Understanding Performance

Elite athletes spend most of their time training to perform and they’re supported by a team of coaches and performance experts whose job is to help them get even better.

So whether you like sport or hate it, a star or last to be picked, if you’re serious about fulfilling your potential, when it comes to understanding performance, it’s the place to go.

Reading time: 5 minutes

High performance headlines

  • Elite performers obsess about what they need to do to get better. Businesses obsess about results.
  • Elite performers get better by focusing on improving 6 elements of their performance – their technical ability, their tactical nous, their physical energy, their attitude/mindset, the context or environment they’re performing in and in how they use support.
  • If you think bigger than just working on your technical ability or tactical nous, you’re on the path to making some big improvements to your performance. And to your results.

The full viewpoint

Think of a world where you spend most of your time training to perform and occasionally put your work to the test. That’s pretty much the world of professional sport. As a result, there’s been a huge amount of time, money and effort invested into understanding what influences human performance and then applying that science to improve it.

Then think of a world where you spend the majority of your time performing and only occasionally have time to train. Experience tells us that’s the world of work, where there’s a big focus on results and little understanding of the science of human performance. As a result, the art and science of performance is being ignored or lip service is paid to make everyone feel better. Not great if you want to get better results and to get them more consistently.

Athletes know that performance is all about doing the things that they need to do to get the results they want. It’s a never-ending journey of understanding and action – making sure they know what result they want and then working on 6 key performance components to get there. They also know it’s a matter of choice – that they’re in control of the amount of energy and effort they put into working on those 6 things. They know that by working on them, they’ll get the result they want in the end. There’s a bit of delayed gratification about it because often there’s not an immediate return on their investment, but they trust they’ll get there because they’re certain that they’re doing the right things.

Six key components

So what are these 6 components? The obvious ones, and the ones that populate most people’s CV’s are the technical and tactical elements of performance. Everyone goes to great lengths to outline their qualifications, skills and experience, and the key achievements that showed how well they were used. These first two components of performance are essential – without them, you won’t stand much of a chance of being any good.

Technical and tactical abilities are very strong in the best performers, but they don’t just focus on improving these. Partly that’s because as you get better at what you do, it’s tougher to get big breakthroughs in technical skills or tactical thinking. So focusing on the other 4 components – physical, mental, emotional and contextual – can deliver big performance improvements and dramatically better results.

All great athletes know that the physical component of performance is a non-negotiable. The same is true for performance at work. Just deprive yourself of sleep, good nutrition, water and your health for a few days and see what an impact that makes. You don’t have to be a gym rat to be great at work, but you do need to make sure you’re fit for the hours you’re working and the demands you face. Ignore this area and you’re ignoring something that could have a huge benefit for your performance.

Elite athletes also know that the mental component of performance might mean the difference between winning and losing. So they work hard to make sure their confidence is high, their concentration is focused whatever of the conditions and that any worry and pressure are under control. Choose to ignore the mental component and again you’re also choosing to ignore one of the things that makes the difference between good and great.

All athletes know the importance of the emotional component of performance; the support team who help them win. They value and use that support because they know it’s part of their winning recipe. If you’re isolated and expecting to be able to do everything yourself, then when the pressure’s on, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage compared to others who get the support they need.

Finally, the context within which you perform is really important. This boils down to whether you have the right equipment around you to do what you need to and your environment is spot on in terms of the mood and attitude. If you haven’t got the right equipment, the mood and attitude that surrounds you becomes even more important : can you be the world’s best at performing with the level of equipment you do have and the people around you? You may not have total control over this, but you’ve probably got some, and you’ve got 100% choice about the attitude you have towards your playing conditions.

The evidence is compelling, but is the risk to change too great for you? Surely the real risk is to remain stuck to a definition of performance that means you are at risk of underperforming. Is that a risk worth taking?