Executives as an Athlete | Chris Corneil | Executive Coaching International

Executives as an Athlete

Feb 16 - min read

If you were a professional athlete and knew you would have a successful career and earn at least $10m of prize money, how would you choose to live your life? In today’s world, professional athletes train hard, eat nutrient rich diets, rest, study their competition, refine their skills, and increasingly athletes are developing their mental strength as well as their physical strength to ensure peak performance. 

In many ways, the life of an athlete and that of an executive is not too different. The average executive will earn about $10m throughout their career, face stiff competition, setbacks and successes. What can we learn from the playing field that can be applied to executive life?

Prepare and practice

Unlike most executives, it would be unimaginable for a professional athlete to just “turn up”. Many hundreds of hours of preparation, planning and practice goes into every single performance. The legendary golfer Arnold Palmer famously said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. Like in sport, preparation, practice and constantly refining ones skills to remain at the top of your game is key for executives. We estimate, that if execs aren’t constantly developing new skills, they are obsolete in about 18 months!


Although executive life is a marathon, it seems more like a series of 12 hours sprints connected by two days off – if you’re lucky!  Like athletes, executives’ bodies and minds need rest and recuperation to recharge and repair. While time is scarce, the quality of time devoted to recouping is equally important. Standing on the sidelines of your kids soccer game replying to emails is not rest nor is a conference call beside the resort pool. However brief, genuinely “powering down” and letting your body and mind recover are keys to long-term, sustained performance.  

Review and feedback

We’ve all seen images of athletes and teams reviewing matches and personal performances. Dissecting minute movements, studying responses to opposition tactics and pulling apart performance in search of excellence. Reviewing executive performance is no less important and too often is left to the bi-annual performance conversation between manager and subordinate. More than 80% of execs at all levels want more feedback. So while the demand for feedback is there, how can we improve supply?

Reviewing performance is a mindset and a method. It needs to be regarded with the same importance as Roger Federer gives it in reviewing training sessions. And it needs discipline and rhythm to make it happen. What is your discipline for reviewing your performance?


Can you imagine the sacrifices and discipline Usan Bolt makes to be the best in his field. Having natural ability is necessary, but insufficient to remain “the best”. Similarly for executives, preparing, practicing, recovering and reviewing are key for top performance, as is discipline

Discipline extends to such things as being in control of your diary and time management, responding rather than reacting when under pressure, being consistent, establishing a management rhythm for yourself and your team, learning new skills and techniques and many others.


While many of us in childhood dreamt of being famous athletes travelling the world, the reality of modern day executive life is not vastly different. As executive coaches, we develop the true potential of our “athletes” as they continue to produce their “personal best” performances. Through a change in mindset, we can all take lessons from the professional sporting arenas to enhance our personal performances and stay ahead of our competition!

Chris Corneil is an executive coach with executive coaching international and company director and has had a successful executive career including as Australasian CEO of a large financial services firm. Chris now works closely with senior executives across a wide array of industry sectors in Australia.  

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