Rebecca Adlington retired this week, at the ripe old age of 23. There’s been lots of plaudits written about her – some of which sound rather like obituaries. Having done some work with Rebecca back in October (she helped us deliver a great Masterclass to a bunch of high performing hotel managers), what’s really struck us, both at the time, and this week, is the huge commitment and energy that it takes to be world class. Since the age of 6, Rebecca has devoted her life to swimming. Every day of Rebecca’s life has been about training to swim as fast as she can, and about preparing to deliver that performance at critical moments. She’s embodied, lived and demonstrated high performance attitudes and behaviours. Her thirst for improvement, her ability to embrace change and to evolve, and to simply work obsessively, endlessly and tirelessly (everyday, for over 15 years) at the stuff she needed to do to achieve what she’s achieved is quite mind-blowing when you think about it. Every decision – big and small – she’s had to make so far has been made with one question in mind – will it improve my performance?

That’s what it takes to make it to the top, and stay there. However, unlike Rebecca – who was aiming to be the very top in a very competitive field – you don’t need to make huge sacrifices to become a better performer. But you do need to have an appetite to improve, and then back that up with action. Work out – like Rebecca did – what will make you swim faster, and then be passionate about making sure you are constantly moving towards doing those things. Some days you’ll be great at doing them, and other days will feel more of a struggle, but thinking constantly how you will demonstrate your desire to improve will help you along the way.

Having worked with plenty of world class performers, it’s not surprising to us that Rebecca’s taken the decision to retire now. She’s sacrificed so much, and given that it’s getting physically harder for her to compete (so the odds are increasingly getting stacked against her), she’s choosing to turn her attention to something else. We have no doubt she’ll apply her same focus and commitment to whatever she chooses to do now. Old performance habits die hard.