Q3 · 2021The brilliant performance of Yann Sommer

Congratulations to Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer for his outstanding performance at the UEFA EURO 2020 (2021)!

I appreciate that not all of you reading this are Switzerland supporters, or even football fans (I am both, if you didn’t already know!), but please keep reading, because the performance of the Swiss national team – and especially Yann – at the UEFA European Championship, provides inspiration and important lessons for us all.

So, first of all, what happened? Well, for the first time in over 50 years, Switzerland reached the quarterfinals, before losing by the narrowest of margins to highly rated Spain.

The whole Swiss team played fantastically when they knocked out the current World Cup holders, France. Yann’s performance was one of the highlights. He is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament, not just because he made a brilliant save from star striker Kylian Mbappé in a decisive penalty shoot-out, but for his consistent excellence over all incredibly intense matches.

The value of mental preparation

We can find inspiration in Yann’s performance, and there are practical lessons we can learn too. Here’s how…

For athletes, people expect to see a lot of physical training, concentrating on both fitness and technical skill. But Yann has always stressed how much difference the mental side can also make – and that’s why I have had a close collaboration with him for the past 10 years.

Here’s what Yann shared in an interview a few years ago, contributing to my book “The Melting Point”:

“It is very important to work mentally in my sport and that was why I first decided to work with Christian. I did not have a specific problem, but I felt that if I could improve by maybe five per cent, that would be a lot in football, because we are already performing at a high level. I was sure that I could be better when I worked with my head.”

Yann never feels that he has reached a stage where he doesn’t need to do any more. On the contrary: since more than 10 years, he is determined to put in more effort to maximize his mental and emotional readiness. He is so ambitious because he knows that at the top level there is a very fine margin between success and failure.

In the interview, he talked about being mentally prepared for the pressure of big changes or events, for example, when he moved to a major club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, in Germany:

“Coping with the pressure is the most important thing in our business. When I decided to transfer to Germany into a bigger league, to a bigger club, there was more media, more spectators, more pressure. At this point it was very important for me to work with Christian, so I would be prepared for this. We spoke about what could happen in Germany, what people there would think about me, what would happen to me, and how much pressure I would be under. We spoke about everything, and he prepared me for everything.”

The key points in my work with Yann have often been when he has a significant new experience coming up, not just the move to Germany, but also when he was selected for the national team, or when he was about to play in a major tournament like the World Cup or the European Championship:

“These were the major events in football that I wanted to specifically prepare for with Christian, and he has helped me a lot with them. For example, we’ve created a ‘Check-In’ and ‘Check-Out’. So, before a game I do a check-in, that means I change from the person I am to the goalkeeper I am. It is a small meditation, where I think about situations in the game. We built a story together, so I have some situations in my head – what is important for me today and how I should play today.

“It’s important to know I have something that helps me to concentrate and to think about what can happen during the game or during an event. I can do it in every situation.

“After the game, I do the check-out and that means I go from goalkeeper back to person, and that helps me to switch off, so I can relax and be stress-free.”

Be at your best

Mental preparation is just as important for business leaders as it is for top athletes like Yann. It is a key skill to develop to help you cope with major events and pressures, so you too can be at your best when it matters most.
In principle, the Check-In activity is the same as the one practised by Yann, enabling you to activate a ‘best version of yourself’. The key elements are:

  1. Identify what ‘being at my best’ looks like – what are your five main characteristics when you are at your best?
  2. Breathing exercises (lasting 2-3 minutes) to center yourself
  3. Visualization – imagine yourself ‘being at your best’ in your performance environment
  4. Bring this highly positive, emotional state along and act out the best version of yourself as a performer or leader when it matters the most

Learn to disconnect

I think the main reason why great athletes keep their ambition and their ‘edge’ is because they have learned how to completely disconnect when they need to. As Yann has described above, they are able to be “off” on a regular basis.

“Sport is my business, and family is my private life, and I have never had a problem to switch between the two things. With my family I’m always easy and relaxed because sport is a different thing for me. I’m calm even after a mistake. This is very important, because if you can’t switch off it is not healthy!”

Yann has learned to live completely ‘in the moment’. This allows him to disconnect from football when he’s not training or playing. And that’s one of the reasons why – since so many years – he is so curious and hungry for ongoing optimal performance.

The same thing can happen for you!

Have a great summer.