Dr Dave Alred MBE on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett

Dr Dave Alred MBE on Dealing with Pressure

Dr Dave Alred MBE on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett


Dr Dave Alred MBE on Dealing With Pressure

Dr Dave Alred MBE is an Elite Performance Coach who has mentored and coached world class athletes and teams in multiple sports, including Rugby World Cup winner, Jonny Wilkinson as well as George Ford and Johnny Sexton. In golf, he has supported the likes of Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari and Padraig Harrington. He has also worked with the England rugby team, The British Lions, the Springboks, the England Cricket team, and top football teams such as Manchester City and Watford. So who better to speak with than Dr Dave Alred MBE on dealing with pressure, and developing a performance mindset and attitude whilst under pressure and delivering in tense or high stake situations.

You will hear Dave’s approach to giving feedback and how he constantly explores how to do things differently, and to keep moving things forward. He has a skill of reviewing, analysing and learning from various sources, and applying this in his approach with his clients, demonstrating that while much of his work is in the sports arena, these principles can be applied anywhere.

This conversation is not about perfection. It is about commitment, about putting your soul into it.  It is about enjoyment and it is about knowing that you will experience the “ugly zone”. It is also about knowing that going into the ugly zone is ok, as it helps to focus on the process and effort without falling into ‘negativity avoidance’.

If you want to know more about the topics that we discuss then you can check out Dr Dave Alred’s book – The Pressure Principle.

If you want to hear more great stories and insights from remarkable people then check out the other infinite pie thinkers on our podcast page.

If you would like help to improve your performance, then why not take a look at what we do, and get in touch to discuss how we may be able to help.

Full transcript of Dr Dave Alred on Dealing with Pressure on the Infinite Pie thinking Podcast with Al Fawcett

Dr Dave Alred on Dealing with Pressure on the Infinite Pie Thinking Podcast with Al Fawcett


Dave Alred  00:00

I think elite is just a description of attitude. And what I mean by that is, that if somebody is just totally committed to getting better, they are elite. We get into negative avoidance. In other words, I am not going to commit to the very nth degree, because I don’t want to make a mistake. And once you get into, I don’t want to make a mistake, you’ve capped your potential. If you really, mentally commit, that you don’t actually succeed, in your terms, the brain still learns, you know, and of course, what it was…the brain was learned, the brain was learning. And then when it was ready, it actually connected all the dots. And you could do it again. Now what tends to happen is, and this is where the coach comes in, I’ve got it now now, now put this newfound skill under pressure a little bit.


Al Fawcett  00:59

Hi, I’m Al Fawcett and this is infinite pie thinking. At infinite pie we work with people in organisations to develop high performing cultures, high performing teams, and the ideal team players. We do this by helping define and refine, what is the stuff that matters? Who are the people that count? And how do we create a place that inspires? You know, a place that people want to be part of. And that’s what these conversations are all about. We talk with remarkable people who share their stories of leadership, teamwork, culture, and mindset. And today’s episode is a great example of that. Before I start talking about my guests, though, I just want to take a moment to talk about you. Once again, I want to say a big thanks to you for taking the time to listen and to want to be part of what we’re doing here. It’s always great to hear from you, whether it be via email, social media, or a rating and review on the likes of Apple podcasts. Here’s a comment that we got from Colin Burns via LinkedIn. Now, he says, exciting podcast. I don’t recommend things very often but this is an extremely informative cast with insights from multiple industries and phenomenal leaders. So again, a big thank you to Colin and everyone else who’s reached out to us or left a review. It really means a lot to us, and it makes a massive difference. Okay, so let’s talk about today’s guest. In this episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Dave Alred MBE. Dave is an elite performance coach and has mentored and coached world class athletes in multiple sports, including Jonny Wilkinson, Padraig Harrington, and Luke Donald, among many others. He works with the mindset of the athlete and focuses on how to perform under pressure, which led him to write the great book, The Pressure Principle. Dave has a fantastic approach to giving feedback on performance. And to constantly explore how we can do things differently. Reviewing, analysing and learning from various sources demonstrates that while much of his work is in the sports arena, these principles can be applied anywhere. I’d love to know what you take from it, and what you think you can apply in your world. Take a listen and let me know what you think. 


Al Fawcett  03:11

So Dave, welcome to infinite pie thinking. You’re an elite performance coach, as I mentioned in the introduction. And you’ve worked with some of the greats in a variety of sports, but you’ve also worked outside of sports. And that’s one of the things that I want to explore and cover, how people who aren’t elite athletes can actually take some of the stuff that we’re going to talk about and apply it within their own lives. But let me start by taking you right back to the start and ask, how did you get into this? Where did elite performance coaching start for you?


