Meet The Sports Psychologist Who Helped Minnows Beat Premier League Giants – The Same Techniques Can Help You

Leicester City’s Premier League title triumph in 2015/16 was one of sport’s great success stories. The team that had been bottom of the table in April 2015 escaped relegation and then defied all the odds – or at least 5,000 of them – to lift the trophy within just 12 months. Their success was a case of mind over matter, and helping the players develop their winning mindset was sports psychologist Ken Way, author of new book Mental Mastery in which he reveals techniques such as the concentration grid (see image below) – read on for more...

‘Sports psychology is a process – you should evolve constantly to get better and stronger, mentally,’ Way tells RISING. ‘These tips help guide you through that process, and you can apply them to any aspect of your life, especially work. It’s about being analytical and being prepared to work on your own brain. Get used to keeping a pen and paper or tablet handy to set out your goals, record progress and give yourself incentives.’

1. The Power Of Self-Belief

Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.’ That’s as true in sport as it is in business. If you’ve set your sights on getting to the top – or at least being the best you can be – there’s one aspect of psychology that stands out above all others: the power to believe you will succeed. It’s become a bit of a cliché but a host of sporting greats would agree.

‘Beliefs guide your approach to everything and act like self-fulfilling prophecies that define your expectations and underpin your behaviour and ultimately your performance,’ says Way. ‘Great sportsmen know this. Michael Jordan said, “You have to expect great things of yourself before you can do them,” while the late sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner said of the Olympics, “From my experience, the ones who believed in themselves the most were the ones who won.” Remember the ABC of beliefs: to Achieve something, you have to Believe that it is possible. To make it happen you have to Conceive it – by setting your goals.’

‘We use mental imagery all the time – are you taking conscious control or do you simply let your mind drift?’

2. Seeing Is Believing

‘Most athletes are aware of the process of visualisation, typically described as a way of vividly imagining something you want to happen,’ says Way. ‘Many profess to know all about it, yet when pressed to elaborate invariably admit they don’t use it, or tried it, didn’t get the results they wanted and gave up.’

Visualisation takes effort, and in Way’s experience it is the athletes who do it every day – some for up to an hour – who reap the rewards. ‘Imagine what kind of impression that would make in terms of the hardwiring of your mental circuitry,’ he adds. ‘We use mental imagery all the time. Are you taking conscious control of it, or do you simply let your mind drift freely without direction or guidance?’

3. Use ‘Focus Analysis’

This technique is based on comparing two similar events: one where anxiety existed and one when it didn’t. Think of a time you lacked confidence or when anxiety affected your performance, then list the critical moments that you remember, and what you were most aware of in those moments. This is called the Foreground of Anxiety.

‘Now do the same for a counter-example, a time when you performed with great confidence,’ says Way. ‘This is the Foreground of Confidence. Now compare the two situations in terms of background – your internal responses to the event. What are the differences and similarities in your internal thoughts and feelings? The key is to compare the foreground and background elements of these contrasting events. That should provide you with ideas in terms of what you should and shouldn’t be focusing on.’

4. Plug Into The Concentration Grid

This technique requires you to focus on a 10x10 numbered grid and to score out numbers in sequence, starting at 00 (see the grid image above). It was originally designed to help people improve their powers of concentration. ‘If you can reach 30 in one minute you’re doing well,’ says Way. ‘Once you’re competent, attempt it while a friend distracts you or by turning up the TV really loud. Note the impact such distractions have.’ It will get easier the more you do it, so use different starting points, count backwards or create your own grid for a new challenge.

'In the first 18 years of life we hear the word ‘no’ nearly 200,000 times'

5. The Secret Of ‘Dialogue Interrupt’

Psychologist Shad Helmstetter calculated that in the first 18 years of life we hear the word ‘no’ nearly 200,000 times. It’s hardly a surprise that so much of our own, internal self-talk is negative. ‘Dialogue interrupt is really simple… but it’s not that easy,’ says Way. ‘Essentially it requires you to catch yourself whenever you start to beat yourself up about a negative aspect of your performance. Most people aren’t aware of the near incessant dialogue that goes on inside their head. And if you’re asking what dialogue I’m referring to, that’s exactly the voice I mean.’

There are various ways of doing it: you could repeat the phrase in a comic voice to dissolve its potency; you could rewind the voice in your head and replay it in a positive way. Or in the words of Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of neuro-linguistic programming, you could simply tell yourself to ‘Shut the fuck up!’ Whatever you choose, it’s a vital step away from negative thoughts towards the positive beliefs that will help you to win.

WHAT NEXT? Take a visualisation test: close your eyes and imagine you’re holding a lemon. Take a few minutes to feel its weight and dimpled texture, running your fingers over it and taking in the zesty smell. Taking it in one hand, now imagine you’re cutting it in half with the other. Put the knife and one half down, and squeeze the other half into your cupped hand. Imagine feeling the juice and some of the pips on your skin. Finally, when you’re ready, drink the juice from your hand. ‘If you followed this faithfully, you will have felt a couple of things: perhaps a sour taste, and a reaction to the taste, increased saliva and possibly even a wetness in that hand that held the juice,’ says Way. That’s the power of the mind.