Tag Archives: sports

Power of Negative Thinking


I have run 16 marathons and now going for my 17th this Sunday. Couple of weeks before the run I am still overconfident and raving about my upcoming new record.  Week before marathon I start to be more quiet. It feels that my condition is horrible. I envision all the possible injuries I will get and the bad weather upon me. Then I usually just run it.

Although people always talk about positive thinking, actually it might be more beneficial to defensive pessimist:

“When people are being defensively pessimistic, they set low expectations, but then they take the next step which is to think through in concrete and vivid ways what exactly might go wrong. What we’ve seen in the research is if they do this in a specific, vivid way, it helps them plan to avoid the disaster. They end up performing better than if they didn’t use the strategy. It helps them direct their anxiety toward productive activity.”

-Julie Norem

Whether it is running the marathon or doing a big presentation, I generally advocate the following pattern:

1. Be generally strategic optimist: Believe in yourself and be confident

When something is still far away, envision the best possible outcome and eagerly plan to make it happen. Make public promises and be overconfident. This usually also inspires me to work more and ensure that I don´t fail.

2. Be defensive pessimist close to your performance: Make the mental image of things going really bad

When the actual event is approaching you start to freak out. That is a good thing because your defensive pessimism starts to kick in. By visualizing all the major things that go wrong you are not affected by the minor things that go wrong.

3. On gameday: Don´t think, just do it

When it is the race day or big presentation, you just let it go. You usually realize that it is not as bad as you envisioned and keep on going. After you jumped from the cliff, it is also too late to climb back.

“I would visualize the best- and the worst-case scenarios. Whether I get disqualified or my goggles fill up with water or I loser my goggle or I come in last, I´m ready for anything.

-Michael Phelps

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Difference Between a Champion and a Mere Competitor


“He (Ashton Eaton) loves the limelight when it means seeing his name on record boards,” Metcalf said. “But he doesn’t like to beat other people. As a high-school boys’ coach, you can kind of get in the grill a bit and pump them up, say ‘Let’s get this guy.’ But Ashton never worked that way.”

Metcalf told him to think of the decathlon as a competition against the self—a common enough approach, but one that continues to come in handy for Eaton, who, at this point, is often competing against his own records.”

Mary Pilon: Can Ashton Easton Save Decathlon? (New Yorker)

 When you truly don´t care about others and don´t enjoy winning other people than yourself, you have reached the highest level of mastery.

Tagged , , , ,

If You Want To Win in Life You Have To Go Little Berserk

“To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year –but for a lifetime”
– Bill Rodgers


I have been reading many sports books lately (Open, Sports Gene to name a few). The latest one has been “Marathon Man” about Bill Rodgers. He was a runner who helped to broke running to mainstream and is recommended reading for anyone who runs.

The book is also an eye opening account on how recent phenomenon the jogging phenomenon is. The runners were odd freaks and smoking tobacco was normal. Boston Marathon did not even have water during the early days and Bill Rodgers won the Boston marathon running in oversized Nike shoes. He did it still in 2:09:55. Sports has developed quite a lot, but at the end of the day success is about simple things:

There is no shortcut for not putting the miles. If you want to succeed in running, you have to run and run a lot.

“Only ran once – Shit F*** Fart!! about 13 miles at OK pace at 9:00 AM. too tired to run”
From Bill Rodgers training log

Especially marathon is not only about just letting it go. It is about listening your body, knowing your opponents and knowing your terrain. Bill Rodgers trained on Boston Marathon route constantly and knew it inside out. He was well prepared to win it.

He was also known as a guy who started out too fast and got burned at the end of the run (recognizing myself here). This handicap also made his great runner. His guts The guy who has the killer instinct will have the final edge. You have to push yourself to limit and then go for the win. If racing does not bring out your intensity, you do not have a change:

“I became intense about the marathon. But I am nowhere near that intense in the rest of my life. In fact, I think running is the only way in which I’m competitive. I have a need to run and sometimes I love it. It’s probably because I wasn’t really good at anything else.”
Bill Rodgers

Or like the late great Steve Prefontaine put it:

“A Lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, push himself even more”

4. Philosophy
Sports is a much bigger thing than just competition. It is a way of life. If I do not get my morning training, I do not only feel the physical withdrawal, I also feel the mental effects. Pushing yourself to the limit has a strong spiritual aspect.

