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Anyone who knows me knows that, in my younger years, I was a keen sportsman. Naturally inclined to be creative and imaginative, I wasn’t particularly engaged at school and often found myself gazing out the window daydreaming about scoring in an FA Cup Final, rather than focusing on my lessons.

It was a trend that continued for 25 years. Unaware of my strengths and the power they had to change my life, I was a shadow of my full potential.

Footie mad

But back to my childhood. It’ll come as no surprise to learn that football was my escape; I was mad about it (still am)! At school, break times were spent kicking around a crushed coke can or tennis ball and I played on the school team too. Of course, Saturday mornings were spent competing in the local league.

I was a creative player. At my best dribbling with the ball, beating players, or playing long passes that others wouldn’t attempt, I was considered skilful with lots of vision. I found my niche playing on the wing as it gave me licence to do what I was best at, but despite that I never achieved my full potential as a young player.

Like most kids, I wasn’t resilient enough and I didn’t work hard enough – but what held me back the most was the belief that my weaknesses were disproportionately more important than my strengths.

With hindsight, I know now that when taking a strengths based approach to our development this rule need not apply!

Do the impossible

So how did I get in this predicament?

On the field, I thrived on trying something new, something different, something challenging. Quite often I’d opt for the difficult – even the impossible – but, why not? It energised me!

Picture the scene: me beating an opponent but instead of passing the ball, shooting or crossing I’d simply turn around and beat the same player again and again… and again. More often than not, for all my fancy footwork, there was no end product. I failed to convert.

I believed that to ‘play better’ I had to rein myself in, creativity and all. Instead of playing to my strengths, I thought I should be playing the game with more common sense – ironically one of my weaknesses.

Holding back

So I’d tell myself before a game ‘play it simple, don’t dribble and show off’ but all this did was drain me of energy and self confidence.

It was made worse by coaches and players who would scream and shout the same thing during a game. The result? I believed my weakness – not seeing a simple pass – was stopping me being a great player and if I was to improve I had to ‘fix it’.

This couldn’t have been further from the truth. When I tried to engage my common sense and keep it simple on the pitch, it took so much more energy and focus it actually made my game worse!

Along with my game, I suffered. Trying to keep it simple more than playing to my creative strengths was dull and didn’t energise me. I wasn’t improving and I was unhappy. As a result, my football faltered and I began to fall out of love with the beautiful game.

If only I’d realised at the time that my unique strengths were what set me apart from others, I should have spent 80% of my energy and focus nurturing my strengths and given my weaknesses the 20% they deserved.

How empowering would it have been if a coach had helped me realise my strengths in overdrive were perhaps my biggest performance risk to me ever reaching my full potential as a child.

Into overdrive

Looking back it’s easy to see now that with my creativity in overdrive I was choosing the wrong moments to be visionary on the pitch. Instead of knowing when a short pass would suffice, my creativity took over for the long ‘wow factor’ pass – whether or not it got us a goal.

If I’d been able to control my strength and channel it effectively (knowing when to use it and when to hold back) I’d have been able to capitalise on my unique gift for the benefit of the whole team.

My unique strengths combined with those of my fellow teammates, also in tune with their strengths, would have made us a force to be reckoned with. This is the mark of a world-cup winning team, a gold medal olympian, a world record holder.

If I could tell my younger self something it would be this: I should have focused more energy on honing my strengths and less on my weaknesses. More time being selectively creative on the field, less time ‘playing it safe’.

It’s a fact of life, we’ve all got weaknesses so we can’t ignore them, but we should relegate them to where they belong – and that’s further down the line-up than the strengths.

In coaching we call it the 80/20 rule and it’s incredibly simple. Spend at least 80 percent of your time, energy, and efforts utilising and effectively channeling your personal strengths – whatever they may be – and no more than 20 percent of your time, energy and efforts in areas of weakness. If I had known this as a kid, my life might have followed a very different path!

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