You know the old analogy about how serene a duck looks gliding around on the water, and yet underneath he is paddling like crazy? Yeah, that should be your approach too. You should be a duck.
Whether you are a coach, a competitor, a manager, or an employee, this is the look you want to have, a look of calm, someone in control of themselves. If a situation is difficult, you need to remain calm and execute, that is the key to bending things in your favor. Regardless of what is happening around you, you’ll need to look the part of someone who has their shit together. Be a duck, and set the tone for others to follow.
I can tell you as an athlete, I struggled with this piece at times. Not only do I have a verbose personality, but I had heavy baggage and lots of peripheral stuff I was far too concerned about. I allowed that crap to weigh on me, to make my job harder. I managed to get results anyway, but it led to a lot of stress, unnecessary struggles, and more than one embarrassing situation. The moments I held it all in and kept things under control, I performed better, was less emotionally drained, and recovered more quickly. I was in a better frame of mind for the next match, or the next practice session, and it snowballed. Other times I still allowed the storm in my head to be expressed externally, and had all of the downsides that went along with it. It is a constant struggle, and one you need to fight every day.
As a coach, I do my best to short circuit these tendencies in my players, and teach more effective skills. It is easier when working with younger athletes, as they are less set in their ways. Teaching them how to be a better competitor is one of my main goals as a coach, as I think this translates to the real world better than any other skills they glean from playing a competitive sport. Things like breathing techniques and visualization are two skills absolutely necessary to help in other areas of life, such as a job interview, giving a speech, or even on your wedding day. I teach them to be ducks.
To facilitate this cool and calm exterior, where everything looks easy and natural to you, you have to work really hard to prepare. Everybody wants to win and have the glory, but few are willing to prepare to the length necessary to facilitate that success. You have to log the hard miles, you have to practice, review, refine and practice some more. You must do high level work every time you practice, not just go through the motions. PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. The discipline it takes to do this is a developed skill; it takes time to cultivate the necessary self control and fortitude to brush off a bad day off the court and still show up and put in the work on the court. This is what makes the difference; you do the work, you make things easier. If you don’t, assume you will be paddling against the current more often than not.
When it comes to the business world, and sales in particular where I make a living, you have to do the work. You have to know your product or service inside and out, and know what you can and cannot do. You have to set the right expectations and then deliver on those. You can’t promise something that you know your company can’t provide, and then hope for the best, or worse yet, leave it to the Client Services team to handle while you chase after more sales. You need to learn your target audience, and how to speak their language. One size does not fit all in Sales, you have to be flexible, adaptable, and most of all, a calm voice of reason when things go awry. And they will. No one is perfect, and your company or your service is bound to make an error along the way. But if you are a duck, the clients know they can rely on you to fix things and solve the problem. That is what ever client wants in a partner.
So, practice being a duck. I know that sounds funny, but the analogy is very applicable. You must develop the skills of looking calm and collected, and that you have things under control. This is intimidating to opponents, but reassuring to yourself, and to those around you on your team or in business. Do the work when no one is looking to make sure you develop the skills and the mental toughness to look calm and serene above the water, even if you are paddling like crazy underneath.