Solving Problems in Performance

The 5 Most Common Approaches
To Solving Problems in Performance

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, I’ll share a simplified model of how I assess problem solving in professional sports teams.

1) Not Accurate. Not Precise.
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.
In this case you have a good understanding of performance, and perhaps a very good Game Model and Athlete Model. However, you’re 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.
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, analyze 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.
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.
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.

Remember this scene from the iconic movie Pulp Fiction?

[The doorbell rings]
“You’re Jimmie, right? This is your house?”

“Yeah.” – Jimmie

[Harvey Keitel puts his hand out]
“I’m Winston Wolf, I solve problems.”

In this business, it’s your job to solve problems. How are you doing?

Images adapted from Nate Silver’s awesome book – ‘The Signal and the Noise”
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