Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

There is a very old military saying that “The plan never survives first contact with the enemy”. In other words, the plan is important but the ability to react, adapt and problem-solve is arguably more important.

How good you are at problem-solving is critical, but equally important is asking – “Are you solving the right problem?”. Generally, performance teams in both sport and business fall into one of five groups. Here, Dr. Fergus Connolly shares the five models of how he assesses problem solving in professional sports teams and the lessons that can be learnt for business and career success.

1) Not Accurate. Not Precise.

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

Are you simply ticking boxes? Do you test random things with little real direction? Do you have a battery of tests that are done, but really the data is not collected at the right time, or not with precision? In other words, useless data? The end result is you’re doing lots of things, but it’s not really making a difference or impacting the bottom line or score board.

“The Shotgun approach”

2) Accurate. Not Precise.

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

In this case you have a good understanding of performance, and perhaps a very good Game Model and Athlete Model. However, your knowledge or precision in problem solving is not sufficient. An example might be a preponderance of player cramping. Your players cramp quite often in games. You identify the issue correctly and attack the problem by throwing a number of solutions at it – hydration, lactate testing, FMS etc. However, you are not precise enough to look at biochemical imbalances and dietary habits. Very close, but still not, sadly, solving the problem. Figured the problem out, but not smart enough approach.

“Absence of Knowledge”

3) Not Accurate. Precise

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

You are doing some testing, assessments really well, however you’re solving the wrong problem. Let’s say for example, your S&C program is excellent. You monitor and test with great care and detail, analyse the results well. The team play well, but you appear to make mistakes late in games. The coaching reaction is more fitness work, when upon a closer look the real issue is more related to psychological errors – but you have no methodology for psychological profiling. This is being accurate, but not precise.

“Incomplete Solutions”

4) Clueless.

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

I hope you’re not in this group, but unfortunately this group is more common than we’d like to admit. These teams may or may not have any serious intention of getting better, or if they do have neither addressed the problem properly nor identified the source.


5) Accurate. Precise.

Problem Solving in Sport Translated to Business

These teams have a very good game model, player model and clear SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures), even if not in name. These teams address problems logically, holistically using a clustered system of skills. They will constantly review without fear or favor, finding the best solutions and most of all doing it efficiently.

“Refined Holistic Problem Solvers”

In the competitive worlds of sport and business we can plan, but we have to be able to adapt and solve problems. You are problem solver.


This article was written by Dr. Fergus Connolly, one of the world’s foremost human performance thought leaders and influencers, and has applied performance science with leading sports, military, and business teams. He is the only coach to have full times roles in every major sport, including soccer (Liverpool, Bolton Wanderers), professional and college football (San Francisco 49s and University of Michigan) and rugby (Welsh national team). For more information on Dr Connolly here.

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