Creating ‘Corporate Athletes’ with STEP’s Employer Partnership Programme

12 November 2021

What can professionals learn from the mindset of elite athletes? That was the theme of the recent webinar for STEP’s Employer Partnership Programme (EPP) members. We heard from former Olympian, Sandrine Mainville, of Canadian law firm Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) and Sindy Peixoto, National Director, Talent Development for BLG about what it takes to be a ‘corporate athlete’. Sandrine won a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics in the free-style 4 x 100 metre relay with her teammates.

BLG runs a development programme that focuses on how to develop ‘Corporate Athletes’ by helping staff to sustain higher performance in the face of pressure and change. Sindy noted that to achieve long-term, high performance staff need to focus on the ‘performance pyramid’: emotions, body and spirit. 

A key theme was the need for recovery and to renew energy levels every day – not just at the weekend or on holiday. Sindy viewed sleep as ‘passive recovery’ and focused on the importance of regular concrete action to recover (e.g. stretching, plenty of fluids, good nutrition and regular exercise). She also stressed the importance of pushing beyond your comfort zone to improve.

Sindy went on to outline the traits of a champion:

  • Self-confidence
  • Strong sense of motivation
  • Natural goal setting
  • Self-discipline
  • Sense of belonging
  • Ability to manage stress
  • Strong sense of focus, and
  • Perfectionism.

Sandrine commented that self-discipline only works if we believe in what we are doing. She got up at 4.30 am to train because she knew had clear goals. The key is to find the why in what we do to make hard work become easy and natural.

The smallest gains can lead an Olympian to triumph but making those gains means putting in extra work every day for years. You also need a willingness to drive yourself harder at the end of a project, as Olympians do for their races. 

Sindy went on to discuss the importance of self-confidence which is:

  • A feeling, not a thought
  • Based on past experience
  • Built from positive experience, and
  • Comes from within.

If you don’t know how you will win/succeed – then you won’t! Sandrine commented that building self-confidence is a journey that takes years and is linked to the quality of your work. You need to trust yourself and your abilities.  If you give your best, and can say with confidence that you did so, then it’s not the end of the world if you don’t succeed – at least you tried! When you’re feeling down, take a rest and recover.

Sindy then presented strategies to build, maintain and regain confidence. Sindy and Sandrine both discussed the power of visualisation. This mental rehearsal, in which you engage all your senses, is a hugely effective way of improving your performance and reducing stress.

We then discussed motivation. To achieve our best, we need motivation and commitment. Motivation and self-discipline were nothing without a concrete goal. Sandrine strove for years to be picked for the 2016 Olympic team. Once she was, she had to establish a new goal very quickly. A chat from her coach, giving her examples and statistics, was a great boost for her motivation in achieving her new goal of winning an Olympic medal.   

Next, we looked at controlling what could be controlled and letting go of the rest. It’s critical to train yourself to manage your inner state and rebound from failure. Sindy noted that you must:

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings
  • Focus on the present, and
  • Take action for change by setting some achievable goals to get started.

Finally, we looked at energy management. According to Sindy, we need to concentrate on the four key elements contained in the performance pyramid:

  1. Physical energy – fueling the fire
  2. Emotional energy – transforming threat into challenge
  3. Mental energy – appropriate focus and realistic optimism, and
  4. Spiritual energy – ‘he who has a why to live’.

Sindy noted that long hours take their toll. It’s important that we constantly feed our body, emotions, mind and spirit. We can underpin this self-care by setting up rituals: intentional, scheduled behaviours. It’s also important that we vary our activities – perhaps working for bursts of 90 – 120 minutes before taking a break (known as an ‘ultradian sprint’).

Self-care is not selfish: you are also doing it for your family and job. Distractions can increase the time we take to complete tasks by as much as 25%. A lack of energy undermines productivity and focus.

Sandrine summed up by saying:

  • It’s important to maintain a good headspace. She takes recommends scheduling everything into our diaries that we want to do, not just meetings. Taking time for such activities gives her a clear shift in energy.
  • Failure is key to building resilience and emotional strength. A combination of hard work and learning from your failures leads you to success.
  • Learn to look at the big picture. Failure is part of a process, not the end of the world!
  • Remember that you are working for yourself before anything else. Look after yourself so that you can give of your best.

To find out more about becoming an Employer Partner, please email: [email protected]

Jenni Hutchinson, Head of Employer Partnerships

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