Dave Alred  03:42

Gosh, that’s a really interesting question. Because it’s actually the definition of elite. And really, people define elite as being top of the tree or the pyramid or the triangle or whatever. I think elite is just a description of attitude. And what I mean by that is that if somebody is just totally committed to getting better, they are elite. And that’s my kind of starting point. And I suppose it was subconsciously born out of when I trained as a teacher to start off with and in a variety of…well, three schools, all sort of inner city comprehensive schools, with the challenges that, you know, of inner city comprehensive schools, but one of the things I noticed, and I learnt very, very quickly, and it’s kind of taken me a long time since to realise what I’ve learned, and that is that the best coaches allow people to totally commit and not match their intention, but have their self esteem intact. Now, that’s quite a complex thing. Because if you add in the challenges of adolescence, then, you know, it’s not cool and to put an effort in, and it’s certainly not cool to fail, and so on. And so I was challenged by trying to get adolescent kids, girls and boys, and in a multiracial environment, to actually understand that I will make a song and dance about commitment and application before outcome. So if somebody made the effort, they were rock stars for me. And it kind of didn’t matter. Because if I, at that stage, and this was a group that, you know, were not high flyers by any stretch of the imagination, but if I was to compare them with other kids in the school, etc, etc, I’d be on a hiding to nothing, and subconsciously, and this is what I’ve used with all the people that I work with now, it’s all about improving on your previous self, because that’s the toughest competition. Because if you compete with somebody else, number one, you can’t control them, and they can’t control you. So if we were doing something, I do 10 of something and they do 9, but they had an off day. Well, am I better than them? Well not really. So it was floating around in my mind about self esteem, and politeness and showing respect to the people that you’re trying to, to help them manage their own learning. So for example, you know, one of the things we did, those are the days when it was GCSEs, and O Levels and so on. And there was still sort of compositions, essays and stuff. And one of the things I noticed was that very quickly, people would write an essay, and then it would come back splattered with red ink, and it kind of destroyed people. You see, so I thought, okay, I’m gonna look at what it takes to produce a really good essay. And it took a long time and it wasn’t easy, but I got through. Okay, let’s just put the keywords down, let’s just brainstorm, okay? And then I’ll look at that, and I talked to him, and I said, well, you know, how about this, and, hey, I like this, and so on. So, and funnily enough, I was doing what I learned to do with dolphins probably 15 years later. And when you train a dolphin, the only thing you can do with the dolphin is accept the behaviour they give you or ignore it. Because a dolphin can kill you, he doesn’t speak English, so in terms of communication, it’s quite difficult. So you make a signal, if you get the response that you want, you make a big fuss about it, it is not a consistent fish, it’s not a fish every time etc, etc, etc. All right? But you make it really obvious. And when they don’t do it, you just ignore it. Because when we get older, and when we look at coaching and good coaches, you know, get on the mistakes straightaway. I’d rather get on what they’re doing right first, and the mistakes, I’m not going to ignore them, but what I might say is well, in this situation, and I’m choosing these words deliberately, if you had that again, would you have done that any differently? And 99% of the time they go, oh, yeah, oh, what I should have done is x, y, z. And I go, well, well done, you had to work that out. So let’s practice doing that, so that when that comes again, we’ll do it. What tends to happen is, tell me what you did wrong, and straight away, there’s a judgement to it. Now, if I keep doing things wrong, I’m using that word, then I’m not very good. And sooner or later, and certainly adolescents and beyond, it comes a lot sooner than we think, they’re just very clever at disguising it, we get into negative avoidance. In other words, I am not going to commit to the very nth degree, because I don’t want to make a mistake. And once you get into, I don’t want to make a mistake, you’ve capped your potential, you will never realise your potential. And so going back to the teaching scenario, if every time that they tried something, and it wasn’t quite right, they knew they weren’t going to get told off. They knew that I was going to be polite and what I would do if there was something I’d say, well, I’m going to underline it in pencil, so you can rub it out afterwards. Have a good look at it, see if you would do something different, you know, and we would do three or four drafts before we’d actually do the essay. But it was the process of doing it trying to improve on your previous self. And I found that, yeah, alright, you know, they were not high flyers and weren’t straight A students, but in terms of their self esteem and understanding that actually, if I do commit, I can do this, it might be a bit difficult. And I was trying to get them…I’ve got this thing about, particularly of late, of people don’t buy green bananas anymore. They want it straight away. Ripe bananas, why? Because they’re going to eat them tonight. I even…if I’m working with George Ford, or Johnny Sexton, I often say right, these are green work ons. In other words, I’m going to ask you to do something, I don’t expect you to do this in a game. But down the track, this is going to be something we’re going to look at. So have a go. And you know, I’ve been working with this young lad, Thomas Taylor, who…I think I started when he was, I think he was 12? 11, 12. He’s now going on 16 and he is now going to Rugby School, actually in Rugby in the UK. And that was all about green bananas. And he had a performance journal, and it was all about better than I was last week. Why am I better than I was last week? And if I could rerun that week again, what would I do differently? And it builds and that is my definition of elite. That that is the attitude. 

Al Fawcett  11:45

I love that. And I love the totally committed to getting better. So you’re looking at this commitment. And I love the fact that you were talking about that it was more about pointing out areas that we could work on and develop as opposed to saying it’s wrong and the red ink thing, because I agree with that always pointing out what something’s wrong, it starts to eat away at your thinking, you start to believe that you will never get it right. Whereas if foundationally, you’re saying, you’ve had a go, we’re committed to doing this and we’re going to work on certain areas of it so we can get it better. There’s a tendency in some instances, especially in the young, to say things like, I’ve done my best. Well, actually, no, that’s final, that’s it, then. Whereas actually, if we start to change the mindset of, so how can we do this even better? Then it’s infinite, it becomes ongoing. 


