Sports psychology at S4N

It’s now common practice for elite athletes and sports franchises to employ sports psychologists to elevate their game and work through issues that can impede performance. NBA Hall of Famers like Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal, for instance, worked closely with sports psychologist George Mumford to change their inner dialogues and improve their thought patterns. Similarly, NFL star Tom Brady credits sports psychologist Greg Harden for helping him develop a winning mindset.

At S4N, we recognize that teams turning out critical software solutions are not so different. To provide our clients with great software, we need to build frictionless teams. To that end, we have in-house sports psychologists working closely with each team (one sports psychologist for every 25 professionals) and coaching them on sophisticated communication improvement, coping skills, time management, introspection, empathy and other skills depending on specific team needs. In addition to ongoing technical training, S4N engineers are taught to give productive feedback, manage conflict, and effectively present alternative solutions. We have learned through our work with our clients that the best development partners go beyond delivering sound software components and integrations – they are also comfortable proposing new ways of working to promote long-term success. At S4N, being forward thinking is in our DNA; as a true partner to our clients, we challenge their assumptions as required, bring bold ideas to the table and don’t just “do what we are told.”

Assess teams and situations, then adjust accordingly

Both the NBA and NFL are increasingly using psychological tests during pre-draft assessment periods. These tests — which can measure factors like visual-spatial processing, decision making, and learning efficiency — provide insight into how prospects think, what their play style is, and how they might fit in with certain teams. By using psychological testing, pro teams are able to make more informed decisions around their drafting strategies.

S4N operates in a similar fashion. Even if our teams are assembled based on technical expertise, we work to make sure all team members have the right tools to work in a healthy, psychologically safe environment. We use tools such as personality tests and coping skills inventory to ensure that the employees we assign to clients become a good fit for the team.

These things aren’t typically done in the software development space. Most consulting firms and technology vendors bring in people solely based on their technical expertise and then leave them to fend for themselves.

We take this approach because we recognize that programming and coding knowledge are just half of the equation. Communication and social skills can impact projects just as much, which is why we factor in these considerations when creating software development teams for clients.

Professional sports teams are known to hire psychologists and mental coaches who develop players’ cognitive skills and psychological flexibility. As Sports Illustrated notes, mental coaches help players improve confidence, focus, and motivation "just as a strength and conditioning coach helps enhance an athlete’s power, speed, and agility."

Similarly, we train each team member to be mentally fit so they can deliver on projects.

For example, when developers are faced with clients whose communication or working style may differ from what they’re used to, we coach them through the situation so they can adjust accordingly.

Case in point: We recently had to grapple with a major change involving a client we have worked with for three years. Our original point of contact left the company and was replaced by a project manager (PM) who had a completely different temperament. The new PM was much more direct and outspoken, and his personality often came off as adversarial (or at least, that’s how the established developers initially perceived it).

Rather than watching the project stall, we worked with the development team, teaching them not to take blunt comments personally, and showing them different communication techniques so they can work better with the new PM.

As a result, the S4N team adjusted to the management change successfully and we maintained a smooth client relationship without any disruption to technical work.

Act fast and address issues as they happen

High-performing sports teams are known for implementing fast-paced coaching systems and mentalities.

Coach Montly Williams of the Phoenix Suns, for instance, has the "0.5" system, which promotes rapid decision-making by giving players on the court half a second to decide what to do with the ball (ie., pass, shoot, or drive to the basket).

Meanwhile, Matt Rhule, the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, is known for running practice sessions at an extremely fast pace. Rhule, who modeled the format from his work at Penn State and with the Giants, described the style as being highly productive.

"We just want to move efficiently from drill to drill and have great energy, work really hard, and get out of there,” said Rhule in an interview. “We don't want to be on the field longer than we have to. But we're going to make sure that while we're out there, we put great reps on tape."

Since the development of critical software mirrors this pressured environment, S4N leverages the fast-paced nature of sports psychology when working with our software developers. We address issues right away so that team members can make immediate adjustments when necessary.

What's more, we strive to gain constant feedback and observations. When we bring in a new employee, we can quickly discern — typically within one sprint — if they’re performing up to par. If there’s an issue, we bring it up right away so they can swiftly correct the course.

As a result, our clients benefit from having development teams that ramp up quickly and consistently perform at a high level.

Coaching enhances professional and personal development

S4N engineers recognize and appreciate that strong communication skills and the ability to thrive in various team scenarios is great for their careers. The sports psychology training is part of why S4N engineers enjoy long careers with S4N, thus reducing turnover for our clients. It’s important to note that training at S4N isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s an ongoing practice that is tailored to each individual. We provide various types of training, including basic and advanced communication skills, as well as empathy training. This helps our developers improve their social and coping abilities so they can perform better for clients.

The qualities we cultivate are essentially life skills. When an engineer develops a communicative ability, it is not specific to their work with one person or in a single context; they can apply it in different environments and thus improve interaction with others.

For this training to be effective, individuals need a prior skill: introspection. When we are able to analyze ourselves and understand our thoughts and actions, we unlock internal limitations that have impeded our growth. That is something that is harder to teach.

Need help building complex software solutions? Our teams at S4N predictably deliver complete software products that help enterprises stay competitive. Get in touch and tell us about your next challenge.