Peak Performance

Did you watch the Wimbledon tennis men’s singles final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic last weekend? Apparently over 15 million viewers tuned in to watch the performance. If you were one of those, what did you think? We sat riveted by the match and watched both players grinding it out and showing their talents. As it started to look like Murray was going to secure his win – the tension built and the deciding game seemed to take forever. Andy Murray in particular looked like he was throwing absolutely everything he had into trying to secure victory.

As we watched, Carole and I exchanged views like, ‘How will Murray continue if he loses this game? He seems to be going for broke, leaving nothing in the tank and pushing at the limit for the win.’ Thankfully for him (and for our nerves) he came through, winning the game, and in so doing, beating Djokovic in straight sets. The 77 year old monkey is off the back of British, or should that be Scottish, men’s tennis at last.

And as sure as night follows day, folk will use this opportunity to blog about high performance at work. I’ve already spotted stuff with titles like, ‘How to Serve the Winning Point at Work’, ‘Learning from Andy Murray to Deliver a World Beating Performance at Work’, and ‘Get Some Balls! Smash your way to Better Workplace Performance’. The last one of these is my personal favourite. But the trouble with all this ‘sporting performance at work’ stuff is that for me, it doesn’t translate well from one environment to the other.

I’ll try to give you an example using one of my sporting heroes, Sir Chris Hoy. Sir Chris was renowned for his mammoth work effort and training regime. He got to be as good as he is through applying phenomenal amounts of effort and hard work to his talent. After intense periods of training, his sporting performances were often delivered in short, extremely powerful spikes as he excelled in sprinting events on the cycling track. And just like Andy Murray was on Sunday, Sir Chris would be completely spent after his work was done. I guess you’d expect nothing less from a competitor when they’re going for the biggest prize in sport.

Thankfully, for the vast majority of us mere mortals, work isn’t about delivering gold medal, championship winning performances, it’s about something a little more….sustainable. Yes good work is often hard work, and yes we need to train and develop in order to achieve our goals, but I’m pretty confident that if most employees took the stance that they need to train five hours a day in order to deliver their best performance at work, they’d soon be asked to deliver it for someone else.

So what do you think? Is the connection between sporting excellence and doing good work misplaced, or have I been tricked by an exquisite drop shot that just crept over the net? Let’s imagine I’m standing at one end of the Stop Doing Dumb Things court with my crappy wooden racket in hand, feel free to try and serve one past me.

photo credit 

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

9 thoughts on “Peak Performance”

  1. Here’s the likely responses sitting on the pro side of the argument:
    – but they have a team of people to support them
    – but they practise their skill until they are expert
    – but they have the talent to succeed
    – but they always had potential
    – but they enjoy what they do
    – but they have resilience to come back

    And here’s the likely response from the against crew:
    – but it’s sport

    1. As a keen appreciator of tennis, I was hoping you would try and play some more artful shots Sukh 😉 I think there’s more to this than ‘but it’s sport’, and while as you suggest, there are comparisons that we can choose to draw, most of us don’t have access to the kind of costly team that Andy Murray has. Most of us aren’t given anywhere near sufficient time to practice to basic, let alone ‘expert’ level, and so I think these comparisons just don’t hold up too well.

      I’d take an inspiring and more relevant story to heart any day over an inspiring and less relevant one. This for me feels like another flavour of case study porn perhaps?

      New balls please.

  2. It’s the old adage – ‘the harder I work the luckier I get’ – Samuel Goldwyn.

    Sometimes we get lucky (I all for rocking up and winging it on occasion) but we get consistently good by working, training and putting learning into place.

    1. Yes – we get better in no small part due to hard work, and the other good stuff you mentioned. Communication plays a big part for a lot of us too. Thanks Amanda.

  3. I do find it amusing how the HR performance brigade jump on the bandwagon of sports success to score their points, but it is a bit underhand. And I guess most of them are more like the once a year gym bunny in your cartoon strip than the Scottish Olympic heroes in your post. At least that makes them more like the employees they are they to SERVE.
    So it’s about time we had blog posts like “Time for HR to learn from Murray’s coaching team” at least they know they are their to develop their man’s performance.

      1. Oh that’s good. Only I guess Murray hired Lendl as a coach because he respected his experience and wisdom, he’d been there and done it. Very different to most HR coaches.

  4. As unsporty spice I always get anxious when it is brought into the workplace (remember the 1990’s fad for outward bound?). There are comparisons – the great pitch to a client (which takes masses of preparation), the way you react to failure etc. However, to be a great success in sport you have to be totally and utterly committed to your OWN performance. And 100% single-minded, with a clear goal. Does that translate to a work environment?

    1. Great point Julia – and I wonder what our other contributors will make of your question? For me – the comparison simply doesn’t translate close enough, often enough or well enough to be worth all the column inches devoted to it.

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