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Human Performance, Performance | Dec 23, 2019
The Toronto Blue Jays want their training complex to be used in the offseason, while the UFC and Paris St-Germain prioritise gap analyses and education.

Toronto Blue Jays are trying to lead a paradigm shift in Major League Baseball with the $80million upgrade to their spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida.


By John Portch

“Most of the players train at private facilities in the offseason,” says Angus Mugford, the Jays’ Vice President of High Performance. “We’d be changing the paradigm a little bit where we’d want the players to be with us in the offseason.”

The Bobby Mattick Training Center will gain three softball fields to complement its planned provision of cutting-edge equipment and modalities. The club has also agreed a new 25-year lease to remain at their spring training base, which Mugford hopes will entice players who might spend their offseasons at private facilities such as those built by IMG or EXOS.

Having a playing group that actively seeks out club-sanctioned practice facilities in the offseason is uncommon in Major League Baseball but represents a growing trend. “We’ve had lots of conversations about what you can provide at a training ground to encourage the players to remain at the site after their training sessions have finished,” says Phil Osborne of AFL Architects. “It promotes togetherness, it helps to keep them out of trouble, and team cohesion improves if you can keep the players together longer at what is their home base.” It also affords greater ease of athlete monitoring, greater control over available resources and modalities, as well as the ability to influence both athlete and staff behaviours.

In this chapter we explore how the practice facilities of our panel are designed to influence those behaviours. It can be banners that denote success, such as the 17 NBA Championship banners of the Boston Celtics, or the installation of the UFC Hall of Fame on the stairwell at its Las Vegas Performance Institute, but there are other steps open to organisations.

Manage the flow, influence behaviour

The optimal performance environment must be efficient when it comes to use of space and traffic routes and, as Duncan French of the UFC explains, this can have a significant and positive impact on the performance behaviours of athletes and staff. He says: “The environment is a crucial part of that process, and by looking at designing a facility by installing different traffic routes and various integrated capabilities, you can almost make some preferred performance behaviours unconscious rather than sub-conscious.

“That’s what we try to do here on a staffing level. We’ve got certain design aspects that drive integration and collaboration and multidisciplinary work. From an athlete perspective, the environment drives behaviours inasmuch as it pushes them subconsciously  to certain areas of the facility to integrate with nutrition or to integrate with recovery and regeneration without it necessarily being a conscious thought; and when you’re doing that I think you’re already half-way there; it really supports your programming on top of that.”

Such thinking inspired the construction of the elevator at the Auerbach Center, where players must walk through the practice area first. There is a similar idea at PSG, as Martin Buchheit says, “All of our offices, from sports science to conditioning and the physio, we’re all together in an open space that is connected to the physio room and the taping area. We can’t miss a player on a single day because they have to come through our office to get treated before heading to the restaurant. It helps with communication and we can’t miss each other. We’re right on top of the gym area.”

Education is another avenue

Buchheit explains that this communication also allows for the continual education of players at PSG, which takes two main forms. “On one side it is just contact with them,” he says, “spending time with them in the gym or in the locker rooms or it could be teaching them an exercise so there is direct contact. The other way is through information that we display on TV; we have TV screens everywhere. We will also them information via WhatsApp or text.

“We spend a lot of time producing videos, infographics, slides. It depends on the content. If it’s collective it goes on the screen, if it’s individual it goes directly to their phone.”

Performance staffs are ultimately trying to implement the findings of gap analyses and the customised approach at the UFC is a real opportunity. “There’s no cookie cutter approach to programming,” says Duncan French. “It all starts with the conversation around goals, desires, objectives and ambitions. When you look at the gap analysis from where you are as a fighter right now to where you need to be to be world champion, how big is that gap? Is it a gap in a particular facet of your arsenal or does the whole thing need lifting. That’s where our conversations start, with a real understanding of what it is we’re trying to target.

“From there, the staff can really go about using their creativity to maximise the potential for improvement in the key performance indicators that we’re trying to address. That means that fighters sometimes engage in strategies and ideas or philosophies that require some upskilling and some education.”

There is considerable expertise inside the UFC Performance Institute. “It can be daunting to a fighter who is just used to hitting bags and wresting on a day to day basis,” admits French. “The consumption of information and the consumption of technology is also something that we’re really sensitive to. How do we upskill someone? How do we make them ready to handle the information that we can give them. We don’t want to turn people off with scientific jargon that doesn’t get comprehended; we need it to be digestible so that they go back to their gym in wherever they are in the world and they can continue to engage with and use the knowledge they’ve acquired.”

Having CLEAR values

Modern practice facilities are prioritising human-centred design and Angus Mugford of the Toronto Blue Jays stresses the importance of its values in the renovation of its Dunedin practice facility in Florida. “Philosophically we were asking about the player arriving in the parking lot and then walking back to their car at the end of the day,” he begins. “What would that experience be like? How do we maximise their day to help them get better and help them to be their best? It is the same with the staff and we want them to feel the same way.”

For the Jays, it comes down to an acronym that pulls together their values: CLEAR. It stands for collaboration, learning, empowerment, achieve and respect.

Mugford tackles each in turn. “We want to have a highly collaborative environment where different departments and people are close to each other. The open spaces are more attractive for people who want to come together. It’s the same thing with the high performance offices and space, it’s together and unified and it’s also physically and metaphorically in the centre, so that the ease of communication and collaboration is right there, but it’s also a space for players and coaches and other staff can be together easily.

“Learning. You don’t have to be in a specific room to learn but we want to create some specific environments where learning is enhanced. One of the critiques other teams were telling us about were in auditoriums, how easy it was for guys on the back row to close their eyes and switch off like a movie theatre, so we’ve leaned towards more a business school lecture theatre, which is less about lecturing and more about having a pulpit in the middle and more of an inclusive, collaborative environment between whoever is leading the discussion and everybody who is in that audience.

“The E is empowerment and that goes for staff and players. That people can take the initiative, that we want players to be at the centre of that ultimately. So creating spaces where people have the autonomy and ability to create discussions; open meetings rooms. When we toured Google, that was a really good takeaway, they have this idea of ‘collision spaces’; so creating spaces where people can organically meet.

“Then the A is for achieve. Not just winning but really just more about a process of excellence and really trying to be consistent and thoughtful about the details. I think with the details that we’re trying to get into with the design and setting up, we also realised that in this process of moving in we’re going to screw some things up. Or people are going to have even more ideas that we can think about until they’re actually in the space so I think that whole process of moving in, taking feedback, and saying what people need and want to make that space even more functional is going to be a priority once we do actually move into the space too.

“Finally, respect is the R. Not just for each other and the team but our environment and our physical space is an element that can be a thread throughout our team.”


This exclusive feature has been extracted from our latest Special Report: Building for Success. Download the full report by clicking below, and keep an eye out for our next Special Report landing in just a few weeks’ time.

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High performance environments will be just one of the topics up for discussion at our event in Charlotte on 3-4 February as our members prepare to out-think, out-prepare and out-perform the competition. Click here to find out more about the event.

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