After spending more than 35 years in professional sport I have worked with players and teams at all levels from beginner to England Internationals in several sports; world ranked juniors and world ranked men and women. We have always worked on the four elements which when combined create the ideal performance state: technical, tactical, physical and mental, mental being the last piece to the jigsaw. Having trained and taught so many players the key to mental toughness it is now, when my wife has been diagnosed with cancer that I really appreciate how much power those skills can bring to you.
ACCEPTING THE DECISION
So many times, we are told to accept the referee’s decision; you can’t change it so get on with the game and don’t let it affect your performance. Of course, this is easier said than done and the classic John McEnroe “you cannot be serious” underlines how even world class performers can sometimes find it difficult to stay focused. I am sure there are many instances in life where, given a time machine, we would go back and change the decisions, actions or even lack of involvement if we have that time again. Try harder at school, take a different job, learn a second language etc… but we know we can’t do that. Being diagnosed with cancer is not as simple as that! That being said, the process of accepting the decision is critical to move forward.
As we know cancer is not personal; it has not chosen you, nor you it. It is not some sort of payback or karma, it is just one of those things. Yes, you may have had a lifestyle which made you more open to the possibility of developing cancer, but then again there are many people who have lived lives with much more ‘risk’ than others and live to a ripe old age.
So, in the first instance you have to accept the referee’s (Doctors) decision. You cannot change it. You cannot rewind the clock. Nobody is to blame, it’s nobody’s fault, it is what it is and the sooner you can accept this the sooner you can start to prepare for the fight
One of the common reactions is to be angry and ask, “why me?”. This is an even bigger questions if you have lived a lower risk lifestyle but, apart from the release of some frustration, there is no positive point to getting angry. Again, we know that when players in any sport get angry their performance, behaviour, rationale and success become negatively affected. French international Zinedine Zidane got angry in a World Cup Final over a comment made to him by one of the opponents and the loss of control saw him head-butt the opponent resulting in him getting sent off, tarnishing a wonderful career culminating in winning the World Cup. I am sure he has had similar, if not worse, things said to him in the past but on that day, at that time, he lost control.
When you have accepted the decision, it is time to focus. Focus on what you can control. Focus on what comes next, handle your affairs and prepare yourself for the battle ahead. Any sign of anger or loss of control will have a negative and serious effect on your progress
HERE AND NOW
You may have heard the saying “stay in the zone”. What does this mean? Basically, it means that the person has all the elements in balance: they are playing to their best ability, they are in control, they are mentally alert and are not distracted by anything or anyone. When someone is in this zone they are at their highest possible level. Not thinking about the past and not getting in front of themselves holding up the trophy, winning the league or taking the championship before the final whistle. There are many times when players are well in front in a game and they subsequently lose it because of getting ahead of themselves or by changing what they are doing to try not to lose. This is one of the biggest and most common errors made in amateur sport. The future depends 100% on what you do now and only then we will see the outcome. If we could predict the future I am not sure any of us would be where we are today. If you want to look into the past, look only for the positives in the past and use them to help you make decisions, plan and have a clearer insight into the ‘now’.
The future is out of our control so don’t waste time worrying about it. Take care of the here and now and when the future comes it too will be the here and now.
Next time you get some news, even if your first reaction is to be negative, just pretend you are giving your post-match press conference and think about the positives that have happened since you started your fight, talk about them and explain that you are focused on these to help you progress.
ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE
The greatest sports people always accept the challenge. They are never beaten, they never give in and they always believe they can find a way. Manchester United, in the 1999 Champions League Final, were losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich going into added time, or ‘Fergie Time’ as it is now often called. Although there were some tactical changes the team never got desperate, never panicked and, having talked to people involved with the club, always believed they were not out of the game. Goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in the 91st and 93rd minute respectively confirmed their inner belief. Paul Lawrie came from 10 strokes behind to win The Open Golf. Stephen Hendry was 14-8 up on Jimmy White at the Crucible before White won 10 frames in a row at the Snooker World Championships. Winners accept the challenge; not only do they accept it they love it. They love the test of their ability, their mental strength, their control, power, technique, tactics and their complete being. Never down and never out.
Many other people do not accept this challenge and feel there is no way back. They can never win from here or can never recover from that position. If that is what you think and feel, then the odds are you will be proven right and you will lose!
Don’t be beaten! As long as there is a way to win look for it, work for it and challenge those around you to be on ‘your team’. Who knows what might happen in ‘Fergie Time’?
The more specific your goals the easier it is to plan for it. It needs to be measurable, so you can tick the box when you have accomplished it. Achievable means it must be within your reach. Becoming a millionaire by tomorrow would be nice but, unless you win the lottery, it is not really achievable. Realistic is similar to achievable and helps keep some level of logic in your decisions. Timed, in essence, just means giving a date to your goals and, as such, helps you put things in some sort of order
We cannot put a finite date on how long your battle will continue so ‘how can I put dates to my bucket list?’ I hear you ask. What I do know is that without dates you are much more likely not to achieve them. We cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. Much as we believe we can multitask, we cannot do them with 100% clarity. Try a simple test. Continue reading this text and at the same time write your name on a piece of paper in a straight line. Don’t stop reading and don’t stop writing. Can you? I thought not! So, the two things we learned the most in school, to read and write, we cannot do effectively at the same time. Write your goals or your bucket list, apply the SMART theory and I am sure you will tick many more boxes than you would if you didn’t
We know that no two cancers are the same and, as such, we should never look to compare ourselves with others who may have a similar diagnosis. It is similar, but it simply cannot be the same; there are too many variables. It is a natural human reaction to compare ourselves with others. Better job, bigger house, more money, nicer clothes, longer holidays etc… But these are material goods. There is a baseline for these and an easy way to compare and contrast. Cancer is not so simple. Comparing two cancers or two people with the same ‘simplistic’ diagnosis is like comparing chalk and cheese. So don’t!
Every new scan, series of treatments, diagnosis, complication or change in medication is a new season. The chance to start again, to look for the positives, that new ray or hope, the chance to fight the ‘big boys’ and to have your days of glory. Who knows, maybe you are one of the underdogs who breaks the mould and wins when all seems lost; was never given a chance, is not supposed to succeed yet shocks the world. I once saw on a player’s T shirt with the following slogan: ‘If not me, who?’. So, if not you, who? Better still, why not you? Even better, it will be me! Remember we all love the underdog anyway!
Adrian Rattenbury has more than 35 years’ experience in business, coaching and professional sport, he holds 6 Master Professional Coach Qualifications and has been recognised in the industry as the World, European, Middle East and UK Professional Coach of the Year. He holds a Masters Level qualification in Management a Bachelors Degree in Coaching and Management, a Diploma in Sport Psychology and is a qualified teacher and tutor.