Want to be your best…or the best? There is one rule that supersedes them all!
YOU MUST BE AVAILABLE!
As my good friend and long-time performance coach, Kris Lewandoski says, you may be the very best in your field, but if you aren’t “available”, you aren’t the best that day (or that moment!).
This thought came to mind as I watched English footballer, Lauren James step on Nigerian Michelle Alozie’s back in “pure frustration” as the announcer said in the Women’s World Cup. This led to England playing with 10 players for the rest of the game and without one of their top goal-scorers in the next two pivotal matches.
One of their best players wasn’t available. The commentator went on to say that she went from “heroine against China to villain tonight.”
Heroine or villain…she couldn’t choose either until the finals, which wasn’t a promised opportunity, because she wasn’t available for the quarters or the semis!
It’s obvious that if we are hurt, sick or out because of a red card…or if we are out of position, we aren’t available to contribute to our team. But we rarely think of the dual nature of our performance and the need to be available mentally…because it is the cognitive side of the coin that orchestrates all action and it may be the biggest culprit when we think of being “available” to be our best!
If we are frustrated…and intentionally (or so it was assumed) stomp on our opponent’s back, we aren’t available to do our job…even if it doesn’t go as far as an outward red card action.
At the top level, they can slow the game down and review our actions, so we need to learn to slow things down, too!
Frustration leads to unavailability…and here are a few ways it detracts from our ability to perform at our peak!
1. It’s an Energy Suck!: Ever noticed how frustration can drain you faster than a marathon? It's like your mental energy is being sucked into a vortex of negative thoughts and emotions. Here is the kicker… the energy that could have been directed toward problem-solving, scanning and sniping, and high-level thinking is being hijacked by frustration. It's like trying to run a race with a backpack full of rocks – you might move, but it's an uphill battle.
2. Tunnel Vision Takes Over: Imagine you're stuck in traffic, running late for an important meeting. Frustration sets in, and suddenly, all you can think about is how much time you're losing and how unfair the situation is. This phenomenon, known as tunnel vision, happens in performance settings too. Frustration can narrow your focus, making it nearly impossible to see the bigger picture, explore alternative solutions, or adapt to changing circumstances which are vital to gathering the information we need to make our next move!
3. Creativity Goes Out the Window: Innovation and creativity are like best friends to success. They help us find new paths, create unique strategies, and stand out from the crowd. However, when frustration takes center stage, creativity often takes a back seat. Instead of thinking outside the box, your mind becomes entangled in a web of negativity, stifling the very ingenuity we need to overcome challenges.
4. It Doesn’t Happen in a Vaccum: As a leader or coach, you know that team dynamics matter! But frustration is like a contagious virus that can spread faster than wildfire. When one team member becomes frustrated, it can quickly infect others, creating a toxic atmosphere that hampers collaboration, communication, and overall team morale. If one of your top players is out…it affects the team in more ways than being down a man!
5. It Dummies Down Decision-Making: Frustration doesn't just affect your mood – it can take a toll on your cognitive abilities too. Studies have shown that emotional stress, like frustration, can impair your decision-making skills. When under its influence, you're more likely to make impulsive choices…we react instead of using our response-ability (our power tool!)
So, how can we be “available” more often (knowing that eliminating frustration is impossible!)?
Here are a few tips:
We can start by acknowledging that frustration is a normal human emotion. IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. We should expect it and plan for it. Let your team members know that it's okay to feel frustrated from time to time, but it's important to address it constructively. By mentally rehearsing a frustrating scenario, we are prepping our mind and body to respond productively to what we know will come our way! It may not be an exact scenario, but we all know what frustrates us the most and have an “if…then” plan cued up!
This is also a great time to stop listening and start talking. Talking to our teammates, and more importantly, to ourselves in frustrating situations can keep us from being “fused” to the thoughts or emotions of the moment. In the book The Confidence Gap, author Russ Harris uses the fused to mean we are “completely entangled by our thoughts.” He contends that it’s not the negative thought that is the problem, it’s that we invite it in for lunch! If we can “de-fuse” it, meaning separate ourselves from it, we can still be AVAILABLE!
Talking to ourselves and asking if the frustration is helping separate us long enough to make a new choice…which influences what happens next.
Finally, we can remind ourselves that no matter how we think or feel, we can act differently. Think of all the times you have felt like throat-punching someone (or was that just my former assistant who told me she thought about it at least once a week...my throat, of course! 😊). I’ll bet you didn’t do it…because if you did, you wouldn’t be in a leadership position and reading this! Our thoughts and emotions DON’T EMPHATICALLY DETERMINE our behaviors. Try this. Tell yourself “I feel tired and can’t stand up.” Say it over and over. Even if you lull yourself into a less alert state, try standing up. Can you do it? Of course, you can! YOU ARE AVAILABLE if you want to be!
If we want to be the best, we must be AVAILABLE both mentally and physically.
If you read my team rules from Cleveland State, the last one was “Be there!” We must BE THERE to DO SOMETHING.
If we aren’t there, it doesn't matter how good we are! No matter if we are one of the world’s best footballers or working in the confines of our comfortable office, figuring out how often we move ourselves to the “unavailable” list and determining ways to get back in the game are vital to our performance!
Remember, addressing frustration isn't about eliminating it – that's simply unrealistic. Instead, it's about understanding its impact and becoming aware of ways you and your team can manage it effectively. By doing so, you can stay in the game and play in the big moments at your best!
Here is to mastering our availability…and the moments!
P.S. Hire me to work with your team for one day or all year. Let’s put together a mental training plan that works for your team. Shoot me an email at email@example.com and let’s get started before 2023-24 program pricing increase begin!
Mental Performance Coach
firstname.lastname@example.org • 234-206-0946