Coaching Association of Canada

John Hogg, PhD - Swimming

A Simple Formula for Improving Performance

Years ago, a young mathematically-inclined athlete asked swimming coach Dr. John Hogg to “put everything about performance in a nutshell”. Quite a task for any coach, Dr. Hogg proposed that P = C – I where performance equals one’s capabilities less the interferences they may encounter.

Understanding the exact meaning of successful athletic performance can be quite complicated. For the developing athlete I use a simple formula to explain performance. Youngsters realize that any formula can help them address and resolve a problem. Aspiring athletes must have an unshakeable belief in their abilities, possibilities, potential, and talent to succeed, the “C”, or capabilities. This will encourage them to develop a positive self-image over time and grow their confidence. On the other hand, athletes must be aware of the ever changing distractions, barriers, hazards which dramatically interfere with performance states of preparedness, readiness, execution, and evaluation, the “I”, or interferences. It is helpful to clearly identify all those things that boost one’s self-belief and confidence and to be acutely aware of and avoid all interferences that can only break connections to the task and result in a poor performance.

An Impact on Self-image and Awareness

A significant degree of self-awareness is required to identify the capabilities and the first step in being able to control something is to be able to express it in a complete way. I’ve found it very empowering to discuss this with athletes as it contributes to a positive self-image. When athletes begin to take control of the performance process, they become more consistent in their approach and the outcome is consistent too. Identifying the interferences allows athletes to become more aware of them and take action to minimize their impact. Ownership and control over the interferences contributes to athletes’ abilities to properly attribute their success or failures to internal or external factors.

Keeping the Formula Balanced

While it might seem counter-intuitive, aim for balance when identifying and breaking down the capabilities and interferences in the formula. If, as a coach, you stress the interferences, you may end up destroying the athlete’s self-confidence. Conversely, too much emphasis on the capabilities may leave athletes unprepared for the many pitfalls of sport. Ultimately, tailor the weight of either the capabilities or the interferences to the athlete’s personality; some need to be confident in their capabilities while others need to be sure they’ve considered the impact of the interferences and their associated solutions or coping strategies.

One of the ways for athletes to validate their capabilities and control their interferences is to create a list of “What Ifs.” This list of interferences, or things that could go wrong, has an associated list of solutions. This is an exercise in risk management where athletes use their capabilities to reduce, avoid, transfer, or accept the risk of an interference affecting their performance.

Coaching Using the Formula

Novice athletes might have a simple breakdown of this equation while elite athletes might have generic and situation-specific models. Our role as coaches is to draw out enough detail to make this universal model useful and enlightening for our athletes. A three-step progression can be used to draw more detail:

  1. Athletes identify their capabilities and interferences with some serious inner-shoveling;
  2. Coaches ask their athletes how they see these capabilities and interferences developing and changing over time; and
  3. Coaches ask their athletes how they perceive their capabilities and interferences relative to their competition.

It is essential that this exercise always be done with a positive perspective. There is no room for negativity, self-doubt, or a need for perfectionism. The goal is for athletes to be objective about their self-assessment. Ultimately, going through this exercise of identifying capabilities and interferences helps reduce competitive anxiety by contributing to their existing self-image and their current ability to cope successfully with interferences.