Champion Mindset: Lessons on the Synergy between Elite Sport and Executive Coaching
At Medoo we have always wondered how elite sports coaching and executive coaching compare and contrast. Both are forms of performance coaching that aim to support people in achieving their goals and enhancing their performance at very high levels.
But, while coaching in elite sport focusses largely on enhancing physical abilities, and executive coaching on building leadership skills, they also both enable achieving peak performance in a high pressure environment.
For Medoo's May community event, "From Elite Sport to Exec", we invited Toby Jenkins and Ryan Carters to share and discuss their journeys and insights from elite sport to building up their coaching practices.
Both Ryan and Toby bring their experiences from playing sports and being coached at elite levels of sport to their executive coaching philosophy, coaching process, and thriving coaching practices of today.
In this post we'll share our top take-aways from the event. But there were so many more than we could cover in this post, so if you're interested to watch the full conversation, you can find the video below.
Let's dig right in!
About Toby Jenkins
Toby is a performance coach and has always been interested in how to achieve high performance. He represented Australia in Waterpolo at the Olympics in Athens, and at World Championships. He embarked on his entrepreneurial journey after calling time on his stellar sporting career. He founded a digital marketing company which is still run by his business partner today, went on to found a tech startup, and now runs his own executive coaching practice.
Over the years of his entrepreneurial journey, he experienced personal and family hardships which introduced him to the Acceptance Commitment Training framework; a framework he still likes to use today. He realised coaching was something he wanted to pursue and felt he could really make a contribution to society as a coach.
Currently Toby's focus is on helping people who are trying to reboot in pivotal moments of their life. This could be founders leaving their business after a very long time, someone switching careers after 40 years, or figuring out what comes next after a long sporting career or military service.
About Ryan Carters
Ryan is a Leadership coach and facilitator. He played professional cricket for 8 years, participating in the two major competitions of Australia, the Sheffield Shield, and the Big Bash League. His cricket career also enabled him to play internationally, in South Africa, India, Nepal, and England.
After his professional cricket career, he earned a Masters degree in the US, and started a career in strategy consulting at McKinsey. It was during this time he started providing leadership coaching. Ryan felt he was the best version of himself when providing leadership and executive coaching, encouraging him to coach full-time and branch out on his own.
Ryan's current focus is Dadfit. As a husband, dad of three, and founder of Dadfit, he is on a mission to make 'dadding' a team sport again. His goal is to create opportunities for dads to work out together and as well have meaningful conversations about the challenges that dads face.
Love the process, not just the outcome
As a professional athlete you experience a lot of ups and down, likely more so than in the average profession. One night, you can be performing in a big stadium in front of thousands lots of fans and feel on top of the world. The next day, you could get injured and not be able to even participate.
Ryan shared that you need to be able to cope with those ups and downs and coaching significantly helped him with that. It helped him maintain belief in himself and trust in his abilities regardless of the situation.
"You practice for a long time to become an expert, but ultimately what unlocks the best performance is to allow yourself the freedom to just let the magic happen, and get out of your own way."
This translates to coaching executives where people are senior leaders in their field but may have to endure business setbacks. If you can maintain belief in yourself and enjoy the journey, extraordinary outcomes will flow naturally.
Intensity and focus over volume
It's possible for athletes to overtrain. They can spend hours at the gym, on the field, or in the pool without proper recovery time. This can lead to injuries, but also inhibits their growth progress.
Toby shared a valuable technique he learned from one of his water polo coaches, which is to bring things back to first principles. This is similar to values work that is done in other forms of coaching. His coaches principles were: patience, intensity, focus, and then do it. Repeating this over and over again made it second nature.
He realised how valuable focus in practice really is. To do the work in a really structured format, intense, and directed, performing as well as you can and then recover appropriately.
This is analogous to business where we feel like we need to hustle all the time and then become burned out. In executive coaching we can bring the work back to first principles by focussing one someone's values, applying structure and intentional recovery time. The most progress will happen with regular, intense and focussed bursts of effort.
Imposter syndrome doesn't spare Olympians
...or professional cricketers. There are many expectations and pressures on an elite athlete. These expectations can come from fans, the media, or -the most critical person- themselves. If you come in with the assumption that there's only one proper way to do things, it undermines your ability to make decisions. It is hard to detach yourself from those expectations and not experience imposter syndrome.
Ryan and Toby agreed that it was very important for people to own their own style and be themselves. Otherwise you can become too rigid and underperform. But being your true self also means that you have to own your own expectations and be willing to sit with your feelings that flow on from those expectations.
You need to be honest and clear with yourself that, 'Yes! I want to earn this gold medal!' This is an expectation that you set for yourself. You then need to deal with your own fear of failing at your own expectations, and put everything in place to mitigate failing.
When we apply this to executive coaching and the workplace we can see that we experience similar emotions of imposter syndrome. This is especially the case when people are growing or switching their career. It is important to own and accept these difficult and complicated emotions. The only way out is to allow ourselves to feel them.
Enjoy the present moment
A final piece of advice and learning that both Toby and Ryan shared for athletes, coaches, entrepreneurs, and business leaders alike, is learning to be present and enjoying the present moment. It helps to ask yourself "What if this is the last time?" What if this is the last time I’m on this field? In this competition? Doing this exercise? Speaking to this person?
Both being proud fathers, they see learning to be present and enjoying the moment as a fun challenge with their children. Children have a brutal way of forcing you to be present as you need to switch between the adult world and the child's world quickly. This is comparable to the listening skills and ability to hold another person's frame of reference as a coach.
Being present helps you unlock your intrinsic motivation, helps you to ask questions rather than giving orders, and ultimately be the best version of yourself.
We had a great time talking to Ryan and Toby and learned so much from them. Watch the video “From Elite Sport to Exec”, to to see the full conversation which has many more nuggets of wisdom.
You can learn more about Toby Jenkins and his coaching work at tobyajenkins.com.