WALK THE TALK
Athletes read the play – and the also read the player. Any visible weakness will only spur them on to go in for the kill. How you look and how you hold yourself in the sports arena can also have a direct influence on your own performance, not to mention that of your teammates and the synergy they can create together. You’ve got to walk the talk and stand tall.
SHOW YOU’RE IN CONTROL
‘Posture expansiveness’ plays an important role in determining whether people act as though they’re in charge of a situation, according to research from The Kellogg School at Northwestern University. That is, there may be no reason that they should be in control, but a confident an expansive posture makes them act like they are. This comes from a study that was initially applied to job interviews, but sports organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine then examined the research for application to athletes and teams.
In various experiments such as a word completion exercise, verbal recall tasks, and a blackjack game, study participants with open body posture thought about more power-related words and generally took more action than those with closed body postures in each experiment. The conclusion was that a strong, powerful posture had a significant effect in making a person think and act in a more powerful way.
‘Posture expansiveness’ means positioning yourself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space. This is thought to activate a sense of power that produces behavioral changes. An open body posture would, for example, have you standing tall with the shoulders back, chest out and chin up. The research found that in a team situation, even the most junior or lowly-ranked person in the group can have a great influence on all those around them when they take on a strong posture and mannerisms which exude confidence and positivity.
PSYCHE OUT YOUR OPPONENT
We know that athletes successfully use mental cues such as mantras, visualization and cue words to help physical performance. Now this research suggests that consciously altering your physical state can in turn have an effect on our mental performance and confidence, which then rubs off on teammates.
This projection of confidence can have the opposite effect on your opponent(s). Their perception of you changes – opponents may start worrying why you’re not crumbling, why you’re not tired, you get in their head so they wonder exactly what it is you’ve got up your sleeve to make you look so poised and self-assured.
Here’s an example of the difference between how you think your behavior helps you and how it may be perceived quite differently. Watch any tennis tournament and you’ll see players yelling and screaming encouraging words or grunts to themselves. They may believe it helps them – and perhaps it does – but to an opponent the body language often reeks of desperation and just a little panic, rather than confidence.
WHEN TO STAND TALL
Sometimes it’s good to stop and check your posture:
- after an on-field mistake
- when you've had a rough call from officials (referees, umpires, etc.)
- when you're experiencing fatigue - especially after a passage of play/bout/section of a race where your competition is also fatigued
- after a missed opportunity
- following a distraction
- after you've lost a player to injury or taken a hard knock yourself
- when you're behind on the scoreboard
What you show the world about how you cope with pressure, fatigue, pain or exhaustion will influence your reaction to them, which will in turn either hurt or help your performance.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
All sounding a little cray-cray? Maybe you’ll find this habit easier to ad0pt if you think in terms of the physical side.
An open, expansive posture helps reduce strain and stress on your spine, and it improves muscle tone, especially through the neck, back and the core. It also opens the diaphragm, which makes for an increased uptake of oxygen into the system, and better breathing techniques that will improve circulation. All this combines to create a calming effect both physically and mentally, so you don’t expend too much energy or have your judgement impaired by anxiety, anger or frustration. It’s good to fire yourself up and even get angry sometimes, but there’s an optimal level of excitement and a point where you go over the edge. Too many games are lost due to stupid fouls, and many games, races and other competitions are lost due to bad decisions or an inability to get a grip on nerves or emotions.
So walk the talk and stand strong – confident posture helps you and your teammates perform at your best and it can put your opponents on the back foot, too.