Advance Performance | Inspirations from “The Greatest: The Quest for Sporting Perfection” by Matthew Syed
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Inspirations from “The Greatest: The Quest for Sporting Perfection” by Matthew Syed

Inspirations from “The Greatest: The Quest for Sporting Perfection” by Matthew Syed

How can our professional and personal goals be inspired by the psychology of sport?

This week, the Advance Team recommends Matthew Syed’s new book The Greatest: The Quest for Sporting Perfection as a useful addition to your motivational reads and a go-to mood booster to spur you on to achieve your own goals.

We have discussed Syed’s previous book Black Box Thinking in the eshot How Successful Leaders Embrace Failure, and Bounce has been one of our past recommended reads. In his new book, the award-winning sports journalist collates his best articles from his newspaper columns, highlighting different aspects of our greatest sporting champions. The individuals and sports are wide ranging so there is a personal inspiration for everyone – from Billie Jean King to Lionel Messi to Jack Nicklaus. He also reflects on his personal history as part of the Great Britain Table Tennis team, which originates from his own housing estate in Reading.

Themes of the book include building a champion, the passion of a player, mindset, and the beauty and drama of sport, one subject stands out – the importance of connection with others when aiming for a personal or team goal, and improving on excellence. This need for connection is applicable not just to sports but to any personal professional goal.

Team Spirit and Cohesiveness

Syed highlights the importance of a team working towards a common goal, and each team member knowing their role and strengths they bring to achieving that goal. He highlights the silent role players who enable the champion to win in cycling, and the football defenders who play tactically so that a striker can score the winning goal. In a company or team, each individual has their strengths, particular knowledge, skills and experience to contribute to achieving a goal.

Achieving success as a team is highly motivational and encourages support and enthusiasm as well as challenging to the next level. Celebrating successes of each other in a common purpose is the key to any team’s success whatever the profession and ultimate goal.

Sharing a cohesive goal in a team ensures a common purpose, a group mindset and shared responsibility.

Mentoring and Training

Syed highlights the importance of volunteers and ex-professionals who work at groundroots level in sport training and mentoring young athletes as they pursue their journey to higher levels of competition. Mentoring by experienced leaders in any field enables younger professionals to gain valuable support, knowledge and experience for their own development.

Mentoring is a vital part of our work at Advance enabling professionals to develop their skills in their role, and to work on individualized development programmes. Coaching for Managers is an integral course to empower managers to share their expertise with other professionals.

Peer Competitiveness

The author highlights the interesting rivalry between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray in men’s tennis as this top group of players have motivated each other to play more strategically, more accurately, and faster as each improves and “ups” his game. This has ensured each player pays attention to every little detail of their own and their opponent’s game to improve and achieve their success.

By competing with your peers to achieve a goal – whether it is in sales, to gain a quicker marathon time, or professional or personal achievement – you have a shared vision and journey. By evaluating performance along the way, you and your peers can drive each other’s improvement in excellence and go beyond previous achieved limits.

Peer Respect

Syed reports a very special moment that defines our humanity through sport which is essential to our human journeys – respect for each individual in a shared experience. He describes the moment when Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Porto embraced at the end of their gruelling and captivating 4 hour match in Rio in 2016. The winner, Murray and the loser, del Porto showed their genuine respect and support for each other as friends and colleagues as well as rivals. They conveyed the importance of respecting each other in triumph and defeat is also a shared journey.

This respect and compassion are essential in the human connection as defined in several stories in The Greatest, qualities which are essential in humanity not just in sport but within our whole lives.

The narratives of the different champions, teams, coaches and volunteers in The Greatest convey the importance of our relationships with our peers and mentors in working towards our goals, and reaching our potential along our individual journeys.
About the Author: Matthew Syed is a leading columnist and feature writer for The Times and twice winner of the ‘Sports Journalist of the Year’ at the British Press Awards. He makes authored features for the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight and regularly appears on CNN International and World Service TV. After graduating from Oxford University with a prize-winning First in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Matthew was the England table tennis number one for almost a decade, three times Commonwealth Champion, and he twice represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games.

Matthew Syed also presents weekly topical podcasts relating to sports psychology with Freddie Flintoff and Robbie Savage on BBC Radio Five Live.