What’s the difference between giving Iceland’s national football team a morale boost ahead of their famous victory against England in Euro 2016, and helping someone change their lifestyle to manage a chronic disease?
Not that much according to Haukur Ingi Gudnason, whose career in sports psychology has led him to join Sidekick’s team to help inform the company’s approach to motivating people struggling with serious illnesses.
A former professional footballer, Haukur started his career in Iceland before being signed as a youngster by Liverpool.
But after his footballing career was curtailed prematurely through injury, Haukur decided to study psychology after becoming fascinated as to why certain people, and certain teams, became successful in a highly competitive game.
Many people have the physical attributes to succeed at football, but to really thrive – whether in sport or any part of their lives – something else is needed.
“Everybody knows somebody that doesn’t live up to the potential, and I could see it clearly (at Liverpool). There are so many different things that attribute to the success of people.”
Haukur noted that at the time Liverpool lacked a psychologist, while their more successful arch-rivals Manchester United had one.
When we look at the mental side of things, and we work with the resilience, goal setting, focus, motivation, we can find this common thing that helps people to be successful in every aspect of their lives, Haukur said.
After studying sports psychology, Haukur’s main focus was working with sports people, and he has worked with some of Iceland’s best athletes.
He even helped the Iceland national football team on their way to their famous victory against England in the Euro 2016 tournament.
He cites this as a prime example of how psychology allowed the Iceland team to perform at a higher level than England, who were odds-on favorites to win that match with a star-studded line-up.
Factors such as pressure from the press, and a lack of togetherness in the England squad, plus a collective sense of purpose in Iceland’s team swung the match in favor of the underdog, according to Haukur.
“If you just look at pure talent, England should win every time.
“There are so many different things that attribute to the success rather than just pure talent. Iceland versus England from the Euro finals is just a great example of that. If you’re not 100% motivated, if you’re not giving your best effort, if you’re not working as a team, you’re not likely to be really successful.”
More focus on the mental aspect of training is essential to succeed at the highest level in sport according to Haukur.
The mental aspect of success and performance, in general, is really, really important, and we have to address that.