Spotlight on Performance

I am priviledged to work with visionary executives, business leaders, entrepreneurs and world-class athletes. People who aim high and who are committed to achieving excellence in all aspects of their lives.

This is my place to share my views on sustainable high performance with you on a quarterly basis.

Q2 · 2024
Dare to dream – and plan to be happy and fulfilled

If you’re a soccer fan, you may well know of Yann Sommer, star goalkeeper for FC Internazionale Milano and Switzerland. But whether you follow soccer or not – and whether you’ve heard of Yann or not – please read on, because his story has lessons for us all.

Yann has just won the Scudetto – Italy’s national league or ‘Serie A’ title – after victory for ‘Inter’ in an emotional derby in the magnificent San Siro stadium against fierce rivals AC Milan. With this, he has now won the league title at least once in every country where he has played – just one of his many extraordinary achievements.

I have collaborated with Yann for the last 15 years, since the beginning of his professional career as a goalkeeper. At the age of 20, Yann reached out to me and engaged me as his performance psychologist and mental coach to help him build up his mental toughness and leadership skills for world-class performance.

It’s fair to say that Yann has had a stellar career. He spent the first four years as a professional in Switzerland with FC Basel, where he won the league title four times and the national cup twice. He then spent over eight years in the German Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he broke several records, including making the most saves in a single match and becoming the most-capped foreign goalkeeper in the history of that prestigious league. In parallel, since 2014, he has been the first-choice keeper for the Swiss national team, amassing the most ever appearances as a goalkeeper for Switzerland, including two World Cups and three European Championships. Overall, in his professional career so far, Yann has played more than 700 official matches.

Achievements on this scale don’t just happen by accident. They come from Yann’s dedication to excellence. He is an athlete who constantly keeps investing in his growth and strives to maximize his performance.

In our collaboration, we focused on some key factors that can turn top performers into champions, including:

  • Building Yann’s mental and emotional skills to achieve world-class performance;
  • Maximizing his positive influence on the team through effective communication;
  • Developing his leadership skills to enable him to be a key connector at all the levels of his organization (whichever team he is representing), and to be a positive ambassador for his clubs and the Swiss national side.

As Yann’s career evolved, he increasingly became recognized as one of the world’s top goalkeepers. For example, he was acclaimed as:

  • The best goalkeeper in the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup;
  • A brilliant player in the 2020/21 UEFA European Championship, including a decisive penalty-save against France’s Kylian Mbappe (all Swiss will remember) to eliminate the then world champion, France;
  • One of the best keepers in the Bundesliga over several years.

In our meetings, Yann always gratefully and humbly acknowledged the recognition he had gained for his performances. And yet, despite his incredible level of success, in his own eyes one thing was still missing: he wondered what else it would take for one of the world’s best clubs to offer him a contract.

Together, we explored his feelings more deeply and developed an approach to his career that would allow him to achieve peace of mind. We agreed that his mindset should be to:

  • Set himself up for the long run
  • Accept that, if this was ‘as good as it gets’, it was still amazing
  • Be in the moment
  • Trust that the best is yet to come

With this attitude, Yann played consistently well for Mönchengladbach and Switzerland. At the same time – and I believe this is equally important – he continued to live a rounded and happy life, not only appreciating what he had achieved professionally, but also feeling fulfilled in his private life.

Then, at the age of 33, something unexpected happened: Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany, suffered an accident that would keep him out of the game for several months. Bayern reached out to Yann to take over. Without hesitating, he grasped the opportunity. At this moment, Yann benefited from having built a very cooperative relationship with his employer, Borussia Mönchengladbach, who were willing to negotiate his transfer to FC Bayern.

Yann went on to win the Bundesliga title with Bayern, in a turbulent season with lots of challenges, and almost immediately received the offer of a three-year contract from Inter Milan – another iconic club. Both clubs publicly stated that amongst many other strengths, Yann’s maturity was one of the main factors why they signed him at this stage of his career.

And now, just 12 months later, he is a championship winner once again. It’s his tenth title in his career. He is now also the first Swiss ever to have won the titles in the Swiss Super League, in the German Bundesliga and in the Italian Serie A.

Just 18 months ago, no one could have foreseen such a dramatic turn of events and such fulfillment of Yann’s dream – not merely playing for one world-class club, but two, and winning national championships with both!

What can we learn?

Most of us have our ambitions and try to plan our careers. And, like Yann, we all have our dreams. But, also like Yann, we cannot force things to happen. Sometimes, we need to build maturity through consistent performances before we get offered the opportunity to lead from the very top.

It is possible, however, to take Yann’s mental approach. You can adopt a mindset that will enable you to continue to perform at your best, push your boundaries and aim high. At the same time, you can be grateful for how far you’ve come and achieve mental peace and fulfillment.

Therefore, for those of you who are in a similar situation, you may find this helpful. My advice to you is the same as it was for Yann:

  • Set yourself up for the long run
  • Accept that, if this is ‘as good as it gets’, it is still amazing
  • Be in the moment
  • Trust that the best is yet to come

Whatever happens in your career, with this mindset, you will build the foundation to be successful, happy and fulfilled.

Wishing you only the best,