To perform better, learn from sports

In order to understand what it takes to succeed, a number of experts have linked sports to business performance. Ofcourse there are similarities between the two – both have a leader, a team that needs to perform together, and tackle problems to reach a goal. Yet, there’s a lot that businesses can borrow from sports teams.

Leading trainers and sports players started harvesting some key lessons around 1960s. Jack Groppel, Co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, points out that the introduction of sports science changed the way athletes trained. Earlier athletes were expected to train for longer durations, with insufficient recovery periods. Now, a different approach is being adopted, which stresses on:

  • Multidimensionality. Athletes need to focus on more than just the physical dimension to enhance their performance. They have to improve their emotional, mental, and spiritual faculties too.
  • Recovery. Training hard is important. But so is practicing recovery mechanisms – they help recapture the energy needed to go keep training. Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist, shares how tennis players use in-between-point time (during matches) for recovery. They use a positive physical response to counter a an error, relax, mentally prepare themselves and plan the next steps. They also use pre-performance rituals to focus their mind on the task ahead.
  • Periodization. Having long and short work-rest fractions allows athletes to withstand demanding schedules – a practice called periodization. It involves altering the intensity and frequency of training. For example, coaches of world cup soccer teams monitor the teams’ work-rest ratio, have rest periods to prepare for big games, and help them peak during the world cup rounds.

Such lessons show how both physiological and psychological factors affect performance. Not just in the world of sports, but in business rooms and cubicles too.  Groppel studied movement and biology through athletes and applied the findings to business performance. In Biology of Business Performance he (along with Ben Weigand) stresses on the need to fuel the body and brain adequately to improve performance.

Wondering how? Experts suggest focusing on key factors such as:

  • Oxygen. Being deskbound or sedentary for long periods affects the flow of blood and oxygen. Physical activity, on the other hand, creates brief periods of oxygenation in the brain, and enhances mental performance.
  • Heart rate. Dr. Alan Watkins, a leadership coach, believes, “The quality of our thinking and ability to make decisions is dependent on the quality of our physiology.” He says we can get our brains to work better by maintaining a coherent heart rate, which is possible through rhythmic breathing.
  • Nutrition. The right kind of food, comprising vegetables and fruits, enough water, and lean protein, helps to sustain blood glucose levels that affect energy and focus.
  • Sleep. Research suggests sleep loss can lead to increased errors and decreased productivity at the workplace. Lack of sleep in the long-term could lead to conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Biology clearly affects business performance! How to include these factors into our business environments? We’ll tell you in part two of this series.

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