Play the game - unleash your inner cognitive athlete

Written by
Tim Henman

01 Nov 2016

01 Nov 2016 • by Tim Henman

This ultimate aspiration underpinned everything throughout my tennis career - it's why I spent the whole of my youth in training; it was the justification behind every extra hour I spent on the practice court or in the gym, every blister, every muscle strain; and it was the thing that always propelled me forward. 

Since retiring from the ATP Tour in 2007, the phrase 'be the best you can be' is still the reason I get up in the morning and the driving force in every element of my life and work. Whether it is the committee work I do at Wimbledon or supporting my sponsors, fulfilling my media obligations or developing my Foundation, or even striving to maintain my scratch golf handicap. And I know I am not alone, because it doesn't matter what you do with your days, your working life should be about making the most of every opportunity and fulfilling your potential.

It's important, therefore, to ask how we can get the best out of ourselves. Before we can do that, we need to figure out what 'best' actually means. As a pro-tennis player, results are what you are judged by, even if winning a match doesn't automatically mean you produced your best. In the workplace though, those measures tend not to apply day by day. So it's about what constitutes success in your eyes. Everybody needs something to strive for. We need a reason to try - and to keep trying. At the same time though, our aims need to be within our reach, realistic and honest. If we set the bar too high, we'll never get up there.

Sportsmen need to know their sport inside out - they need to learn every aspect of the game, acquire the skills, develop their techniques, analyse the competition and constantly review their own performance. 

Strengths and weaknesses

They also need to place equal emphasis on understanding their bodies - their strengths, weaknesses and bad habits. It's as much a mental game as a physical one though, arguably even more so. You can be in the finest physical condition imaginable but if you don't have the right mental attitude, you won't win gold.
When it comes to achieving your personal best, it's necessary to remember that you, the individual, are only one part of the puzzle. There are lots of other factors that impact performance. 
In tennis you obviously need a decent racket - set up to suit your game, the type of ball and the conditions; the right shoes for the type of court. And whilst you can't control your opponents performance, you can certainly stack the odds in your favour by the way you craft the point and the shot selection you make. You do of course rely on competent officials to make correct calls - and yes, I AM serious!
Whatever your career, your business or walk of life, it goes without saying that you need to understand what you're there for.


When you've nailed that, you need to figure out what tools you have to hand to allow you to achieve that. For the athlete it's first and foremost the body and its physical condition. 

In the workplace...


For the knowledge worker, it's primarily the brain. But that's not enough. The conditions need to be just right if you are to work effectively. What are the factors, then, that impact the body and the brain's performance? 
Well, as with the athlete, nutrition is right up there, as is hydration. You won't get through a tough 5 set match against Andy Murray if there's not enough fuel in your body to make it through to the last point and if your water levels are not constantly replenished. 
It is just the same for the office worker, who needs to pay attention to exactly the same things. Nourishment and hydration are very important. Employers can help with other things too, the environmental conditions should be right if people are to perform at their best. Noise levels that enhance the ability to concentrate; temperature, humidity and fresh air levels that support optimal cognitive performance are vital.
We are, in the end, our brains. If a company is only as good as the people it employs, then organisations don't just need to attract the best brains - they need to get the most out of them. 


To do this, they must help and encourage their people to understand how they can be the best they can be - and provide the conditions in which people can flourish, be happy and produce their best work, their best shots - their winning shots - for the benefit of the business and the workplace.  

Workplace Week 2016

As part of Advanced Workplace Associates' (AWA) Workplace Week - an annual campaign designed to change the world of work for the better, while supporting the charity Children in Need – tennis star Tim Henman will appear in front of a group of workplace professionals, sharing the experience gained during his career and explaining what it takes to get the very best out of yourself as an athlete. Tim believes that employers play a crucial role in helping and inspiring their staff to achieve peak performance. He bases this on the idea that in the age of the knowledge worker, the world of sport and the world of work are much more closely aligned that you might perhaps imagine and much more than ever before.