What comes to mind when we think of sportsmen & women who make and break so many records? Well, we wonder what the life journey of such individuals has been…rigorous training, passion and drive, awareness of their own abilities, goal-setting, extreme discipline; and continual refining of techniques to keep up with new trends and technology to accelerate performance. If you've read the biographies of Rafa Nadal or Sachin Tendulkar, or read about Tiger woods, Usain Bolt, Maradona, Phelps, Schumacher, Messi and so on, each of them has spoken about their humble beginnings and the great passion they had above all to improve their own skills and keep giving their best.
In fact, when we talk about improvement, it's not just about technique and skill in their game or sport of choice, but about developing as a sports personality. Roger Federer, a thorough gentleman, has disclosed how much hard work he had to put in to keep his own personality and temperament in check, both on and off the court, and thus improve his control over the game.
True sportspeople challenge themselves and aim to beat their own records; their competition is first with themselves and then with others. So, respect for the competitive spirit while keeping tabs on what’s happening around them is crucial to sporting success. Failure should only be considered a step towards improvement and part of a learning curve. The 'never give up attitude' comes strongly into play when the goal is in sight, and with victory comes the need to keep a cool head on responsible shoulders.
"Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skilful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives." – William A. Foster
The link here between sport and quality is that to reach and remain at the top you need to sharpen your skills and execute as planned. You also need to display extreme perseverance as a result of intelligent direction that focuses on method and order. You become a great sportsperson by adhering to the discipline of physical and mental health and workout ethics. But perhaps most importantly it is through learning from our mistakes that allow sportspeople to develop and improve. Referring back to Foster’s quote, the rigour and the passion of sport are the high intention, with discipline being one of the characteristics of sincere effort. Coaching and self-learning constitute intelligent direction as a result of goal setting, method and order, and skilful execution is the end result of determination… all of which make up the definition of quality.
We constantly talk about the changing perception of quality or the speed at which we, as Quality professionals, have to prioritise tests and certify, give go/no go release decisions, and so on. In the sporting arena, the life span of performance, the time for achieving results, has reduced considerably. Today is the age of automation in the software and engineering industry, and we may feel it is set to wipe out traditional methods; but expertise, domain knowledge, familiarity with tools, compatibility and a vision of products and solutions are here to stay.
The pitfall: what we forget is that if we abuse our sport, our health, or intentionally do wrong, we damage our own image, bringing fame and reputation crashing down around us. Though hard from some viewpoints, the easiest way to maintain both respect and image is to keep up self-discipline. Inspiring others happens sub-consciously, and that is how you reap the benefits of true success.
Making informed decisions is the key in assuring quality early on, where you can predict failures in production and take corrective action.
So sporting quality is a result of adapting to new techniques; longevity is achieved through discipline, and continuity through self-improvement, prioritisation, and using technologies to optimum effect.
A TV anchor once asked Martina Navratilova, “How do you maintain your focus and manage to keep playing, even at the age of 43?” Her suave response was, “The ball doesn’t know how old I am. Besides, for 90% of the match I don’t have to focus”.
In a typical tennis match, the players spend less than 15% of their time hitting the ball. During a round of golf, golfers spend less than 20% of their round swinging a golf club, and in American football, the ball is actually in play for only 6% of the game.
In his excellent book, “Stillpower”, Sports Psychologist Garret Kramer says that a key factor to performing well in sports (and in life), is your ability to control the quality and quantity of your “internal dialogue”, understanding:
Performance = Potential - internal interference
In other words, you need to stop yourself from stopping yourself.