Cocky on the Inside, Humble on the Outside

I recently shared an article about a controversial and outspoken local athlete on my Facebook. The responding comments were somewhat polarizing – some felt that he should be more respectful towards authority and his rivals, yet many felt that his arrogance was justified.

Even though I really wanted to join in the discussion, I hesitated because the thread seemed to be spinning out of control. Hence this post to share my thoughts about the underlying tension between arrogance and humility and also some suggestions on how to develop confidence without being outwardly arrogant.

Confident or Cocky?

One of my friends on Facebook commented…

“A truly competitive athlete usually display arrogance. In order to be the best, you have to believe you are the best…”

It’s a valid comment and confident athletes often envision themselves as a great athlete. These athletes will not hesitate to make use of positive self-labels to play up their own skills, and may at times play down or undermine their opponent’s abilities.

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However, in a country like Singapore which has been described by Michele Gelfand -author of ‘Rule Makers and Rule Breakers’, as having a tight culture*, athletes who are overtly confident and outspoken are likely to run into trouble with the gatekeepers, since they are likely to be perceived as being disrespectful rather than confident.

Hence, if you are a coach or athlete, it would probably be in your best interest to learn how to develop a healthy self-concept that supports strong self-confidence without coming across as being arrogant.

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The Fear of Disappointing Others

I’ve recently started coaching a new group of athletes who are prepping for the Manila SEA Games, and one of the more “contentious” discussions we had relates to the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval.

What’s the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval?

Simply put, many athletes simply worry too much about what others think about them. I often refer to this as ‘Mind-Reading’.

Although they may not admit it readily, most athletes are driven by the respect and recognition associated with their sporting prowess, and their identity as an athlete. They might believe that they don’t care what others think about themselves or their performance but that’s seldom true.

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Social Approval is part of human nature (The world works only when we care how people think! We are all social animals and a communal species that is interdependent) and all athletes are driven by it to a certain extent.

However, when taken to an extreme, it often turns into a source of fear. For example, athletes may be afraid of letting their teammates down or to disappoint their coaches and parents. They often feel tensed and anxious or are afraid to take risks when others are watching.

Does that sound familiar to some of you already?

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To Coach is to Sell…

I’ve discussed this with some of my peers and most disagree that coaching’s about hustling and selling. In fact, one of them got really annoyed when I suggested that coaches should be put through sales training.

No surprises though, most of us do not perceive the selling profession favourably. I don’t reckon this perception is common only in Singapore. In his bestselling book, ‘To Sell Is Human’, author Dan Pink conducted a survey in the US where he asked people to state the first word that came to mind when they heard “sales” or “selling”, and this is the word cloud that came about…

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Pink argues that the above is an extremely outdated perspective about sales. In reality, when we combine traditional selling with “non-sales selling”, all of us sell. Specifically, as part of our work and lives, we need to constantly influence, sway or persuade others to take action. Doesn’t that sound like coaching?

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The 3 + 1 Step Formulae for Success

I was excited to visit the US on a sports diplomacy trip to learn and develop the content related to Inclusive Coaching for SG-Coach’s formal coach education. The trip was organized by the US Department of State, SportCares, SportSG and FHI 360.

Looking back on the trip, two things stood out. The first would be the new friendships forged. With those that I’ve known prior to the trip, we grew closer and renewed our commitment to make Singapore a more inclusive society.

Secondly, I am so thankful to be given the chance to learn from the many successful American sports teams, schools and non-profit organizations such as Cincinnati Football Club, US Paralympic Swimming, University of Texas Swimming and Dive Team, Starfire Council, Special Olympics Texas and The Play for All Abilities Park.

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At FC Cincinnati’s game against Montreal Impact

“What is their formula for their success?”

“What makes these organizations achieve the seemingly impossible?”

Success leaves clues and these were questions that I needed answers to. This post is a reflection about the fundamental commonalities that make these organizations successful.

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From Noise to Extemporization

“Musical extemporization is the creative activity of immediate (“in the moment”) musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians.” Gorow 2002, 212

Extemporization of any art form (including sport) is often associated with expert level of performance.

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“What’s the difference between music and noise?” Music’s organized noise.

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Why be Grateful?

Much has been preached about the attitude of gratitude. Almost every religion or philosopher (even Bayfucius) advocates it, but what’s the science behind it? How does it make us better, happier and even more resilient?

When we express gratitude, we are Focused On What We Have instead of what we don’t.

Gratitude is somewhat counter-intuitive in a country where we “Everything also complain.” Furthermore, Singaporeans are an ambitious lot, always focusing on achieving what we do not have yet. This may develop to become a sort of blindness that limits our worldview, i.e., we are less likely to notice the good in our lives and even the opportunities that come our way.

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Sport Parenting Tips from a Non-Parent (3 of 3)

It was probably in 2012 or 13, and it was the finals of a ‘B’ Division game between two of the best schools in Singapore. The stands were filled up with students, old boys and parents from both sides. While the behaviour of the students was exemplary throughout the game, the same could not be said for the adults.

Yup! Am talking about badly behaved sport parents and adults. This was one of the worse incidents that I have come across. I could hear adults shouting and yelling all sorts of instructions and expletives from the stands, jumping up to express their frustration and shouting to contest the referee’s decisions.

One parent absolutely took the cake! He actually tried to get closer to the field of play by pretending to be a photographer and started yelling at the player from the opposing team.

Why so much drama???? It’s literally only a game played by younglings!

While the last post’s discussion centred on adopting more of an autonomy-supportive style of coaching rather than a controlling one, this post’s focuses on the behaviour of parents and coaches. Here are some pointers to consider:

Continue reading “Sport Parenting Tips from a Non-Parent (3 of 3)”