This month we talk to performance mindset coach, Andy Key. As the founder of Fit4Performance, Andy delivers a performance framework, underpinned by Red2Blue, to parents, youngsters, athletes, coaches, schools and colleges. Andy is passionate about teaching mindset skills as an integral part of the overall sports performance equation.
Andy was introduced to Red2Blue back in 2000 when he was setting up the Leicester Tigers’ Academy. Our CEO, Martin, along with England Rugby Union Coach, Brian Ashton, went to work with the Academy’s up-and-coming outstanding rugby players. Andy was familiar with other mindset programmes but what impressed him about Red2Blue was its simplistic approach; it was accessible for all age groups – the players could understand it and, importantly, see how to implement it in their game.
“We had a good Academy setup before we took on the Red2Blue mindset programme,” he says. “Red2Blue turned our Academy from a 2D into a 3D programme. It now made complete sense why we were doing things, but more importantly, how we would go about doing things in a slightly different way to challenge our athletes.”
From Championship to Premiership
Andy put Red2Blue to the test again when he was coaching elite rugby at Leeds Carnegie. He and another coach, Neil Back, were challenged with taking the team from the Championship back into the Premiership, and to keep them there. Within two years, they had succeeded.
Whether the team were working on physical, tactical or technical development, Andy backed up it with mental skills development helping to demonstrate that they were more than capable of performing at the next level. “The players probably wouldn’t have known it at the time, but we were using Red2Blue,” he explains. “Our whole essence was using the principles of Red2Blue to take the guys through the process of believing in themselves and believing in what they were capable of doing going forward.”
Andy currently teaches mental skills as part of Fit4Performance’s Athlete Development Pathway. He works with a number of up-and-coming racing drivers, including Archie Clark, grandson of the famous rally driver, Roger Clark, and Ethan Jeff-Hall, who recently became the ROTAX European Champion in his age group.
Mindset as a preventative measure
Mindset plays a huge part in any sport – and particularly in racing – yet Andy finds it is often ignored or forgotten when it’s needed most. “Part of what I do is try to educate, through the parents, that it’s an integral part of any programme,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what sport you’re doing or what level you’re at, mindset must play a part. I focus on recognising it as a preventative programme and framework rather than waiting until something goes wrong.”
He uses a five-step process around the performance cycle, the first of which is understanding pressure. Andy helps athletes to identify what stops then from performing, and then uses techniques such as Red2Blue to help them improve.
“We take them through a planning process – preparing to perform, reviewing performance and then bridging the gap,” Andy explains. “We touch on every area – it could be from one race to the next. Or it could be the bigger picture – what are you trying to do this year in performance? As I take them through the process over an eight-week framework, the areas that they’re finding difficult become quickly apparent. Once they’ve established that, I can show them what they need to focus on.”
The importance of taking responsibility
According to Andy, learning to take responsibility is one of the most important lessons. “I tell them, the only person that is responsible is you. It’s not your coach. It’s not your mum and dad. It’s you. We talk a lot about having a growth mindset – how we improve and what you need to do as an individual; all the elements come back to responsibility.”
No matter how talented an individual is, self-awareness, self-reflection and being honest with oneself are the key to success.
That said, accepting responsibility doesn’t mean they have to go it alone. Andy is keen to point out that it is a team effort, but his athletes have to be open to listening, have an open mind and can’t pretend to know all the answers. “Once they understand what influences their performance, they can work with people around them who will support them to become a better athlete and a better person.” It’s not just budding athletes who benefit from Andy’s programmes. His performance mindset framework, borne out of a need to provide a remote programme during lockdown, has gained recognition with students, parents and teachers alike.
Teaching mindset in school
Andy is passionate about helping parents to support their children with anxiety, overwhelm and other pressures. Using Red2Blue, he teaches parents how to talk to their children to help them focus on achieving their performance goals, whether that be in school, sport or more generally.
As far as Andy’s concerned, mindset should be an integral part of the school curriculum. It can help children understand how their emotions impact on their performance and can support them through transitions by helping them to understand what’s around the corner. He believes practicing a programme like Red2Blue would help ensure every child leaves school with a clear appreciation of the life skills needed to deal with potential pressures.
Although it may be a while before we see mindset skills officially on the curriculum, Andy will continue to promote the benefits through his Fit4Performance programmes. “I love coaching, especially coaching kids. This is a nice way of giving back what I’ve learned over my 20-odd years in elite sport,” he smiles.