Manage Your Process – Improve Your Performance


The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM)

What is it?

The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM) is a system developed to improve your management of athlete development to get full advantage from your coaching development efforts.

The ACMM is used to attract, train, deploy, and retain the athletes you need to develop a high performance competitive environment. With the help of the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI), any sport organization can make improvements in their development systems processes and practices. Many have discovered that their continued improvement requires significant changes in the way they manage all of the people involved in their organisation.

The ACMM is a maturity framework that describes the key elements of managing and developing the training groups of a sport organization. It describes an evolutionary improvement path from an ad hoc approach to managing the training groups, to a mature, disciplined development of the knowledge, skills, and motivation of the athletes, coaches and other staff that fuels enhanced performance.

What does it do?

The ACMM helps organizations to

  • characterize the maturity of their athlete and coach development practices
  • set priorities for improving the competence of its training groups
  • integrate competence growth with process improvement
  • establish a culture of performance excellence

The ACMM will support incorporating athlete management capabilities into improvement programs by communicating a model that complements the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI), and by making available an appraisal method that can be used alone or integrated with existing process appraisal methods.

The ACMM is designed to guide organizations in selecting activities for improving their development practices based on the current maturity of their development practices. By concentrating on a focused set of practices and working aggressively to install them, sport organizations can steadily improve their level of talent and make continuous and lasting gains in their performance. The ACMM guides an organization through a series of increasingly sophisticated practices and techniques for perfecting its overall development program. These practices have been chosen from experience as those that have significant impact on individual, team, and organizational performance.

How does it do this?

The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM) adapts the maturity framework of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) [Paulk 95], for managing and developing a sport organization’s people. The motivation for the ACMM is to radically improve the ability of sport organizations to attract, develop, motivate, organize, and retain the talent needed to continuously improve athlete development capability. The ACMM is designed to allow sport organizations to integrate people improvement with sport process improvement programs guided by the CMM. The ACMM can also be used by any kind of organization as a guide for improving their people-related and work-force practices.

Based on the best current practices in the fields such as human resources and organizational development, the ACMM provides organizations with guidance on how to gain control of their processes for managing and developing their people. The ACMM helps organizations to:

  • characterize the maturity of their people management practices,
  • guide a program of continuous people development,
  • set priorities for immediate actions,
  • integrate people development with process improvement, and
  • establish a culture of sport excellence.

ACMM describes an evolutionary improvement path from ad hoc, inconsistently performed practices, to a mature, disciplined development of the knowledge, skills, and motivation of the athletes and coaches, just as the CMM describes an evolutionary improvement path for the processes within an organization.

What does it look like?

The ACMM consists of five maturity levels that lay successive foundations for continuously improving talent, developing effective teams, and successfully managing the athlete and coaching assets of the organization. Each maturity level is a well-defined evolutionary plateau that institutionalizes a level of capability for developing the talent within the organization.

Athlete CMM Levels

Except for Level 1, each maturity level is decomposed into several key process areas that indicate the areas an organization should focus on to improve its athlete and coaching capability. Each key process area is described in terms of the key practices that contribute to satisfying its goals. The key practices describe the infrastructure and activities that contribute most to the effective implementation and institutionalization of the key process area.

The five maturity levels of the ACMM are:

  1. Initial.
  2. Managed. The key process areas at Level 2 focus on instilling basic discipline into workforce activities. They are:
    • Training Environment
    • Communications
    • Staffing
    • Performance Management
    • Education
    • Compensation
  3. Defined. The key process areas at Level 3 address issues surrounding the identification of the organization’s primary competencies and aligning its people management activities with them. They are:
    • Knowledge and Skills Analysis
    • Athlete/Coach Development Planning
    • Competency Development
    • Career Development
    • Competency-Based Practices
    • Participatory Culture
  4. Predictable. The key process areas at Level 4 focus on quantitatively managing organizational growth in people management capabilities and in establishing competency-based teams. They are:
    • Mentoring
    • Team Building
    • Team-Based Practices
    • Organizational Competency Management
    • Organizational Development
    • Performance Alignment
  5. Optimizing. The key process areas at Level 5 cover the issues that address continuous improvement of methods for developing competency, at both the organizational and the individual level. They are:
    • Personal Competency Development
    • Coaching at every level
    • Continuous Athlete/Coach Innovation

Find Out More

The Athlete CMM program is designed for athlete training organisations that are serious about attaining and maintaining world standards for athlete development. For more on the program and how to adopt it for your organisation contact Gerry Dragomir through a comment on this blog.

