Achieving marginal gains in your development
In 2003, David Brailsford, former performance director for British Cycling and Team Sky, introduced a new strategy to the sport which he referred to as ‘marginal gains’. This was a strategy in which cyclists and their coaches looked for small changes which could be made to a cyclist’s equipment, training or lifestyle that would lead to improvements no matter how small. Brailsford stated that “if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”.
Given the success this approach yielded, the philosophy was rolled out to a number of other sports, of which skeleton was one of them. This philosophy and the increased importance of data collection, standardisation and the elimination of detrimental variance was firmly instilled in every aspect of my life. Skeleton athletes spend much of the winter months travelling between tracks looking to maximise their time on the ice. Given there is no skeleton track in the UK it was paramount to make the most of every opportunity I had on the ice. To do this we would ensure we standardised every aspect of our performance and continuously sought improvement. Every night we would lay down on our sleds having polished the runners ready for the next day and visualise runs down the track. We would load onto the sled and go through all the corners to imagine the perfect run. This visualisation made a huge difference in performance.
Continuous and sometimes marginal improvements are also highly recognised in engineering. Similar to Brailsford’s strategy, Toyota have used a manufacturing approach known as ‘Kaizen’ since the 1960s to drive continuous improvement in engineering. This involves continually following procedures to allow engineers to discover problems quickly. This approach is particularly useful in medical device development where strict regulations can make a 1% improvement look vast.