Recognising and maximising potential

One of the things we are most passionate about at Sport and Beyond is helping people fulfil their potential.  But there is a very important step that must be taken first.  And that is to recognise someone’s potential. 

It is a truism to say that we all have potential, it’s just a question of finding out in what area.  But if you are in a position of needing to spot and recognise potential, what tools and tactics are available to you?


We will focus on the realm of sport to start with.  Clearly the use of physical assessment is prevalent in sport, in order to assess an individual’s suitability for, and potential in, a sport.  There is much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this approach, but there is no doubt that, as Sir Chris Hoy famously said, you have to love the sport but the sport must love you back.  This doesn’t deny the odd grey area – who remembers the story of Helen Glover, at 5’9.5”, standing on tip toes at the rowing Talent ID day she attended as the minimum requirement was 5’10”?! Helen and her partner Heather Stanning are now the World, Olympic and European record holders, plus the reigning Olympic, World, World Cup and European champions in the women's coxless pairs…..

However, the behavioural and psychological side is also key.  Various behavioural assessments are used in sport selection, ranging from specific psychometric assessments to slightly more practical tests – these include the ‘resiliency test’ used by Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers coach, who played catch with every potential player, not to see how good they are at catching but to see how they cope with a bad ball. 

One of the tools that we use in our business, the Thomas International GIA, which measures aptitude and ability, can be used to give an indication of potential and trainability, albeit that it needs to used in a sensitive way.

Psychometric testing is used to a significant extent in many arenas outside of sport to give an indication of someone’s potential, and suitability for a particular role; in fact the GIA test referred to above was originally commissioned by the government for just that purpose, to help in their selection for both the armed forces and the civil service.  We also use the Thomas International PPA, which helps people understand their working strengths, and the sorts of roles and environments they are most suited to; again, incredibly beneficial in terms of helping people understand and leverage their strengths.

The whole picture

But relying on just these types of assessments would be foolhardy.  Are many of you reading this shouting out: ‘But what about this?’ and ‘What about that?’

So what else is relevant ? 

One key aspect is a really good understanding of an individual; not just how good they are at something, but what drives them, what is their ‘character’ like, what is their background, how motivated are they, what support and back up have they had to get them to where they are now. And so on.  I hesitate to use the phrase ‘holistic approach’ but it does sum up well what we are talking about here. 

To give a couple of examples from sport, let’s start with Colm O’Connell, central through his role at St. Patrick’s High School in Iten, a small mountain village in Kenya, to the incredible success of long distance runners from the area.  What is one of the main reasons he attributes to his success? The fact that the boys were boarders, meaning that he had them at his disposal 24 hours a day.  This enabled him to really understand them and find out what motivated them.  The importance of understanding the individual is repeated by Stephen Francis, orchestrator of the Jamaican sprinting revolution. For him, it’s not just about current performance abilities. He always wants to go deeper, assessing someone’s resilience, grit, passion, commitment and the background to what they have achieved so far – has everything been put on a plate for them? Have they had it easy? Or have they achieved what they have despite everything?

And then…..

Of course the story doesn’t end there.  Once you have identified the talent, you need to work hard to maximise that potential.  We have blogged before about tools you can use to do this, from the emotional intelligence angle (EI being the springboard to fulfil your potential) through to the importance of recognising and maximising your strengths.  Again it all comes down to our central approach: Understand | Focus | Excel. 

Whether in sport, education or business, the ability to recognise and then help maximise potential is the key aspect of any coach’s/leader’s role. 

For those in whom this has sparked an interest, we have found Rasmus Ankersen’s ‘The Gold Mine Effect’ gives some interesting and well backed up insight in this area – do take a look if you have time.