Dave Alred  12:39

That’s the whole essence of my no limits mindset programme, is there is no limit, there’s no ceiling. And it’s quite interesting. If you say, and you need to be kind of…they need to understand this, if you say you can get better, I find that unless it’s said in the right environment, it’s usually interpreted as what’s wrong with what I’m doing now? And then he gets very, very defensive.


Al Fawcett  13:07

Yeah. And that can come to be because again, after years, and years and years and being told in various ways, and sometimes with great intention, but various ways it’s been phrased of, it’s not good enough, you need to do better. That’s slightly different to, like you said, almost holding the mirror up and said, if you were doing this again, what areas would you work on to improve it?


Dave Alred  13:30

Let me just interject there, because that’s really important, because you’re actually saying improve and I know why you’re saying that, but that just shows how inbred this is, is what would you do differently? And it’s…those words are crucial. So, you know, even reviewing a rugby game with the guys that I work with in Queensland. Okay, so you had the game, well done, well played. Okay, I want you first of all to tell me the bits that went really well. And then I want you to tell me the bits that if you could run that game again, what would you do differently? And there is no judgement with that, other than what we did well, and then what do we need to do differently? If I had that again, I probably wouldn’t have kicked that. That’s all I need, rather than this wasn’t the right option.


Al Fawcett  14:18



Dave Alred  14:19

What was the right option? And of course, once you’re into right and wrong, then we get into negative avoidance and people, you know, their confidence tends to go down so they don’t make decisions, and so.


Al Fawcett  14:30

So tell me more about negative avoidance because I think that that is something that we’re not consciously aware of. It sounds like it’s something that is built up over time through everything that you’ve talked about, seeing the red ink, seeing that we don’t want to be failing, especially as you say, at that young age, where you start to get to a point where you are becoming aware of your social circle, you are aware of what other people think of you, you are comparing. So how do we move away from this negative avoidance? How do we start to embrace this thing of like, I’m going to have a go? 


Dave Alred  15:04

Well, I tell you what, it’s…somebody once asked me, so what are you actually trying to get at the mentality? And, you know, this was about a professional golfer, and I said, I’m trying to get the attitude of a five year old, in a 25 year old body. Because a five year old doesn’t know failure, just commits to it. And if it doesn’t work, try it again and they do something slightly different. And they just keep going, and they just keep going. But if you watch them carefully, when they, in their terms, succeed, they go bananas with excitement. So what they’re doing, they’re hard wiring the very behaviour they want to repeat. And somewhere in our development, it shifts in the, when we do it right, we ignore it and then when we do it wrong, we make a big song and dance about it. So instead of bookmarking what we want, we then starting to bookmark what we want to avoid. So if I was doing in a simple golfing terms, if I’ve got a part three, and you know, somebody will say to me, right, okay, right, it’s 139 to the pin. Okay, do I look at the pin? Or am I looking at the water or the bunker? In other words, do I see what I want to avoid first? Or do I see what where I want to go? And, you know, sometimes you hear people saying that some of the youngsters on the PGA Tour just stand up and smash it, they have no fear. It’s because they kind of don’t define failure. They don’t look at it. Whereas players that have been around a long, long time, know what failure is, know what missing the cut is, you know, know what disappointment is, and yet are naturally trying to avoid that. So it’s a, it’s a really, really interesting one. And it has to be kind of managed on a hole by hole basis. I mean, the problem with golf, for example, is, you know, it’s five, five and a half hours, and there’s probably 30 minutes of action. The rest of the time, you’re walking around thinking about it, you know. 


Al Fawcett  17:19

And it’s that thinking that could get you into trouble.


Dave Alred  17:22

It is. So, you know, I am convinced now that it is a society thing. If you look at newspapers, and you look at the media, and you look at the number of poor stories of tragedy, death, fire, crashes, blah, blah, blah. You actually wonder if anybody had a good day? It’s just been incredible in terms of the slump that it places on people, you know, that’s our starting point. You know, it’s all pervasive stuff here now. And it is difficult, so kind of the shining light is okay, right, we’ve got all this but now let’s look at how we can get better at our restart so our left foot spiral or you know, whatever, whatever, whatever, and kind of dig out that way. It’s hard work but I think if you hang on to better than previous self and keep records, and that’s something that I do with all the gold kickers, you know, I’ve got stats coming out of my ears. Every single session, did it go over? Why didn’t it? You know, I’d take a picture of it and then send it on WhatsApp for them, saying, well done, this is really good, this is your best redzone one blah blah blah, you know etc, etc, etc. So I’m always trying to find out what went well. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, because sometimes you feel you are swimming against the tide, but I am not going to stop swimming.


Al Fawcett  18:55

So, as you were talking about children and that tipping point, you were saying how they get very excited when they do something well and they ignore when it doesn’t go so well. But then you can often see that tipping point where it turns into something not going well and a tantrum occurs, they’re not responding as positively as they previously were. Do you think that’s down to expectation? Will I expect it to go right every time? Slowly but surely we move into that and if it doesn’t go right every time, I don’t want to play anymore.


