There is a big difference between winners and losers in sports. Now, I am not talking about work ethic or physical gifts/genetics, onto which special emphasis is placed in modern professional sports. There is one crucial difference that most people do not really care enough about yet. Mainly because few people dare to talk about it, as the topic itself is against the “old school” perception of professional sports. However, fear is present in the thoughts and minds of even the most successful athletes. The difference between real winners and losers is that the former dare to talk about their fears, so they learn to manage them.
The general image of professional athletes is as follows: they train harder, fight till the very end, have no fears, and of course, they bring the best out of themselves in the most important situations. This stereotype is interesting because if we have a look at the final results, it is true. However, few people care about how athletes managed to bring the best out of themselves and overcome the athletes of a country, continent, or the world. When we started to assess the most successful professional athletes’ personalities, it was almost shocking to see that the personality type with the highest representation among the world’s top athletes was NOT the type that most consider the absolute winner type, the Ruler (dominant, determined, and competitive). Indeed, the opposite is true. The type that prevails the most is the introverted and not really proactive character that strives for stability and is afraid of change (the Supporter). Although Rulers can reach their best perfect performance in critical moments and Supporters can often wilt during a crisis, both at individual and team levels, the most successful athletes in the world belong to the Supporter category. Many people are shocked when they see the assessment results of an athlete who wins one competition after another. They believe that there is some kind of a misunderstanding, and the professionals surrounding them keep shaking their heads. The interesting and most important factor is that the athletes themselves are never surprised at the results. They know exactly how they became successful, what they told others and what they kept to themselves throughout their careers. They know what they could only tell their close friends and advocates. They knew that they never matched the “winner” ‘s general image, which is mainly used outside the “modern western cultures”. Instead, they decided to keep quiet and let others perceive them as the traditional “winner”.
The question is legitimate: how can the most successful people be the type of person who freezes in a crisis? That personality type that is afraid of challenges and is afraid and anxious before high-stakes competitions. The answer is simple. The key to the solution is that we should not be narrow-minded, and we should focus on the fact that from the perspective of a given “image”, people must have both positive and not-so-positive traits. Rulers can win and concentrate in the most critical situations as well, however, they are not persistent, cannot handle monotony, and do not want to do anything without a real competitive environment. In addition, they are egoistic and often have too much self-confidence, so they ignore others’ opinions. They often do not even care about the coach’s opinion. They build up their lives along individual interests, so fitting them in teams is quite hard and requires outstanding knowledge from the mental perspective. Taking into consideration these traits, people who know a lot about sports understand it perfectly that the fact that someone can bring the best out of themselves in a crisis is not enough if they do not prepare and train appropriately, do not fit in with their team, and do not listen to professionals. Supporters are the absolute opposite; they are located on the other side of the psychology circle. They bear monotony, pay attention to professionals, train conscientiously, and practice a lot. Although learning is a bit hard for them, they confidently present the things they have learned. In a crisis, they might only be capable of a performance of 80%, but because they reach the crisis with an elevated stress state, 80% is often enough to succeed.
Reaching maximum performance with the help of fear
The headline itself seems to be impossible, however, a Supporter’s performance can be boosted with fear management. 80% can become 100%, but it is a matter of conscious work and time. Nevertheless, it is obvious that in the most successful sports countries, such preparations work very well. They are far ahead of others in this field. They recognise, accept and listen to athletes’ fears. In the case of Supporters, they accept that no matter how successful they are as athletes, they get afraid when they just think about a new challenge or situation. In successful and modern sports, people know that fear should not be suppressed, because although it seems to be a good solution in the short run, the methodology fails in a real crisis. A growing number of mental professionals deal with fear being “used for good”. They perceive feelings generated by fear as energy, which athletes can exploit in important moments. The key to success is that professionals start to communicate with Supporter athletes (with Rulers in no way) about their fears in an organised framework months before the great challenge. They keep the boundary where fear is still neutral energy and does not suppress the athlete but does not turn into “false self-confidence”. They do not let the “false ego” develop that might collapse when they meet the first crisis. However, developing false self-confidence is easier, faster, and more visible. It can be easily sold to the client because everybody likes to hear their athletes say six months before the challenge that “of course I will win”. Nevertheless, we need to be careful that these words do not remain hollow. Across the globe, there are more and more athletes who know exactly what “theatre” means, but behind the scenes, they are persistent and invest a lot of energy (more than an average person could imagine) into being successful. Do you want to see an athlete like that? You should watch a movie about a real Supporter. I recommend the story of Usain Bolt. You will see what this is all about.