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How to achieve a winning performance in sport, work or play


Whether your focus is on sports performance, your career, winning a contract or another goal, the principles for success are the same. Focus on what is within your control and influence, not the things that are outside it.

You can use a simple questioning approach to understand what’s motivating you and reveal the specifics of what you need to do to achieve a desired outcome.

In a sporting context, some things within our control and influence are:

  • Our fitness level
  • Our technique & skill level
  • Specific coaching – physical and mental
  • Our nutrition
  • Rest and recuperation
  • Selection of equipment
  • Tactics
  • Understanding and working through potential scenarios

Some things outside of our control and influence are:

  • Whatever our natural ability is or isn’t
  • Anything to do with our competitors and their performance levels
  • Playing conditions, the weather

Additionally I think individuals and teams are more successful in achieving their goals when they focus on the process, not the outcome they desire.


To uncover the specifics of what to focus on, I think a questioning approach helps. In a sporting context, the outcome desired may be to win a tournament, championship, league etc. but the questions to ask – using rugby as an example – are:

WHY? – If we ask this question a number of times, it helps us to understand what is motivating us. Understanding your why, in any context, helps massively to motivate you to get up each day and put the hard work in, especially when that comes with making sacrifices in your life.

WHAT do I/we need to do to put ourselves in a position to win a tournament, championship, league etc?

We need to win matches!

HOW do we win matches?

By scoring more points than the opposition

HOW do we score points?

By scoring tries, kicking conversions and kicking penalties

HOW do we score tries?

By touching the ball down on or over the try line

HOW do we get the ball to the try line?

By getting through the opposition defence

HOW do we get through their defence?

By getting the ball into space

HOW do we get the ball into space?

By using our pace or passing

See how that series of questions has brought about two areas to focus on? Our pace and our passing. As you can probably sense, this process can be continued to give a far greater number of areas to focus on. However, two seems a pretty good place to start!


Photo by Austin Distel on unsplash

In a business context, examples of things within our control include:

  • Understanding our “Why”
  • Personal and team performance
  • Creating a positive culture within our organisation, including setting and understanding our organisational values
  • Market research – pricing, quality, end-user requirements etc.
  • Quality of our staff – training and development, support and wellbeing
  • Organisational strategy
  • Maximising the level of service we are able to provide
  • Our own pricing model
  • Understanding and working through potential scenarios
  • Selection of products/services

Some things outside of our control & influence are:

  • Competitors’ pricing
  • Competitors’ strategy
  • Quality of competitor’s staff
  • External market forces

In terms of business, once again the above questioning approach can be helpful:

WHY do we want this contract/piece of business? – Keep asking “Why” after each response until you have clarity.

What will it mean for our business if we win the contract / lose the contract? – Again, keep asking again and again to gain clarity

Focus on what we can do to win the business:

  • Understand what the client wants and where their focus is – is it price, quality, response times etc.
  • If it’s the price, what can we do to ensure our lowest possible price whilst still fitting in with our business model? Keep drilling down with “How” questions, like “How can we achieve that?”
  • If it’s quality, what can we do to ensure the product/service is of the highest possible quality? Probe further with “How” questions.
  • If it’s response times, what can we do to ensure we can react in the quickest and most efficient way? Probe further with more “How” questions.


The approach is the same whether it’s a business, your career or sport.

Why do you want to achieve your desired outcome? What’s within my/our control & influence and what is outside it? What do you need to do to achieve it?

By answering those questions and probing further by asking “Why, How, What”, we can pull together our plan, smaller goals and tasks to achieve them, whilst keeping the larger goal, the desired outcome, in the distance.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
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Simon Worth

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