but they don’t know what support we need unless we ask for it. If you want somebody to bounce ideas off, somebody to help you work through topics you don’t understand, or even somebody to talk to then find those people and ask. Your team can also offer positive encouragement as well as helping you stick to your revision plan.
3) Appreciate the things you do well
When you’re preparing for something it’s all too easy to look at the areas that you need to improve. Whilst this is always useful feedback, it’s super important not to forget all the things that you’re doing well at or the progress that you’ve made. There are lots of areas that you will have vastly improved in, and things that you’ve picked up. Even small steps take us in the right direction, and the more steps you take the further you get. Take time out each day to reflect on the good points, celebrate the small victories and feel proud of your progress.
The exam period can be a very stressful time for students. I've created this video to help students increase the odds of performing better when put under pressure: