Cleere’s Corner: The Impact of Body Language on Performance

The impact of body language on performance

By Dr. Michelle Cleere

You have 20 seconds to make an impression on those around you, but the fact of the matter is that impression is not often made through what you say but through your body language. Body language is a form of communication that speaks volumes about how you really think and feel. People will often see you before they’ll hear anything that comes out of your mouth. If in the first 20 seconds, someone sees poor or negative body language, including a facial expression, that is the impression you’ve set, and rarely can you change that impression.

Your body language impacts how competitors see you and how you see yourself which effects how you perform.

Where does body language come from

Body language is your unspoken communication that you use to reveal your true thoughts and emotions. It includes your gestures, facial expressions and posture.

During competition, you can use body language to your advantage. Reading competitors body language can you give you a competitive advantage. When you pay attention, you get good at reading body language and interpreting it. Showing up to compete with positive body language can also give you a competitive advantage not only because of how others interpret it but for how it makes you feel.

How other’s body language impact us

Competitor’s body language impacts us. For example, a cyclist I was working with came in for an appointment and was talking about her race the weekend before. She said, “I showed up, ready to race and then I saw this woman who had an expensive bike and gear. She stood tall and looked totally confident and amazingly powerful. I thought to myself, there’s no way I am going to beat her. My confidence started to drop, and I started to worry. As the race started, I didn’t see her. I thought she must be in the front of the lead pack.”  After this experience, my client worked on having positive body language and showing up to the race in a positive way. She has seen huge implications in how others see her and how she sees herself (more on this below).

The moral of the story is that based on body language and the price of her gear, my client portrayed her competitor as being better than what she was. That made my client stop, pause, and doubt herself. In some situations, this can be used as a competitive advantage. I am going to act confident to get you in your head and psych you out. It works! About a quarter of the way into the race, my client actually came up on her wheel, passed her, and never saw her again. She realized that she had let this impression alter her confidence.

Portray confidence through body language

If other’s body language can impact you, then you can impact others in much the same way. If you show up to competition confident, there’s a good chance you’ll psych some of your competitors out. Other competitors and teammates take notice and respond positively.

Positive body language in and of itself creates a sense of confidence even if you are not feeling confident. Having others respond positively to it, reinforces you and reinforces your confidence.

Negative versus positive body language

Negative body language includes:

  • Folded arms
  • Slouching
  • Frowning
  • Body turned away from you
  • Poor eye contact

Positive body language includes:

  • Open body position; arms unfolded
  • Upright posture – shoulders down and back, head up and eyes looking forward
  • Relaxed and open facial expression
  • Consistent, comfortable eye contact
  • Smiling


An exercise in body language

In a seated or standing position, drop your shoulders, slouch a bit and put a frown on your face. How does that feel? For most people, not great. Now, in a that same position, bring your shoulders up and back, head up and eyes looking forward. How does that feel? Depending on your mood or how you are feeling, either position may initially feel a bit awkward because you aren’t in that mindset or used to it. But my clients all agree that the latter feels confident and powerful. Now stay in that upright position and put a smile on your face. 😊

Throughout this next week, trying consciously walking through your daily life, training, and competing using positive body language. Take notice of how you feel and how others respond to it. One of my cyclist did, and he was thoroughly amazed at how confident and powerful he felt and how positively others reacted.

It’s for these reasons and more that I work with clients on having positive body language. It’s such a simple way to feel more confident and psych competitors out.

Here’s a great TED talk reinforcing on the importance of body language – Your body language may shape who you are – Amy Cuddy


Reach out to Dr. Michelle if you need help “showing up” to your next race.

Dr. Michelle

Elite Performance Expert

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