The Greatest

Having heard him speak at the EA Masters in September, I’m particularly enjoying Matthew Syed’s latest book – “The Greatest” – which is a collection of his best sports pieces, written principally for The Times.

The key theme is how top sports people are made rather than born, that it’s their nurture and not their genetic inheritance that is the cause of their success.

Matthew suggests that this is true of every walk of life; successful people in all fields have achieved their potential principally by proper training and proper practice. And please note that proper training and proper practice is very different from mere experience, as I illustrated several times last week whilst singing in the shower, playing golf and navigating home without the sat-nav – all appallingly!

So what does proper training and proper practice look like? What have Paula Radcliffe, Matthew Pinsent and Kelly Holmes in common, (other than speaking at our events)? And what is it that these sporting icons all share with the greatest business champions?

Matthew Syed suggests it’s the following mix:

1. They all have incredible support networks. Coaches, trainers, mentors, business managers, psychiatrists, nutritionists, doctors and medical staff not to forget that, right at the beginning, all of these roles would largely be undertaken by very committed parents. And even when they get to the pinnacle of their sport they still are coached and train as hard as ever. I saw this first hand when Roger Federer rented my house in Wimbledon, (he won that year), and brought with him four coaches/back up team. Similarly, the best business leaders are continuously learning and seeking to improve. They read a lot, attend conferences and events, immerse themselves in other businesses whenever possible and typically have business coaches and mentors in addition to a support network of top accountants, lawyers, PR and marketing experts.

2. They develop their mental game as much as their physical. The mind is the difference between being good and exceptional and the brain can be and should be trained and exercised as much as the rest of the body if you’re to attain the summit of your potential.

3. For the truly exceptional, it’s not just winning that matters but the way in which they perform. In every sport there have been boring winners. The teams that park the bus, the sloggers, those who grind their opponent down, but their achievements are largely confined to the statisticians’ record books, they’re not loved or talked about for decades to come. The very best care about how they win, they seek perfection and beauty and elegance. So I believe do the best companies and business leaders. Being number one in your field is the measurement, why and how you get there is the true purpose.

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