How to Find Freedom Whilst Working in Performance SportApr 06, 2023
Do you ever feel like you're putting up a front at work?
"I feel that if I were to be my actual self and not put on this very professional image it would be seen as a weakness, I feel I would be taken advantage of."
I certainly did when I was a coach in Olympic sports, and many other performance staff currently do due to a sense of needing to fit into the performance department by "being" professional.
This results in the following:
- Instead of being yourself, you're playing a role to fit in, or to impress others
- Your true character does not come out
- You actively hide behind your role to avoid talking about the things you actually think and feel
- Leaving you feeling generally uncomfortable with being who you are
Living and working this way is tiring, dispiriting, and confining which leaves many feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
The knock-on effect of this leaves us trying harder to get recognition from our colleagues in the performance department we work in. This leads us to very often sacrifice our values and needs because we are trying to be someone that we just aren't.
The opposite of this is to live and work authentically. When we give ourselves permission to be ourselves, we can live free from others' ideas and expectations, and we can choose our own course in life.
This is what true freedom is! To be yourself in any facet of your work and life, no matter what.
In this article, you'll learn:
- What is authenticity
- Why authenticity is important
- Coach case study
- Why authenticity and vulnerability are linked
- How to be your authentic self
What Is Authenticity?
Put simply, authenticity means you're true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you're under to act otherwise. Your values, ideals, and actions align. As a result, you come across as genuine, and you're willing to accept the consequences of being true to what you consider to be right.
Coach Case Study:
Here is a powerful example of how a coach felt the pressure to act against being authentic:
"My default is to be non-judgmental and to treat the players with respect and decency - for both the outcome and the immediate trust. But I feel this gets thrown back in my face by the manager becuase he thinks I'm too soft. A recent example of this is a player told me that they had run a little more in the pool against my advice, and pulled up with discomfort. I just spoke to him and I helped him understand why I gave him the advice I did. The manager didn't agree with me, and thought I should have given him "the hairdryer" and berate him in an authoritarian manner. I just don't agree with it, but feel for the safety of my job I need rethink how I show up in situations like this."
There are 3 options here:
- Give clarity to the manager on why you are the way you are (The chances of this working are slim, especially if the figure front is stuck in an archaic old-school style of male leadership).
- Sacrifice your authentic self to stay in favour with the manager (this is a fast-track one-way ticket to unfulfillment and burnout).
- Stay true to your innate intuition in how best to connect and create trust with the athletes you work with (this may well mean you need to recognise you need to move on to a new performance environment that values people bringing their authentic style with them).
What would you do in this situation?
Why Authenticity & Vulnerability are Linked
In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown (2015) outlines the strength of the link between authenticity and vulnerability:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity”
She goes on to say that vulnerability and authenticity form part of our hard-wired need for connection and that together they stop us from dehumanizing people and help us develop valuable relationships.
A major contributing factor to why performance staff too often get to a breaking point is because the work environment is requiring them to continually live and work out of alignment with their values and authenticity.
When looking at the example above in the coach case study, it clearly shows a deliberate attempt to go against this hard-wired need for connection.
I can only speculate, but it seems the manager is operating from a place of emotional wounding unable to form authentic connections because they need to be seen as in control and right.
How To Be Your Authentic Self
"Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it." Maya Angelou
According to psychology, a good life is not defined solely by the absence of psychological problems, but by experiences that go above and beyond the absence of problems.
Authenticity and living a complete and fulfilling life are processes rather than outcomes. Living authentically involves moving in a direction that is most authentic to us as individuals.
Putting on an inauthentic front is tiring and ultimately damaging to our mental and physical well-being.
Know yourself + Own yourself + Be yourself = the Authentic Life
Learn to do the following in your daily life:
- Become more aware of what is happening in your body - Having a tense neck or shoulders may be linked to what is going on in your mind, feelings, thoughts, and difficult decisions.
- Listen to your inner voice - rather than lose it in the noise of others. Make it an ongoing process to listen to your hopes, dreams, and fears.
- Know yourself - what you are good at, what you are prepared to do, and what you are not. Face up to the truths of who you are. Honesty is not always pleasant, but it has the potential to free you.
- Own yourself and your truths - Don’t let others push you into their way of thinking, but also don’t stick to views when you are proved wrong or they no longer work for you. Take responsibility for your choices.
- Be yourself - be honest and transparent in your dealings. People like and are drawn to those they perceive as sincere and genuine and distrust those who are not.
- Do you feel free to make your own choices?
- Do you feel free to express your own views and opinions?
- Do you feel you can be yourself on a day-to-day basis?
If you answer “no” to any of the questions, reflect on one further question:
- Could it be that you are not being true to who you are?
- What type of person do I present to the world?
- What kind of person am I really like inside?
- What gap do I see?
A final question to ask yourself is:
8. What am I pretending not to know?
This is one of the tougher reflections I guide coaches through. What it's really asking is for you to look at the options you're choosing to ignore.
Most notably that the position you are in that's leading you to feel so out of balance, low energy and lonely because you're hiding your authentic self may have run its course, and it's time for you to move on to other opportunities, other jobs, other places, maybe a new career.
This requires you to look at yourself with authenticity and courage.
Showing up authentically in performance sport involves a balance between what is occurring within you and how you express and represent yourself outside. It often requires a deep look within to update many of the blueprints that have formed in childhood.
And this is why my focus is looking at the man behind the role because it's these hidden limitations that govern the thoughts, feelings, and actions, which so often make it challenging to maintain harmony in life.
The work I do at men behind sport addresses very practical steps to allow male performance staff to understand themselves on a deeper level.
These practices help you accelerate your process of understanding yourself through inner work.
If you are interested in working with me you can learn more about The Lost to Liberated Blueprint and book a call here.