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Practice Makes a Champion – Also in the Workplace

The best football players in the world train every day to practice their individual skills and team strategy ahead of a 90-minute match. Olympic swimmers are in the pool for hours on end, twice a day, 6 days a week training for a race that lasts minutes or even seconds. The best gymnasts practice for hours every day across multiple training sessions to perform a routine that lasts for a few minutes. But how much does a typical office worker practice their skills? Is there something they could learn from the top athletes?

For over two decades we at Hintsa have been coaching Formula 1 drivers and teams to optimise their performance, with 98% of all races in the past 7 seasons being won by a Hintsa-supported driver. At every race weekend there are 3 one-hour practice sessions across 2 days where the drivers practice in the car before the qualification session and the race.

F1 drivers regularly have simulator days between races which typically last round 8 hours. These focused days allow them, alongside their team of engineers, to practice different settings and set-ups on the car for the upcoming race. It’s also a chance to familiarise themselves with the upcoming circuit, as well as practice their race line and braking points, and memorise car setting functions. All this for a 90-minute race.

Having spent my whole career working with athletes, one of the biggest learnings I take from this world of elite sports performance that can also be applied to corporate lives is the importance of practice.

You are never too good to practice

In an office work setting, you may just stumble along, hoping to do your best, without intentionally working on your skills. Some people are good at just ‘winging it’ and get away without any practice. But is this optimal? Are you operating at your full potential? If the best athletes in the world need to practice skills for their work, then why don’t you?

As leaders or high performing individuals, we generally have the intellectual capacity to quickly grasp concepts and ideas, which can lead us to mistakenly believe we also know how to execute them in an expert manner right away. The reality is that we don’t – not until we practice, get feedback, refine our approach, and practice again.

I think one of the most important principles in success is the concept of practice. In fact, it is impossible to attain any level of mastery without practice. There is no level where you are ‘too good to practice’. There is no limit to growth and there is always another level that can be attained. In fact, research has proven that practice causes brain adaptation and can even be part of keeping your brain healthy in the long term.

Athletes keep developing and adapting to keep up with their opponents, and the evolution and progression of their sport. Similarly, knowledge workers need to be committed to lifelong learning and upskilling.

The importance of reskilling and upskilling has become an even more important trend in recent years with the fast-paced changes in the way people work. Research in neuroplasticity, in particular structural plasticity, shows that the brain can actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

This strengthens the case for all of us to adopt habits and routines of practice into our lives. Not just on the sports field but in the office too. Whether it is practising your negotiation, presentation or writing skills, the key is to find the relevant workplace skill for you.

How to make your practice effective

Clearly, practicing your skills is important, but how can it be to build it into your life? How can you hold yourself accountable for the discipline and hard work of practice? Since hard work alone isn’t enough to improve anyone’s output, what can you do practically? The work on deliberate practice by Ericsson and deep work by Newport suggest the following:

  1. Commit time. Commit time every week, or even every day for practice. Block out time on your calendar to ensure this happens. This could be just 15 minutes of rehearsing a presentation in front of the mirror each day, or 20 minutes to prepare and practice for that important meeting. During sessions, practice repeatedly with frequent breaks but be strict with your time.
  2. Limit the scope of what you are practicing. You might be interested in working on several different behaviours, approaches, skills, and techniques but it is impossible to practice and master all of them at one time. Choose one or two things to start with that have a high potential for enhancing your impact.
  3. Minimise distractions and focus when engaged in practice. Turn off your email and social media. Work on skill development as seriously as you would on any other project. You might even create a project plan with deadlines and deliverables.
  4. Visualise the skill or the outcome to help reinforce practice.
  5. Consider coaching. Sometimes leaders need more support than can be offered by colleagues or friends. In these cases, a coach can be extremely useful. A good coach will bring expertise, help you create a plan, offer feedback, and help you stay accountable to your own goals. Coaching doesn’t have to be time consuming and 1-2 hours per month can make a big difference.

Finally, ask yourself these questions every now and then to try to enhance your growth in this area: How much practice do I currently do at work? In what areas of my work life can I introduce more practice? What will the likely result be and how could this positively affect my position or impact? What resources or people can help me with my practise? If you need support we at Hintsa have a series of coaching services for businesses and individuals that could be suitable for you.