Working Life: The Life Doctor

I DON'T know who originally said, "Those who can't do, teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym," but it's certainly an enduring myth that sport is for thickies.

Maybe that's why, when a self-help book is written by a sporting expert, it's incredibly straightforward. But probably why it's also so effective. The latest book from Terry Orlick, professor in the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa, and a former Olympic coach, is called Embracing Your Potential. It applies the laws of the successful sportsman to improving your life - spiritual, physical and emotional.

It's full of the kind of stuff that the games teacher told you at school (when he wasn't crushing your fingers under his Green Flash trainers). Believe and Achieve! Go for the Gold! If you watch the interviews with sports people after a match, they're full of such apparent inanities. The English cricket team on Monday, after victory against South Africa, were full of: "Well, I just took my shots one at a time," and "We knew it was a tough job so we knuckled down."

It's not exactly Oscar Wilde - but these aphorisms will probably lead you more contentedly (and successfully) through your life than any of Wilde's words of wisdom (after all, for most of the time he was dead miserable). Because coaching is all about simplicity. Sports psychologist Dr Sarah Rowell, at the National Coaching Federation, believes, "Sport is totally goal-orientated. Successful athletes need to have thick skins, focus and visualisation skills. A simple approach enables them to achieve, without distraction."

And the funny thing is, it works. Martin, 28, a web-site designer, found that the words of his under-16 rugby teacher helped his stress levels. "My teacher used to say, 'Don't think about how big the other lad is, just concentrate on that try-line.' These days, when I'm worried about where the next piece of work's coming from, I panic; I'm like a rabbit in the headlights. Remembering what my teacher used to say is incredibly helpful. Concentrate on the goal, don't worry about how good the others are, and I'll be all right."

It works because it's simple. Sporting winners clear their minds (even if it doesn't take very long). They don't start having thoughts about the point of it all; winning is the point. "In many ways I think I am just average, but I had a dream," says Larry Cain, 1996 dragon-boat racing world champion, told Orlick. "When you have that, there are no limitations. If you can get that fire in your eyes, then that fanatical sort of commitment to laying it all out on the line can take you a long way."

Yeah! You see, Larry Cain didn't think (as I would), "Dragon-boat racing? What kind of useless sport is that?" No, Larry went for it. He may have missed the subtler points of human suffering, but who cares? Embrace success. Go! Go! Go!

Terry Orlick's Steps to Life Excellence:

1. Set Goals. For today, tomorrow, medium and long term. Then shoot! Otherwise sport and life just drifts.

2. Think big, take small steps. Every shot contributes if it's going in the right direction.

3. Self-acceptance. There is no such thing as failure, only "falling short of a goal".

4. Focus on needs, cut out periphery. "Enter your own special world."

5. Visualise yourself achieving what you want. "Positive visions lead to positive realities" (winning the lottery doesn't count).

6. When something goes wrong, let it bounce off. "Be a cow," says Orlick, "nothing bothers a cow."

'Embracing Your Potential' by Terry Orlick is published by Human Kinetics, pounds 12.95