Performance | Oct 12, 2021
A summary of key learnings for Leaders Performance Institute members across the month of September.

We are around five weeks away from being able to see many of you in person for the first time at our Sport Performance Summit on the 9 and 10 November at Twickenham Stadium in London.

By Luke Whitworth

If you are a member of the Performance Institute, there will also be a Member’s Afternoon on Monday 8 November, which will provide an opportunity for some Leadership Skill Development, conversation and the chance to catch up with people in person for the first time in a long while.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, September brought another batch of quality learning and interaction across our Communities of Practice, Virtual Roundtables and network connections. Connections across the network in particular have been buzzing, as our members have looked to connect with people from different environments and disciplines to support their ongoing projects and interests.

As always, these learning opportunities, interactions and conversations brought together practitioners from across high performance to discuss their current challenges, and immediate priorities.

Here are some of the key takeaways and thinking areas that came through particularly strongly across a variety of different formats:

Community Group Calls

Across our Community Group conversations, which bring together Leaders Performance Institute Members with similar job functions and challenges, there was a focus on topics ranging from Return on Investment in Coach Development, Managing Transitions in Talent Pathways, Managing Oneself, Generalist vs. Specialist Approaches and much more. Below are a few snippets to give you a flavour of some of the themes across two areas in particular.

Managing transitions in talent pathways

Across our talent and player pathways conversations last month, we had initial conversations about considerations during pathway transition. There will be more conversations around this in upcoming months. In terms of group reflections, this is what attendees came up with in terms of where the current thinking is, and in turn challenges and opportunities:

  • Having a People-First Approach to Transition: we tend to look at age groups through a traditional lens, but everyone on the call was quite focused on understanding where that athlete was with their own competency and capability set. It is going to look different at every stage of their development.
  • Coach Preferences: what are they? Depending on what a coach is looking for, especially the higher it moves up through the age groups, is going to be a big driver as to who and whether someone is selected. If we just view transition as selection, we’re going to have some biases on game style and strategy.
  • Markers of Future Potential: what characters and traits are associated with markers of future potential? What are the traits in the research and what is consistent to success and enduring success at the highest level?
  • Bringing Coaches & Players Under One Roof: do we need to strip back performance plans and have a really simple model for what the game is about and what drives it? This can provide some real consistency between coach and player through those transitions and make it much more consumable as they deal with the transition process.
  • 360° Messaging: there was a conversation around the different people that are involved in transitions – one of the terms thrown out there was ‘360 messaging’. That is trying to make sure that everybody who is surrounding the player knows how they can contribute to that support.

Generalist vs. specialist approaches

Within one of our other community groups we took the time to explore the interesting dynamic of Specialism vs. Generalism. The purpose of the topic was to allow us to reflect on where we are at in relation to the topic, what it currently means in our environments and some key considerations around the topic. Here are some themes that stood out from the conversations:

  • Consider Your Language: when having these discussions, we’ve been careful around our language. It used to be Generalists vs. Specialists instead of Generalist & Specialist – adding in the ‘and’ in the middle was useful. The best generalists are good because they know how to engage in and with every specialist.
  • Address Performance Challenges: we can be very restricted at times with discipline-specific knowledge. We could turn this around and look at the performance opportunities more clearly, the challenges we’re trying to address and who can address them? A generalist approach will allow you to bring that expertise in when required, thus positioning ourselves as facilitative leaders as opposed to having an answer for everything. If we are clear on what we are trying to mitigate and address, this approach can work.
  • Maximising Expertise: some of the best high performing teams are small – they know what they need to do and have the ability and skillset to bring expertise in that they don’t have.
  • Managing Expectations: many sports that made the move from generalist approaches to high levels of specialisation through increased funding and resources, have now pared down to more generalist approach because of the impacts of the pandemic. However, the expectation around the volume and quality of work is still very high. The managing of expectations is hugely important because a lot of the expectations are more generalist and a bit less specialist. Consider how to show people more love, care and appreciation for all the work they have done and also a small shift around how they can add more value (how can you help the athletes perform better) even if it is where they haven’t perhaps placed much value on it in the past.
  • Titles & Structure: do we move away from being a discipline-specific coach and instead become Performance Support staff, thus getting away from the titles. We know our disciplines and our roles – we aren’t just a specific coach, we are here to support our performance. Can or should we move away from titles?

