On Friday the 19th June Big Cat Agency hosted the third series of the Cool Down Sessions. The Cool Down is a series of online panel discussions that will give audience members an opportunity to learn more about a range of topics related to health, fitness, and training in these unprecedented times, mainly revolving around improving mental strength and resilience.
This week, our CEO Anthony Tattum hosted three guests. Professional Rugby player for The Wasps, Rob Miller shared his experiences of remote training and how he’s coped being away from teammates and physical contact. Former Royal Marines Commando, now Leadership and Performance Coach and Author, Ben Williams, shares his interesting life journey including working with the England football team. Change management and leadership consultant, Andy Dawson also shared his views and insight around opportunities that come out of a recession.
Mental Resilience and Company Culture Moving Forward
Andy has learnt a lot about himself and his colleagues during this period, but has been focused on supporting clients. Controlling the controllables is key, with the knowledge that this is only temporary. Checking in with his team and customers regularly to understand where people are at has been vital, humanising is tough when everything is virtual but going the personal touch really goes a long way at the moment. Andy believes strongly in bouncing ‘forward’ not ‘back’, things don’t have to return to the way they were. Flexibility will be a key future change: it is clear working remotely across an entire company is actually possible.
Ben – you had a few issues in the years before joining the military, how were you able to overcome these issues?
The issues were drug related and self inflicted according to Ben, who believes you’re both a product of those around and also your own decision maker. Wrong life choices and a lack of focus led Ben on that path. However he had always dreamed of being part of the elite military. Self reflection was key to working out where to go next and taking control of his situation. Everyone is on their own journey, and although things are bad now we have all experienced worse. “People are far more resilient than they think.”
Ben on becoming a mindset and mental strength coach
Ben wanted to become an instructor in the Commandos which is a highly regarded job, to inspire people on their own course, that’s where it all really started. He was picked to take the England football team through some marine training, it was a moment where he looked “outside the gates of the military” and realised the way he was trained and trained people in the military is applicable not just in those circles but across all facets of life.
Rob on his experiences as a youth player for England and Newcastle
Rob looks back fondly at being able to travel as much as he did all over the world when he was just an 18 year old academy player, and saw the wins and losses as character building. Having been a London Wasps player since 2014, Rob is now based in the midlands where they now play their home games at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Having a home base from a business point of view is really important, which helps support the team. With very few midlands based Rugby teams, Wasps were welcomed with “open arms”.
Back into the swing of things
Rob has just started back socially distanced training again with the team with all the checks now in place and finds it nice to be back in some sort of routine as well as seeing his friends. He hadn’t lost too much fitness but had lost some weight because of the lack of gym work during lockdown. It was mainly about being inventive with your training, running wasn’t an issue though.
Ben’s Normal Training Week
Monday – meetings, reviewing and previewing games, Tuesday – a big training day, double sessions on the pitch and a gym session, Wednesday they have off, Thursday – power weights, Friday – match rehearsal, Saturday – match day!
Andy – how are you helping affect change during this crazy period?
His business set up during the last 2008 recession and Andy saw it was a good time to set up a company as people were willing to give him a chance, he had nothing to lose. But all change management is, is trying to get people to think or behave differently, and they want to help get things done in a pragmatic way. Although there is so much bad news out there, there are loads of companies trying to do great things and innovating constantly. Stuff can still get done right now, normality is still here and it is not an excuse to stop. Keep it simple and put people first.
Similarities between 2008 and now
The difference is 2008 was a financed led recession and it was clear it would be resolved as the banks were being bailed out. This time having 9 million furloughed at home presents different challenges. This is an entrepreneurial bounceback, if you’re innovative and can think outside the box you can come out of this well. The right mindset and behaviours will have a good start. This will be a people led recovery.
