This is constant: The Mental side of sports is always more important than the Physical. Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Coach Yogi Berra is often misquoted with the line that 90 percent of sport in mental and the other fifty percent in physical. The Berra-ism while humorous seems to make light of the importance of the psychological skills sets important to performance.
In today’s Wall Street Journal look what Bobby Knight is quoted as saying:
"I have always maintained that in basketball the importance of the mental to the physical is about four to one,"
-- Bob Knight, most wining coach in Division I College basketball history
"A Coach's Guide to the Final Four," Wall Street Journal, Saturday, April 2, 2011
We are a couple of days away from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Finals. Is Coach Knight calling attention to the obvious or is it perhaps that the key is always on guard play, experience, coaches, etc. and not on things like: which team handles stress best? Which players have the psychological make-up to finish the game off? Or even the elusive which team at this late date will reach their goals and stay focused to the very end? This has been the case since my first involvement in sport psychology back in the mid 70’s. In sports media and around the water cooler, we tend to direct our attention to those things that are most tangible, the things easiest to measure while watching competition.
So on this weekend of the NCAA Basketball finals why is that I am directing everyone to what Bob Knight has to say. It is because we do the same thing in the business world. We tend to emphasis many of the things that are most obvious, technology, money, stock prices, world news, and corporate infrastructure. We Facebook about things, we tweet them, we make them the constants of our business lives and lose focus that business organizations like NCCA Basketball teams are made up of people with all kinds of skills. We too will focus on similar aspects in business people as we do with players. Instead of height, perhaps it is education, instead of speed, maybe it is how many hours they put in. Regardless we don’t often focus on the human psychological traits needed to perform in the competition we call business.
How people handle stress, how they stay focused on goals or imagine success can make all of the difference to your company. Even more critical can be, just as in basketball, how they play together as a team. All of these areas are attributes that are the focus in sports psychology. They are important short and long term to how a company performs. Most companies as is true with most NCAA Basketball teams do not pay enough attention to these very important mental skills. I have seen many companies change their entire culture and increase their productivity and profitability with simple changes with regards to the importance of some of these mental skill functions.
So are these human traits and skills important to your success? I can guarantee you that if they are important in sports, they are doubly important to your business. Athletic teams don’t focus enough energy on sport or performance psychology. Sometimes because it is simply easier to recruit players that get “IT” better. Their window of opportunity is limited. If it is your company, perhaps it is time to invest in some mental skills training for your people. Helping them become more productive in this economy can’t be a bad thing.