Recently, I interviewed Mr Ken Way, Performance Psychologist to Leicester City FC. Having been promoted from the Championship in the 2013-14 season, the club had found its route back to the top flight of English football after a decade away.
By the start of the 2015/16 season, Leicester City F.C. – nicknamed the Foxes – were the bookies’ favourites for relegation. By the end of that season, they had pulled off one of the most amazing sporting achievements ever, in the view of many, by winning the Premiership title. Their achievement cannot be overestimated.
Here are the top 4 things Ken Way wishes he could get his players and coaching staff to do more consistently, each of which contributed, undoubtedly, to the thinking in the Leicester camp.
1. Do the ‘Flip’– when your ‘monkey mind’ starts thinking negative thoughts, make the choice to flip to positive. Many of us dwell on negative thoughts: our minds are like Velcro for things that have gone wrong and Teflon for the good stuff. Ken says the great performers can flip to positive, replacement thoughts when they notice themselves dwelling on the negative. He suggests asking yourself, “What have I learned?” and “What’s good about this situation?” rather than “What went wrong or who’s to blame?”
2. Detach from the outcome– the players in Leicester didn’t focus on winning the league but they got on with that day’s training programme. They didn’t obsess about the end result or performance goals but worked in a disciplined way towards process goals i.e. what they needed to do that day in that training session. So, in other words, once you have your intention, get on with the job in hand and forget about the huge ‘goal’ that’s weeks or even months down the line.
3. Optimism is catching– as contagious diseases go, optimism is one of the better ones to catch. Ken drilled the players to notice if they were feeling down, not make too much of it, encouraged them to share good news and good feelings and, if they were feeling negative, he helped them to spot it and to nip it in the bud. I thought it was interesting when he commented that the players eventually didn’t want negativity in the dressing room and would avoid players who were not ‘upbeat’ and positive.
4. Failing forwards– one of my personal favourites this one. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t learning. Ken encouraged a culture of well-intentioned mistakes. As the renowned basketball legend, Michael Jordan, puts it:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That’s why I succeed.”
So, as a team, Leicester were not frightened of failure nor afraid take to risks in order to learn and therefore to grow.
We can all learn something from this. We don’t have to be professional footballers; we can be at work, with our families or in our communities and get more out of life with these principles every day. And every now and again, we might succeed even further in our own chosen ‘League’.