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Agile Tiger gets back in the swing.

Agile Tiger gets back in the swing

When US golfer Tiger Woods was at the top of his game, he employed a new coach who encouraged him to change his swing. Many golfers - professional and amateur - couldn't understand why. It was left to Tiger himself to explain: 'If I play my best, I'm pretty tough to beat. I'd like to play my best more frequently, and that's the whole idea. That's why you make changes. I thought I could become more consistent and play at a higher level more often. I've always taken risks to try to become a better golfer, and that's one of the things that has gotten me this far.'

In sport, coaches continuously examine the performance, training, diet and general fitness regimes of their athletes to identity areas for improvement. Change is meat and drink to them; it is not an unwelcome and infrequent event, but a normal part of their everyday working lives.

In Volume 1, Issue 1of Sport, Business and Management: an International Journal, published in 2011, Bernard Burnes and Helen O'Donnell contrast this with the business world, where change is frequently seen as a major, one-off event and often strongly resisted by many of the people involved in making it work. In the area of change management, sport leaders have generally developed their skills and aptitudes further, and to better effect, than their business counterparts.

If business leaders can learn from the world of sport, organizational change would cease to be an obstacle to be overcome or a threat to be feared. It would become a genuine source of competitive advantage.

The interest in transferring the lessons of sport into the world of work has most often come from senior business managers themselves. In the September 2011 issue of Marketing Week, David Burrows reveals how firms including supermarket Morrisons, fast-moving-consumer-goods company Unilever and cross-Channel train operator Eurostar are taking a lead from the high-performance approach to training used by Olympic gold medallists.

The author highlights how cut-throat competition and small margins for error characterise sport and business. He demonstrates that hard work, discipline, practice and high standards can improve performance in both.

David Burrows describes the work of brand consultancy Clear, which is fusing sport and business training. The company observed high-performance directors at UK Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport, along with members of the Great Britain cycling and sailing teams, to come up with five principles for building high performance. They are:

*define the key drivers of, and barriers to, high performance before beginning any training programme;
*pay as much attention to people's thinking styles and behaviours as to processes and tools;
*build the core capabilities of insightfulness, innovation and strategic thinking;
*try to ensure that trainers are real practitioners and not just theorists and teachers; and
*deliver training in an engaging and inspiring way.

Agility - the efficiency with which people respond to non-stop change - is another common characteristic of success in the worlds of business and sport. Lisa Haneberg spells out the similarities in the September 2011 issue of Training and Development.

'Imagine a professional tennis player named Bjorn,' she says. 'In between tournaments, Bjorn practises dozens of shots with a variety of practice partners on hard, grass, and clay courts. Each tennis match is unique, but he will be better able to respond to each new challenge because he has trained himself to adapt quickly. As business professionals, we can train in the same way and increase our ability to respond to new situations without having to change our overall approach.'

Agile people build into their normal working lives the capacity to respond flexibly to changing circumstances. In the two years that have followed a late-night car crash outside his home - which led to his secret sex life becoming public knowledge and sponsors deserting him in droves - Tiger Woods has been doing exactly that.

The former world No. 1 golfer, a 14-time major champion, has not won a tournament since the scandal came to light; but the clever money says that soon he will.