The role of Science in Managing Performance



We live in the age of science. We are surrounded and constantly reminded of the role that science plays in our everyday lives. For a great number of people these days science has replaced formal religion as a foundational belief system. ‘Proven by science’ carries a weight that used to be reserved for the works and words of the prophets. As with much of what we believe, in our role as coaches, we tend to overestimate the role that science can serve in guiding our decisions and our behaviour.

Understanding the Scientific Context

Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions of what science is and is not and what science can and can not do. The chart below outlines 4 points relating to what Science Is that are often misconstrued when we think about science and 4 points about what Science Is Not that we often mistakenly attribute to science.

Science Is 

Science Is Not 

A Validation process

A Discovery process

Methodical and highly organised

Creative or originating

Slow and deliberative

Leading in thought or innovation



The Role of Science

Science is one of the most valuable tools that we have for validating ideas or concepts (theory). In that role science excels over all other means of determining truth or proof of theory. The nature of the validation process precludes science from discovery however. Except in rare circumstances where an inadvertent scientific result gives rise to a new or modified theory, science, by its nature, only does one of two things, prove that a theory or concept is valid or prove that a theory or concept is invalid.

In order to fulfill its role science must be methodical and organised to the point where no uncontrolled influences can be allowed to impact the data. This leaves no room for creativity other than the creativity involved in insulating the results from unwanted influences. In order to maintain the integrity of science the entirety of the creative process that is the foundation of discovery must remain in the hands and mind of the non-scientist.


Science is a slow process. It can’t be rushed. Validity tests, experiments, must be carefully designed in order to meet the strict requirements of the scientific method. Very few concepts or theories can be absolutely validated and so statistical methods must be employed in order to probabilisticly ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’. Statistical methods require large data sets and multiple trials in order to validate to a reasonable degree of certainty. This is due to the indeterminate nature of the results. The determination comes through large volume and repetition and the repetition takes time.

The fourth important consideration for science is that it is, again by nature, reductive. By reductive we mean that science attempts to isolate and prove a single part of a greater system. In turn, additional parts are validated until the whole system has been covered. This is not an unreasonable way to proceed, it works quite well with mechanical and chemical systems. It does not work as well with complex biological systems where the interaction between system elements is critical to the function of the system. This reductionism is seen by some to be the Achilles Heel of science when it comes to working with complex biological systems. The reason for this point of view is that it is possible for science to ‘prove’ that a system works in one manner when, using other means of observation and interpretation, it can easily be seen that the system, when considered as an entity, works in quite a different manner.

The Role of Thought Leadership 

Max and Honey herdingThought leadership or innovation, as compared to science, is a very rapid process. It goes through many cycles over a short period to get the idea or innovation to a point where scientific validation is possible and necessary. Science, by its nature, is the end stage of the innovation process. Putting Science in a leading position in the innovation process primarily leads to bad science, premature validation of assumptions or validation of inappropriate assumptions.

A large proportion of the people who we think of as scientists also fill other roles in addition to their scientist role. A scientist may also be a philosopher, or a theorist, or a designer, or a coach, (traditional thought leader positions) or be involved in some other facet of the creative or thinking areas. This role blending is confusing for everyone. It can also be very misleading when the scientist role is used to bring validity to the other role.

