Stop the sports will you?


There was research (and I use that term loosely) released recently (and I use that term loosely) which showed that the average delegate on a training course only recalls 20% of what they had been taught. Which to me isn’t as bad as it sounds. If your training is as crammed full of stuff as that which we deliver here at The Skills Exchange, then that’s a lot of retention.

It, the research that is, also pointed out that training should be regular, repeated and interesting. (If you make it interesting, you raise that percentage to above 50%. Use visuals and it gets better, use involvement and it gets better. Involve sportspeople though and it goes down. I made that last bit up. Like most research.)

Sorry? What was that you said about sportspeople, I hear you say. (I made that up, too.)

Well, some companies believe that you can learn from sportspeople, so, every now and then, they wheel these people in to give motivational (and I use that term loosely also, too) speeches to the massed halls of employees.

(I think most of the people who get wheeled in are only paid their fee so the organiser can have a selfie and show off to their mates. If only that money was better spent. Like on real staff development.)

Learn from sportspeople? Oh, I wish. (See, I side tracked myself but I got back on it.)

I wish we treated people like sportspeople. But we have to work five days a week. And don’t get rewarded the same. Yet if we pulled the plug the country would grind to a halt. If sportspeople pulled the plug we just wouldn’t have anything to bet on. So why do we use sporting analogies on training?

Yes, why?

We can learn little from them, to be honest. How passion and desire and commitment matter. Yes, we probably know that but try being committed to a Call Centre or Claims Handling or Risk Evaluation (actually, one of those sounds good).

You may be able to “learn” something but it will only be vague and often banal generalities.

You can’t teach innate ability, you can’t learn how to do thing to an expert level and you certainly wouldn’t expect to hit the highs for five days a week for eight hours a day.

Sound bites are good and can be useful to illustrate points, for example:

“You may have the greatest individual stars in the world but, if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Babe Ruth, baseball legend


“If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improved it by one percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,” Sir Dave Brailsford


“To stay in the game, you have to stay in the game”.


“That would have been a goal had it gone inside the post.”


“That’s simple as… Simple.”

(Thank you, Michael Owen, for those last three Which all go to prove my point; some sports people just aren’t, erm, bright. And talking sense isn’t what they do best. And why should it be? In Owen’s defence, he’s won more trophies and medals than most can shake at stick at. But that doesn’t make you good and knowledgeable about business, does it?)

Life isn’t like sport. Sports people have a desire, a short life and most have a great ability to do a sport. You can’t teach innate ability, you can’t learn how to do thing to an expert level and you certainly wouldn’t expect to hit the highs for five days a week for eight hours a day.

(And research, and I’m not using this loosely, now shows that employees work best in 52 minute bursts with rests of 17 minutes in between. Most sports people seldom do such long runs of energy and extended concentration in their actual chosen sport, except in training. Just don’t tell the Brownlee brothers this.)

If you are going to learn anything from people connected with sport, learn from managers and coaches, people who have got the best out of others but, please, why not buy the book and save the daft amounts you would spend on the old motivational speech and put it into real training and development; you will find that sports stories will have less impact that the 20% that training apparently has.

(Now, a quick aside. The football manager, Ronald Koeman banned headphones on the team bus. Why? “Young players just put on their headphones on the team coach,” he said, so he’s taken to getting team members to, erm, talk to each other. Now it may seem basic but it is important. It’s about basic communication, basic but no longer common. What Koeman is doing makes sense. In team games the ability to talk to others, to let people know what’s going on, to make friends and influence people, copyright Dale Carnegie, of course, and just to be comfortable with others is down to communication. Young sportspeople have trouble doing this because it is not their forte! Communication, as Koeman points out, marks out the successful teams from the less successful.)

And this is one sporting truth that does translate to business.

We got that from the manager, not the players. They are still in the learning curve and often still in their little bubble.

Life is real, nobody bets on working life, people bet on sport, sport is unreal. It’s great fun, it’s a wonderful escape but often it’s a real as the movies. It’s not like our lives.

It would be great, though, if we were interviewed at the end of each day and asked the dumb question “How was it for you?”

“Well, tediously boring. Long meeting, no agenda, chair was uncomfortable and aircon was off. Coffee was fun.”

So, dear reader, what have we learned today?

Most of this has been loosely attributed to training and development.

And that I have used sports stories to prove my point that you shouldn’t use sportspeople.

And that I like a rant and I’m jealous of sportspeople.

Well, that sounds like more than 20% you’ve taken in then…



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Training Design & Delivery of topics such as Customer Service, Note Taking, Business Writing, Presentation Skills, All Management/Team Leader areas, Sales, Sales Management, all tailored and run in-house for your personal requirements. Also, coaching and mentoring.

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