“Training need not be an all-or-nothing battle, involving punishing track practice, grueling calisthenics, and wrenching interval sessions every afternoon. It could be a fun and easy cruise through the gorgeous New England countryside. It could be an act of freedom by which I could step outside myself and my racing mind. A long run in nature could even be a way to connect my physical body with the unseen spirit of the universe.”

5. Community
Although running is a solitary act, you need other people to help and spar you on the way.

“And you can’t do it alone. No one can. Look at Alberto Salazar’s team now. With Bill Squires I learned to work with a group, we all became friends and supported each other. How cool is that? “
– Bill Rodgers

These things are not limited to running, but apply to all aspects of life.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Always Go Beyond Numbers

People don´t understand probabilities.

“When people hear these analyses, however, they are not reassured but become more fearful than ever — they hadn’t realized there are so, many ways for something to go wrong! They mentally tabulate the number of disaster scenarios, rather than mentally aggregating the probabilities of the disaster scenarios.
Steven Pinker, Blank Slate
I think generally people don´t understand numbers, period.
Good example is the probability of someone becoming a NBA player. The odds are naturally low, but there is a good indicator that increases the probability. That indicator is height.

For a man between 6 feet to 6”2”, the chance of being in NBA is five in a million.
At 6”2” to 6”4”, the chances improve slightly to 20 to million.
Man between 6”10” and 7 it is 32000 in a million (3.2%).
And for men over 7 seven feet tall, 17% of them are in the NBA right now*. So every six guy over 7ft you would encounter would be NBA player. Because massive growth is quite often attributed to some disease, it is even more likely that healthy seven-footer is a NBA player. So with narrowing the group, we have actually find quite a good indicator of your probabilities of becoming NBA player.

It is always important to go beyond the numbers.

JJ Redick

JJ Redick is one of the rare NBA player with shorter wingspan than his height

Even the short NBA players are not really that short. Nate Robinson is only 5”7”, but his wingspan is 6”1”. NBA players in general have almost double more wingspan than regular people. Generally it is really rare that a player has shorter wingspan than his height. Yao Ming was one of them, but on the other hand he was 7”6”. So if you would need to predict someone´s ability to be a NBA player and you would need to rely only on two data points: height and wingspan would be probably the best with the former being more important.

*Stats read from a great book by David Epstein: The Sports Gene.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Marginal Gains vs. Changing The Game

“The difference between stupid and genius is that genius has its limits”
– Albert Einstein

We have limits as humans.

Luckily we have not yet reached them in majority of things. But for example, baseball pitcher cannot throw faster than 100 MPH. Although pitcher could get stronger, his tendons and ligaments would just snap throwing it faster.

Throwing the baseball is one aspect of baseball, so that is why there will be plenty of evolution in the baseball. Scientists have calculated that even in other sports the pace of development has slowed down and we are approaching the limits. Actually in some sports like long jump we are getting worse.

Being an optimist, I take there is a still lot to improve for us in humans: whether in sports or in life in general (I don´t know why anyone would make a separation between those two). These developments will happen by either tweaking the small details or reshaping the big picture:

 1. Aggregation of marginal gains

“The marginal gains philosophy requires you to look at every single aspect of what you do so you can try and improve it. It looks at every aspect of performance, and tries to improve each a little bit— even just a tenth of a percent . If you find a training technique that makes an athlete that tiny bit stronger , it alone might not have a huge effect on a race. But if you can stack those very small improvements on one another, finding a bit in tires and a bit in the wheels and a bit on the track surface and a bit in nutrition supplements— well, soon those marginal gains begin to add up to big gaps between you and your competition.”
Dave Brailsford on aggregation of marginal gains

Dave Brailsford started as the general manager for Team Sky (Great Britain´s professional cycling team) in 2010. He had the concept laid down in the quote above: if you improve every area related to cycling by just a little bit (most commonly is used 1 percent), then those small gains would eventually add up to bigger improvement. These improvements ranged from the obvious (training, nutrition) to more surprising (every cyclist had their own pillows when they are travelling). The results were outstanding. Brailsford was wrong in believing that Team Sky could win Tour De France in five years. They did it in three.

