Sunday, February 07, 2010

Peyton Manning and the Heart of Peak Performance

I call your attention to the recent New York Times story on Peyton Manning and some of the dynamics behind his extraordinary success. It's a great personal look at what lies at the heart of peak performance across many different fields.

Here are some of those peak performance keys:

1) Talent - You have to be born with the right genes and capabilities. Not everyone has the body type to be a distance runner; not everyone has the analytical ability to master a chess board. Manning came from a football family and displayed talent and interest very early in life. It is not unusual at all for elite performers to stand out during childhood as precocious talents. While inborn ability is not sufficient for mastery, it is necessary. You can train all you want to be a scalper in financial markets, but if you don't have the temperament and speed of mental processing, you won't lead the pack;

2) Skill - No one, even those with prodigious talent, is born with the ability to read defenses and adapt to them in real time. That takes hours and hours, years and years of practice. When you read the New York Times article, you see what goes into those years of practice: a huge number of hours spent watching tapes, discussing plays, and learning from adjustments. By game time, he has seen everything and thought it through. That gives him the immense confidence level noted early in the article.

3) Preparation - The skill-building work that got Peyton Manning to the top continues every single season, every game. "Each off-season," the article notes, "Manning and his coaches watch tapes of the entire season, and he takes notes on what he needs to work on. By the beginning of the next season, Manning's command of the offense is complete." Indeed, referring to his review of game films, Manning explains, "I knew that's where I was going to gain some type of edge. I knew I wasn't going to run away from guys or throw through three guys. My idea was to try to have a good sense of where they were going to be. I never left the field saying, 'I could have done more to get ready for this team.'"

4) Self Knowledge - Notice in Manning's quote that he realized that he was not going to be the most mobile or accurate quarterback. He knew his limitations and found his edge in understanding the opposition. He has seen so many defensive alignments--live and on tape--that he can call audibles 95% of the time and adjust to conditions on the fly. He doesn't try to become a different kind of quarterback; he succeeds by refining who is already is.

When you combine these elements, the result is immense confidence and a deep, internal sense of mastery. Manning doesn't win because of his confidence; he has confidence because his preparation has enabled him to win the game before the game clock has started.