Category Archives: Sport

Hope and Fear

Felix Baumgartner skydive

Fear, a primary emotion, is based on present events and past knowledge, an urgent feeling that may cause responses to freeze up … which can seem very powerful.

I hope I can make fear cool
-Felix Baumgartner (skydive from space)

Hope, a secondary emotion, requires flexibility and perhaps the search for new ideas, it’s a more mindful and complex process.

fear and sport 2

Where fear is triggered by the nervous system and designed to help us cope with demanding events like danger, hope requires rational thinking and therefore originates in the brain. However, if allowed fear can on occasion present an obstacle in our minds when we’re looking for calm to prevail.

-Maria Jarymowicz and Daniel Bar-tal

teen runner

In sport the thought of negative consequences can threaten your performance through inhibition since it’s primary role is to help you reach safety.

Fear can also affect recovery from illnesses if it’s allowed to be the over-riding emotion, while hope needs mental strength.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln said a man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. With hope you’re about as hopeful as you make up your mind to be, your future has about as much to offer as you make up your mind to allow it to have.

Really it comes down to your philosophy. Do you want to play it safe and be good or do you want to take a chance and be great?
-Jimmy Johnson, NFL football head coach.

griffin redskins hope ny giants fear

When you’re not afraid to fail your chances of succeeding improve. Where does this fear come from anyway? .. Behind the fear of failure is often perfectionism. Perfection which is reinforced in our society… starting at school when we get right and wrong answers.

Beneath the desire to succeed and achieve excellence is an ultra-critical, demanding and judgemental voice. If we can trust in our abilities everything flows from there and we allow for the possibility of perfect imperfection.


We should hate to fail, but never fear it. Failure is the best teacher in the world .. almost better than winning. You can learn from what happens to you and how you feel both good and bad. Everyone makes them and we can learn from those mistakes we make.

Billie Jean King said athletes should look at failure as feedback, failing to learn is learning to fail

Micheal Jordan
calls fear an illusion. He, along with plenty of other athletes, changes fear into anger – you can run from it or you can get angry and attack it. Although, being assertive might be a more accurate term to use instead of anger.

michael jordan

Good athletes take fear and turn it around, they look at it as a natural part of growing and learning. People who succeed aren’t afraid of failing.

Excellence does not require excellence
-Henry James


Hope Knows no fear

Hope dares to grow even inside the abysmal abyss

Hope secretly feeds and strengthens possibility

-Sri Chinmoy

tazmanian devil

Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope
-Haruki Murakami

Perseverance, victory .. it never stops
Winners don’t quit

Mind Games

Few people get to see the most important part of an athlete’s performance.

Sporting Mind

This is a place in the Olympic park that few people get to see. It’s in the nooks and crannies of the mind where the Olympics are won and lost. This is the inner santum where the last few moments will be spent before stepping into the mega-wattage or competition arena just a few yards down a corridor. It is here that the athletes perform the highly secretive and truly bizarre routines designed to take them into the zone.

Some athletes pace from foot to foot, others go into half trances, some have eyes closed, visualising optimum performance. Some have bizarre superstitiions, others have silent prayers. The most surreal part of sport, which is often the most fascinating, is just before the competition begins. These are highly solitary moments, you are alone with your thoughts or perhaps demons but in many sports solitude is impossible. You are confined to spend those final moments not on your own but in close contact with your competitiors. It’s here that the mind games go into overdrive.

‘From my perspective, these are the guys I have a new battle against who are standing in my way of achieving my objective of winning a gold medal’.
-Michael Johnson, four times Olympic champion

‘I never looked at it as personal. I didn’t think they were trying to destroy my dreams or beat me. They were simply trying to win. I didn’t own winning. I just wanted to win’
-Carl Lewis, nine times Olympic champion

The interesting thing is that Champion athletes (according to Tom Bates, sports psychologist) with the gold medal mind set, will not see winning a gold as a problem at all they will perceive it as a privilege.

‘I quite enjoyed it actually .. because the pressure is so high at that point .. and all other things being equal .. it’s the person who handles that moment, that pressure .. at a particular time best .. that’s going to have the best performance. There was one competitor who asked to pray together. I’m not praying with you. Most of the guys did it. I didn’t, I’m not going to do that. I’m about to go to battle’
-Michael Johnson

The biggest irony in Olympic sport is that however good you are, however many sacrifices you make, it all counts for nothing if you can’t deliver when it really matters.