One of the primary tenets of science is absolute objectivity. This objectivity puts the scientist at a very high level on the trust spectrum with respect to conclusions and pronouncements made. When a scientist delivers some significant validation findings a very high level of trust is attained. When this level of trust is tacitly deemed to transfer over to the other work that is done in non-science areas we get into trouble. We confuse ‘done by science’ which is scientific with ‘done by a scientist’ which is not necessarily scientific. When the trust turns out to have been misplaced this is somehow seen to be a problem of science and not a problem of our faulty logic leading to inappropriate perceptions.

Working with Science

If you are relatively successful in your coaching area, science that is done in your area will not be that useful to you. Using the common understanding about science that we have determined above, anything current that science will validate about your area will have been known, established and actively practiced by you for a number of years. The best that science can do in this instance is to confirm the efficacy of what you have been doing for years.

Again, if you are relatively successful in your coaching area and the science that is being done contradicts what you have been doing, there is a strong probability that the science has been done incorrectly, which has resulted in flawed conclusions. A great example of this type of problem can be seen in the case of Tom Longboat.

TomLongboatLongboat was a native Canadian and one of the most successful North American distance runners of all time. Longboat had a 13 year career that ran from 1905 to the end of the First World War. During that time, the turn of the 20th Century, the prevailing scientific knowledge dictated that lactate threshold was increased by spending maximal time at lactate threshold. The foundation for this belief was that the medical profession had just become aware of, through scientific research, the mechanisms of addiction and the phenomenon of increase in tolerance to an addictive substance. It was assumed, incorrectly, that this same mechanism worked for any substance. The ‘understanding’ was that high exposure to lactate would allow for an athlete to develop a tolerance to lactate in the same manner as addictive substances. In this case science was used to extrapolate results to capture more situations than were warranted by the context of the understanding. This is a highly common mistake that is still made way too frequently today.

Longboat refused to train according to the scientific understanding of the day and, instead, trained according to the dictates of his body. This training entailed a mixture of high intensity effort of short duration, low intensity effort of long duration, and sessions with alternating high and low intensity (intervals) and rest days between the heavy workouts. In fact, this is the scientifically proven foundation of the prescription for training endurance runners today, more than 100 years later.

For his efforts Longboat was branded a ‘lazy Indian’. Eventually this lead to the breakup of his relationship with his coach/agent. After the breakup Longboat went on to post ever faster times including breaking the Boston Marathon record by just under 5 minutes in 1907. His methods remained mostly lost to running until they were ‘discovered’ again in the early 1960’s.

Making Science Work for You

So how can you make science work for you? That isn’t hard. As a coach you work in a fairly well defined and small area of human performance. There are any number of performance improvements that science has proven in other sport and human development areas that have not been picked up by your specific event area that could be productively applied. Look to areas of human development that bear some similarity (it doesn’t need to be a close match) and take a look at what science is doing in those areas. You are sure to find a few undiscovered science nuggets that you can exploit to your advantage and to your rival’s chagrin.

Managing the Power of the Other


The Temple of Apollo in Delphi

The entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi contains the above inscription, ‘gnothi seauton’. This translates in English to ‘know thyself’, and is taken to be one of the fundamental areas of knowledge for anyone wishing to excel in life pursuits. It is also one of those things that are far easier to state than to accomplish.

The difficulty in knowing thyself comes partly in the wide variety of areas of knowing that are necessary. There are a myriad of those areas and each of those areas can be viewed from a number of perspectives. The main issue with knowing in this context is the sheer volume of things to know. However, an active sense of curiosity, a quantity of discipline and a quantity of time cover most of what is needed to overcome this challenge.

Where a real problem lies for all of us is in knowing the impact of the concept of ‘Us’ and ‘Other’ on our behaviour. In this piece, we will look at the impact that the Other has on the self. This does not imply that Us is somehow less impactful, just that the two are each complex enough in their own right to be dealt with separately.

Enter the Other

According to recent research done by Robert Sapolsky and outlined in his book, ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst’, our concept of the Other moulds and governs a significant portion of our perspectives and judgements which, in turn, modify and control our behaviour.

So, what is this Other that we need to know? It’s probably easiest to start this discussion with what the Other is not. The Other is not external. That is, the Other is an internal concept that is separate from external reality.

