By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating
I know for the Broncos fans the game was incredibly disappointing. Many people where in a state of shock. I was speaking with a group of athletes today about the game and a few said they had fallen asleep during the game. What, fall asleep during the Super bowl?! I was the on edge of my seat the entire game just waiting to see if Denver could generate some offense, defense, special teams or coaching for that matter. From a sport psychology perspective, I thought it was a spectacular game. Absolutely amazing from the standpoint of teaching us lessons about life. This may sound like I am putting a bit of a spin on things, but I am not. Believe me and keep reading.
There are two principles that guide my work with athletes. One is that I believe through our participation in sport we can learn about who we are more than any other arena. And two, we can learn life skills through our participation in sport. And that is why I loved the Super bowl. There were so many lessons that can help us all learn about the game of life. And most importantly, these lessons can guide parents to raise kids who are responsible, determined and proactive in their approach to life. So what are these lessons?
1) The heart is the most powerful performance enhancing drug. I think if you would have asked a 10 year old who would win the game after watching the first 2 minutes they would have nailed it. How? By just seeing how the Seahawks played with heart. Seattle was on fire. Their hearts were fully engaged from the start to the last whistle. For a parent, the lesson is to teach kids how to get excited about whatever challenge they face. And to learn that when it comes to sport if your heart is fully engaged, most everything from a mental perspective will fall into place. If excited, confidence will be high, motivation will be off the charts and concentration will be incredible. Everything follows from playing the game (and game of life) with passion.
2) Preparation cannot be underestimated. In an interview the night after the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson talked with David Letterman. During that interview, Letterman asked him about going to the Super Bowl the year before in New Orleans, and how that played a role in his success. Wilson was very clear that after their loss in the playoffs to Atlanta, he was going to the Super Bowl to feel the “vibe” so he would know exactly what it would be like when he would be there the following year. Preparation at its best! I talk with athletes and coaches frequently about getting mentally prepared for practice and not just competition. At times I get funny looks. But that is where it all starts – mental preparation for practice. Prepare for the test, prepare for practice, prepare, prepare, prepare.
3) Everyone can be a leader. If you watched Pete Carroll, the enthusiasm just radiates from him. In interviews with the players, they all make reference to his passion for the game and how he supports them. It all starts from the top. I believe that his excitement is contagious, and is one of the factors that ignite that team. The lesson is that enthusiasm goes a long way. And regardless of your grades in the classroom and how much playing time you get, you can be a leader by performing with excitement. I have worked in several settings where my motivation was strongly impacted by the excitement by those around me. For parents, when your heart is fully engaged as a leader your kids will come alive.
4) No substitute for believing, and that is different from confidence. I love hearing Russell Wilson talk about how is father used to say to him from an early age “why not you.” He remembers that vividly today and talks about how he said to his team “why not us.” They played like they believed the championship belonged to them. There seemed to be no doubt when you watched how aggressive the defense played. And believing is about heart, where confidence is about the mind. In other words, when someone has confidence they think they can do it. But when someone believes they feel it deeply. And that emotional state is ridiculously powerful because as great leaders have said over the ages, “when the heart is fully engaged, a man can move mountains.”
These are just some of the reasons I loved the game. It was incredible from a life lesson perspective. My hope is that you can embrace these lessons and incorporate them into your performance on and off the field.
Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance.