Coaching a Great Mental Game in Business

Most high level sports coaches understand that the game is played predominantly ‘in the top 6 inches’ (i.e. from the neck upwards). In reality the same is true in business. Most business leaders recognise that their success is down to their greatest asset; their people. Therefore, it stands to reason that the performance of our people is largely influenced by their mental game.

As a sport psychologist I find it interesting that most sports coaches spend so much time on technique, tactics and physical development, and relatively little on coaching the mental game. As a performance coach, I see exactly the same pattern in business. Organisations expend significant resources on training people’s skills and knowledge, but often neglect the mental game. Ironically, when I ask many business people how important confidence is in their business, the answer is… ‘crucial’. When I ask how important motivation is, most business people say… ‘vital’. A sales manager once told me that sales performance is ‘90% confidence’.

In sport, the things that change most dramatically in games are often the mental & emotional states, and tactics & decisions. Often those two things are actually quite closely related to each other. Our decision making, and therefore our tactical performance, is normally closely tied to our mental and emotional state. When our mind is in the right place we tend to make good decisions, as well as executing our skills well. Let’s be honest, the same is true in business. In sport, the difference between good and bad decision making can be counted in the £10’s of millions. It’s the same with the execution of skills. In business, our decisions and our execution are also measured in £’s.

So, what are the keys to getting the mental game right? Well, there are 3 key elements to the mental game. These 3 elements work in combination; they are inter-dependent. It is tough to get a performance if we only have one on its own. These 3 elements flow from each other and feed off of each other. So, as coaches, we need to ensure our people have all 3. Once we have all 3 working together, we see a positive spiral of increasing performance.

What are the 3 amigos?

– Focus

– Confidence

– Motivation

The relationship between these 3 is very simple.

When we are focussed, and have a simple, clear job, we stand a really good chance of doing that job well.

When we do the job really well, we become confident and we enjoy what we’re doing.

When we are confident and enjoy what we’re doing, we’re motivated to do it again.

It is very simple, but it often gets over-looked and forgotten. Fortunately, there are some very easy and practical steps that business leaders can take, to start building this positive spiral. Here are three tips to get you started.

1. Make sure that your people have a simple and clear job. Make sure they understand the processes that will help them perform well. Each person will have a handful of key processes, which they need to focus on. When they execute these key processes, they will perform really well.

2. Make sure that your team are focussed on their key processes, rather than being entirely focussed on the outcome. Managers can help by evaluating how well the team delivered the processes, rather than judging them on the results. This is tough to do if the manager is focussed on the outcome. Often managers have to put their own ego to one side, to allow them to get passed the need to win or hit the target. It sounds ironic I know, but the way to build a mentality that wins, is to take the emphasis off of winning. That’s not just true for businesses; it’s true in Premiership football too!

3. To help build motivation, we need to understand our team’s reasons to be there. We need to ensure that we are aware of what drives them. When we understand our people, we are able to provide incentives that motivate them, and create a culture that promotes motivation.

Of course, there is more to coaching a great mental game than can be written in one article. Each of these topics deserves much more attention. To understand how to coach focus, confidence and motivation in your teams, check out Part Three of “Mental Toughness in Five Steps”.