The Other is a tool that we use to sort friend from foe, safe from danger, good from bad, comfort from discomfort, happy from sad, and so on. The Other is a hard-coded neural feature that has evolutionary roots in the primordial ooze. The Other is about protection and survival. The Other is a barrier to performance.

To give you an idea of how the Other works, 50 milliseconds is all that is needed to make a judgement of Us or Other. Obviously, this is not enough time for this judgement to register as conscious thought. However, the judgement still registers in the brain in the Limbic System and related parts of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The Limbic system makes its assessment and gets to work notifying the appropriate associative areas of the PFC where a judgement is made. The judgement is then matched to a closest approximation of past experience. A secondary, unconscious decision is made, based on that experience, and a reactive behaviour is generated. Bingo, bango, bongo, you are now behaving in response to a non-conscious perception with no idea that the behaviour is even occurring. Functioning just about as quickly as a knee jerk reaction, this brain jerk reaction is a continuous process. This is what makes it so powerful. This is what makes it so difficult to know.

What is the Purpose of the Other?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it was essential to develop a mechanism to determine a danger and equally important to quickly conjure a strategy to manage the danger. The Other is the mechanism for identifying the danger and the non-conscious (fast) behaviour is the strategy. To make this process even more complex, the broader the range of behaviour of the organism, the more wide-ranging the mechanism/strategy needs to be.

Currently, our understanding of human neuro-physiology makes nearly everyone over the age of 12 familiar with the concept of fight or flight (and the additional F’s that get added). This is just one of hundreds of mechanism/behaviour combinations that are continuously active. Each combination is specifically designed to protect from or prevent injury or insult. How these mechanism/behaviour combinations developed is of critical importance to performance managers.

Why is this a Problem for Performance?

Our existence a mere 10,000 years ago was far more precarious than it is now.  A range of 104 years is an instant in evolutionary terms. Our mechanism/behaviour combinations were ‘designed’ via evolutionary processes to manage an environment that was significantly different from the environment that we experience today. In addition, the cost of false positive reactions was far lower than it is today. The keenly honed sense of Other that was so essential to our ability to flourish in the past is now responsible for our propensity to over react to encounters that we identify as Other. We rain havoc down on our proximal environment without even being aware of what we are doing. And this can make performance suffer. These reactions are commonly referred to as the ‘Stress Response’. A detailed examination of this phenomenon can be found in Sapolsky’s book, ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers‘.

For example, we evolved as social mammals. As social mammals, it was critical to be able to identify our social group (Us) from the Other. At the time that this evolution was taking place territories only rarely overlapped. Contact with Other groups was relatively infrequent although often highly violent until mutual exchange of value exceeded the risk of contact. In a relatively short period of time, far less than the time that it would take to evolve a refined mechanism for Other, we now find ourselves living scant meters from all manner of ethnically and culturally different groups. The naturally understandable but socially unacceptable prospect of racism is a direct result of an highly developed but outmoded function of Other.

So how does this impact performance? One of the primary performance modifiers is distraction. Distraction, like nearly all of the performance modifiers, can have a positive or a negative impact on performance. A distraction as significant as a loved one dying immediately prior to a performance can provide a distraction strong enough that the performance becomes automatic and can result in a lifetime best performance. A distraction as insignificant as seeing a rival standing close to your life partner can overcome several years of training and undo a performance in a matter of minutes.

Being triggered to unconsciously react to a constant barrage of Other related events pulls energy and focus away from the task at hand. Normally this is not an impairment to performance, we have enough slack to accommodate the distractions. When the performance requires the majority of neurological and physical resources the distraction becomes a significant impairment factor.

Distraction isn’t the only challenge that is driven by the Other. Chronic over stimulation of Otherness can lead to a number of physical manifestations including: hypertension, immune disorders, ulcers, depression, phobic behaviour and pathological rage, just to name a few. None of these conditions are known to enhance performance and most are seen to degrade performance.

Crap, what can be done about this?

