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  • Writer's pictureAthletes In The Zone


Case study

In this case study, the client was a 37-year-old male professional golfer who had played on the PGA European golf tour for 14 years. Our relationship started in 2002. To protect his anonymity, the pseudonym "John" is used. John had won five times on golf's European tour and was a former Ryder Cup player. John sustained a wrist injury that prevented him from playing the game for 18 months. When he returned to the tour, he could not find his previous form and played so badly he lost his European tour playing status. When the consultancy began, John had not played on the European tour for 2 years and had reverted to a sales position to make a living. He had recently downsized his property to support his family.

Phenomenological interviews with John suggested he had a loss of self-confidence and a negative belief that his game was not good enough to compete at the highest level. Negative beliefs have a massive impact on performance. The beliefs people have about themselves manifest in reality and prevent people and organisations achieve great things.

Positive psychologists have successfully managed feelings of low self-confidence and negative beliefs by challenging and restructuring the client's dysfunctional beliefs and focusing the minds of their clients on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Encouraging them to complete tasks they are good at every day and adopting a positive mindset such as 'how do I get better every day' has also proved to have a profound effect on self-confidence and negative beliefs. Consultants utilising this approach also find clients as happier, having higher self-esteem, experiencing less stress, being more resilient, performing better, and being more engaged. The efficacy of this approach has been supported widely over the past 20 years.

The strength-based approach and the cognitive restructuring methodologies used became a significant feature of John's mental training program. Using this approach John managed to get himself back on the tour by believing he could compete again and win major championships. More remarkably John went on to win 2 major championships. When asked the question about the psychological intervention after his first major win John said this about his game.

"I am usually the 'bridesmaid' in these events, I have come close to winning several times in the past, but I always make mistakes when I need to make a shot. Putting usually lets me down like in the first round, but sticking to the routine helped me win, going for every shot made a huge difference. I held some crucial putts out there just to save par, it's astonishing to realize I did not miss a putt in 3 rounds. To do this in front of my family makes this better; my younger kids have never seen me win anything before." It is essential to note here, the belief "I am always a bridesmaid" had faded away and was replaced with "I can win majors."

The beliefs athletes hold about themselves and the mindsets they adopt about winning and achieving are fundamental to understanding success and optimal performance in sport. We, as consultants, can inspire athletes to achieve new levels of performance by pushing the boundaries of what athletes believe they are capable of. We call these boundary-breaking beliefs "quantum thoughts" because they involve creating a new reality for the athlete. Quantum thinking can lead to transformations and enlightenment if the thoughts are positive. Positive quantum thinking evokes hope and a life with a better future. When these thoughts are consistent and fueled by passion, confidence, and intensity, they work through the belief system of the athlete and transform into reality. In other words, what athletes think will happen does happen. This is the self-fulfilling prophecy effect described by Merton (1948).

This effect can be seen in both business and sport. Indeed, the great athletes and the great teams in businesses and sport have people who believe 'something great is going to happen. There are numerous examples of this in Collins's book 'Good to Great'. Great teams comprise people who have positive mindsets. Their beliefs about themselves and their teams manifest in reality. A great example, that supports the efficacy of this wisdom is Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. In a television interview in 1984, Michael claimed he was going to be the world's number one player, and the Bulls the worst team in the NBA were going to be the greatest team. His predictions manifested themselves in reality in 1991. This is a 'mind over matter' self-fulfilling prophecy effect.

What is apparent, is that beliefs have an overwhelming effect on achievements, success, and performance. They are the foundation of a high-performance culture. Leaders of teams in business and sport need to recognise the intangible things, the soft stuff is the hard stuff. You will never get a high-performance culture or elite teams without focusing on the intangible 'soft stuff'. Beliefs, values, habits, and certain behaviours are fundamental in the development of a high-performance culture.

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