LOVE as a Competitive Strategy

THE CONTEXT:

Yes, you read it correctly—LOVE… as a competitive strategy. I know. I know—perhaps not the first word that comes to mind when contemplating an effective way to compete. Especially, given there are so many other “gritty” terms that we’ve grown accustomed to within the realm of sport. 

But, what if it’s true? And, what if the more traditional and combative strategies that we were taught as young athletes are not only ill-conceived but destructive and limiting, as well? What if the source of motivation to compete that many of us still utilize has been creating a tangible interference that has undermined our ability to ever reach our potential?

Big questions. And, if you’re open to a way of coaching that challenges what you may hold true, the answers are worth considering.

WHERE TO BEGIN:

This past week I was in San Rafael, California delivering the opening keynote with my wife, Robyn Meagher, at a coaching conference—The Sports, Energy and Consciousness Festival. Not your average raw-raw high-performance name and, indeed, far from your average coaching conference. Sure, some of the attendees and presenters were what you might expect—coaches, athletes, and administrators. But, there were also some non-traditional individuals there as well—energy healers, sport psychologists, and researchers, as well as some of the most fascinating people you would ever want to gather in a room.

Straight-up—our keynote was about love, and how adopting a culture of love helps individuals and teams not only perform better but for longer periods of time. For 75-minutes, Robyn and I shared our Olympic journeys as high-performance athletes and how we relied on two very different sources of motivation to garner the success that we both experienced.

Mine being more combative—I relied on my disdain for my competition to fuel the desire to compete. Robyn, on the other hand, relied on her pure love for running and the joy that it brought her.

Over the course of Robyn’s running career, her source of motivation far outperformed mine and was also more sustainable. Seventeen years on the national team more sustainable!

However, the question that we get asked over and over—and it’s a fair question—is how to take an intangible concept like love and quantify it with the intent of creating a measurable strategy?

Well, let’s try. We call it your Love Score. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Or, something that allows you to physically record a score that stares back at you—your phone for example. A fleeting thought won’t have the same impact. Now, answer the following questions out of 10—10 being highest. Before you start, remember, you don’t have to share these numbers with anyone. This is between you and yourself. So, let your absolute truth do the answering.

For this particular exercise, we’ll direct these questions to athletes and coaches, but feel free to adjust the questions for your own workplace. Your score will be equally as revealing.

The first question is, how would you score your love for self—quite simply, how much do you love yourself? The second question, how would you score your love for your endeavour—whatever sport it is that you’re engaged in? Third, how much do you love your teammates—the individuals that you train, coach and compete with? And, the final question, how much do you love the individuals that you compete against? Yes, your competitors—how much do you love them? Now, add up your score out of 40. That’s your Love Score!

Assuming you didn’t score 40 out of 40—for every number that you were shy, those numbers represent interferences. But, the flip side of that is that every number shy of 40 also represents an opportunity to get better.

Before I explain how, here’s something to consider. Of all of the national team and aspiring national team athletes that I’ve worked with, none has ever scored over 20. None! And, these are highly successful athletes who present as normal functioning and highly capable individuals.

Secondly, when I think back to my race in our Olympic final and ask these questions, my Love Score is about a 21. Which means that even though my strategy for competition landed me in an Olympic final, that same strategy was presenting itself as an enormous obstacle to finding my best race on the day—we finished last.

And, finally, and perhaps the most tragic part of the Love Score exercise is that for most of us, we can probably agree that at some point in our lives we had a perfect score—40 out of 40. However, something changed. And, that change occurred when adults came into our lives. They showed up as parents, aunt and uncles, neighbours, teachers, and coaches. With those adults came their stories, their beliefs, their ideas, thoughts, and criticisms. And, because we were children and inherently trusting we believed everything those adults had to say. In that moment of trust, our score began to change forever.

Now, each of the categories represents areas where we can either flourish or struggle. If an athletes love for self is compromised, they’ll likely spend a good lot of their time in search of external validation—or conditional love. That lack of confidence, or love in this instance, inhibits their ability to be their best because their ‘best’ is determined by others. In this case, usually coaches or parents.

As athletes, if we don’t love what we do, well that’s a big problem. It manifests itself as compromised motivation which invariably affects how hard we train, compete, take care of ourselves—all of it.

The score related to love for team connects to a major source of motivation—service. When we train and compete because we feel compelled to contribute to something greater than us—the team—we do so with far more energy, purpose, and accountability.

And, finally, the one that raises the most number of eyebrows—how much do we love our competitors? And, believe me, I get that. My score, for example, at the Olympics in Seoul would have been a big fat zero! However, that combative mindset shows up as a distraction for athletes. Because part of their race or game preparation is focused on something they can’t control—their competition. It’s why I always encourage athletes to think of themselves as competing ‘with’ their competitors as opposed to ‘against.’ It’s a subtle difference which creates tremendous opportunities to raise their game and build a healthier sports culture on a larger scale. It’s grounded in the belief, from our competitors best performance—we’ll find ours. Yes, it’s about synergy!

THE OPPORTUNITY:

Having attended the Sports, Energy and Consciousness Festival last week, I have seen the future of sport—and it’s all about LOVE. It’s the only part that’s left. We’ve covered everything else—the x’s and o’s, nutrition, strength training, aerobic targeting, flexibility, video analysis, mental visualization, you name it—it’s been covered. However, what we haven’t covered is the emotive piece—the emotions that hold us while we train and compete.

There’s an expression in sport—if the game is 80% mental, why don’t we spend 80% of our coaching time focused on that mental component. Good question. Well, I would take it a step further. If we’re honest, we’d probably agree that the game is also 100% emotional. Everything about competition happens through our relationship with our emotive self. So, why don’t we spend 100% of our coaching time focused on developing that emotional relationship?

The Love Score is an important and useful window into the foundation through which high performance occurs. I like to call it the gatekeeper. Think about it—all of the fitness, strength, strategy, skill development, etc… happens through the emotional state of the athletes. If the athletes’ emotional state is compromised, so too will be everything else. The performance will be what our emotions allow.

The opportunity here is for coaches to develop their relationships with their athletes and in doing so build the Love Score of their athletes. First, however, coaches should consider building their own score. Because our own Love Score influences the score of our athletes. Let’s be honest, we smell like our score. We drop hints and provide indicators all of the time that speak to our relationship with ourselves, our coaching, our team and those we compete against.

When I get asked, what helped me be a successful rowing coach—I never say that it was because I knew more about rowing than the other coaches. Because I didn’t. What I did know, instead, was what made my athletes tick. I did everything I could to build a safe and loving environment for them to flourish. That’s what supported their pursuit of high performance more than anything else. It’s not like we didn’t train hard or learn how to row properly or manage diet and sleep. Of course, we took care of all of the essentials. But, the foundation of those essentials was a loving culture.

If you’re finding this hard to get your head around—full disclosure, I didn’t arrive at this love thing overnight. It’s been a journey—a long one. However, of all of the things that I’ve learned along my journey, this one piece has had the most transformative influence on who I am as a coach and how successful I’ve been as a coach more than anything else. Love, imagine that—who’d ‘ve thunk!

 

Photo Credit: Fraser MacKay

 

Jason Dorland
Jason Dorland
Jason Dorland has dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence for himself and those he supports.