Four years of preparation for just a few defining moments of action. This is in many ways the ultimate ‘sliding doors’ moment.

So, the key question is: do the psychological rituals the athletes use, in the dressing room and continue to use in the arena, actually work? In short what do we really know about the dark art of performance psychology.

‘You’re already under a tremendous amount of pressure. Knowing the significance of the moment. This is what you’ve been training for so very long. This is what you’ve been preparing for. This is your dream come true, to be there, and you’re just that close.’
-Michael Johnson

‘You will always have an internal voice saying this is dangerous run away, run away’
-Chris Boardman, 1992 Olympic gold medallist

‘A psychologist would always say ‘control the controlables’. As in you’re not in control of the weather, you’re not in control of the opposition, you’re not in control of the tv, the audience, the crowd, the event or the .. you know, that’s all beyond you’
-Sir Matthew Pinsent, four times Olympic gold medallist.

‘you can only control how you perform when the gun goes off’
-Michael Johnson

‘You narrow it all the way down to something incredibly simple’
-Matthew Pinsent

‘It’s ironic now that I’ve lost my faith but my faith I think, gave me perspective .. to a degree .. to disassociate myself from the outcome’
-Jonathan Edwards; 2000 Olympic gold medallist.

Confidence to some extent depends on ignorance.

‘You have to do the best you can, then let the chips fall as they may. I can only be as good as I can be and cross the line and see what that got me. It’s a very calming, focussing and quite inspiring thought’
-Carl Lewis

Looking for a Job?

Guide for visually impaired ski racer

Ex-racer (ideally at National Team level) needed urgently for Jade Etherington, a member of The British Disabled Ski Team. She is twenty-one years old and classified as a B2 (less than 5% vision in each eye). She is qualified for World Cup slalom, Super-G, downhill and IPCAS giant slalom. She is seeking a new guide who can train and compete with her until the 2014 Winter Paralympics, as part of a twenty week world class training programme.

Being a guide, you will be an integral part of the British team, also receiving medals at each competition including the Paralymics. The purpose of a guide is to ski in front of the visually impaired athlete and communicate with the athlete when to turn. Using headsets fixed onto helmets, you will guide the athlete down the race course.

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If you are interested in skiing with Jade or would like further information please contact her on: 07714170416 or email:

Performance Psychology

Performance pyschology is to a large extent about the ellimination of doubt. In many circumstances doubt is a rather sensible thing. If someone’s trying to flog you an insurance policy it makes sense to doubt whether what they are saying is true. But, in sport .. doubt is catastrophic. If you don’t believe you are going to nail a landing or hit a trajectory exactly right you’re almost certain to miss. That’s why visualising a perfect performance is so important .. it can help to eliminate doubt. Superstitions can do the same kind of thing .. they provide reassurance and boost self belief.

Superstition is an interesting phenomenon, particularly in sports psychology, because what we’re saying is that thoughts become things. What we think affects the way we feel. The way we feel affects the way we behave. Ultimately, in a sporting context, how we perform.

A similar kind of thing happens in the field of medcine; a sugar pill containing no pharmacology what-so-ever can have incredible effects reducing pain and anxiety, even eliminating nausea, as long as you believe it will.


Jonathan Edwards put it into a slightly different context .. any belief can have astonishingly powerful effects, providing it is held with sufficient conviction.

‘Maybe that’s the key here, you need to find something that works for you. Every athlete is an individual; you can take out the training manual, the sports psychology book and you can say ‘Michael Johnson did this, Carl Lewis did this and Mohammed Ali did that’ and go on and on and on through the greats but none of them are you and you must find your own way’.
-Jonathan Edwards

Delivering under pressure is a rather brutal thing but also a profoundly subjective one. Many athletes are overcome with nerves. Others are afflicted with terrible self-doubt. Is it any wonder that they reach for the particular ritual that makes sense to them, that provides a sense of reassurance and control? Prayer, superstition, visualisation .. take your pick. What is certain is that the minute difference between victory and defeat, on the biggest stage of all, is often to be found not in skill, not in effort but in the recesses of the mind.

Matthew Syed



A short film by Lynne Ramsay, director of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Ratcatcher, commissioned by BBC Films and Film 4 to mark the Cultural Olympiad.