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Performance lessons from Sport

At the PMA Australasia conference last month we had a master class from New Zealand’s premiere athlete, and arguably the world’s best rower (depending on how you measure “best” of course).

Hamish Bond is half of New Zealand’s coxless pair (Hamish Bond & Eric Murray) who have won gold at the 2011 World Championship, the 2012 Olympics and again at the 2013 World Championship. That gives them the most unbeaten run of races (48) in top class rowing in the modern era! I have never seen, let alone handled, an Olympic Gold Medal before!

So, four years work comes down to about six minutes to succeed or fail; and for them “silver” is a fail. Every stroke taken in that race had been practiced 15,000 times. Not many of us do that!

How did they get there? Well in 2008, they were off the mark, but they were looking at problems, what they did wrong, not at what they did right. By 2011, they knew what they did well.

  1. Efficiency, rowing without slowing the boat down, not simply pulling hard
  2. Focus philosophy, quiet and smooth, no splash no sound
  3. Gazelle mentality, that mental image of a graceful animal effortlessly bounding across the planes

And then there is training. But it is training with a purpose; they go out there to make a difference. Working hard when it isn’t easy, Hamish called it “championship rows, we got out when it is shit, when the waves are breaking over your back, Eric’s actually ….. but we try and achieve something”. You have to have belief in your team mate too, “after me, Eric trains harder than anyone else.”

Mental preparation was important to, “if you aren’t nervous it doesn’t mean enough”. Then the little games they play. Being the team to beat prior to London, they had set the world record and this was the bar for everyone else to achieve. But how did the opposition feel when they took 6 seconds off the world record in the first heat? Not good I expect.

Although they won by clear water in London, the racing is usually very tight. So the difference between a good and a bad race is very small, with Hamish claiming they had the smallest variation between a good and a bad race of anyone. For you process improvement experts out there that sounds so very familiar.

Mike Bourne

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