Monday, September 21, 2015

Marginal Gains

If you have any connection with sport, even as a casual observer, you have probably heard about the principle of marginal gains. Dave Brailsford, formerly head of GB Cycling, talks about the aggregation of marginal gains. In other words, lots of small gains add up to make a big difference.

Of course this thinking isn't limited to sport, but is possibly most easily explored and understood in a sporting context where improvement is easier to see. On the hand I suspect it is easily transferrable to industry, work, lifestyle and anything else you might want to consider.

For me, I'd like to apply it more stringently to a number of things, not least if which is improving my tennis so that I can actually get through the first round of more tournaments! But I think that with a bit of thought I can apply all the principles to a whole lot of things, including improving my coaching, being better organised, becoming a better therapist, etc.

But where do you start? Well obviously you ned a plan, but before a plan you need to change the way you think about the stuff you are wanting to improve. It's no use saying I ought to do better, or I could do with losing some weight, or I'd like to be a better golfer but... You have to start from the principle that you will make changes.

An article I read recently talked about having a "Marginal gains mindset" defined as:

  • Knowing the foundations that are in place which will be built upon
  • Having a desire to improve
  • Seeking out every opportunity to get better
  • Committing to the process of making a gain in every area I can that will help me be better 
  • Exploring everything that will make a difference, including peripheral things that I’ve not considered before
  • Acknowledging that there is much I don’t know and can learn
  • Taking every opportunity to learn from others about how I can get better
  • I’ll be committed to my marginal gains approach, irrespective of the attitude of those around me
  • I’ll be 100% disciplined and committed to trying out this approach to see how good I can be

That's quite a list and quite a shift in perspective for some. At it's most simple I guess you could reduce this down to three or four simple principles:

  • Understanding exactly from where I am starting
  • Fully committing to making improvements
  • Developing a plan and sticking to it
  • Accessing any help I can get

Once you've got the mindset you will need to develop a plan. The plan starts with a clear statement of where you want to get. For example, I want to win more matches, but I'm not sure that's my goal or the outcome of my goal. The goal might better be defined as improving my rating from 9.1 to 8.1. Either way I have something against which I can measure progress. Obviously you also need to know where you are currently in relation to your goal and then you need to work out how to get there from here! Sounds simple, but it isn't. 

Being able to build a plan is only part of the story. Learning to evaluate change and progress, tweak the programme, find good mentors and coaches all contribute to reaching the goal. I'm lucky that I have some excellent coaches who can help me make progress, but there's a lot of hard work to do too. 

I know that when it comes to my tennis game I need to do two or three things. I need to improve my consistency, I need to maintain my best level for longer, and I need to make myself harder to beat. Putting that into marginal gains terms is about looking at every aspect of the way I play and identifying something I can improve in each area, and then looking beyond just the playing side to fitness and even thinking.

Okay, so I'm neither a professional or even high performance amateur. But I know I can't dream my way to better tennis, so there's no alternative but to work hard and keep practicing!

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