PCA Emerging Leaders | A Discussion with Dee Anderson

Dee Anderson is a Performance Psychologist who focuses on the individual (and the team) ahead of the result. She is currently the Chair of the NRL Players Association as well as Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager for the Aussie Spirit Women’s Softball Team and the Performance Manager for World Champion Red Bull Air Racer Matt Hall. On 23 October 2020, Dee generously presented at the PCA Emerging Leaders event. Some highlights from the conversation are below:

S: There are two types of stress, the positive nerves and energy a sportsman would get before an event, which I would think is almost encouraged, but then there’s the negative stress. How do you respond to the negative?

D: Stress is a good thing. We tend to think that stress is something we need to avoid, but it’s about acknowledging that there is a difference in the way you feel and recognizing that you need to adjust to whatever that task is. In sport, in the absence of having an elevation/physiological changes, you’re not ready to perform at the level you are being asked to. Even this morning, I felt a little bit of adrenaline before speaking in front of a group of people. That’s just activating everything in me to prepare for the event. The most important thing about stress is to acknowledge it, that you’re feeling somewhat different and that helps you get in touch with what you are actually feeling. Often it is fear. Fear is really asking yourself a question, and if you acknowledge what that question is and think about the answer then fear goes away. We haven’t quite evolved enough as human beings to interpret that fight or flight scenario, whether it’s a bear coming out of a cave to attack us level of fear, and the fact that I’m being confronted with a situation for the first time, or a repeat situation where I didn’t handle it very well. Fear is just asking you something, and that’s often what stress is as well.

S: What about destressing? On one end you have meditation and on the other alcohol/substances. How do you try and encourage those better levels of destressing versus the negative ones?

D: All of that is okay, in moderation. We have a consciousness when we’ve done too much of something that says ‘I shouldn’t have had that last drink’, and the more self aware you are the better you become at adjusting to the sort of things that counterbalance who you are. If you’re a physical person at work, the last thing you need is to be getting into marathon running and not having those quiet moments. The challenge now is staying in the moment, even now you’re having those little conversations in your head of all sorts of things going on in your life. Being in a place where you can have a quiet mind, whether that’s the gym or meditation or spending time with loved ones, you need to find that thing that helps you stay in the moment.

S: Sport these days has a win at all costs mentality, where do you think balance lies in psyching out of opponents? For example the Haka, cricket sledging, or the French football captain in the 2006 World Cup who headbutted his opponent in the final and lost.

D: The origin of sport was to prepare you for war. There’s a history of winning and losing, it all starts with the leadership and the culture that determine how you will be as an athlete. Some people have learnt to be good by evoking an emotion. Some will evoke anger and see the opponents as the enemy, and others will love the purity of the game and almost get lost in the flow of activity. If you don’t have good people around you or a sense of who you are, those negative behaviors can cost you dearly.

Q: Mental rehearsal and visualisation is documented a lot in sport, is it as relevant in business?

D: Without a doubt. If you think of the preparation you need to do for a big meeting, sizing up who will be across the table, who you need to influence and your Plan B if it doesn’t come off; you can prepare yourself for that through good breathing techniques and reflection on how you’re going to get up in the morning and get into your routine so you know you’re going to execute a great meeting. It is exactly the same as sport.

S: What are your thoughts on young people trying different careers? Do you see its healthy or necessary to push people to try different things?

D: Definitely. I was in the Air Force, and my mum wouldn’t sign my papers. But I grew up in a small town and thought, there’s got to be something more to life than getting married at 17 and having kids. That level of self-awareness is going to carry people through having flexibility in their career path. Most people younger than me don’t aim for that 30 years in one industry mentality. The more you know yourself and your values, the more you can recognise when you’ve outgrown a job or gained interest in something else. I believe there’s a two year window where that happens in your subconscious before you realise. It’s the same in sport with the transition to retirement, as it’s the same in people’s career paths. Having great mentors around you is important. I call it the Mrs Dalton theory. My first netball coach taught me first how to be a good person, secondly she taught me how to be a good netballer. I think we all need a Mrs Dalton in our lives. Mentors don’t have to be formal, it’s a matter of who’s on my train and who I go to. It’s okay to pull the train up and let some off. That’s a really important part of a mentoring relationship.

I’ve been fortunate to always have smarter people around me. I don’t like being the smartest person in the room because people expect you to have all the answers. I can’t learn unless I have smarter people around me.

Q: If you’re a sportsman and you have a fear of failure, how do you best overcome it?

D: Fear is a question. I would recommend to just get a piece of paper and write three columns:

1 – what I am fearful of?

2 – What are the consequences of that fear?

3 – How will I mitigate it?

The fear will disappear once you answer the question and recognise that fear is just preparing you for something. It’s a good thing. Most of the time we avoid it, but we should acknowledge it. In an athletic environment its usually about not being good enough. So if that’s the fear, what are the consequences? – might not make the team. How do you mitigate it? – work on this or that. At the end of the day not everyone will make it, and that peak at the top is very pointy, it’s so easy to slide off it.

I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. I don’t think I would have been able to have the flexibility in my career unless I’d learnt from failure. I don’t use the word failure; I use the word lesson.


If you would like to watch the recording of this event, head to our Facebook page or download here. The sound recording is also available for download here.

For more information on Dee Anderson or to get in contact, head to her website.