Virtual Roundtables

In September, four Virtual Roundtables took place, which featured three topic-led discussions (Evaluating & Reflecting on Practice in High Performance Environments and How the Modern Athlete is Evolving / Optimising Athlete Performance) and another one of our Leadership Skills sessions where we explored Emotional Intelligence. Below are some key thinking points from two of those sessions.

How the modern athlete is evolving

In our topic-led roundtable on the evolution of the modern athlete, there were some open and interesting discussions around the topic, particularly what these evolutions mean for us as performance leaders and practitioners. Here are a few areas which maybe food for thought:

  • Emphasising ‘The Why’: there is a need and almost expectation from modern athletes to explain ‘the why’ behind certain things we do. Modern athletes have the ability to research what we are asking them to do because of accessibility and opportunities to ‘fact-check’. We are needing to do more work upfront before we bring things to our athletes so we feel we are confident about what we want to do. It’s also important to have a dialogue with them about that why – be prepared to evidence and support.
  • Importance of Self-Reflection: look at self-reflection of staff – if players constantly aren’t getting the grip of something, is it the way we are giving the message? Is it just where the athlete is and we need to get on their level?
  • Meet the Learner Where They Are At: we do a lot of player surveys, which are small and targeted to evaluate the understanding of the population and how effective we are communicating things as coaches or staff we want to pass along. We can’t teach or coach them without knowing what they don’t know. It needs to be a collaborative effort and collectively you need to define what success looks like because it will look different to each player. Players could try something and fail a skill in the practice environment, but it may well mean they have gotten better because they’ve learnt and grown.
  • Bottom-Up Approach: we’re find that the top-down perspective isn’t working as well with the modern athlete, we’re trying to find ways to make it more bottom-up to allow them to create their own shared ownership in the process. We’ve been trying to provide a general framework around some concepts but allow them to choose which one they want to do on a particular day. We are looking at scaling this – we want player feedback but also giving them choice which has led to some higher levels of engagement, enthusiasm and stimulation.

Emotional intelligence

I think it’s fair to say we all have a good understanding of what emotional intelligence is and why it is important. In our Leadership Skills session around this topic, we looked to explore it in more detail and provide those on the call with some tips and tools to apply in practice:

Leaning on some of the work of Daniel Goleman, consider these five pointers when thinking about the overarching theme of Emotional Intelligence.

1. Know Your Emotions – what happens to you under pressure? What is your threat response?

2. Manage Your Emotions – don’t ignore what these are, accept and understand those emotions to emotionally regulate yourself.

3. Recognise & Understand Others’ Emotions – picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues and micro-behaviours that might tell you what someone might be feeling. Be curious about how someone else might be feeling in the space they are in.

4. Motivate Yourself – develop your own mindset around this as it is something that can be developed and you can get better at it. It is not static, so the more we engage ourselves and engage in this area, the better we will get.

5. Manage Relationships – you are in a much better to manage conflict, have courageous conversations because you will be able to set a culture and a tone that is going to help people to be comfortable, open and aware.

To take this a step further, we spoke about the importance of ‘Other’s Orientation’ to create a culture or environment where people feel like they can speak up. What are five ways you can do this?

1. Be in Rapport – show positive intent. How you open up a conversation with safety?

2. Seek to understand using open-ended questions – enquire what is going on for them?

3. Active listening with full attention – reflective listening, summarising what we’ve heard to ensure we heard correctly what was said and what was intended. ‘To Have Presence, Be Present’.

4. Being open to different views to our own, and to see things differently based on new information.

5. Acknowledging these views, what you’ve learned by listening and what’s important to them.

What about an exercise you can practice either individually or as a team to bridge the gap between our experience and someone else’s?

  • Think of a difficult conversation or situation.
  • Describe how you felt, what emotions you experienced, how did you react?
  • Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective: Step into their shoes – what are they thinking, how are they feeling, what do they want to say to you?
  • Now look at the situation from a 3rd position – step away and observe the two people. What do you see? What might be the intentions of both people in the conversation.
  • What new insights does this give you?

If you’d like so recommended content on this thread, please feel free to check out the below:

What People (Still) Get Wrong About Emotional Intelligence

Lessons With Lancaster: Understanding Emotional Intelligence Part I

Lessons With Lancaster: Understanding Emotional Intelligence Part II

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