Dave Alred  19:26

Yeah and I think that comes with the immediacy of stuff that’s around, you know, we’ve got video games, we’ve got iPads, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, boom, and this…it comes back to the green bananas. And I have this thing now which I euphemistically call ‘get in the ugly zone’. That’s the great place to be, and even guys that I’m working with now who are in their 20s, you know, when they’re struggling and it’s windy and, you know, we’re trying to kick a certain way which is, you know, from the right side and the wind is blowing from right to left, it’s a narrow angle, and this is only probably one metre that will allow you to get the ball through the post and all the rest of it. So they’ve hit the post and hit the post the other side, they’ve gone around the back of the post, but they haven’t gone through it. And I just say that, you know, welcome to the ugly zone. And what they don’t understand, and I’m at great pains to try and get them to understand, is if you really mentally commit that you don’t actually succeed in your terms, the brain still learns. And that’s how we get this plateau of stuff that basically, you keep going, you keep going and you keep going. And then boom, you suddenly get it. And you go, what was all the fuss about? You know? And of course, it was, the brain was learning, the brain was learning. And then when it was ready, it actually connected all the dots, and you could do it again. Now what tends to happen is, and this is where the coach comes in, I’ve got it now, now onto something else, let’s now put this newfound skill under pressure a little bit, and so on. I’ll tell you a story and I’m sure that Francesco wouldn’t mind me saying this, because it was the first day I worked with him, we kind of had a week together to see if we could get on. So I do this, it was on a Sunday in Los Angeles, and we were doing this chipping, and we chip to an area on a practice screen and we keep going till we get five within three feet. And, you know, he’s a professional golfer, so straightaway, you know, took him eight to get five within three feet, you know, from 18 yards, you know, and then we moved it around and moved it around. And of course, obviously, the green sloping, so obviously across the slope is a bit more difficult than up the slope and so on. And then, kind of, I wanted to test him, but I didn’t want to test him this much. And I said, right, okay, let’s try it from this bit of rough here, so it’s gonna have to be a flop shot, you gonna have to try and land it and then let it roll out. I looked at it really quickly, but what I didn’t realise was that the landing point was sloping down, and then it plateaued ever so slightly and went down again. So if you landed on the sloping bit, it ran past the pin, it wouldn’t stop. There was only one spot, and it was probably about two foot square. So he had to land the ball on the two foot square for it to check and then slowly roll to the pin, and then stay within the three feet. And short game was an area that he identified he wanted to improve on, so it was a, if you like, relatively perceived kind of weakness, but the first set of stuff we did is usually you know, six, nine, ten, whatever. But this one, I think it took, it took him 58 attempts to get five within three feet. Now, on the face of that you’re going, shit, mate, you’ve got no chance. And he was kind of feeling that. He said, god, that wasn’t very good, was it? And straight away, I said no, Frank, that was outstanding. And he said, what do you mean? I said, look, I watched you really carefully and out of the 58 shots, there were only two that I felt you weren’t quite mentally committed. Every other one you try. I said, that is the best resilience lesson I’ve ever seen. So you know, it’s interesting how outcome can kill us. And we missed the most valuable bit. Now, a lot of pros, I know because I’ve worked with several others, not for very long, and you’ll probably work out why, they would have said, this is impossible, it’s too difficult, let’s do something else.


Al Fawcett  24:12

Just on that, so there’s a myriad of questions running through my head as a result of that. So what are you doing when you’re watching him? Because a lot of coaches would be watching the swing, and then the outcome, the swing and then the outcome. Are you watching him and staying quiet? Because you’re watching to see how he’s working it out and working his way through it, and then the feedback as a result of that, you know, that was brilliant because this is what I saw. As opposed to, let’s just keep sort of giving lots of little minor details to tweak and adjust and try this and try this and try this.


Dave Alred  24:47

Yeah, very rarely…the thing that I do say to him, and it’s probably an observation, when he hits the shot well, I say to him, you played that with your soul. In other words, you really committed to it and I can see it. I can’t tell you why, how I can see it, but I can see it. And he knows I can see it. Because when I do say it, he goes, yeah, you’re right. So I don’t get into the hands, this, that and the other, I just leave it. I’m more interested, you know, there are other guys in the team that are the technical folks. And although sometimes I kind of help a little bit with a posture or something, I leave that to them. But it’s more attitude and mindset is the bit that I’m interested in. And it’s interesting how people that have been very talented, particularly youngsters, who have been very talented at school, and I know this from a lad who was an outstanding soccer player at the age of 11, he was scoring 10 goals and you know, absolute…I think he was on Bristol Rovers’ books, and this, that and the other, you know, absolute rock star, okay? And everything was done for him. When everybody got good, he wasn’t quite as good and he couldn’t cope, because everything had come relatively easily. He had no green bananas, he was not prepared to grind. And that’s the golfing term, he was not prepared to just nut it out, he was not prepared to go back home and hit half volleys with his left foot at the garage wall or something like that, you know, because he was too talented for that, in inverted commas. And it worries me, in the same way that in education terms, we have kids with special needs, because they’re not quite as competent in some of the basic skills, I think you need kids with special needs at the other end, because that is something ready to come off the rails, when they do suddenly get pushed, they can’t respond.