Ben on writing a book
It started as a cathartic process after his time in the Marines as a coping method. Ben found himself writing chapters on his computer, and was inspired by ‘The Chimp Paradox’. He found so many golden nuggets in there and it set him on a new path, and he could pull lots out of it for himself. The book is there to help others. So many publishers turned him down but in a real turn of events lots of publishers ended up pitching for it. He believes that “you’re the only one” who can say you can’t do something, nobody else can do that. Right now he meets so many people who wish they had done things before the pandemic, and he hopes people will learn to grab the bull by the horns a little more now, and people can have a new mindset. He wants to bring a military mindset to the real world.
Rob on what is next after Rugby
The only guarantee from professional sport is that you will have to retire. In rugby there is a good culture of off field development, and to pick up something else. It is always on the players’ minds, as contracts are only 1-3 years at a time. He describes the rugby world as a “bubble” and players are encouraged to step outside this bubble and pursue other interests so they are ready for whatever comes next. During lockdown he had so much free time to think about what he was most interested in. Traditionally it is coaching/teaching/finance the players go into, but now it is getting far more varied.
Struggling in lockdown
Ben didn’t find it a struggle, compared to his Marines career where he would risk death, wifi and Netflix didn’t seem too bad! However, he knows that is his experience, and empathises with those in other situations who may be alone, or in difficult relationships. More new clients have come forward and want coaches for after this. Health wise Ben got back into running and cycling, and he enjoyed challenging himself and breaking new PBs.
Andy found cycling as his favourite exercise, and a lot of walking meetings with headphones. It has taught him to switch off. He misses podcasts and commuting and human interactions. Good books have helped and he has taken the opportunity to learn new things.
Andy has found this to be really rewarding, where business people of different generations sit down and talk about their experiences and viewpoints and try to learn from and empathise with one another. This helped him realise “actions speak louder than words”.
Open to the floor
Audience members asked a number of diverse questions during the webinar for the three guys, mirroring the varied backgrounds these three men herald from.
How has the culture evolved in the military & pro Rugby, in terms of being receptive and proactive towards, people's mental health, wellbeing as a contributor to high performance?
Ben described coming back from Afghanistan as making you feel like a “red-blooded male”, a warrior who has been to war, therefore saying “I’m not okay” never felt like the right thing to do. Fortunately there was a shift in thinking around the time Ben was experiencing issues. He found that the more open one person was, the more open other people were inclined to be and actually it wasn’t just him feeling this way. Ben feels that no matter how highly trained you are, seeing your friends obliterated is traumatic and you have to be able to come back and process that, and fitting into the civilian world after these experiences is tough. But people are finding it more empowering to say how they feel, there is a huge degree of trust between people to be honest with each other. That is what makes a team in Ben's eyes. Integrity and humility are key to Ben in building a team.
Rob echoed these points. In the same vein he might be having feelings of anxiety over a match but feel like he can’t say anything as the other lads look fine. However an open, honest chat afterwards can reveal that actually these players felt the same as him and he was in the majority. For Rob, with people being able to openly speak about what they are feeling to their peers or whoever, the stigma is decreasing. Most teams have huge staff teams to look after players' bodies, and the mental side still has room to grow.
Andy feels like we talk a lot about stress levels, but there is a healthy amount of nerves and stress to be had in some situations. A fine balance needs to be had, because anxiety and nerves can help bring the best out of performance as long as we have the strategies in place to cope with it. In business, a little bit of stress can be good.
Inspirations in Fitness and Motivation
Andy finds podcasts to be his biggest mental motivation, including Simon Mundie’s Don’t Tell Me the Score, Jake Humphrey’s The High Performance Podcast.
Rob says it is about finding something that works for you. Social media can be used right to help inspire you as long as you follow the right people. Inspiration can be found in those you can align with, get that balance. Extremes can be found on social media that may do more harm than good.
Ben found that motivation for getting through a pandemic was “cringey” as nobody knows how to get through this. But by posting his own content on what he was doing, and looking at what his peers were doing, he could draw inspiration from this. The right people are the ones you know. This has made it feel like he is not alone in this more than any huge influencer or world leader.
If you want to know more detail about what was talked about at the third Cool Down webinar, watch the video or listen as a podcast below:
Click here to listen via Spotify.
Click here to listen via Apple Podcasts.