Mary Pearson, Financial Post

Published: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Witnessing the commitment, focus, fortitude and performance of the world's best athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics has been awesome and inspiring. Athletes train their minds and psyche as well as their bodies so they can be the best in the world. So what can the business world take away from sports psychology to apply to developing winning business strategies, particularly in a still challenging economic environment?

The field of sports psychology recognizes that succeeding requires a holistic approach of mind, body and spirit. Controlling emotions and gaining self-confidence are as important as game strategy, muscle building and skill.

California-based sports psychologist Jack Singer coaches professional athletes from around the world. He also has a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology and consults with businesses. Dr. Singer describes some of the techniques he uses in sports psychology and how these can be applied in the workplace and business setting.

Goal setting

Writing down a goal and referring to it daily re-enforces the goal so it's more likely to be accomplished. Repeating it out loud daily and having it at the top of one's mind engages the subconscious mind in finding ways to achieve the goal. Effective goal setting in sports as well as in a business context includes developing skills for achieving results, identifying target dates for attaining goals, identifying goal-achievement strategies, and regular evaluation of the goal. Dr. Singer says goal setting, while a left-brain activity, is closely linked with right brain activities, such as emotions, patience, optimism and learning to overcome obstacles.


Imagination plays an important role in achieving a vision and realizing one's dreams. Visualizing success through imagery is one of the techniques athletes use to get them into a state of peak performance. This puts the athlete into a relaxed state, enhances mental preparation and helps manage anxiety. An effective application of visualization in business is with sales staff. Perhaps more than any other field, sales requires a strong positive mindset.

Positive thinking

Your inner dialogue affects self-confidence and your ability to deal constructively with obstacles. Creating a positive mindset requires positive thoughts and self-talk. This includes recognizing negative or irrelevant thoughts, identifying the thoughts that are sabotaging, or envision failure and catastrophe, and replacing them with affirmative and positive thoughts. In a business environment, these techniques are as useful for managers trying to build confidence in a work-group, as they are for individuals. By focusing on progress already made, keeping feedback constructive and instilling confidence, a team or individual magnifies their chances at achieving their goals.


Being able to focus energy and awareness helps athletes maintain mental intensity and concentrate on doing their best. The ability to block distractions; whether from a crowd or other competitors is an important advantage for maintaining the steely mental discipline required for achieving peak performance. It also requires an ability to stay focused and to re-focus in spite of setbacks. (Such as the other team scoring a point.) In a business setting, applying this technique involves creating an environment that minimizes distractions so that staff can concentrate on their work. It can also help you to focus on your goal despite downbeat news about the economy, or temporary setbacks in landing the latest contract, or job.

Mary Pearson, CMC, is a Toronto-based management consultant, specializing in organizational design and development, organizational restructuring and leadership effectiveness. Her Web site is

Author's Bio: 

Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Certified, Licensed Sport Psychologist
Diplomate, National Institute of Sports Professionals, Division of Psychologists
Diplomate, American Academy of Behavioral Medicine
Certified Hypnotherapist, American Academy of Clinical Hypnosis

Call 1-800-497-9880 now for a FREE 20 minute phone consultation with Dr. Jack Singer.