Driving Peak Performance

Driving Peak Performance

What success in sport can teach us in business.

Written by Barry Richards, Group President at FIRST

Sports and business have a lot in common in terms of motivation and values, such as commitment, resilience, and determination, in addition to stress and burnout in pressure cooker environments. Sports players are constantly striving for excellence and pushing the limits. This may explain why so many great athletes become successful business people. It also explains why so many sports metaphors are often used in the workplace. You may have heard someone say, “knock it out of the park” before a big presentation or that we should shift a strategy to avoid a “hail mary.”  

For most of my life, I have been an athlete, a coach, a fan, and a business leader.. all to varying degrees. Now, we don’t have to be an impressive athlete to succeed in business, but what we can do is apply some of the key attributes of an athlete to help excel in business.

Mastering your habits is more important than achieving a certain outcome


About 20 years ago, British Cycling engaged with Coach Brailsford in hopes of clenching the Tour de France for the first time in its 110-year history. His philosophy centered around “the aggregation of marginal gains,” – seeking a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. For example, they rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip and had riders wear electrically heated shorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature. You get my drift. They implemented thousands of ideas like this. Within five years, they set nine Olympic records and seven world records, and a British cyclist won the Tour de France. For the ten years following that, from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured 5 Tour de France victories in what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history. – (Source)

The aggregation of marginal gains is more powerful than just focusing on peak performance.
Success is not a one-off event, and business is not linear; it is a series of small achievements repeated over time. We often focus on the end goal, and it can seem insurmountable. Give yourself permission to look at the goal or challenge creatively and celebrate each and every incremental gain.

Create your own culture and make your identity a legacy

The All Blacks are the most successful international men’s rugby side of all time, with a winning percentage of 77% of the time. They are considered one of the most prolific teams across any sport. This wasn’t always their story.
After a catastrophic quarter-final failure at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks were demoralized, leaving New Zealand in turmoil. After new leadership and self-reflection, coaches created a new culture based on individual character and personal leadership. All Blacks established their own set of mantras and fully embodied them in everything they did. One of my favorites, Mantra #1: Sweep the Sheds: “Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done.” The shed is a figurative name for their dressing room. Before leaving the dressing room at the end of the game, some of the highest profile people in world rugby stop and tidy up after themselves. It would be easy for an All Blacks team member to let their ego dominate; instead, they practice humility and embody a culture of humanity, unknowingly creating a legacy.  (Source)

These mantras wouldn’t apply to every team, sport, or business, but they serve as inspiration to set personal mantras that mirror your values and then really buy into them.

Playing to win

The diverse strengths of each teammate is what leads to teams achieving exceptional results. 

Back in the ‘90s, Michael Jordan changed the trajectory of the Chicago Bulls, creating a dynasty along with the iconic fadeaway. His impact on the court led the Bulls to unprecedented success, capturing six NBA championships.

Or the legendary prowess of Patrick Mahomes, leading the team from an “it’s not the Chief’s year” forecast to making a massive comeback, against all the odds and clinching their fourth Super Bowl title

These teams all play different games with different rules, but at the end of the day, they all come together to play to win.

Bottom line

The fundamentals of sports are applicable no matter what ball or field the players are in, and this can extend to business.
The common thread is that both teams on a field or in the workplace have a strong focus on collaboration, innovation, open communication, shared accountability, and a commitment to excellence, all while navigating times of stress by remaining calm and collected under pressure. Failure is common in building resilience and eradicating fear leading to higher performance. The marriage of maximum individual potential and coming together as a team, playing to win, is what ultimately leads to the creation of dynasties.


– Written by Barry Richards, Group President at FIRST.