Human Performance, Performance | Mar 11, 2020
We explore the work being done around developing resilience in people at Sandhurst, Red Bull, Hockey Australia, Harlequins and the Brisbane Lions.

A Leaders Performance Institute article brought to you in association with our Partners

Where does the line sit between wellbeing and resilience? It is a question we posed to our performance panel and it was neatly broken down by Gareth Bloomfield of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

By John Portch

“Resilience means ‘to spring back’ and comes from the Latin ‘resilio’,” he explains to the Leaders Performance Institute. “Of course, people don’t always spring back; and they might spring back in a different shape or they might spring back and break. Wellbeing is an ingredient of resilience.

“In a military environment, what we’re trying to do is give our officer-cadets a heads-up on the science of resilience – because it is a science. There are tools and techniques that you can use in terms of your own stress management, that’s one ingredient of it, but also your cognitive ability to deal with failure.

“Sleep is the next aspect. Then it’s about the social environment you’re in; there’s a strong correlation between the way we socialise and our longevity and our physical and mental health.”

Here we take a look at the three areas highlighted by Bloomfield – cognitive patterns, sleep and social relationships – and explore the work being done around developing resilience in people at Sandhurst, Red Bull, Hockey Australia, Harlequins and the Brisbane Lions.

Cognitive patterns

One of the questions Bloomfield looks to address is how officer-cadets at Sandhurst think about failure. They are introduced to the idea of cognitive patterns. “We want to know how they explain failure to themselves because on that course you are going to fail; it’s important to learn from failure,” he says. “Firstly, you need to learn how to explain it to yourself.”

At Red Bull, Ralf Rangnick tries to cultivate fun environment that creates a safe space for young footballers to develop, with the organisation’s teams in Leipzig and Salzburg in particular noted for their development of young talent.

“I think it’s the job of coaches and sporting directors to make sure the players are enjoying what they are doing,” he says. “It should be seen and felt that they have joy and fun by just playing football. It is not so much about ‘we have to win the next game and we have to finish in the top four’, which they will hear from the media anyway, but just enjoying the next game; the next minute in the game, just trying to develop them and make sure they become better players week by week in training.”

Failure: firstly, you need to learn how to explain it to yourself

Gareth Bloomfield

There is also a recognition that a rarefied environment also requires a rare mindset. Toni Cumpston of Hockey Australia says: “I think we need to create an environment that is safe and we need to have athletes that, within that safe environment, are comfortable being challenged because if they’re not then high performance probably isn’t the place for them – and that’s OK. What’s not OK is if we put people in that can’t cope with the high performance environment and, regardless of the support, it’s not right for them; for their own wellbeing they shouldn’t be in it.”


Bloomfield explains that all people need at least 6.5 hours sleep each night to permit a full neurological reset. “Your neurological performance depends on how much sleep you’re getting,” he emphasises. “I don’t care who you are – you need sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep then your sleep is disrupted in some way then that’s going to affect your mind and powers.”

Bloomfield explains to leaders through his work with the military and corporate sector but sport is starting to take notice. Sleep is one of the bases that forms the daily wellness tests at Harlequins, where Paul Gustard says wellbeing and resilience are not mutually exclusive. “We must discuss wellbeing as part of welfare and we do a daily wellness test on players; on how they sleep, how they move, their readiness to train; all the basic things you’d expect at a professional sports team.”

“I have a saying: ‘resilience is not about your ability to endure, it’s about your ability to re-energise’,” says Chris Fagan of the Brisbane Lions. “We pay particular attention at our club to make sure that we keep that energy in place.

Resilience is not about your ability to endure, it’s about your ability to re-energise

Chris Fagan

“An example of that is, if we play interstate on a Sunday, and we get back to Brisbane at midnight, then I don’t expect the players to come in the next day. I want them to wake up and do their own recovery and they know we’ll see them on Tuesday. I think if we made them come in when they’re tired from playing and travelling, then they’re going to be flat and not really tuned in.

“It’s the same with our staff. A game goes on for two hours and it takes a long time to code a game; I wouldn’t expect them at work at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning with all their work done. I’d say, ‘come in at 3 o’clock and we’ll plan what we’re going to do on Tuesday then.’

“I really watch the energy in our environment closely.”

Social relationships

Social relationships are an essential part of resilience. “There is considerable evidence that demonstrates our ability to get through any event in our lives relies on the support of other people,” says Bloomfield. “In a military context, where you have other people around you who you like, trust and respect, they’re strong leadership qualities. You don’t need to make a decision that other people like, but you need to be liked, respected and trusted; and that means you need to be forming social relationships and social resilience together with other people.”

“We want to make sure that people are looked after,” says Gustard, “that that their experience at Harlequins is their best in rugby; that their family is looked after and nothing is left to chance; that their interests are our genuine interests.

“The more we treat people genuinely, and with respect, fairly, and with empathy and love, I think we’ll be better.” It led to the establishment of a welfare group to ensure it was not just Gustard on the lookout for his players and staff’s wellbeing. Members offer their services voluntarily to ensure their commitment. “If the welfare of others is in your heart and if that’s the way you’re made up, then you’re more likely to look for things in people.

It’s a group of five or six, they meet once a week, and they’re looking for changes in behaviour, mood, emotions; what’s happening on social channels; are they suddenly talking about things that I don’t see or hear. If they can feed that back then we can help people.

“Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do at Harlequins is place an emphasis on being people-centred.”

What does the modern coach need to know?

We tackle this question in our latest Performance Special Report. Download Coachmaker: What the Modern Coach Needs to Know, which features sports organizations as diverse as Ulster Rugby, the Geelong Cats, Minnesota Timberwolves and US Special Operations discussing personal development, creating performance environments, recruitment and using data in smarter ways.

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