Sport Psychologist, James Newman, discusses how a pirouette en pointe inspires his approach to athlete toughness...
Ballet might not be the first thing hardened sportspeople think of when looking for an image of mental toughness, but to me the image above provides an important psychological end goal for performers.
For many athletes, poise is a word I use alongside images like the above to explain what the aim of our work will be.
Poise is not something one needs when times are easy. It is a quality that can likely only be demonstrated when there is a sense of mental/physical challenge, struggle, suffering and/or pressure.
This is important. Many people think an end goal is to eliminate emotions, thoughts, worries and situations they do not like. In my experience, this is not possible. My perception is that the vast majority of athletes will feel some degree of pressure in their competitive situations, especially those most important to them.
Whilst I don't believe we can delete worry or stress, it is possible is to create a change in oneself so that even with the excitement and pressure of performance - the individual can respond with calm actions and a clear execution. A response filled with poise.
Images such as these scream the power of poise because I imagine that, no matter how well trained one is, doing this action is painful.
However, the beauty, strength and poise (whilst enduring this pain) is exactly what makes their performance so inspirational. The artist can convey joy, sorrow and equanimity - whilst their body is under extreme duress. In fact, their ability to balance, act and convey emotion is not spectacular DESPITE the huge physical strain, it is spectacular BECAUSE of it. The presence of the struggle is needed to create the incredible, enduring result.
And here we really come to the end goal. That struggle and challenge move from being barriers to remove and instead become the platforms upon which true success and alignment with values is based upon. For it is undoubtedly true, that without struggle, no performer can perform.
The juggler of balls is nowhere near as accomplished as the juggler of fire.
James Newman is a Sport Psychologist & Mental Skills Coach offering online support by phone or Skype. Online booking is available here.