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Importance of Maintaining Positive Body Language in Sport

Written by Prof. Marc Jones

One technique that may be useful in helping you play well in sport is to make sure that your body language is positive both in the build-up and during a match. The importance of body language in both making ourselves feel confident and in sending off signals to our opponents is illustrated below and consciously choosing to engage in the mannerisms of a confident player can have a very positive effect.

“As I passed Shahid Afridi on the way out, he said I looked positive. I thought that’s what you need to look like. That’s what the people I talk to have been saying, ‘stop walking out like a schoolboy and walk out, chest out, like you mean business. With a presence’.” Ian Bell (England Cricketer) talking after scoring 115 in Faisalabad against Pakistan (2005).

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are“ - Muhammad Ali (Boxer)

At one level people are interested in being confident because it has a positive effect on performance. So by identifying the behaviours and actions of confident players we can consciously choose to engage in these behaviours in whatever situation we chose. This means consciously choosing to maintain effort and compete hard all the time, even when things are not going well. Circumstances change, and so it is important to keep fighting until the end. Think of those famous players who “never seem to know when they are beaten” compared with those athletes who seem to perform badly after one mistake. Make a promise that no matter what happens you keep going until the end as the quote from legendary footballer George Best illustrates.

“... once I was on the pitch, I never wanted the final whistle to go. If I was playing well, I didn’t want the game to end and if I was having a quiet game, I wanted it to carry on until I had the chance to do something.” - George Best (Footballer)

Second, set yourself high (but achievable goals) and become committed to working towards those goals. This is illustrated in the quote from Muhammad Ali about his plans for the start of the fight against George Forman who was expected to beat him. When you are in a situation where you are under pressure situation focus on what you have to do to perform well.

“I’m going out and hit Foreman upside his head, so he’ll know he’s in a fight.” - Muhammad Ali

Remember the first step to playing well is to perform well. There are no laws in sport, business or any competitive environment (unlike physics!). If I throw an apple in the air 100 times it will fall to the floor a 100 times. If a higher-ranked performer/team competed against a lower-ranked performer/team 100 times in different situations the higher-ranked player/team is not guaranteed to win on all 100 occasions. You can help yourself perform well by preparing smartly and practicing the right things.

Remember ...

“The one thing you can control is working hard, competing hard and having a good time. If you tell yourself, ‘I gotta win here, I gotta win there’, you set yourself up for crash and burn. It’s all about trying to get better. What is OK is when you lose to the other guy, what is not OK is when you lose to yourself. That’s part of the maturing process.” - Brad Gilbert (Tennis Coach)

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  • PhD, 1999 - Newman College of Higher Education, Birmingham (awarding Institution Coventry University)
  • BSc. Applied Psychology, 1994 - Cardiff University

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