You may not be aware but I have been lucky enough, over the last few months, to spend time with some top young rugby talent. I’ve been giving seminars and workshops on communications skills, based around my learning from working in rugby media and broadcasting. It has been fascinating and, as with any good teaching experience, I have learnt a great deal.
In these sessions, I always end with a question and answer session and they never fail to surprise me. Yes, of course, I have similar sorts of questions regularly, but not one session has concluded without a young mind finding a new thought or some aspect I hadn’t really considered. I am going to share my responses to some of these questions with you, in a series of blogs aimed at creating a bank of resources. My responses to these questions are by no means ‘the ultimate answer’ and if there is anyone out there willing to put forward their own opinion and experience, I would be delighted to share it on this platform. I know young minds trawling the internet for solutions would love as much information as they can find.
The question I will start with came from a recent seminar I gave to a Gallagher Premiership team’s Senior Academy. The question came via email, a few days after we had conducted the seminar. Below is a copy of the question and the answer I provided.
Question: Sounds like you were very much thrown in the deep end early on, our senior academy works a bit like that, how did you deal with feelings such as imposter syndrome? Equally it sounds like you are your own greatest critic, how do you go about receiving bad or constructive feedback when you have already beat yourself up a bit?
My Answer: Getting thrown in the deep end is tough. Steep learning curves often involve falling over. And that can hurt. The key thing is getting back up. I speak to a lot of coaches and this is the quality most in demand. The ability to dust yourself down and go again. Coaches are used to errors being made but they are most interested in how you will cope with it. There’s an old customer service motto that works really well for me: “it’s never the mistake people remember, it’s how the mistake was dealt with.”
As for imposter syndrome. It’s a good sign. It shows you are aware of your own position and that is something we can work with. Self-awareness is a key skill if you want to develop. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is that sense working too acutely and ignoring some pretty logical processes. It’s an irrational thought and your mind loves to run those through over and over again, making them seem like fact.
Let’s apply some rationality: (if we take a young man in your position) think of all the decisions made by others that have got you here. Think of all the matches/teams/groups you’ve been selected for and the amount of times you have picked. By different people too. Competitive people who want to win, and to do that, they pick the best players. Are you suggesting that you’ve been able to fool all of those people? That all of those coaches and pairs of eyes scrutinising your work, are wrong? Even now, every day, people are watching you perform. They are also wrong, are they? They are being fooled into thinking you’re good enough, when the truth is, you’re not? That isn’t the case. That’s illogical. Irrational. You need to recognise that.
However, you are fooling someone. Yourself. Your mind is just focusing on the things you’ve got wrong; concentrating on the mistakes you’ve made and not adding in any other information. Your brain is unfair like that. It creates an illogical loop that you listen to (because it’s inside your own head) that fools you into thinking you’re no good. Apply logic and you should be reassured. It doesn’t mean you stop looking for ways to improve. I’ve always thought that life is about convincing others of your ability, while never fully convincing yourself: you should always think you can improve, while simultaneously recognise and appreciate your own achievements. It’s a delicate balance, as impostor syndrome shows, but if you can get it right, you will be in a good place.
Bad or constructive feedback can be tough to receive. But again, you have to put aside the negativity and concentrate on why you’re being given that feedback. A couple of things to check first. If that feedback comes from a trusted source (someone you respect and someone who knows what they are talking about) then you should act on it. They are only providing that feedback to make you better and that’s a good thing (once your wounded pride gets out the way). If it comes from an untrusted source, then pause before giving it too much thought. There may be any sort of reason it could be coming your way; more than likely the reason is something to do with the giver’s frame of mind/how they are feeling about themselves. If you’re not sure, approach the trusted source with that feedback and see if they agree. That should allow you to know whether to act on it or not.
Thank you and good luck.