Lessons for leaders from elite sports people

Such a joy to watch Serena and Venus Williams in action in the Women’s Final at the Australian Open on Saturday 28 January! Then last night was literally breath-taking, watching Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in the Men’s Final. Congratulations to four truly inspiring athletes. All commit to every shot on court; to every shot off court.

I used to think that elite athletes and performers were able to accomplish so much more than the rest of us because they have some sort of magical X-factor. I thought that this factor allowed them to work harder, longer and better than the rest of us; to exert greater willpower.

Then I started to notice the power of conscious, deliberate practice in my own life. It occurred to me that maybe it’s not willpower at work for elite athletes. Maybe it goes much deeper than this. Maybe the reason the world’s most outstanding athletes and performing artists are so outstanding is because they design their days, weeks and lives to get better at what they do. And they practice.

Yes, we understand that athletes and performance artists practice. But what is invisible to us is how much they practice. They continue to practice during the entire season, during the off season, and even in the championship series or a heavily booked performance cycle.

Athletes practice all week and usually play briefly. Performing artists have lives that are constant cycle of practice, performance, practice. Yet. Our leaders play all week. When do they deliberately practice new skills?

For half-way modest athletes – not the elite –  the minimal ratio recommended for practice to play for is around 4:1 training/practice to competition. Researchers say that 300 repetitions produces body memory. This is the ability to enact the correct movement technique or conversation by memory. It also takes around 3000 repetitions to create embodiment which is not having to think about doing the activity. It is simply becomes part of who we are.

Welcome to our series of blogs on lessons for leaders from athletes and performance artists.


  • January 31, 2017

    Hey Taruni,Thought provoking and useful insights to share with one of my clients who is a pianist,composer and academic

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