This works when the competitive field is already mature. Cycling itself is quite established sports, so there is not necessary that much innovation (doping excluded) to be done.

The difference nowadays between agencies is not in the actual ideas, but in the craft. Similar ideas have gotten totally different reception in marketplace and also in award shows. When we essentially are doing the same things, the difference comes in small details.

Has our industry then just become minor improvements and tweaking in quite predictable playing field?
Not necessarily.

2. Disruptive leaps

Disruptive thinking has radically altered the sports. Quite often the change is driven by technology, but sometimes it is also about the different way to approach the challenge in sports.

a) Technology disruption
“I think the players, I put in the book for example that we should go back to wood rackets, probably they laughed at me, I’m a dinosaur, but I think that you see these great players, have even more variety and you see more strategy, there’d be more subtlety.”
John McEnroe (last player to win major tournament with wooden racket)

Technology has played huge role in certain sports, especially in golf driving distance. We are not talking about marginal gains in here; these technologies have truly revolutionized the sports.

Internet has changed the whole ball game in our industry. Either you have digital capabilities, or you are like a guy trying to play with wooden racquet in tennis court. Not only you look stupid, you will also certainly lose.

b) Approach disruption
I adapted an antiquated style and modernized it to something that was efficient. I didn’t know anyone else in the world would be able to use it and I never imagined it would revolutionize the event.
Dick Fosbury (inventor of Fosbury Flop)

Not always you need a technological breakthrough to change the game. V-style jump in ski-jump or Fosbury flop in high jump are examples when smart individuals outsmarted the competition. They looked the problem from a different angle and found a totally new and more effective way to solve it.

Currently every agency is jumping with the old style, where the room for innovation is limited. When the playing field is the same for everyone, the only way you can win is to search for marginal gains. I truly believe that we could approach our business truly differently and take the whole agency business model to the new heights. It is time to rethink the whole jump.

(Full disclosure: These sports anecdotes were mostly lifted from the great book I just read. The book is done by Mark Mucclusky and is called “Faster, Higher, Stronger. Highly recommended reading)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Winning Changes Nothing


“Now that I´ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn´t feel as good as a loss feels bad and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.”
– Andre Agassi (in his book Open, telling about his feelings after winning a Wimbledon)

Andre Agassi´s book Open is probably one of the most inspirational book, I have ever read (and definitely the best sports autobiography). Mainly because he had a career of up-and-downs and he is honest in the book about what drove him to success. Although you can never truly understand a professional sports star if you are not one of them yourself, I found quite a lot of valuable lessons in his book. Especially his drive to win and not to lose was something that resonated strongly to me.

Writing a book was always a dream of mine. When I had finished my first book and was holding it in my hands, I didn´t feel anything. Same thing has happened quite often when I have accomplished goals I have set to myself. You are already looking for the next challenge.

We overestimate the amount of happiness that achieving the goals will bring. Winning a lottery causes a spike in happiness, but soon your overall well being is back to pre-win state.

Therefore you have to enjoy the journey to the goals, because that is the best part. I have been doing quite a lot of weightlifting lately and actually every time I have hit a new PR, it has felt easy. When I have tried to force the results, it has not worked out. The harder I train the better I get, but to achieve the best results I have to try and think less.

Life is about grueling exercise, which should lead to smooth execution. In Agassi´s book, he talks about insane conditioning workouts they are doing with his trainer Gil to get in the shape. Although those exercises were pure hell, sections explaining them in the book are the parts where the true love for the sports comes through. If you don´t enjoy training, you cannot reap the rewards either.

Also you have to be able to embrace the setbacks. Although during the times it might feel that world is collapsing, people have tremendous ability to rebound from even the most grueling situations. Agassi beat the odds many times in his career. Getting your ass kicked is the biggest motivator at least for me. You want to show that you can bounce back. And you want to kick some ass yourself.