Awareness is the prime antidote to the condition. Along with becoming aware of when mood, attitude or motivation changes without a discernable change in environment we can alter the way in which we process our Other based perceptions. It is widely known that the same stimulus has markedly different impacts depending on how the stimulus is perceived. An individual who has developed perceptions that interpret Other as an opportunity for growth and development is more likely to gain from the experience than an individual who perceived Other as a threat or burden.

To enhance awareness of Other based perceptions that have a significant negative impact, exercises like perspective taking can have a positive impact. The first step in the perspective taking process is to identify an area where Other based perceptions provide enough distraction to impair performance. Once this is accomplished it is a simple matter to take the perspective of the Other to see the situation through their ‘eyes’. The word eyes is in parentheses because the Other may not be human and may not even be living. The act of taking the perspective of the Other often works to lessen to the negative power of the Other when we realise that the intention that we attributed to the Other may not be what we perceived or may not even be intentional at all.

The power of the Other is significantly enhanced by an extreme focus on difference. Making a conscious effort to seek out similarity can have an impact on lessening a perceived threat and significantly reduce the power and impact of the Other on us. As soon as we have something in common with the Other, the Other loses some of its Otherness.

Another benefit of gaining awareness of strong Other perceptions is that the concept of Priming can be used to minimise the impact of the Other. Priming is an odd feature of our neural processes where some completely unconnected idea can get associated with another idea and impact the resulting behaviour. The classic Priming example takes place in the showroom of most companies that sell high value products. If the marketing folks are tuned in to the effect of Priming, the very first thing that you will see as you enter the showroom are the most expensive products that they have, with the price clearly visible. There is little to no intention to sell you the expensive product, the Prime is in the price. Seeing the high number, you are now primed to perceive the price of the lower priced products as better value than you would have if you had not seen the large price number. How can we use this to our advantage? If we know that we are likely to encounter an Other that will negatively impact our performance we can Prime ourselves by associating the Other with positive experience that enhances performance.

And the circle is complete

We are complex beings, non-linear by nature and prone to behaviours that we are not even aware of. In the area of the Other we can come closer to the goal of ‘know thyself’ by improving our awareness of this formerly undocumented feature. To know that the Other is primarily a construct of the self is to know the self.

The discovery of just how this aspect of our neural makeup works is actively being pursued by some of the most disciplined minds ever generated. Take a bit of your time to keep up with what is being discovered in this area. Your performance will improve as fast as your mind can incorporate these new ideas.

Finding Flow

The Original Csikszentmihalyi Model

Flow is a useful concept but difficult to develop as a teachable practice. Revising the model can help.

For a number of years, I’ve been keenly interested in the Flow concept as researched and developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Dr. C). While the concept and theory are exceptionally well researched and presented, practical application of the concept was difficult for me. What I experienced was that, knowing Flow Theory, it became easy to recognise when a Flow state had been attained in performance. It wasn’t difficult to recognise a Flow State before knowing Flow Theory, I just didn’t have labels for the state. What was missing was an understanding of the process that leads to generating a flow state.

The primary tool for outlining the process is the Flow Model that Dr. C created to encapsulate his theory.

His model looks like this:

3-Flow BasicThe model is a simple matrix using two axes, one for a progression of intensity (Level of Challenge) and one for a progression of capability (Level of Skill). Eight emotional states populate the interior of the matrix representing the path to the Flow State.

From this model, it appears that there are many paths to a Flow state (which is probably true) but no predictable means of getting there.

There must be more to it than what this model shows.

A Useful Addition to the Original Model

Studying the model carefully over a significant period of time I first came to a realisation that there were two more dynamics that were impacting the attainment of a Flow State. The first dynamic is the Level of Action. This is a parallel dynamic to the Level of Challenge. Level of Action is different because it is about the pace of the activity and not the difficulty of the activity. Action or pace may or may not increase the Challenge but Challenge exists independently of Action. As the Action increases the likelihood of Flow State attainment also increases.