Al Fawcett  27:12

And you can see that in all walks of life, you can see people come into jobs, and they’re naturally gifted and naturally talented, they’ve got certain competencies that allow them to be great. And then all of a sudden, when another star comes in, or others start to catch them up, their ability to move on to another level or to have that mental resilience to go, okay, what do I need to do to improve? What do I need to do to get better? Because, again, that classic situation of, if I’m not getting better, I’m standing still. And realistically, if I’m standing still, I’m starting to go backwards because other people with that mindset of getting better are catching me up and going beyond.


Dave Alred  27:55

Yeah. I also think there’s another way of looking at life and developing that. And that is that it is a journey, not a destination. We are on this exciting, challenging journey of life. You know, with all sorts of challenges. We don’t know what’s happening. I mean, who could have possibly, 12 months ago, predicted that the world will be in lockdown, but it is a part of a journey. And I remember, the first time I was  with Frank in Augusta, and we hadn’t played particularly well in the first round and both him and the caddy were a little bit despondent, a little bit down and so on. And I say, okay, it is what it is, okay? We’re way off the cut line, so we’re gonna get cut. So there’s two ways of looking at this, we can either go, well, we got no chance, okay? Or we can say, okay, let’s do the best we can and let’s learn on the way and see what we have to do to get better and so on. Now we did make the cut, in the end and we did okay. And I said to him, look at all these other guys who have used the Masters, you know, peaked for the Masters. You know, you can peak for a swimming needs and things like that. But things like a golf tournament or particular game or rugby and so on, it’s sometimes quite difficult. And I just think that, you know, coaches in particular need to understand that yes, it is a really important game. I remember talking with a player who played for a national team, and I won’t say which one, and he played, he reckons about 40 games that were the most important game in his life. You know, the sun still comes up tomorrow, even if we lose. So, you know…and then if you follow this back, if I don’t have that…yes, I want to commit myself, yes, I really want to try harder, but if I’m suddenly going, oh, but I don’t want to lose, and I don’t want to make mistakes, then we’re back into negative avoidance, it just sort of gradually creeps in. So it’s kind of…it’s an entwined bowl of spaghetti, this, with all sorts of things entwined.


Al Fawcett  30:18

You said earlier, when you were working with Frank, you said that at the start, we did some stuff in order to see if we could work together. So do you have a process? Do you have a, right, let’s do a little bit just to see if we gel and what we work on. And the way that I work is, we do this, and we focus on this, and we improve this. And it’s got to work for both parties in order to get the best out of it. So do you have that…almost that contracting session? And what is that process? You know, you hear some coaches, it’s all about goal setting, and we’re gonna get to x by y and smart goals. And others, it’s all about feedback and others it’s all about let’s just take it one day at a time. And so, one what’s your contracting process in order to make sure it’s mutually beneficial? And two, are there sort of key elements to your process when working with?


Dave Alred  31:10

Okay, yeah, I’ve never really…I’ve never been asked that before but I think subconsciously, I kind of know whether I can work with somebody. I mean, somebody asked me, what is the DNA of a champion? The DNA of a champion, in a square is actually almost contradictory. There needs to be token humility and tough as nails. And those two don’t go together, often tough as nails is a bit arrogant and humility is a bit subservient, and you know, could be a bit weak, could be. And the humility is, I always want to learn, I can always learn something, okay? The toughness is, well, he’s asked me to do it, I’m going to keep doing it and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, you know. And we’ve had some horrendous numbers, particularly the first year when we played in Mexico, when the practice screen wasn’t very good, horrendous numbers, but we weren’t giving up. And I kind of need that. And if I’ve got that, plus a mutual respect, you know, I respect them, hopefully they respect me, and a performance honesty, then I think we can work together.


Al Fawcett  32:30

And from the the process point of view, are you a goal setter? You hear Jason Day once set out to be the number one golfer in the world. Or are you more of a, let’s take it each day and see where you end up? 


Dave Alred  32:43

Yeah, I worry about goal setting. I mean, it’s all very well saying, you know, I want to be number one golfer in the world. You know, I wonder how many people are sleeping tonight, dreaming about being number one golfer in the world, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of disappointed golfers around. So for example, I know that a couple of the young kids that I’m working with…there’s a young lad I’ve just starting working with over here, who I know, he’s said he wants to play for the Wallabies. Okay. So if I asked him his goal in the performance journal, he would write down ‘I want to play for the Wallabies’ and I’m kind of saying to him, I don’t want to see that as a goal. And in fact, we haven’t done the goal setting yet, we’ve worked together for about a month. And then we’ll go back and look at the goals and say, well, let’s make them realistic. So I would much prefer a process goal and I know his dad is putting up kind of a cricket net…a kicking net to have in his back garden, so the process goal might be, okay, every night, even if it’s dark, I’m going to do 10 kicks off my right and 10 kicks off my left, for example. And if you have the process goal, you have absolute control of it, and you can achieve it. And then the result of doing that process will be, I will be a better kicker with both feet, etc, etc, etc. And then there are some, you know, because you try and get numbers out of practices, then you try and you’ve got numbers to beat yourself. You know, we’re, you know…you are accountable. And that’s something that, you know, is quite strange to a lot of people because they go, well, hang on, this is the practice. I mean, yeah, but you need to be accountable, because when it’s in the game, you’re totally accountable. And if you’re not accountable now, then really that’s a completely foreign behaviour to the behaviour that you you want in the game.


