This book is written by Professor Damian Hughes who you may also recognise from the High-Performance Podcast and an author alongside Jake Humphrey of the book High Performance: Lessons from the Best on Becoming Your Best.

Hughes starts by asking ‘How do you create a winning mindset?’ and through all his work and assessment of good, and not so good coaches, he found that the good ones draw on a common set of traits that make them more likely to succeed.

The Five Principles

As he poured over thousands of notes and observations from what he had seen and studied, he saw the same principles at work. The five principles to develop a winning mindset are:

Simplicity, Thinking, Emotional Intelligence, Practical, Storytelling, or the acronym STEPS.

Simplicity

Great sporting leaders strive for the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement of intentions. There is an emphasis on communicating just one simple message at a time. However, this is not about just creating a sound bite.

There is a story in the book about Sir Alex Ferguson, the Man Utd manager, talking to his team before a match against Tottenham. Now many of you may know I am an Arsenal fan, so although it is about Man Utd, this story does still make me smile. The story comes from the mild-mannered captain of Man Utd at the time, Roy Keane. Keane said they were all in the dressing room and Keane was thinking that we don’t want any long-winded team talk about Tottenham and who they are and how they will play. Ferguson then walked in with his usual authority and control. He looked at the team. He said just three words and then paused and just walked out having presented his core message. Those three words were ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham!’

Thinking

How to create interest and curiosity. How elite coaches can systematically lay tripwires or open gaps in their athlete’s knowledge and then fill those gaps, ideally themselves through their own thinking and discovery.

British cycling used a model of appointing kings and queens, with their performance support staff being there as aides to help and guide the cyclists. The kings and queens could pick and choose where they got their help from, and this empowered the individual to make smart, intelligent choices. The consequences of poor performance were also clear. Allowing people control of how they meet their targets increases performance. As Einstein put it ‘I never teach students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn’

Emotional Intelligence

How to get people to care about your ideas – make them feel something. We are wired to feel things for people, not abstractions. This has made many coaches delve into the world of neuroanatomy to learn how harnessing emotions can create this winning mindset. There are often crossroads or decision points along the road, and it can feel like there is an argument inside your head between your ‘good’ rational side and your ‘bad’ emotional side. Great coaches know how to mediate between these two sides.

One of the stories tells of the boxing manager and trainer, Cus D’Amato who developed the careers of Floyd Pattison and later the great fighter Mike Tyson. He took a ‘weak’ 14-year to being one of the best in the world, but not just by training the body, but with the mind. Much of the training was on the mental aspect of boxing and building the mental strength of Tyson and much of it was talking and analysing, not boxing. Whilst D’Amato died early in the professional boxing career of Tyson, he is credited as his life mentor and Tyson went on to become the youngest heavyweight champion of the world. Directly after winning that fight, he dedicated it to the memory of Cus. It is also said that the many personal struggles that followed in the life of Tyson started after the death of D’Amato, when he lost his mentor.

Practical

How do we make our ideas clear? How to explain them in terms of human actions and in terms of sensory information. So much business communication such as mission statements and visions become meaningless because they are so vague and ambiguous. The former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said ‘If you can’t explain what you are doing to your mother, maybe you don’t really understand it’

The great tennis player, Ivan Lendl, was the coach of Andy Murray, when Murray won Wimbledon in 2013. Lendl had a very interesting way of communicating in training and at matches. He was a man of very few words and chose those that he said very carefully, and sometimes it was just a look or a movement of the eyes. Very subtle but Murray learnt to differentiate between them and what they meant.

Storytelling

To get people to act on ideas, we tell stories. They enable the idea to become richer and more complete.

There is a great story in the book about Bill Shankly, the manager of Liverpool FC. In 1965 they had just returned from a replay for the European Cup Quarter Final in Rotterdam which had gone to extra time. 3 days later they were due to play Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup and Shankly noticed the players were really tired, and he saw this even in the dressing room just before the Chelsea game kicked off. He stood up and said that Chelsea think tonight is a formality, because they think you’re too knackered to win. That’s why Chelsea have already printed up their FA Cup Final brochures for when they get to Wembley. He then showed the brochure to them and waited whilst the players took it all in. Shankly then posed several questions to them ‘What do you think, lads, is it a formality?’, ‘Are you too knackered to win?’ and ‘Are you finished?’

Liverpool went out and won the game easily 2-0. At the final whistle, the Chelsea manager, Tommy Docherty asked Shankly how he had managed to get a performance like that out of them with so much energy? Shankly handed him the brochure and Docherty said, ‘What the **** is this?’ as he didn’t recognise it. It wasn’t something Chelsea had printed. Shankly had one copy printed to show the team before the match!!

I really enjoyed this book and there are many more stories in there that I had not heard before. Having read both this book and the High Performance one, I actually preferred this one out of the two.

Happy reading.