Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, 
you're right 
- Henry Ford

Is there a relationship between sports and personal development?

What can be understood by achievement?

Why is the top tennis player Rafael “Rafa” Nadal an excellent example of peak achievement?

These questions can serve as the starting point to explore the concept of peak performance. In order to shed some light on the subject, Rafael Nadal’s official Web has been searched and – as he puts it in one of his personal quotes – this may be the key for high-achieving people:

Work hard, take action and make it happen

When interviewed, Rafael Nadal has been humble enough to show the world that his success as a tennis champion is the result of his strong willpower and mastery of tennis along with the support of his family and coaches (especially his uncle, who has been mentoring him from an early age).

Nadal is a top international sports figure who found his flow (a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi) in tennis courts: he is so passionate about his work that one may say he enjoys a happy fulfillment when playing tennis.

Moreover, Nadal has set a wonderful and engaging example of perseverance which is closely linked to his notorious tutoring process. This bidirectional effect towards peak performance offers real results, which confirm that practice makes perfect .

Here is a simple but effective peak performance method:

Peak performance=

intrinsic motivation + extrinsic motivation and guidance

As regards guidance, coaching and mentoring techniques have been usually applied in Sports and it is generally accepted that they provide excellent results for tennis players, sport champions and business leaders.

Despite the fact that the aforementioned perspectives may be undermined by some statements considering them “a fashionable tendency coming from America”, the origin of coaching as a documented  theory can be traced back to the book The inner game by tennis instructor Timothy Gallwey. After that, Sir John Whitmore was credited with launching coaching in Great Britain and Europe during the 80’s and 90’s and this field is presently spreading its influence into the business arena.

Thus, coaching methods verge on the idea of pushing the coachee to a higher level and it is said that all individuals can reach their own maximum level of excellence if they have the opportunity to count on effective guidance.

In tennis, football, business and lifelong learning, peak performance is our inner game or Game of inches, as Al Pacino explained in the film Any Given Sunday;   

 You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football.

Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small

On this team, we fight for that inch.

On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.

We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch


That’s a team, gentlemen

and either we heal now, as a team,

or we will die as individuals.

That’s football guys.

That’s all it is.

Now, whattaya gonna do?

To conclude, I claim that Nadal’s legacy is a story of hard work, commitment and humble behaviour. Therefore, I find that there are lessons we can definitely learn from sport champions.

(I hereby declare myself a fan of Rafael Nadal Parera, byname Rafa Nadal).

Further reading:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2016). Flow. [United States]: Joosr Ltd.
  • Gallwey, W. Timothy (1974, first edition) Inner Tennis, Playing the Game. Random House
  • Trapp, Roger (2015) “What Sports Champions Can Teach Business Leaders” (Forbes)