The second dynamic is Emotional Quality. As the model shows the Emotional Quality is low on the left side of the matrix and high on the right side.

The modified model now looks like this:

4-Flow +With the revised model it is now possible to see that where it is possible to generate high Quality Emotions in situations that require high Skill and offer a high degree of Challenge combined with high levels of Action a Flow State will have an increased likelihood of occurring.

Not all of the dynamics need to be at high levels to attain a useful state of functioning although the state may not be what Dr. C has defined as a true Flow State.

Further Model Development Through an Inspired Realisation

Close inspection of the revised model reveals another helpful insight. Looking at the two emotional states in the middle of the matrix, Worry and Control, one can see that these two states are opposite sides of the same coin. That coin is the coin of Confidence. Worry and Control, in their form as emotional states, represent the ends of a continuum that represents the Confidence spectrum.

With this realisation, the model can be further adjusted to look like this:

5-Flow ModifiedWith the realisation that the second level of the matrix deals with Confidence, terms more appropriate for expression of Confidence can now be used. Worry is replaced with Doubt and Control is replaced with Assurance.

It can now also be seen that we have continuums in both the horizontal and vertical planes. We have now also exposed two very valuable additional realisations. These two realisations create the environment where a process begins to be revealed. It is now possible to see the path for training through to the consistent achievement of a Flow State in performance.

The Horizontal State Pattern

As the model has now developed it is possible to see that there is not one continuum of States but three continuums. These continuums represent the essential performance elements of Perception, Belief and Activation. Any performer must be operating at a high level (right side) of each of these continuums in order to achieve an effective Flow State in performance.

The model now looks like this:

6-Flow StatesThe mystery of Flow State achievement now begins to be unravelled. We see that development in the areas of Perception, Belief and Activation will lead to an improved likelihood of consistent Flow State achievement. It is highly possible to work effectively in each of the three continuums. Each of the three continuums can be worked on independently. Creating a program to address and improve function in the three continuums will improve general performance maturity which, in itself, will improve performance while making Flow States easier to achieve and more frequent in their occurrence.

The Vertical State Pattern

With the inclusion of this dimension, the auxilliary development of the model is now fully complete (at least in our usage context). We can see a full, multi-dimensional, process oriented, model that can be used to develop and monitor performer acquisition of Flow State creation skills.

By using the vertical perspective, we can now see that, from left to right, the model indicates differing levels of performance maturity. The characteristics of the leftmost state are those of the Novice. The middle state denotes attributes of a Performer or journeyman and the rightmost state is that of the Master.

7-Flow MaturityAs the model now indicates the path from Novice to Master is also the path to being able to consistently establish a Flow State during performance. It is quite likely and totally consistent with the model to have a performer operating at each of the three maturity levels simultaneously. In fact, this would be considered to be the norm. A performer may have certain elements of the performance that are fully mastered where Flow State occurs consistently and naturally. The same performer will have areas where only the Performer level has been attained and Flow State is only rarely attained during those aspects of the performance. And, of course, the same performer can have areas where the Novice level exists. These areas would most likely be areas where very new technique or capability is being introduced.

What this means to My Coaching Practice

The methods and techniques for coaching a performer differ according to the level of maturity in the development process. The same methods and techniques for training are not effective at all of the levels of maturity. While the process is the same the methods and techniques need to match maturity level. Novice level maturity requires a high level of input and control over the training program by the coach. For the Performer level the input is primarily in the nature of guidance and occasional suggestions for improvement. At the Master level the coaching relationship turns to more of a mentoring role.

The big insight for this work, aside from now having a process whereby Flow States can be consistently achieved, is that the same performer requires different coaching approaches depending on the maturity level of each aspect of the performance spectrum.

The best coaches assume that this ability to recognise maturity levels within individual athletes and between different athletes is an intuitive gift.

This gift however, comes from an accumulation of knowledge of both the performance area and human nature over many years. The gift can be learned and developed. Using the work of Dr. C on Flow States can help further your development and hopefully this addition to the model can give you a path to do that work successfully.