VIDEOCAST: What Should a Business Leader Know about Sports Psychology?

What is the difference between a decline in motivation and a change in attitude? Why should a coach always be themselves and why should they look at their emotions?

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The crucial importance of social skills

Both sports team coaches and corporate team managers have long been viewed not only in terms of expertise, but also in terms of social skills. However, as Paweł Habrat emphasises, every coach should first of all know... themselves.

“A simple example would be a coach who wants to have a team that controls emotions, while they themselves succumb to those emotions and generate them. Even the most beautiful speech won’t help here, because there will be such things as physiology and strong excitement, and the players – in addition to the verbal message – will also see the non-verbal one, that is, that the coach is simply irritated throughout the match,” explains Paweł Habrat.

“Then modelling will also come into play, or a kind of emanation of the coach’s attitude onto the players. That’s why I always encourage the coach to first and foremost be themselves,” he points out.

Doesn’t understand, doesn’t want to, or can’t?

The key here is to look at your own emotions and ask yourself what drives them. Coaches and leaders often simply try to stifle emotions instead of examining where they come from. And this may be due, for example, to the fact that the players do not listen to instructions.

In the second case, it will be necessary to check the reason – whether the player (or employee) doesn’t understand something, doesn’t want to or can’t do something. What might the lack of understanding stem from? Perhaps the message is conveyed through the wrong channel. For example, visual messages are likely to reach a particular player more effectively.

Or perhaps the misunderstanding is rooted in the stress that accompanies contact with authority and the player first “takes an attitude” and only later listens to the information being conveyed. This is one of those cases when important information is better conveyed indirectly – through an assistant or teammate.

Motivation versus attitude

So what about shouting at the players? Sport often requires short and clear messages – conveyed at a run and in emotions. However, many coaches consider shouting to be a sign of weakness, indicating that other elements are failing if such a strong measure is being used. According to Paweł Habrat, however, what ultimately matters here are the results and sports performance.

And for these you need, among other things, proper motivation of the players. In this regard, a common mistake is to misinterpret temporary declines. This is because it is important not to consider short-term changes in attitude as a decrease in motivation – they should be part and parcel of every activity.

A player who comes to training every day is adequately motivated, but if there is a strong wind during training and it’s two degrees below zero – a temporary change in attitude can be expected. This kind of thing is sometimes misinterpreted, yet it does not represent an overall decline in motivation.

And what about players and employees with a perfectionist mindset? It’s not entirely beneficial, because it often involves a certain rigidity of approach: “If I win, I’m great, if I lose, I suck”. Meanwhile, a player’s capabilities are variable and can be at a different level each day.

What else should you know about sports psychology being a business leader? You can find out in Jarosław Kuźniar’s conversation with Paweł Habrat conducted as part of the “Wellbeing Summit” series.

Paweł Habrat

Sports psychologist with the Olympic Psychologist certification of the Polish Olympic Committee, member of the Sports Psychology Section of the Polish Psychological Society, psychological subcommittee of the Medical Commission of the Polish Olympic Committee. From 2006 to the present he has worked with the Polish Tennis Association (psychologist of the Polish DAVISCUP and FEDCUP national team). He currently works with KGHM Zagłębie Lubin club and the Polish national handball team; in the past, he was a psychologist of the Polish national football team during the EURO 2012 European Championships.