Leadership UK

Elite Sporting Tips To Becoming A High Performer

James Cluskey is an Ex-Davis Cup tennis pro and Paul Andrews spoke to him to find out what tips he had from his sporting career that might help business owners become high performers.

As James explains, “We can all learn lessons from elite sport that we can bring into our everyday lives to help us perform at our optimal best. My background is professional tennis and I had a career high ranking of 145 in the world and was lucky enough to represent Ireland in the Davis Cup for 10 years. I’ve been a high performer in sport and been fortunate to spend time with and compete against other high performers.”

Since launching his own business these are the 5 lessons that he found most useful from his professional tennis career:

Surround yourself with good people

“My philosophy has always been to get around good people. In Ireland we are not blessed with great facilities for tennis and we don’t have a lot of great players. So I made the decision to do my pre-season’s in India with two of the top doubles players in the world Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. I learned as much spending time off the court as I did on it. If you want to be a high achiever then get around other high achievers. Take the best bits of learning and improve yourself. I’m not saying to be someone you’re not but learn from people and put your own mark on it,” continues James.

Make a plan

“Elite athletes are obsessed with achieving their goals. I was ranked as high as 3 in the US in the college tennis rankings. When I finished college I went on the professional tour and wasn’t moving up the rankings as quickly as I thought I should. It was after working with a sports psychologist who asked me the question ‘how many points do you need to be to be ranked 250 in the world’ that we made a plan and I knew exactly the results I needed to make to achieve my goal.”

“I went even further than that and looked at how many serves I needed to hit a week. Or how many times did I need to go to the gym a week. So ask yourself – what is the vision? What are you looking to achieve and then what are the things you can do on a daily basis to help you achieve that goal.”

Get a coach

“Does Roger Federer have a coach? Yes. Has his coach ever been better then him at tennis? No. You can call them whatever you want but it’s important to have someone you can go to for advice and guidance. Someone that can see those little things and ask you those probing questions. Elite athletes always have a coach. The Davis Cup is one of the few events in tennis where you can have your coach on the court in the match. I remember playing a Davis Cup match for Ireland against Slovenia and sitting down on the changeover and the coach saying “He has a tell on his serve” as in my coach knew where he was going to serve. In the heat of battle sometimes you are blind to some things. Having someone in your corner can really help you see clearer.”


“We can learn a lot from accountability in sport. It’s a lot more clear-cut in professional sport. In high level sport we are examined every week on our performance and in tennis the rankings don’t lie. My career high ranking was 145 and it’s easy to check that. In my corporate work I go into a lot of companies. You get a sense sometimes that everyone is a hero in their own story. People are quick to blame others for their shortcomings. A lot of business people will say “It’s not my fault, he let me down or she let me down”. We need to take ownership of our actions and results. In sport I think it’s more clear-cut. Take accountability for your actions and learn from your mistakes and move forward.”

Preparation is key

“Elite sports takes preparation to get to the next level. I remember in the Davis Cup we basically knew what the other team was going to eat for breakfast. We knew what their tendencies were on the big points and where we could target their weaknesses. A Sport like Formula One is a great example of preparation. It amazes me the efficiency of the team when a car pulls into the pit stop. The level of detail and preparation that goes into performing at this level is incredible. What if we brought the same level of preparation into our business performance? If going into an investor meeting or pitch we had that same level of preparation. As the saying goes “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Bring a new level of detail to the business and good preparation will give you and your team confidence to go and perform.”

James Cluskey is an Ex-Davis Cup tennis pro, founder of personal development group High 
Calibre Collective and author of Advantage: Lessons from Sport and Business to Achieve 
Your Goals published by Panoma Press, priced £12.99

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