Insights Business Leaders Can Borrow From Elite Sports
Business,  GUEST POSTS

Insights Business Leaders Can Borrow From Elite Sports

Insights Business Leaders Can Borrow From Elite Sports. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from John McLachlan, co-author of ‘Rest. Practise. Perform.’. John will explore the three myths about performance that businesses have missed but elite sports have cracked. For his new book, ‘Rest. Practise. Perform.’ John studied three popular elite sports for their keys to sustainable performance. Whilst all three sports, Formula 1, tennis and football, are very different, they share a lot of commonality in organising themselves towards performance. John found that they busted some commonly held organisational beliefs about ‘how’ performance is achieved in pursuing such a precise performance measure.

Insights Business Leaders Can Borrow From Elite Sports

For our new book, ‘Rest, Practise, Perform’, we studied popular elite sports for their keys to sustainable performance. In pursuing a precise measure of performance, we found that they busted some commonly held organisational beliefs about how performance is achieved.

Goal setting is part of every business, and these goals will play a massive part in assessing the success of an enterprise. But hitting targets shouldn’t be the only metric. After all, you may be setting your bar too low and not performing as well as you can. As any football fan knows, teams can achieve wins without playing well, but without consistently performing to a high standard, true success is almost certainly out of reach. It’s the same in business. And there are many lessons to be learned from elite sports such as football, tennis and Formula One.

The 100% Performance Fallacy

Elite sports professionals operate within defined “performance windows,” channelling maximum focus and energy during critical moments. This approach allows them to perform sustainably and achieve better results. Businesses can adopt this concept, recognising that not every task requires 100% effort. A lot of essential work is done outside of the performance window—planning, preparation, experimenting, training and practice—but the intensity, focus and emotional energy expended on these tasks mustn’t equal that of the performance window. By understanding the importance of designated performance windows, you can optimise energy for critical tasks while efficiently managing other aspects of work.

Effort vs. Performance

A common misconception is equating effort with performance. At your child’s sports day, it’s okay for everyone to get a ribbon or sticker for participating, but in elite sports, rewards are based on outcomes, not just effort. Similarly, a business should shift from acknowledging hard work alone to defining clear performance outcomes.

The problem with acknowledging effort alone is that organisations end up with more of what is rewarded. If you reward people for working hard instead of outcomes, you will get exhausted by people trying to make even more heroic efforts to be appreciated. Instead, focus on defining performance outcomes for teams, individuals and the organisation. Suppose people understand where they need to head towards. In that case, they will focus their energy on that rather than attempting to prove themselves in a way that adds nothing to the organisation and may be detrimental to all.

By aligning rewards with actual results, businesses can encourage a culture where energy is directed toward achieving tangible goals, contributing meaningfully to the business.

Rethinking Rest

Rest is often misunderstood as simply taking a holiday. Elite sports master the art of resting correctly, a practice often overlooked in organisational settings. In sports, Rest involves activities that rejuvenate the body and mind. For example, footballers commonly play golf during the close season; professional golfers hit the gym after competitive rounds to balance the body after many repetitions and tennis players cool down using an exercise bike. They don’t just perform and then sit still.

If you run a business, you should recognise the value of incorporating Rest into the performance cycle. Instead of perceiving Rest as a weakness, a business can design tailored rest phases that enhance overall performance.

If you are a leader carrying a heavy emotional burden for your team, which is essential to your performance, you may need emotional Rest. Some leaders who fit into this category plan their one-to-ones so that they have a week each month with no one to focus on a technical aspect of their work, giving them a break from the emotional aspect of their work.

If your work involves a lot of focused thinking, you may need mental Rest, so perhaps working more practically or in collaboration with others for some time will give you respite from that aspect of your work. Whether it’s emotional or mental Rest, aligning rest strategies with specific performance needs can be the secret sauce for sustained success.


Businesses frequently struggle to assess true performance, which is often hindered by pervasive myths. As a business leader, you can reshape your approach to performance by drawing insights from elite sports, which have successfully debunked these myths. Embracing a nuanced understanding of effort, optimising performance windows, and redefining Rest can pave the way for sustainable success in the corporate arena.

I hope you enjoyed that.