Al Fawcett  34:49

Well that ties into the misinterpretation of the 10,000 hour rule, right? The principle that if we put 10,000 hours of practice into something we will become masters of it, but that’s only half of the equation, right?


Dave Alred  35:03

Yeah, I worry about that, because I’ve actually quoted the 10,000 hours in the pressure principle, it talked about practice and dedicated practice, you know, head down and all the rest of it. But it didn’t talk about enjoyment. And it didn’t talk about, you know, shortcuts. I mean, for example, let me just give you an example. If you look at golf, golf is a really interesting example, right? So I’m going to practice really hard, I’m going to spend 10,000 hours hitting golf balls. So one day, I’m going to hit 150 7 irons. And the next day, I’m going to hit 150 6 irons. And so it goes on and on and on. And I’m going to go for 10,000 hours, another guy goes up and actually says, well, I’m not going to hit 150, I’m going to hit 10 seven irons, 10 six irons to different targets. And another guy comes along and actually says, well, I’m going to do that, but I’m going to cut my practice, because at the end, I’m going to get somebody to give me a random target, and I have to choose the club and hit the target. So there’s kind of practice and I’ve got this kind of repair, which is technique, training, which is the traditional reps, and then match. And if you look at goalkicking, it’s one shot, one opportunity. If you look at golf, it’s one shot, one opportunity. So if you’re doing 150 7 irons, for example, the only shot that has relevance to the tournament, is the first one and the other 149 are irrelevant, because they all depend on the memory of the first one. So what I mean by memory, if I hit the first one, it goes too far, then I’ll hit the next one a little bit less. So I’m always being impacted with the memory of the previous shot, but in the game, I only get one shot. So you can see that…so 10,000 hours, you know, yes, it was good and it was a good start and it was a great green banana, 10,000 hours. I mean, actually it says, you buy bananas, and you sit and wait for them to ripen and it’s gonna take 10,000 hours. Well, well done. I mean, that bit I applaud. However, there are ways I think you can do less than 10,000 hours, you know, if you work out that, you know, for an international goalkicker, and you look at hours, and the number of days per week and part of the season, etc, etc, that’s a good number of years.


Al Fawcett  38:02

Yeah, well, again, like you said, it’s about that constant improvement. So where is my base? And how do I get better? Okay, so as I said at the start, we have talked about sports, and I said that this relates to people in general, so that people who aren’t elite sports people, elite athletes are listening to this and thinking, okay, so how does this apply to me? And an example that I would give is that I’ve sat in many a meeting. And it’s a review meeting where every week we have a review meeting, and the review is, here are the numbers from last week, we need to work harder. And that’s it. And I sit there and go, okay, so as you’ve talked about that, where’s the process? Where is the, what are we working on? Why are we working on? What difference do we want to see? Where are we looking to make an improvement? How can we get better? Because just working harder, doesn’t really cut it, it doesn’t point us in the right direction? So how would you see an effective meeting? I am the MD of a company and you see me go through that type of meeting, what feedback would you give me afterwards?


Dave Alred  39:07

I would actually ask you and actually say, you know, how do you know the effectiveness of the phone calls to the individuals? Because you’re saying, you know…how are you how are you judging them? You know, and he’ll say, well, they’re gonna make so many calls and the formula is, if you make 10 calls, you get one meeting, every five meetings, you get blah, blah, blah. And I said, but how do you know that? You know, could you increase the number of meetings from the number of calls if they were done slightly differently? You know, and I’ve kind of challenged that way. I find that…I find that kind of difficult, to be honest. I think that if I was running that meeting, I think I would have at least two people reporting to the rest of the meeting, a good phone call, and why they thought it was good. And then a phone call where they felt they came off the rails a little bit and what would they do differently next time? To let everybody see that, actually, you know, we’re not robots, you know, it does take time, and we need to think this through, and be looking at that. Now, you may say, but you’ve only got one hour, and I’m going well, you know, I’d like to think that the the impact that you have, would actually improve the bottom line. The other part of this is that you want people to work with you and for you, not just for you. If people just work for you, they’re gonna do okay and then they’ll be gone. And, you know, you kind of think, well, you know, how do you keep good stuff? Well, there’s another issue there, isn’t there? I mean, it’s all tied up with that, you know, is it money? It’s often not that, it’s usually something else, unless the differential is ridiculous.


