What the Monaco Grand Prix teaches us about performance

19th June

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Photo credit - Cristiano Barni Shutter Stock - Stock Photo ID: 2310311035

Why did Verstappen triumph?

Have you heard of Max Verstappen? In case you’ve just landed from Mars, Verstappen claimed another race win in our home Principality, Monaco. Have you heard of Bradley Scanes? If not, you’d be forgiven. Scanes is the performance coach to Max Verstappen. His job is apparently to keep Verstappen in shape, physically and mentally.

As the rain fell on the Monaco Grand Prix, I wondered about the mental shape of the Formula One drivers. Who would see the rain as an opportunity and which of them might become overwhelmed with fear? Put another way, what enabled Verstappen to keep his calm and secure victory? If I was a betting man, I’d say Verstappen’s mindset, not just his extraordinary talent won the day. If so what can we learn from the 80th Monaco Grand Prix, apart from remembering to bring an umbrella?

The inner game

One of the founders of modern-day coaching, Tim Gallwey, and formerly a tennis coach, observed “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net”. Gallwey believed what was missing from most people’s approach was the game that takes place in our minds. When our concentration lapses, perhaps due to a Monaco downpour or we allow nervousness, self-doubt, and/or self-condemnation to take over, we contaminate our outer game.

Think about Roger Federer and John McEnroe. The former mastered his inner game. He knew how be in the zone. Conversely John McEnroe, for all his skills as a tennis player never conquered his inner game to the same extent.

The Monaco Grand Prix reminds me there is a fine line between success and failure. What if that line is not defined exclusively by talent, ability, work ethic, social skills and intelligence? What if the probability of success also rests upon mastering our inner game?

Coaching

As an executive and leadership coach, I work with many talented CEOs and C-suite executives. They hire me to facilitate them maximise performance. In Verstappen terms, they want to learn how to drive in the rain. Nearly all my coaching clients are accomplished at their outer game. The executives who learn to avoid hubris, perfectionism, fear, or self-criticism prevail. The self-aware triumph.

If only more of our politicians and corporate leaders were self-aware, the world might look positively different.

One of my favourite coaching quotes is from American football player and coach, Tom Landry, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be”.

Perhaps that is why nearly half the Fortune 500 companies work with executive coaches.

The Harvard Business Review found that companies that “spend aggressively on employee development” outperformed their competitors.

Don’t forget mental health

As a psychotherapist and leadership coach, I would argue that mental health is a crucial part of our inner game. Last year, several of the Monaco-based Formula One racing drivers (and others) spoke out about their own mental health struggles as a sign of support on World Mental Health Day 2022. (You can find the ground-breaking video on YouTube.) One has since spoken out about his eating disorder while another has spoken about the pressures of social media.

Don’t rain on my parade

Here are my disclaimers. What I know about Formula One fits on the back of a postage stamp. (Fortunately, my knowledge of executive coaching is greater). I have never met Verstappen or his performance coach, Bradley Scanes. But in my imagination, I tell myself that when the rain came down, not only did Verstappen’s technical genius impact the outcome, so did his inner game.

What I have learned in business and life is that if we can get out of our own way, as Verstappen presumably did when the rain came down, we stand a better chance of succeeding. Too many of us focus on external challenges. As a result, we may not be paying sufficient attention to our inner game.

Perhaps the Monaco Grand Prix has reminded me that one can be the most skilled racing driver in the world but if the world falls apart when it rains, what good is the skill? I guess we are all learning to drive in the rain.


Our deepest thanks to Gavin for sharing his insights with us. Gavin Sharpe is an accredited executive and leadership coach and UK psychotherapist and runs his own practice.

Photo credit - Cristiano Barni Shutter Stock - Stock Photo ID: 2310311035, Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco, 25-28 May 2023, F1 World Championship.