Motivation is a key to winning. Andre Agassi explains quite vividly in his book by how his winning streak in 1995 was fueled by his grudge against Boris Becker. He had 26 game winning streak and beat Becker. However, his real opponent was actually Pete Sampras:

I’m 26-1, and I’d give up all those wins for this one. All that work and anger and winning and training and hoping and sweating, and it leads to the same empty disappointed feeling. No matter how much you win, if you’re not the last one to win, you’re a loser. And in the end I always lose, because there is always Pete. As always, Pete.”

After his loss to Pete Sampras, Agassi derailed with his game, took some crystal meth with assistant called “Slim” and fell eventually to 141 slot in the ranking. The anger was not enough motivation, but luckily he met Steffi Graff. That love fueled his comeback in 1999 and cemented Agassi´s legacy as one of the greatest tennis players ever. Not thinking about winning all the time, made him actually want to win more badly when it mattered. And win he did.

“I define success a lot differently, certainly than my father defined it for us. The two things that have given me most joy I have through tennis: my school for under- privileged kids in Las Vegas and my wife. Instead of a love-hate relationship, I had a hate-love relationship with tennis, but I am grateful that I survived to play long enough to appreciate.”

Tagged , , ,

Anatomy of An Insight: This Girl Can

This could almost be Nike ad (that is highest compliment for an ad I have)

Insight: There is currently a gender gap in sports in UK. The amount of females doing sports is only 66% compared to men. One of the main reasons holding women back is the fear of judgment (apparently guys do not fear it). Women think that other people in gym are semiprofessional low body fat athletes, when in reality everyone can benefit and enjoy from doing sports.

You should not also think about how you look when doing sports, because every one looks stupid when doing sports. Case-in-point: the all-time greatest basketball player Michael Jordan:

michael jordan tongue wag

Michael Jordan and his trademark tongue wag

More important is that when repeated enough times, doing sports makes you look better afterwards.

Will this ad change the sports habits of UK women?

Not solely. It is a great rally cry and provides inspiration for women to take on sports. The usage of regular women in the Nike-esque ad powerfully conveys the message, that everyone can do sports. That is important starting point and good kickstarter for the habit hange

Inspiration is not really enough to change a habit. It is a main component in motivation, but you also have to make sure to address cue, routine and reward to make it stick. Therefore it is interesting to see will “This Girl Can”-campaign play solely on inspiration space or will it expand to even more concrete actions.

Tagged , , , , ,

The Rest I Have Learned About Business is From Basketball


Everything I have learned about business, I have learned in basketball court (with some additional help from Wu-Tang Clan). Whether it has been great (or usually horrible) leadership, importance of the team or the value of hard work. This recent incident is a good proof of that:

Detroit Pistons waived their highest paid player and star Josh Smith at the end of December. Waiving is not a little feat, because waived player is included in team salary. The results have been interesting: Pistons has been on a 8-1 winning run only losing to the hottest team in NBA right now: Atlanta Hawks. Interestingly Josh Smith has been good with his new team Houston Rockets as well, so currently it has been win-win for both the of the participants. What can be learned from this whole episode?

1.Don´t play safe: bold moves will be remembered
Sometimes you have to wake up your whole team with dramatic actions. Stan Van Gundy is not just a coach for Detroit Pistons; he is also their president of basketball operations. Waiving Josh Smith was a demonstration of his power and also a dramatic call for their team to wake up. Was it exactly wise is an another question. He had to do something to catch attention of the team. Off-the court jury is still out for Van Gundy´s strategic perspective but on the court his defensive instructions on the video below have strategic clarity that only a few business leaders (or even coaches) have:

2.Even a bad plan is better than no plan
You cannot totally fault bad Pistons season start on Josh Smith and to say so is ludicrous. They did not have proper plan in the place for the team when he was there. Josh Smith had to play a role that did not suit his skills set. When he was waived from the team, Detroit Pistons was forced to have a different game plan and missing one key player made putting a coherent plan into action much easier.