Al Fawcett  41:02

Yeah. Well, you’re right. And again, that comes down to, is it a cultural fit? Do their values align to my values? Am I being managed and supported in the way that I believe is acceptable? Is there a degree of clarity? Do I know where we’re headed and why we’re headed in that direction, and I feel part of it? Or am I left out on a limb to, you know, just do what I do? Also, it comes back to, in a way, what you were saying before, if I am the type of person that feels like I’m doing a good job, and I’m doing it the way that the business states I’m supposed to be doing it, then I expect some semblance of recognition and reward for that. But what we often see is there will be a superstar, but the value set, if you like, the way that they’re doing it is not necessarily appropriate, but they’re getting away with it because of the numbers that they’re achieving. So therefore, people are rewarding, as you said before, almost like rewarding bad behaviour. And once that performance drops, then obviously those people are no longer seen as the superstars, but we’ll reward it while they’re bringing the numbers in. So you can see lots of different reasons why people can get frustrated with stuff or stay in a position. So I think there’s a lot to that, but also what you’re talking about with regards to, you might say we’ve only got an hour long meeting, the bit I find fascinating is, the amount of time spent in meetings reviewing information that could have been reviewed before I even turned up to the meeting. What I want to come to the meeting for is some context and some action to take away from the meeting, as to how can I do this better next time. So either giving input into it, this is what I’ve seen, this is what I’m doing, this is how I feel that we can improve, is everybody aligned to that? Or to get input from other people. What have you seen about what we’re doing? And what’s my role in making that better?


Dave Alred  42:54

Yeah, I think that’s…I mean, everybody’s different and people’s personalities are different, people’s anxieties over particular ways of talking to people, and you know, where they’re confident to, you know, crack a joke and all that sort of stuff. It obviously varies and there is, you know…and you’re right, sometimes you get the kind of, the superstar, but I still think…I mean, it was very interesting, there was a company a long, long time ago that used to have a manager and they were groups of 10, and the manager’s salary, his bonus, was paid on the performance of the worst member of the team. And that was a very, very interesting concept and I thought that, you know, there’s a lot to do…now, yes, your selection is going to be good, but I just thought, wow, now that’s interesting. That is, you know, so…yeah.


Al Fawcett  43:54

Yeah, that’s a fascinating one, I can see lots of different permutations of that of either, I am going to focus on support and develop the lowest performing member of the team, or it could be what do I do to get rid of them? Or it could be, my support and management isn’t necessarily positive. So that’s going to be down to the quality of the manager then. And it’s that ability for that manager to hold his hand up and say, I need to learn to be a better manager to make sure that my lowest performing member is still performing exceptionally well. And that’s where that personal responsibility comes in. 


Dave Alred  44:28

Yeah, there is another argument that actually says that if you’ve got a high flyer, they can’t fly much higher, where your spare capacity in the team are the guys that have got room to develop. So there is an argument with that as well. 


Al Fawcett  44:41

I’ve said that many a time to managers, in the sense of, they can often spend a lot of time with the high flyers where actually that room in the middle is where they can often see a bigger uplift in performance. And the reason that they’re high flyers are often high flyers is because they like that competitive edge, so when the middle starts to move up, some of those high flyers are going to look over their shoulder and go, whoa, whoa, whoa, I need to get better. And actually, you’ll often find at that point, they will ask for the manager’s support because they’ve seen the impact and the difference that they’ve made. Whereas if you go and say, I’m going to work with you today, they go, well what can you teach me, I’m the best person in your team. You know, so it becomes an interesting dynamic as to where we spend our time and the difference…I’m just going to take you back to something you said earlier and I think that this was a great one as well, and that is by labelling something ‘the ugly zone’. And I think that’s really fascinating because again, I’m a great believer in the way that we actually interpret these things, by actually calling it the ugly zone, it feels to me, like the ugly zone is giving you permission to it’s not always going to go right. Whereas you know, if we’re seeking perfection every time, we’re on a hiding to nothing, but by calling it the ugly zone, it’s like, okay, we’re in the ugly zone at the moment, things aren’t gonna go right, but it’s moving us forward. It’s almost that thing of like you have to go into and through the ugly zone, to actually create that degree of mastery. And I think by putting that label on it, it helps me to appreciate, I recognise where I am at the moment and I know that there’s a path out of this if I keep trying.


Dave Alred  46:23

Yeah, I think if you look at improvement, just the thought of it, okay? If you’re going to improve, you improve at your margin. So let’s just take a simple thing, let’s say I’m doing press ups. I can do 10 press ups, okay? That’s my personal best. And I want to do 11 because then I will have improved, okay? So by the time I get to 9, it’s getting tough now, to get to 10, yeah, okay, and I might get to 10 and then actually can’t actually produce 11. So that’s the ugly zone, it’s where I can’t do it, yet. Okay? It hasn’t matched my intention. It’s really tough. It is frustrating. And I use frustrating for the golfers and the musicians and the artists and all of those people, the sort of skilled bit, you know, and there is also the ugly zone physically, you know, I’m trying to run 10 400s, because I’m practising for my modern pentathlon, I’m doing reps, and I want to run 70 for each 400 lap, okay? At the moment, I can do four, five, I’m struggling. So five, six, that’s really ugly. You know, and eventually, what five and six will become seven and eight, and I’ll moved the ugly zone and I’ll have improved. And that’s the crucial part. So the ugly zone is a prerequisite to going into an area that is not comfortable, but it does result in improvement. 


