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Sticking with the Basics for Peak Performance

Sticking with the Basics for Peak Performance
September 2, 2010 Ignacio Fiallos

Thomas Friedman was blessed to have a teacher like Hattie Steinberg. In fact, Hattie was the only journalism teacher of this three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, NY Times columnist and best-selling author.

Friedman said that his success has been based on sticking with the basics, and Hattie pounded this principle into his head every day in high school. Those fundamentals included how to accurately transcribe a quote, how to write a lead, how to always act in a professional way, and always stick to your guns about a story.

In one such instance, Friedman interviewed an ad exec for the high school paper who used a four-letter word. He was unsure whether or not to run the story with the profanity, but Hattie said to print it. The ad man almost lost his job when it appeared, but Thomas learned that sticking with the basics leads to first-class journalism, and he follows this principle on consistently in his columns and books.

Sticking with the basics can also lead to world-class hitting. Tony Gwynn is considered one of the purest hitters of his generation. He captured eight batting titles and has a lifetime batting average of .340, one of the highest of all time. When Tony’s game took a dive, he would simply go back to the fundamentals. To accomplish this, he would hit a waffle ball on a tee. Tony believes that the sound and the spin of the Wiffle ball give you all the needed information to get back on track. For Tony, if he hits the Wiffle ball correctly, there should be as whooshing sound as it flies through the air instead of a whinier-spinning sound.  If he is hitting the ball underneath, the Wiffle ball will have excessive backspin, and if he is hitting too much on the top of the ball, it will have topspin. Further, Tony knows that if his hands are too quick to the inside, the ball will have inside-out spin. If his hands are too late, the spin will be outside-to-in.

If two of the greatest in their respective fields believe that sticking to the basics led to their success, then such a strategy should work in any field including business. Unfortunately, many individuals neglect or just forget the basics when they believe they have mastered a skill.

Make a basic list

John Wooden would start with the basics of all basics. On the first day of the season, Wooden would share one of his greatest words of wisdom and say “today we are going to learn how to put on our socks and shoes just so”. To Wooden, any wrinkle in the sock will cause rubbing and this can cause a blister. Blisters keep you from practicing which keeps you from getting better.

One easy way to reinstate the basics in your performance is by making a mental checklist of key fundamentals. Orel Hershiser, an all-time great pitcher for the Dodgers, did just that. Even after 30 years of playing baseball, Orel Hershiser would write down a list of basic pitching principles and then go over this list before each game. His list included such basics as:

1) Keep a good posture on the mound

2) Good weight distribution on my feet

3) proper length of my step back

4) Have an aggressiveness leg kick

5) focus my eyes

6) Have a good follow through

What do you believe are the basics for being a great manager? A great salesperson? A great accountant? A great negotiator? Do you have a basic list for your profession?

If not, now is the time to make that list of the essentials. Post it on your computer or where you will see it often. Then follow those basics before each interaction. While your list may not include a Whiffle ball and tee, your items will make a hit toward your success.

Keep it simple:

Tony Dungy, the current coach of the Indianapolis Colts, learned a key from his mentor Chuck Noll, the former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers- when you’re not successful, struggling or having problems do less, not more. According to Dungy, when the Steelers were not playing well, Coach Noll looked to cut back, to simplify, to get back to the basics.

Do you try to do more when times get tough? Are your strategies getting more complicated as sales go down?

Perhaps the easiest and best solution is to scale back-to simplify and focus back on the fundamentals. It has worked for two of the most successful coaches in NFL history.

The following article was exerpted from the Full Throttle: 122 Strategies to Supercharge your Performance at Work. This book is a Washington Post Best Seller.

Dr.Gregg Steinberg is a sport psychologist to many professional athletes, motivational speaker, business keynote speaker and leadership trainer and sales trainer. To see more about mental toughness strategies and going Full throttle in your sales, business and life, go to and see his new book, Full Throttle on To see more about his coaching go to and to see his products go to


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