How the elite practise

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect”. So says Vince Lombardi, the highly successful (and often quoted) American football coach, and we agree with him.

We see real differences in how people think about and exploit practice opportunities – in work as well as in sport. The world’s best are superb at exploiting opportunities to do high quality, focused practice.

Reading time: 5 minutes

What goes on

Business and sport tend to see practice differently. There’s a perception that there’s not much opportunity to practice at work while an athlete gets to practise 80% of the time. The belief that there’s no time to practise, train or get the benefits from practice at work is wrong. If you hold this unhelpful belief, it’ll be limiting your capacity to improve and harming your prospects of being great at what you do.

Here’s the reality. Athletes have to perform every day – they’re under constant scrutiny and assessment. But they view every session – training and competition – as an opportunity to practise the skills, mindset and behaviour required for competition. It’s all practice. So if you want to change how you see and approach practice at work, read on. If you’re not that interested, embrace mediocrity.

Five performance truths

The brutal reality of high performance life – this is what you need to know

  1. ‘Practise’ is an opportunity to rehearse and improve the skills, behaviours, actions and attitudes required to deliver a particular performance outcome.
  2. The elite see every day and every thing they do as a practice opportunity – a chance to work on something, review, learn and improve.
  3. Purposeful practice is where you’ve identified what you want to improve, what opportunity you have to improve it and how you’ll use that opportunity to practice. It could be specific and detailed (a small part of performance) or an entire performance.
  4. Reviewing is critical. If you don’t reflect and review properly, you’re not maximising your opportunity to learn and improve.
  5. For key performance moments, do simulated practice. You’re practising what’s required technically, mentally, tactically and physically – ideally in a similar environment to the one you need to perform in. The more you do this, the more you’ll feel confident, ready and in control.

Three things to do

  1. Identify all the opportunities you have for training and practice. You’ll have lots of them – every diary entry is an opportunity. Adopt this mindset and think about what you could use today to get better at.
  2. Get specific. Know exactly what you will be working on and how. You may be practising a skill, a mindset, what and when you’ll eat or a tactic. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that’s important for you to get better at as a performer.
  3. Take time to reflect and review what you’ve done and learned. Then decide how you’ll use what you’ve learned for your next performance.



Sam’s story

Sam works in a technology company that’s growing quickly. He loves his job and that it’s a growing and fast paced business – it suits him down to the ground. No two days are the same, and there’s always some new ideas and initiatives going on.

While that’s great most of the time, Sam often feels like he’s on a treadmill of ‘doing’ at work. He bounces from meeting to meeting, from project to project and rarely has time to reflect or review what he’s learned. He’s aware that there’s some areas he needs to improve – like his ability to communicate and get his message across clearly and briefly – but thinks he never has time to work on this. He’s just caught up on the treadmill of performance and so isn’t improving or delivering the results he – or the business – had hoped he might as he got more experienced.

With some support from his line manager and an in-house coach, Sam started to approach things a bit differently. He shifted his mindset to see every day as an opportunity to practise key things he wanted to get better at. With some preparation, he identified when he might be able to practise those things and what he was going to do. Sometimes this was trying new things; sometimes this was doing the same things but slightly differently. At the end of every day – or practice opportunity – he took 5 minutes to review how he did and what he learned. He worked only on his communication to start with and that focus allowed him to make great progress. He then moved on to his next priority area – his organisation. He’s still working on this, as evidenced by his exceptionally untidy desk.