Talk soon


John McLachlan is co-author of ‘Rest. Practise. Perform. What elite sport can teach leaders about sustainable wellbeing and performance’. John takes the latest scientific and academic thinking, making it valuable and easy to apply. His approach is grounded in research and professional practice that spans 20-plus years. John holds a master’s degree in psychology and health research, and his specialist area is what organisations can learn from elite sports performance—John’s goal is to rest. Practise. Perform.’ is to help leaders and organisations find a working rhythm that delivers top performance while prioritising people and their health.





Working with Strong women, I help empower women not to give up on their goals and find true happiness within themselves. #lifestyle #womenempowerment #selfcare


  • May

    I’ve always been fascinated by the mindset and strategies of elite athletes, so it’s cool to see how those principles can be applied to business. Totally get what you’re saying about not just focusing on hitting targets, but actually striving for consistent high performance. It’s kinda like how a football team can win a game without playing their best, but to be truly successful, they need to consistently bring their A-game.

  • Laura Levitan

    When I was growing up I was a competitive figure skater. I skated for 15 years. In the end I was devoting about 15-20 hours per week to skating. I never became a world class athlete and in the end I gave it up. But I learned many valuable lessons from my sport that I have applied to my life. When I set a goal I attain it. If I want to achieve something I have laser focus. And I will work extremely hard to attain anything I want or need. I’m also pretty good at giving myself time to recover in between projects :). All lessons learned from being an athlete.

  • Melanie E

    This sounds like an interesting book. It does appear that some lessons from sports can be translated to a business and its performance. Both have targets that they need to aim to achieve but it is important to set the bar at the right level and then where possible push to improve on previous performance. Rest can be part of the way that you improve so it is something that really shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s beneficial from both a sport and business perspective.

  • Ramil Hinolan

    I never knew we could draw performance concepts from elite sports such as football, tennis and Formula One. The concept of defined “performance windows” resonated strongly with me. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to operate at 100% capacity all the time, which inevitably leads to burnout.

  • Chloe

    LOVE these lessons! I completely agree and am actually surprised more business books don’t make these connections. I was re-reading Atomic Habits earlier this year and I love how he talks about how his elite sports experience was so instrumental in preparing him for business success later in life.

  • Kimberley Asante

    Your article on borrowing insights from elite sports for business leadership is both insightful and engaging. Drawing parallels between the strategies employed in elite sports and those applicable in the business world is a fresh perspective that resonates with readers. The way you articulate the key principles, such as teamwork, resilience, and goal-setting, and demonstrate their relevance in both domains is commendable. It’s evident that you’ve done thorough research and crafted the content thoughtfully, making it highly informative and valuable to business professionals seeking to enhance their leadership skills. Keep up the excellent work in providing practical and actionable advice for your audience!

  • Kelly Bolen

    Great article! I have never agreed with “participation trophies”, at any age. I feel if children are taught at a young age goals, expectations and results, they will be better humans and workers as they get older. We lost an entire generation of “workers” due to entitlement and them not being taught to work hard.

  • Hannah Bures

    I love the thought process behind this line of thinking! There are definitely correlations to be made between the business world and professional sports, and I would love to read more about this.

  • Monidipa Dutta

    Hey there!

    I just read through your post on insights business leaders can borrow from elite sports, and I must say, it’s packed with valuable lessons! The way you delve into the nuances of performance, effort, and rest through the lens of elite sports is truly enlightening.

    Your exploration of the 100% Performance Fallacy really resonated with me. Understanding the importance of designated performance windows and optimizing energy for critical tasks while efficiently managing others is such a game-changer. It’s a concept that can definitely transform the way businesses approach productivity and performance.

    I also appreciated your take on effort vs. performance. Shifting from merely acknowledging hard work to defining clear performance outcomes is crucial for fostering a culture of accountability and goal achievement. Aligning rewards with actual results can truly drive meaningful contributions within an organization.

    And let’s not forget about the importance of rethinking rest. The idea of incorporating tailored rest phases into the performance cycle is brilliant. Recognizing the different types of rest needed, whether it’s emotional or mental, and aligning rest strategies with specific performance needs can indeed be the secret sauce for sustained success.

    Overall, your post provides insightful takeaways that any business leader can benefit from. Thanks for sharing such valuable insights! Looking forward to more enlightening reads from you in the future. Cheers!

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