Book review: Start at the End

Dan Bigham is a cyclist and engineer who wanted to use his engineering knowledge to have a crack at the national team pursuit championships. I won’t give too much of a spoiler but the process went well and gives a story we all love to read; the wannabe’s underdogs taking on the establishment and overcoming. His book covers this journey. It does it in a really accessible way and in doing so highlights the lessons we too can use to hit our own goals.

Dan and I have entirely different backgrounds; he is an engineer and I am a psychologist, so I was dubious how I would find this book. In fact, the only thing I thought we had in common is that we ride bikes (him fast, me pootling), but having read it, it seems that engineers have more in common with sport psychologists than I could ever have imagined.

Dan’s premise as an engineer is if you start with the goal you want to achieve and work backwards then you bypass all the assumptions and historic ways of doing things and you can be far more effective. The more usual process is that we start with what we know and tinker a little to make things better. Dan’s approach strips everything back to basics. Assuming nothing. Or, if there are assumptions, assume there are better ways to do things. He describes his approach as reverse engineering: Set a goal, forensically take it apart, assess your resources, develop your tools, set the plan in motion and deliver the performance. Exactly the route many of us in sport psychology take. Not just in approach but also with specific mental skills we often teach; goal setting, process over outcome, preparation, mastery focus, performance profiling, the importance of your environment, managing the hassles and stressors you are subject to and the additional watts that happiness gives us.

Ten points I particularly loved:

  1. Being yourself is central to success.
  2. Knowledge is more important than talent.
  3. You need inspiring goals.
  4. Innovation comes from passion first – perseverance, success and money will follow.
  5. Don’t look at the competition and what they did to get there – look at what route would work for you.
  6. Try to get ideas sex: The cross fertilisation of different sources or disciplines to give a new way of looking at things.
  7. Ask lots of questions – and encourage others to do so too – and share the answers widely in the team.
  8. Measure what matters.
  9. Data is only valuable if you proactively use it to improve performance.
  10. You need people to be involved in the process if they are going to adopt the outcomes.

Start At The End isn’t just a great story – but a really nice reminder of how to approach performance forensically, intelligently and purposefully – and these lessons don’t just belong in cycling but in all areas of high performance.

It publishes 13th May and is available for pre-order at the usual places like Waterstones

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