Al Fawcett  48:09

And that’s the bit for me, by understanding and accepting that that is going to happen, that I think it gives permission for people to go for it because they’re aware of it. As opposed to, this should have been easy, I should have been able to do this. The should haves, the could haves, the why can’t Is? The wrong mindset, the wrong thinking. Okay, so what is the ugly zone for you? Because you strike me as the type of person who must have seen a lot of evolution of coaching over the years, and your own coaching and you’re constantly wanting to improve. So what is it that you’re doing? What’s your next challenge? What’s your current focus to ensure that you’re getting better each day, in your coaching?


Dave Alred  48:52

Let me think. I think one of the things that I’m learning to do is not accept any blocks that are kind of put in the way by people not believing they can achieve. And that’s from very early days with teaching, ‘oh, sir, I’ll never be able to do that’. You know, right to you know, I always kick them over, you know, and it’s kind of just not accepting it, not quite ignoring it, but just refusing to accept that that is fact. I’ve got three words that I try and ban and it’s, never, always, can’t. I always do this, I’ll never be able to do that. I can’t do that. And I’m just…and I kind of just completely stop that and pick it up straightaway, not in an aggressive way but just say, hang on a minute, hang on a minute. I don’t know, I kind of…I’m also coaching a modern pentathlete, when I get back to the UK. And that was an incredible challenge because it started off looking at the transition from the run to the pistol shooting, which is really quite a contradiction because it’s aerobic heart and then five shots with a pistol, you have to hit five balls before you can run again, and that was…that added some dramatic thinking to me, you know, and then I got involved with the fencing. And it’s just sort of…I suppose it’s just developing still an inquiring mind. Okay, so what’s stopping us getting better? And actually, in most sports it’s convention, there is a hidden convention, cultural way of doing things. And most of the time, that’s actually the block. So I was involved with a SoftBank team Japan in the America’s Cup, the last America’s Cup, and everybody was doing the traditional grinding for them, you know, where you sit down and you grind and it drives the whole boat, it is quite a fascinating environment to be in, okay? But New Zealand decided to break with convention and say, well, we’re going to pedal, we’re not going to do it because the thighs are stronger than your arms, etc, etc, etc. And all the other teams go, well, you can’t do that, it’s too dangerous and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after the trials, New Zealand won. And if you look at Dick Fosbury, you know, did the Fosbury flop, soon as he worked out you can have a crash mat the other side, then he completely changed high jumping and everybody said, you’re crazy, you’ll never be able to do that. Two gold medals later, five years, everybody’s doing it. You know, so I kind of look at those. And, you know, those are big, big events, and you know, big stakes and so on. But I think in general, that’s the way we do things around here, you know, without the why and well, does it have to be like that? Is there a way we could be more effective? And I use that word, rather than, can we do it better? I always say, can we be more effective? Because I’ve learned to my costs not to judge anything. Just try and be objective to, you know, what’s…what would I see?


Al Fawcett  52:32

I could continue talking about these types of things and pick each of these elements apart in more detail throughout, but I’m conscious of your time. So listen, thanks ever so much for your time today. Fascinating insights. I hope we stay in touch and we can sort of share some of these ideas. If people haven’t got it already, The Pressure Principle, great book. Yes, it’s sports related but as you probably heard from the conversation we’ve just had, Dave covers, rugby, and golf, and racing and modern pentathlon, and the common denominator with all of those things is its people. It’s about the people and about understanding the individual and what is going to help them to be more effective. So thanks ever so much for your time today, I really, really appreciate it, and I’ve certainly taken a lot from it.


Dave Alred  53:17

Thank you, Al, I really enjoyed the conversation.


Al Fawcett  53:20

Alright, so how much did you take from that? For me, it’s things like tracking my performance, exploring what I can do differently, learning from different and various sources, to be committed and to know that I’ll experience the ugly zone, and how that’s okay and this knowledge helps me avoid negativity aversion. Infinite Pie is all about exploring your unlimited potential and of course, infinite pie thinking is based on improve your thinking, improve your performance. This has been a common theme throughout the various conversations that we’ve had with the guests on this show, irrespective of their backgrounds. Whether this is Michael Lynagh talking about what it took to become a World Cup winning Wallaby Jake Aliker sharing how he helped Formula One driver Max Verstappen as his performance coach, Chris Brindley MBE on his time as the managing director of Metrobank and being voted Britain’s best boss, Jon Dutton on the challenges that he’s tackling as the CEO of the Rugby League World Cup 2021, Chris Casper discussed what it was like to go from being a member of the class of 92 at Manchester United to leaving the game after a career ending injury, or Max Dudley on leading a team of entertainers as the executive producer of the top ranked breakfast radio show. If you haven’t already, take a scan through the back catalogue and check them out. I’d love to hear what you took from this conversation and any others that you’ve listened to. And as I mentioned at the start, you can do that by rating and reviewing the likes of Apple podcasts or you can reach out to me on the various social media platforms. You know, the likes of Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, those sort of things. And you can do it by searching for infinite pie or Al Fawcett and you’re likely to find me. As for more info on what we do and why, and lots of other content, then you can always head over to infinitepie.co.uk to connect, or you can just email me ipt@infinitepie.co.uk. Thanks again for listening. Now go and do stuff that matters.


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