Process vs. Outcome

One common theme amongst all the best sports autobiographies and coaching methodologies across all sports is the emphasis on the process of goal achievement itself rather than the results.

This approach may seem counter-intuitive, especially given the unprecedented prominence our society give to athletes who end up on the podium via numerous sponsorship offers and external praise. However, the process-oriented approach to sport performance is the common denominator amongst the greats in the attainment of mastery.

The Problem

Athletes at all levels face greater pressure today than ever before to be competitive, to score, to rack up statistics, and to produce wins. With such rising pressure, organizations, teams, coaches, and even parents often value quantified results, numbers, and stats as much as, if not more than, player growth and development. In fact, most of the adults placing this pressure on young athletes assume that stats, scores and wins provide evidence of growth and development, while lesser stats and losses provide evidence of failure.

A Potential Solution

Many top coaches/athletes maintain that focus on the process has been a key ingredient for their success. They define “the process” as the emphasis on player growth and team development, mastery of skills, and mastery of elements of their respective games. Each insists on staying centered daily on the process, rather than talking daily about how to win games and championships.

What makes this philosophy perhaps both counterintuitive and ironic is this: athletes and teams perform best when their coaches focus on the process and train to mastery, not when their coaches train them to perform

Benefits of Emphasizing the Process

Focus on the process can yield several benefits for athletes, including fostering a growth mindset, creating a team-centered environment, and reducing stress and egos.

Sports fans, parents, and young athletes often value high scores, great stats, and wins, and spend their energy chasing those things. Great coaches know these shiny objects often hold little value. A win against a poor opponent or a win marked by little effort, bad habits, or poor execution may be a hollow victory. Conversely, while our same fans, parents, and athletes generally loathe losses, great coaches know that athletes and teams can play exceptionally well and show tremendous growth and improvement, yet walk away from a contest with a loss.

In both instances, great coaches must direct athletes away from the results (stats and wins) and refocus them on the process (player growth and mastery). Athletes and teams that chase stats and wins will lose sight of the process. An athlete focused on his own growth and mastery of the game will see improved performance. For example, when a bowler in cricket focuses on mastering the art of reverse swing rather than a five wicket haul, the results will follow.

In conclusion..

The subtle shift away from results-oriented thinking to focus on the process may seem too simple to be true. However in a society where all you see is external validation for results and no heed given to the development and mastery of a skill/sport – it is not hard to see why unethical practices such as ‘match fixing’ and ‘doping’ in sport are prevalent. Focus on the process will lead to mastery, growth, and ultimately, better performance.

Thanks for reading!


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