THE IMPACT OF LOCKER ROOM POWER

Paula Radcliffe’s observations on Mo Farah epitomise LRP:

“The other athletes played right into Mo’s hands and that’s a measure of his intimidation factor. No-one went out to really test him and he was getting more and more confident. Once he got into the front there was no chance they were coming past him. He was so calm and I am in awe of the way he dominated that race.”

This book will help you learn about the impact of Locker Room Power (LRP) and how you can incorporate it into your game at any level. LRP exists at every level and in every walk of life. Understand it and you create an edge. Awareness gives you a chance to block it from your mind when facing opponents who use LRP to intimidate knowingly or by the nature of their standing in the sport. Bottom line ignore it and you will be a victim of Locker Room Power. Embrace the concept and learn how to create your own LRP and your ability to succeed increases as will your consistency because others will make your job easier. This chapter highlights a number of world class athletes who have been well aware of this power. I start with the greatest spin bowler of all time, Shane Warne and “Warnitude.”

Within the game of cricket there have been many world class bowlers, however none as consistent and destructive as the Australian Bowler Shane Warne. Warne put fear in the mind of all who faced him; indeed very few batsmen can walk from the crease never having succumbed to Warne’s devilish spin. Gideon Haigh, who wrote the book On Warne, discusses what he labels as ‘Warnitude’. As you read this snippet, it will become clear to you that Shane Warne absolutely encompassed Locker Room Power, and what’s more, he knew it.

“Batsman after batsman came to the middle determined not to be drawn into the web of Warnitude. They would, they promised themselves, forget the reputation, scorn the aura, and play the ball and not the man. Again and again they departed remonstrating with themselves that they would do this next time. It seemed unfair, absurd, nearly contrived. Critics carped that Warne got wickets “because he was Shane Warne”. Warne’s response to this would have been: “Thanks for the compliment.” While what Warne was thinking during his little pause was secondary to the complexes forming in the batsman’s mind, there was, of course, always something. Mike Tyson once said that he visualised his punches coming out the other side of his opponent’s head; I used to feel that Warne did something similar as he stood at the end of his approach, looking at the batsman but also past and through them, as though they were already out. “He gives you the impression that he has already bowled the over to you in his head long before the first delivery comes down,” England’s Andrew Strauss said of facing him; it was an impression faithful to reality.”

© Gideon Haigh 2012 Extracted from On Warne, by Simon & Schuster.

The best way to counter a reputation is to build your own. Once you have created your aura, the impact it can have on the locker room and the surrounding environments an athlete frequents is vast.

The private moments when preparing for a contest are crucial to a successful performance, because it is during these times that a competitor will buy into his opponent’s LRP, become complacent or overconfident about his own LRP, or do what a true competitor does – psyche himself up to play hard from beginning to end whatever the circumstances.

Since we are human the focus we need to remain in this zone is always subject to attack and penetration. We therefore, need tools to deal with a loss of focus so we can still compete almost as effectively even when this perfect competitive state is breached. It is important to have weapons that can penetrate our opponent’s focus because beating someone who is in the flow is a tough task.

The cliché ‘a big fish in a small pond’ applies to all budding stars as everyone begins in a small pond, usually the local club, school or district. What happens to the big fish when he is taken out of his comfort zone? Often the local star is star struck himself when asked to perform at, for example, national level, forgetting or downgrading all his skills and confidence in the face of perceived superior opposition. The athlete effectively throws away any LRP built from earlier success. If, however, he focuses on delivering on his skills to challenge the other competitor with the confidence and expectation of previous successes, then he can deliver under pressure and much is gained, win or lose. This is the first sign that an athlete is building a strong mentality for competing. The following examples from swimming show that top performers clearly understand that they have to create an edge and will actively promote their perceived advantage to intimidate, often using the media to get their message across.

The American swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, winning 4 Olympic Gold medals in Sydney 2000, world champion and record holder of 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke, said that he wanted to instill in his rivals the mentality that they were “racing for second place, and that when it came to major events like the Olympic games, the gold medal was already gone”. By saying this to the other swimmers, he was trying to place a very tiny seed of doubt in his competitors’ minds, which is all that may be required to get a slight edge over them. These small seeds of doubt can turn into fear, and subconsciously they could find themselves swimming for second place. Small things such as your mental attitude and your body language can influence your competitor’s morale – and certainly if you can create a reputation for being a strong performer it can make it mighty tough for your competitors mentally.

Australian freestyle swimmer Kieran Perkins, 1992 and 1996, 1500 metre Olympic Gold Medalist used some powerful mind games to set up an ‘aura of invincibility’ around his reputation, which seemed to make others feel like they were swimming against a ‘legend’ instead of just another competitor. Perkins said at the Atlanta Olympics that the mind is so powerful that certain swimmers could actually control the pace of the entire race – he mentioned that when Alex Popov slowed down, the others seemed to slow down as well – almost as if he was orchestrating the whole race!

This is the power a reputation can have, but if you don’t have a great reputation yet; don’t give anyone else’s reputation the time of day and remind yourself that they will only be as good as their play on THAT particular day. It is very unlikely that they will perform as brilliantly as the person you may have seen on TV. Reputations are a big trap if you allow yourself to fall into them. You should cultivate your own reputation, but never worry about anyone else’s – because if you pay no attention to it, it will have no power over you. Competitors know, however, that ignoring reputations is easier said than done which is why it is important to build one of your own.

This I call Locker Room Power.

Quick points

■   The best performers in the world understand that they have to create an edge against their opponents. Shane Warne, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal have worked hard throughout their careers to create and cultivate their edge.

■   Players who do not understand LRP tend to get distracted by the power of others. Work hard at not falling into the trap of playing the ‘legend’ or the guy on TV. Play the person who faces you on the day.

■   Remember LRP isn’t just created in the pool, on court, in the gym or in practice but also at press conferences, dining areas and anywhere at work where you are watched and analysed.

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