3.Take the responsibility: You either sink or swim
You can never underestimate the importance of mental aspect of sports or business. You need to feel that you are contributing to the team. Because Josh Smith was gone, the rest of the team had to rise up. Other option would have been to tank. The season is now on halfway, so the newly established Pistons can still be a boom or bust. Currently it seems that they have regained their self-esteem and if they continue like this can even make it to the play-offs.

4.Failure is an opportunity to reborn
I like Josh Smith as a player, when he is playing right role. No one denies the physical talent he has, but his attitude to the game has been a question. He has showed maturity by asking to come out of bench with Rockets. Being waived is definitely a slap in the face and you definitely want to show that you still have the skills to be a great player.

5.Team can be more (or less) than its parts
Basketball and advertising industry are similar in a way that you can fill your company or team with stars and still suck. Chemistry plays crucial role. Josh Smith is playing in Houston with his longtime friend Dwight Howard, which probably will be a good thing. Sometimes there can be only one rooster in the coop and if there are too many stars fighting for the attention the end results can be disastrous. Many combinations can work on the paper, but if it does not work on the court it does not really matter. Therefore crazy-sounding ideas like waiving your star player can actually make sense on the long run.

How the episode will pan out, we will see at the end of the season. Currently it seems that everyone seems happy with the end result.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kobe Bryant, Just a Prime Example of Modern Highly Skilled Professional

“You want me to own team and deal with these rich, spoiled stubborn athletes, and try to get them perform? No thank you”
-Kobe Bryant

This NBA season has been really interesting thus far. Many of my favorite teams (i.e. Memphis Grizzlies) and players (i.e. DeMarcus Cousins) have really stepped up their game. There has been some disappointments as well (i.e. I expected Lance Stephenson to make a jump to the next level) and the biggest low-point of them all has been my all-time favorite team:

Los Angeles Lakers

The team has been completely dysfunctional. Superstar Kobe Bryant has been making a great comeback from points-perspective, but does not really trust anyone in the team. They are likely to tank really bad and that it is something as a fan I feel sad about. On the other hand I have high respect for Kobe Bryant: 5 championships do not come without extraordinary work ethic. Although he is totally on different pay range than any of us, he is still an epitome of skilled professional. Here are some lessons we can learn from him:

1.Know your value
“I like playing for the purple and gold. This is where I want to finish up”
There has been lots of talk about Kobe´s big contract and how selfish that has been. I do not really understand the criticism. Kobe is the star worker for the organization who makes millions out of his work. In normal business it is appreciated when people spend their whole career in same company. In NBA, we want the players to jump ship whenever their team is not playing well. So Kobe is loyal to the organization and it is likely that he will end his career as a Laker-for-life. Lebron has been already in two teams. On the other hand he is not stupid either. It does not pay to be loyal to a company that does not treat you well. Currently Lakers have no prospect for championship, so who can really fault Bryant for maximizing his contract?
Same rule applies for professionals: it is worthwhile to stay in organization provided that they appreciate you and compensate you evenly.

2. Understand what business you are in.
“These young guys are playing checkers. I´m out there playing chess”
Winning is one aspect of being successful NBA team. Lakers had an awful season last year and were playing without Kobe. Still, guess who was the most profitable team in NBA? Although from a sports perspective this season will be even more horrible, it might actually be more lucrative from business side. The audience wants to see Kobe both at home and on other markets. They cheer for him and want to see one of the greatest of all time do his thing. Lakers might not win, but they are hell lot more entertaining when Kobe is on board. It is also not a coincidence that Jeremy Lin was signed to largest Asian-American market in USA. NBA is show business. Besides dunks, passes and rebounds the game is also about TV rights, shirt sales and sponsorship deals. The value of superstars for the companies goes beyond their tangible contributions.

3.You have to find the motivation somewhere.
I don´t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant”
If you can´t win the championship, you have to motivate yourself in someway. So again, I am not faulting Kobe for being obsessed on passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. Mike is the greatest player ever; surpassing him, regardless how many shots it will take, is not a mean feat. Same thing with companies: if your organization is not doing that well, you have to find your enjoyment somewhere. Whether it is new project, mentoring or maximizing your bonus. If there is nothing motivating you at the workplace, it is time switch teams.

