EXCLUSIVE: Former England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss may not be a test cricketer anymore, but he is still involved in the sport at the elite level.
Strauss, 42, who was appointed chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board committee in September, believes that sports psychology used to bring players to peak achievement should be more widely shared. And that business as well as sports stars can benefit from mindset changes to boost you to top performance.
Since 2018 Andrew Strauss has been CEO of Mindflick, a performance psychology consultancy whose clients include the Queen’s bankers Coutts and the famous Fat Duck restaurant, run by chef Heston Blumenthal, as well as Olympic athletes and Manchester City football club.
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When he was England team captain, Andrew Strauss worked closely with Mindflick head of consultancy Dr Mark Bawden, who was head psychologist for Team GB at the London 2012 Games.
“It’s a natural evolution,” says Strauss. “In my last four years of playing professional sport, I worked very closely with Mark, really trying to get the best out of myself individually but also others in the team.”
Strauss, who has 100 caps for England, says that sports psychology is a very small field and that it is mostly elite performers who get the opportunity to reap its benefits. He and Bawden wanted to widen performance psychology out to the business and education worlds. Today Mindflick has over 400 practitioners teaching its methods in countries including France, Holland and Ireland with plans to expand to Australia and South Africa. Mindflick’s exponents include performance psychologist, sports coaches and heads of HR for large companies.
The thrust of the Mindflick technique is profiling people to understand how they react when they’re threatened and under pressure and recognising those patterns.
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Strauss says: “Anyone who’s in a performance context will ask, ‘How do I react well under pressure?’ Whether it’s for an examination or an England cricket match, how do I make sure I deliver what I’ve prepared so hard for? In order to do that, you need to understand your own sensitivities as to how you react in those situations as well as those people around you and your team.”
The key, says Strauss, is adaptability: business as well as a sports match is always in motion and it is important to stay flexible and not lock yourself down into rigid thinking. Increasingly, this kind of profiling and understanding how you react to extreme stress is being used by the England rugby, hockey and cricket teams as well as Premier League clubs.
“It’s about understanding yourself,” sums up Strauss.
Here, Strauss sat down with Small Business to share his 5 tips to boost your business performance
It’s about how you win and what you stand for as a group. Understanding that if you’re just chasing wins then you’re not focusing on the foundations which are the people in your business. If you don’t focus on that, wins may come and go but the roots of your organisation will wither and die.
High performance is really about being able to switch your thinking and shift your mindset according to the situation you find yourself in. That adaptability piece is really important. When people are under pressure, they tend to get more rigid and more fixed. What pressure tends to do is switch off the part of your mind that allows you to be logical and well thought out. If you’re not prepared for this and don’t have strategies, you’re in danger of making big mistakes. People get panicked and freeze.
Understand what is different about you to other organisations. But also understand that your strengths in the wrong context can also become a weakness. We all have our sweet spot where our strengths work well for us but if our context shifts, then that can become a weakness.
For example, when I was captaining England, my default was that I was very contained and under pressure I didn’t react too much to either highs or lows. I kept level-headed and that served me well when you’re opening the batting and there’s a lot of pressure on you to absorb those opening overs. However, there was a danger that I didn’t recognise changes going on around me out there on the field and so I became increasingly dogmatic when under pressure — whereas other people in my team would be more tuned in to a changing environment and be much more flexible and adaptable. The upside was that I was calm and composed and not affected – the downside was that I was blinkered.
What we tend to slip into is that we gravitate to people like ourselves. There’ a danger with recruitment that people hire in their own image. In teams within organisations, you tend to be skewed in your own likeness and therefore you’re vulnerable. If everything’s going your way, then it’s fine but if the situation changes and you need to look at something differently, you don’t have those people.
Sport is non-linear, there are all sorts of dynamics at play all the time. It’s a chaotic environment and you need to accept you cannot control everything and having an environment that’s adaptable is important.
If you become too rigidly aligned to a plan and become too process driven, there’s a danger that the plan might work very well but by the time you implement it’s become the wrong plan. Keeping connected with the intent of what you want to do is really important. Details are less important than you think.
Sir Andrew Strauss is chief executive of performance psychologist Mindflick
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