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Lessons from Leaders: Leaders Sport Performance Summit Las Vegas 2019

The key takeaways from the UFC Performance Institute.

The inaugural Las Vegas Leaders Sport Performance Summit was a resounding triumph and here at the Leaders Performance Institute we would like to extend a thank you to all those who helped make the event such a success. For those of you who were there, here is a quick recap of the key takeaways we sent to attendees; and for those who couldn’t make it, we hope you glean a fresh nugget or two.

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By Matthew Stone

As the sun sets on a whirlwind first trip to Sin City for the Leaders Performance Institute, it’s fair to say that it won’t be the last time we hold an event in Las Vegas. Sure, that’s partly because the contract with UFC for two years, but with the knowledge shared, the new friends made, the experiences witnessed and the fun had along the way, we would’ve been mad not to return anyway. We hope you will too!

With so many speakers with so much insight, we send these key takeaways to accompany the Performance Playbook you would’ve picked up to make sure you have a full account from the sessions at the UFC Performance Institute on Saturday 2 March.

Ready, steady, go…

Recipes for Success: Lessons from Vegas’ Leading Restaurant

Speaker: Christophe de Lellis, Executive Chef, Joël Robuchon

Moderator: Dehra Harris, Asst. Director of High Performance Operations, Toronto Blue Jays

  • When people start at Joël Robuchon, having the right attitude is the most important thing. You have to be willing to forget everything you’ve learnt in the past and start from the basics with a new style.
  • There is a need for different personalities within a team. It’s good for the environment in a kitchen.
  • Our restaurant is very different in the kitchen compared to what you see in the TV shows – it’s quiet, calm and focused. Many people who visit can’t believe how quiet it is.
  • With 12-14-hour a day shifts, you can’t perform at a high level if the environment is stressful. We try to create a ‘zen’ environment.
  • I surround myself with passionate people, both with my team and my vendors. They need to be as passionate as me. It makes it easier to get everyone go in the right direction.
  • When I build a team, I make sure I have a learner, a expert/skilled person and a high intensity worker on each team (each station is three or four people). The overarching quality they possess as to be that they are passionate about food. The learner is always asking questions, and this helps the other team members become better leaders. Those who are skilful are not always good leaders.
  • First impressions when I hire someone are incredibly important. I can usually tell on a first impression, even a handshake. I like to put them to work with the team to see how they interact. I won’t make a decision by myself on hiring someone though, I ask the opinion and feedback from the team – they essentially make the decision for me.
  • For me there are no bad experiences – so called ‘bad experiences’ are just opportunities to learn.
  • Personally I always try and learn new meals to make and create. It’s not just for me, but for the team too. Routine can really bring a kitchen down, so we always work to bring something new to the table. I’m actually working with a scientist at the moment on ‘extraction and cryo-concentration’ to create a new technique, so innovation is important.
  • The expectations in a kitchen are naturally very high. I try to make sure that my team have the same mentality and those same high expectations.

Holistic High Performance: Creating & Driving Interdisciplinary Teams

Speakers: Duncan French, VP of Performance, UFC; Jay Mellette, Director of Sports Performance, Las Vegas Golden Knights

Moderator: Bryan Burnstein, Head of Performance Science, Cirque du Soleil

  • JM: Two focal points when I was building the team – people and process. I believed that if I went out and built the most diverse set of experts, then we’d have a good chance of having instant success.
  • JM: We’re trying to integrate the culture that we have, with the services that we provide. Establish pillars of importance, via a four step process: 1. Doing the right things. 2. Do things right. 3. Deliver our services. 4. Dissect our performance. Continuous feedback and improvement loop.
  • DF: Everything is context specific. You don’t know what high performance model you should be adopting until you’re in the weeds of the organisation. There is no one size fits all. What are the component parts
  • DF: What is high performance? Everyone in the room will have a different definition. It’s all context specific, you have to understand your framework. We work around four pillars of what high performance means to us. 1.Athlete-centred, 2. Coach-led, 3. Facility-enabled, 4. Objectively-informed.
  • JM: I truly believe that environments shape behaviours.
  • DF: When recruiting on character, I want to know the person is like – could I go for a beer with them? We don’t use any psychometric testing. Get to know someone. What are their core values? What do they believe in? Evaluating character is a granular thing. How will this help shape other staff too? Trying to find it is hard, but there is nothing better than talking to people.

Enhancing Cognitive Performance: Insights into Learning, Decision Making & Neuroscience

Speaker: Amy Kruse, Former Program Manager, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

  • The brain is an electronically organ. Indicating the functions that go on in the brain are important. We can understand what happens in those particular regions.
  • We can train novices to adopt the expert brain state. On an expert team, you see a ‘cleanliness of communication’, even in a high stress situation. Expert brains also recover from errors faster.
  • Novice teams are both out of sync, have a messier communication style, and they perseverate on things that they’ve done wrong.
  • Sometimes the person who is more quiet and reserved is actually seen as the more natural leader
  • If you’re learning a new skill, this is enabled in the brain by neuroplasticity. Deliberate practice is the key to building that master level performance.
  • Experts are those who have a good picture of what perfect looks like, and can give themselves feedback as well as ask for feedback on how to improve. We can’t improve and get to the that mastery of performance without feedback.
  • The brain can change. It can be re-wired. Thinking about athletes, the ideal is to work with them from a young age of course. However, if your athletes are already adults when you start to work with them, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve their cognitive functioning.
  • We transit through a number of different states. When we talk about mental skills, don’t just think about one or two things.
  • It’s very difficult to create high pressure situations in training. One way to do it is do it away from the context of your own sport.

Making Strides: Exploring the Relationship Between Wellbeing & Elite Performance

Speaker: William Parham, Director of Mental Health & Wellness, NBPA

Moderator: Dehra Harris, Asst. Director of High Performance Operations, Toronto Blue Jays

  • If you understand the baggage that an athlete may be carrying around, and put a structure around them to support them, will give them an opportunity to increase their performance level. Tapping in on untapped genius.
  • ACE Study: 65% of women have had 1-4 adverse childhood experiences. 63% of men.
  • DH: There is nothing more powerful than trauma to take your brain offline.
  • If you write the word LISTEN, you’d all have a different definition. However, in those six letters is the answer on how to do it well – rearrange the letters and you have SILENT.
  • You have to have a functional interdisciplinary approach to wellbeing and mental health.
  • Intervention and prevention is very important – so make sure there is a support system, especially when there are high risk periods.
  • Educating staff on wellbeing is important to creating an effective approach for the athlete. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

Nevada’s Finest: Coaching & