Myths of World Class Performers

What kind of person do you think of when you hear the term “world class performer”? What do you think characterises those who are at the very pinnacle of their field; in the top handful in the world? Many people might say that they’re incredibly driven and that they’ll stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Maybe world class performers have a bulldozer-like quality; they are unstoppable, almost invincible? They must have cast-iron and unshakeable self-belief. In fact, they’re probably super-human. Surely these people are different than me.

I’m just finishing my next book at the moment. It’s called “Could I Do That?”. I’ve included a quote that I recently heard on the radio…

“Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides”.

It’s sound advice. World class performers may look invincible, but their internal reality is often very different. Having worked with and studied dozens of world class performers, I know that they’re ordinary people. They are incredibly dedicated to what they do. However, many of them are not ‘ruthlessly single-minded’. They don’t pursue their goals to the exclusion of everything else. Many of them have families and a life outside of their profession.

I recently delivered a Keynote to a global corporation. In it I gave some examples of world leading athletes that have “double lives”. The first is Christie Rampone, captain of the women’s US soccer team. She is a triple Olympic gold medallist, a world cup winner and a full time professional athlete. Christie is also a wife and mother of two. Incredibly, she was also diagnosed with Lyme disease, which has caused her to suffer from massive energy crashes. Christie can’t afford to sacrifice her life for her sport, or rely on being ‘super-human’ with boundless energy.

The second athlete is Pamela Cookey, who is the captain of England’s netball team. England recently whitewashed world champions Australia 3-0 in the 2013 test series. Pamela isn’t a full time athlete, because the funding in netball doesn’t allow for it. Her double life revolves around her full time employment as a Site Services Manager for an aircraft manufacturer.

Whilst you might think that Christie and Pamela succeed despite the requirements of their jobs and their families, many world class performers actually seek this balance within their lives. At the Be World Class Conference 2012, twice Michelin starred chef, Kenny Atkinson, told how he deliberately invests as much into his family and relationships as he does into his profession. It’s easy to get lost in your job, especially if it is something that you’re passionate about. However, Kenny is also aware that it’s unsustainable. I’m sure that the world is littered with those who have realised this all too late. They are likely to achieve their ‘success’ only to find that it comes at a cost; the loss of their relationships, family, marriage, etc.

In order to find balance, many athletes choose to study as well as training and competing. I have the great pleasure of interviewing Alistair & Jonny Brownlee, Olympic gold and bronze medal winning triathletes, this month. In addition to his career as a competitive triathlete, Alistair has also studied medicine and sport science. His story is similar to many other world class athletes. Many of them realise that they need a broad sense of identity in order to create a stable base for their performance and their life. If their entire identity hangs on their sporting performance and results, they’re highly likely to crumble under the pressure to perform.

Okay, well surely world class performers must be supremely self-confident and free from doubts, right?


The truth is that even Olympic champions and world record breakers have doubts. I interviewed double Olympic gold medallist, Steve Williams, at our latest Dinner with Be World Class event a few weeks ago. He recognises that doubts are a normal; everyone has them. It is not the presence or lack of doubt that separates the best, but how they deal with their doubts.

So what actually sets world class performers apart from the rest?

When writing How To Shine, I identified 8 common characteristics of world class performers. They are not the most obvious traits, but they are those things that I have seen consistently in world class performers from a wide range of disciplines. They all follow their passion, simplify what they do, focus on one thing at a time, avoid compromising, push their boundaries, become mentally tough, take complete responsibility and are happy to be themselves. These are the characteristics that differentiate the best in the world.

Is there anything on that list that only ‘super-humans’ can do?

Is there anything that you or I couldn’t do?  


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