Today I had the privilege of listening to Gail Emms MBE who had a very successful career in badminton. Gail kindly agreed to be part of a zoom call with academy players of Billingham Synthonia FC. I am sure they all gained a great insight into what it takes to be successful in sport.
Gail talked about her career in badminton and what she sees as the Elite Mindset. There were some interesting stories including her apparent joy when she first defeated her mam (mum) in a game of badminton after many defeats. Gail talked about the importance of stepping up in sport and how she gained more from her defeats than her wins.
She started off talking about the importance of sports people sticking together during difficult times. Her passion for sport is apparent and is equally matched by her passion for winning. However, her important message to young people in sports was to focus on the journey. Gail explained that it was important to reflect and learn from defeats or when things go wrong. She felt this created opportunities for growth and development.
What struck me was Gail’s review of her natural ability as a badminton player. Gail didn’t believe she was the most technically gifted player but she knew her strengths and she played to them.
I could hit a shuttlecock very hard.
Despite having been a member of a school badminton team that won the North East Schools title way back, I have very little technical knowledge of the game, other than controlling the T and making the opponent work harder than you. This was difficult against the better players! With my limited experience I have no idea about Gail’s technical ability but she looked like she could play to me. Judge for yourself in the video at the bottom of this article.
Gail talked about ‘stepping up’ which probably came from her experiences of playing her mam because once she had beaten her mam the next step was beating someone else! She felt it was important for her to be playing against better opposition to develop herself and keep improving. There was obvious disappointment in losing but the journey was far more important than the results along the way. This helped her overcome challenges, react positively to fears and handle her nerves. Many of the academy players will be stepping up to adult football next season and this was an important message for them. Hopefully it will help them focus on their development as a player and not just results, although winning is the end goal.
Gail talked about various disappointments, including just missing out on the Sydney Olympics 2000. This is where she really said something that for me is the key ingredient in any successful sports person. She successfully played the INNER GAME.
I watched it on TV…I felt sick…The voice in my head wanted to know why I wasn’t there? I was rubbish! Then it said ‘you can get better’.
The INNER game is only part of the success although it would have been played many times during training, games & reflection. Gail had to train 3 times a day, 6 days a week for 4 years and was rewarded with a trip to the Athens Olympics in 2004.
We all got to hear about that little voice again, when she proudly showed her Olympic Silver medal from Athens but explained that while standing on the podium what she was thinking.
When I stood on that podium, I actually wanted Gold.
The desire from within to achieve something! The plan for Beijing 2008 started there and then with her team. It didn’t quite happen in Beijing as she and her partner Nathan Robertson lost in the QF to the eventual winners. However, her thoughts after the initial disappointment showed her ability to reflect objectively on her performance.
You know what? I couldn’t have done anymore. I was the fittest, I was the strongest, I had trained hard and that was a nice feeling.
I often hear/see people from various sports at various levels beat themselves up over a result that didn’t go to plan. Be proud of your behaviours, be proud of giving something 100%. It is ok to be disappointed but contrast that with how you behaved.
Having a good TEAM
There were a lot of interesting points made by Gail throughout but for any young person looking to play to their potential in any sport I think her comments on having a good team around them was very important. Most importantly having a team that suits you, that focuses on what gets the best out of you.
Why not have Gail in your team? Gail has set up a sports mentoring group with ex-professional footballer Lee Hendrie that you can follow on Twitter.