What Can Leaders Learn From A 16-Year-Old Gymnast?

What can leaders learn from a 16-year-old gymnast?A female gymnast leaps into the air during a floor routine during competition.

Earlier this year I had the privilege to work with an elite 16-year-old gymnast. She started her year with a couple of falls on the vault and was struggling to move on. These mistakes got into her head and paralyzed her so much that she could not stop falling. It was just two weeks before her State meet that I was approached to help her with her “Game Within”!!!

In our first session it became clear that she was gripped with fear—a fear that could not go away. You see, fear always takes us to a smaller place, a place where we feel overwhelmed and analytical. My job was to help her see other possibilities. The opposite of fear is trust, and trust will always take us to a bigger place, a place of peace and flow. But how do we make the shift? I helped her to understand two things:

  • The nervousness will never go away. There is a difference between nervousness and fear. Decide to make nervousness your friend. It is like watching CNN—you can choose to watch the news reporter while there are still little headlines on the bottom of the screen moving from right to left. Decide not to be bothered by it, even though it will always be there!
  • Decide what you are going to focus on. You have a choice. You don’t have to give fear the power in the situation. With this in mind, I helped her to develop a pre-performance routine. Right before she is about to perform she takes 20 seconds to visualize a picture of trust, whispers her performance statement (three words) to herself, and gives three deep breaths.

Not long after this she began to trust again.

This is a great example of how elite athletes are able to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves before they perform. So, how can you use this in being a more effective leader? Do you sometimes feel nervous or even gripped with fear?

Next time you are about to step onto the “stage,” try out the following pre-performance routine:

  1. Accept the nervousness. Say it softly to yourself.
  2. Decide what your are going to focus on. You have choice in the moment.
  3. Breath—Take three deep breathes (5 sec. in & 5 sec. out)
  4. Smile and step on the stage!

You always have a choice! Where are you going to put your focus?

I am looking forward to hear how you think you can use a pre-performance routine as the one above in your world at work.

Here are some additional links:

Keep Calm And Carry On

How Do You Deal with Disruption?