Does Your Business Take An Olympic Approach - Part 2

This is the approach that Adam Peaty, gold-medal winning swimmer in Rio, takes to his job: “The idea of making the team but not pushing the team forward was not really an option for me.  Me and my coach push forward every day.   I’m not going to settle for just this. I’m going to push forward – I’m sure every gold medallist says this but me and Mel operate differently and we are always pursuing excellence and self-improvement. If we’re not doing that I don’t really see the point.”

Success.  Great leadership. High performing teams. Winning attitude and mindset. Fulfilling potential. 

These are all things that individuals and businesses aim for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a perfect solution for each of these? Life of course does not work that way. There are, however, some common factors that are consistently proven to contribute to these areas.

In Part 1  we started to look at some of these key factors. In this Part 2 we continue to do so,  carrying on with the 3m diving board analogy.

To be able to dive well off a 3m board, I need to practice hard and in the right way

A coach’s job is to improve their athlete’s performance.  It is as simple as that.  To do this, they need to make sure that everything the athlete does leads towards that goal.  The aim is for continuous improvement. As Mel Marshall, Adam Peaty’s coach, said after his gold medal winning swim: ““I just want to keep helping athletes and finding the answers that are needed to help them get the most out of their performance……I just want the opportunity to help athletes realise their potential.”

Within this, the concept of purposeful practice (also known as ‘deliberate practice’) is key.   What it means that not all practice is equal, and that in order to really develop, you need to make sure that what you are doing is purposeful and will contribute effectively to getting you to your end goal.  See what one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time, John Wooden, says on this:

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”  He didn’t ask for mistake-free games. He didn’t demand that his players never lose. He asked for full preparation and full effort from them.  If players were coasting during practice, he turned out the lights and left. “Gentlemen, practice is over.” They had lost their opportunity to become better that day.

As Sean Fitzpatrick, legendary All Black, once said: “The best sports people in the world practice more than they play. Business people should practice too.  They should go home at night and analyse their performance.”

Do you?

What small changes can I make to enable me to get better at diving off the 3m board?

This is one of our favourites, as it can be applied so instantly to improve results, provided it is understood and done in the right way.  What we are talking about is marginal gains.  Whilst this concept came to fame via British Cycling (who still follow it stringently today – have a look at this for the latest area of focus it was around for a while beforehand, notably being put into practice by Sir Clive Woodward. According to Woodward, one of the tenets of the 2003 World Cup winning rugby team’s success was the willingness to do 100 things just 1% better. Woodward called these the ‘critical non-essentials’ – a fresh jersey at half time, the same bus for every game, a more inspiring locker room at Twickenham.

Some of the key areas looked at within cycling include body percent fat figures – these go down to 4% for the 2 weeks around the Olympics. As these are dangerously low levels, they have to be very carefully monitored, with the athletes at much greater risk of illness, but the power to weight ratios that are so key can make a huge difference. In Rio Team GB wore new suits – huge amounts of technology go into making these as figure hugging, and efficient, as possible. Even one little fold in the arm can have an impact on speed.

So as a concept it’s about breaking down all the elements of what you/your business does, seeing what improvements can be made, so that the whole adds up to so much more. 

What’s your 3m board?

So for you and your business, what’s your 3m board? What does success look like for you as an individual, and for your business? And how can you apply these concepts to the aims noted at the top of this piece?

A final analogy with sport to bring all of this together. As noted earlier, a coach’s job is to make sure their athlete is the best they can be.  What does this require?

  • A belief that they as a coach can and should keep improving and developing;

  • A belief that their athletes can keep improving and developing;

  • The right environment and culture to drive this improvement.

A coach needs to do this with an eye both to the short term as well as the long term (whilst UK Sport works on an 8 year cycle, questions would have been asked if success at London was sacrificed for success at Rio – just look at what happened to Stuart Lancaster). A coach also needs to do this within the context of their funding constraints, and the interests of their stakeholders.

How many of you reading this can relate to this? 

Catherine BAKERComment