Hopefully you’ve had a chance to watch some Olympic Beach Volleyball on TV.  I finally caught a few matches here on the BBC after attending several matches in London.  It’s pretty obvious on TV that this event is energetic and fun, but really doesn’t completely capture the energy of Horse Guards Parade live.  This venue is ON FIRE!  First of all, the location is iconic.  The Prime Ministers residence overlooks the venue, which is also flanked by the The Mall and Downing Street.  Truly, a one-of-kind venue.   The event planners did an amazing job of bringing the beach to the city.  The upbeat music was blasting and much of the event felt more like a dance party (complete with Horse Guards Parade Dancers!) than an Olympic competition…but there was competition…Excellent competition!

I am huge fan of Volleyball.  It is the first sport I worked with as a professional in my career and I love the mix of power, athleticism and communication required to succeed.  Volleyball is very much momentum sport.  One of the key mental components to momentum sports is letting go of mistakes quickly…not letting negative emotion take over.  The women’s match we saw between Great Brittan and Austria exemplified this phenomenon well.  The GB ladies certainly had the “home court advantage, the crowd was really behind them.  But, they did make common mental mistakes.  Following technical mistakes their body language changed.  They looked down (a tell tail sign that an athlete is over thinking), their feet slowed down, and their frustration began to show.   Once a team gets sucked into the negative spiral (negative thinkingà negative emotionàpoor performanceàmore negative thinking) it’s very tough to stop.  How can you stop a negative spiral?

  1.  Learning to recognize negative thinking has started is key.  Negative thinking, in its early stages often takes two forms.
    1.  Focusing on past events, usually a mistake, which creates feelings of frustration and anger
    2.  Focusing on future events, “what ifs” which tend to create nervousness and anxiety.
    3. Stop it.  This is one of those “easier said than done” skills.  Practice and discipline are required to become consistently successful.   Here are a couple of useful skills:
      1. Stick to instructions.  What is your job, right now?  “Look”  “explode.”
      2. Ask yourself, “Does thinking this way help me play my best?”  If not, change it (back to instructions) and get to the present.

The Austrian’s remained strong, consistent and seemed to get mentally tougher as the competition went on, ending in victory for the Schwaiger sisters.  In contrast to the Brits, they looked relaxed, focused and seemed to be enjoying the whole experience.  While you could argue that their body language reflected the fact that they were winning, it was a close match so the score was up and down.   I would argue that were winning because of their champion-like body language.  They never mentally let down.  They worked point by point, slowly, but consistently.  Their eyes stayed up, their feet kept moving.  By they way, both of those behaviors are completely in your control.   I encourage you identify the times you find yourself battling negative spirals and practice staying disciplined in your present thinking, keep your eyes up and feet moving.