4.Ignore that you are likely overrated
“The only thing I am afraid is bees. I don´t like bees. I´m allergic to them”
We always inflate the value of super stars. Total denial of any stint in perfection is also a characteristic for the superstars. Kobe makes lots of points, but he takes and misses lots of shots as well. He has high usage, but low efficiency. Actually Lakers are more effective when Kobe is off court according to the stats. I still don´t doubt at a moment that Kobe believes genuinely that the only sensible way to help his team is to shoot more. Quite often we cannot recognize our own weak spots and have too rosy picture about our own skills. We also underestimate the role of luck in our success.

Where many others have retired, Kobe (aged 36) is still playing 30 minutes every day, getting paid really well, getting crowds excited and maybe winning scoring title this year.

I´d surely like to be on that level when I would be close to retirement.

Tagged , , , , , ,

What CrossFit Can Teach You About Branding

Those who read my post last week will already know that I have not yet become totally cynical to the art of marketing. I fell victim to good branding once in a while. I have been reminded of this gullibility, because lately I have desperately wanted to start CrossFit.

For those who are not in the know, CrossFit is an intense exercise program characterized by functional training using non-traditional weighlifting equipment (such as kettlebells). It has been probably been the hottest thing lately (especially among guys) in exercise circles and become quite mainstream in last couple of years. Reebok is also betting heavily on the rise of CrossFit.

I am already sports crazy. I run and do circuit training every morning, play in two basketball teams and try to swim once in a while. I do not really need any additions to my sports regime. I am healthy enough. The urge to start Crossfit is not rational decision. It has been branded well. It feels natural, because the exercise is functional. It feels total antithesis of the shiny gyms: many times CrossFit-sessions happening in the old warehouses. It has strong ethos of pushing to the limit, which resonates well with my view of sports in general. Exercising is not supposed to be fun. Only pain brings gain.

However when I was searching for the alternatives for CrossFit training in Singapore, I was shocked by the steep price tag of monthly prices. You should not really pay over 200+ dollars for basic circuit training in shitty warehouse. Or should you?

This is the inner dialogue I had:

Left brain: Hey that guy just took your our basketball summer training and is now charging hundreds of dollars a month from a glorified circuit training!
Right brain: But I want to push tractor tires to feel like a man!

Left brain: You push yourself too hard even in your morning jogs, CrossFit can actually destroy your muscles.
Right brain: Whatever, I want to train until I puke.
(Actually I heard a rumour that Red Bull sales increased when there was news coverage about alleged deaths of mixing Red Bull with Alcohol. Danger attracts.Also a vast majority of the news stories about harmfulness of different sports are written and shared by people who just want to find excuses for not exercising)

Why Crossfit is currently so appealing?

1. Proven business model
Crossfit.inc (founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman) follows in many ways the same success formula of the rise of “Les Mills”-branded classes, best known for Bodypump-classes. They license the Crossfit name to gyms for an annual fee and certify trainers. Licensing business is one of the most profitable types of business in the world.

 2. Room for creativity
Whereas Les Mills feels more like the McDonald´s of Gym Exercise (it is the same in every part of the globe), CrossFit still feels like a rebel alternative for it. Every CrossfFit-training can be different and the possible variations for the training are infinite.

3. Perfect training type for digital office worker
No-frills type of training feels perfect antidote for the overtly digital world we are living in. Also the sessions are high-intensity short bursts, which you can easily fill even to the busiest calendar.

4. Fueled by social media
I doubt that the sports would not be as big without the connected world we are living. There are CrossFit-forums, Facebook pages and endless amount of training videos. After watching this video by Finnish CrossFit-hero Mikko Salo, it almost felt I was training myself (150k views, btw):

5. Good story to tell
Exercising should always be about your own health and development. The truth is though that many times people exercise also for the bragging rights. CrossFit just sounds way cooler than being in Spinning. No offense to Spinning.

I probably try CrossFit despite the steep price tag. If no for other reason than to give a nod for the branding well done.

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: