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Stuart Broad: Citius, Altius, Fortius – how top performers make it happen

January 25, 2016

Stuart Broad produced another barely-believable spell of bowling on the third afternoon of England’s Second Test versus South Africa last week in Johannesburg to catapult England to a series win.

There are few greater sights in Test cricket than a quick bowler in full flow, and few can claim to have wreaked the type of devastation Broad has proved himself capable of time and time again in a single spell.

This latest spell further furnished that reputation as Broad claimed five wickets in 31 balls for the cost of just one run – and even that was a dropped catch. The timeline of his wickets revealed the extent of the damage in 49 minutes:

  • 1.23pm – Elgar c Bairstow b Broad 15; SA 23/1
  • 1.42pm – Van Zyl c Stokes b Broad 11; SA 28/2
  • 1.50pm – De Villiers c Bairstow b Broad 0; SA 30/3
  • 2.01pm – Amla c Taylor b Broad 5; SA 31/4
  • 2.12pm – Bavuma b Broad 0; SA 35/5

South Africa were 35 for 5 and Broad had the lot. Broad seized the moment in a way that he so often has in a Test career that started a little more than eight years ago when he was 21. It was the seventh time he had taken five or more wickets in a single spell.

He finished with 6 for 17 in 12.1 overs, figures that did not quite match his 8 for 15 at Trent Bridge last August against Australia, but then nothing will ever match that. He is now England’s third all time highest test wicket taker, and his match winning spell has propelled him to the top of the Test bowling rankings as World number one. Since 2012, Broad has taken more test wickets than any other bowler in the world.

Stuart Broad is that rarest thing in English sport, a player who thrives under pressure, he just loves the big stage. He rises to the moment with an inner strength few sportsmen are blessed with. Players like that are excited by the challenge.

There are two ways of looking at pressure. There is the negative mindset of worrying you might fail and could make a mistake in front of thousands of people, and you could cost your team the game. The alternative is, and Broad looks at this positive – he sees the opportunity, sees the crowd and it drives him on to seize the moment and win the match and be a hero.

He has 330 test wickets in 90 Tests, still someway behind England’s all-time record wicket taker, James Anderson on 429, but with Anderson now 33, Broad has the opportunity to aim for that top spot. He should use what Jimmy finishes with as a target to beat.

However, it’s not just the 330 wickets in 90 tests, but his match winning performances. Broad is often the catalyst. As soon as he starts lifting those knees up and running in hard, batsmen are in trouble. He was helped by conditions last week – the clouds hung around, the floodlights were on all day, the new ball was venomous and brutal. But the bowler still has to put the ball in the right place and, in those circumstances, Broad is a formidable man to face.

The spells that Broad bowls – all against Australia – have been a phenomenal statement of a high performer making it happen when it counts: The Oval in 2009 (6 for 91), Chester-le-Street in 2013 (6 for 20 in 45 balls), Trent Bridge in 2015 (a barely believable 8 for 15) and the spell last week, symptomatic of his character. If your team is in a situation where someone needs to stand up and be counted, then Broad wants to be that man, be the match-winner.

There has been a long-running debate about whether Broad is a great bowler or a bowler of great spells, bur he’s now ranked World number one so that debate can go on hold. Broad is just the 19th England bowler to be adjudged World number one since Alfred Shaw first assumed the mantle in 1877.

Close up shots of Broad as he prepared to run into the wicket showed a calmness in his face and a determination in his eyes, an inner belief and resolution. You just knew that he was going to knock those wickets over. Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable. Believe you can and you’re halfway there, as the saying goes.

The worst enemy to Broad on the field would have been his own self-doubt, but I recall an interview once where he said, I do not believe in taking the right decision on my bowling, I take a decision and make the bowl right. So what gives Broad this self-starter attitude and self-belief, what is the framework for his mental toughness and inner confidence?

We all have moments where we have to keep that self-belief. In those moments it’s just about the process. It becomes the norm. It’s a learned skill and self-belief is massive within the psychology and discipline of thinking.

Everyone faces those pinch-point situations when the heat is on – from making a critical decision in-the-moment at a meeting, to keeping a cool head on the cricket field – those times when you need to function correctly under pressure. The reality is that most people fail in extreme situations. They choke, they get stage fright and their astute, high-wire decision-making skills fail them.

We applaud champions, knowing that we would never have been able to do what they have, all attention on the champion Olympic athlete who epitomises the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius Faster, Higher, Stronger. There is something deeply captivating about exceptional performance in sport. It’s about human dignity as well as human achievement. For me it’s about saluting the person.

Given all the factors that contribute to performing – or choking – in high-pressure circumstances, what lessons can we take from Stuart Broad, what can you do to improve your performance?

Belief in self: First and foremost, Broad simply believes in his abilities and strengths. He believes he can make great things happen. I’ve never met a successful person with low self-esteem. Self-belief is vital, how many things have you not done or tried because you lacked belief in yourself? As Eleanor Roosevelt so deftly put it: Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Belief in beating the odds: To be successful, we have to be open minded, with no sense of what you cannot do. But, bit-by-bit, life starts to teach you to limit yourself. Broad doesn’t hope he can beat the batsman on his run in to the wicket, he believes wholeheartedly that he will.  There is no second-guessing.  As they say, those who say they can and those that say they can’t are both right.  If you don’t believe you can beat the odds – chances are you won’t.

Belief to deal with the inner negative voice: When you start to doubt yourself listen for a moment to that negative inner voice. Whose voice is it really? It’s often a collection of lots of different voices from different times and people from your past that causes self-belief to wane. One thing’s for sure, that inner self-critical voice shouldn’t be yours. It may masquerade as belonging to you now, but it doesn’t really. One of the first steps is to re-examine and discard many of the limiting ideas you have about yourself, ideas that you’ve somehow collected along the way. Get rid of the baggage!

Belief in flipping a weakness into strength: Dumbo, my favourite cartoon character, was humiliated by his outsize ears. He hated them at first. But, through time, he came to use them, to fulfil his destiny, even changing his attitude. Like Dumbo, if we just focus on what is not right about ourselves rather than what is, then we miss opportunities for self-belief. Focusing on perceived weaknesses without either taking steps to improve them or also giving fair focus toward our strengths gets us nowhere. Know that the positive flipside of a weakness, in the right context, can be put to good use.

Belief in perseverance: This is a big attribute of Broad’s down the years. The obstacles that cause many people to quit are minor setbacks for the true champion. Winners persist, losers desist. It is often that simple difference in self-belief that separates the successful person from the frustrated failure.

Belief in the vision: For Broad, his vision was bigger than just the winning his own individual battles with the South African batsmen. It was a vision of being part of a winning England team. It was never about his personal success, but being part of a collective team. His self-belief got him into the team, his self-belief helped him be part of a winning team.

Belief in accountability: High performers realise that only they are responsible for what they accomplish, and that their value to the team will be assessed according to their accomplishments. For this reason, they make sure to give top priority to their own preparation and performance. They take responsibility for themselves and make it happen.

Recent research into top performers and their output, looking across several industries, revealed that the top 5% of the workforce at the researched firms produced 26% of the firm’s total output. The top-performing 5% produced 400% more than you would expect. That means that top performers have an incredibly high ROI because they produce more than four times more.

Just like on the business side of the enterprise where the 80/20 rule prevails (80% of your profit comes from 20% of your products) there should be a similar 80/20 rule covering employee performance. This disproportional impact means that despite the fact that many are enamoured with the practice of treating everyone equally, it turns out that that approach may be well-intentioned but misguided because in business, just like sports, top performers have a significantly higher business impact than the average. Top performers need to be nurtured, developed and prioritised.

Do you have the capability to be a top performer? The capability to constantly get out there and make an effort, to work at what you want, to believe in yourself, to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. The capability to realise that you can achieve your dream, the capability to keep focussed?

Broad undertook the challenge because he was willing to do what he needed to do, to get what he wanted. It’s not about medals of victory, it’s more about the scars of defeat. Champions believe in themselves when no one else does, it means going beyond your comfort zone and learning to win the game your own way. Remember, every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.

Life has a unique perspective. Along the way, various landing pages, trials and tribulations will offer themselves up. It’s self-belief that determines your direction and ultimately success – its not how often you’re knocked over but how many times you get up that makes the difference. As Dr Seuss said, You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and with self-belief, steer yourself any direction you choose.

It’s down to perseverance – it’s the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. The words of Dick Fosbury will always resonate with me: When my body got tired, my mind said this where winners are made; when my mind got tired, my heart said this is where champions are made. Make it count and take control when it matters most, inside your own head.

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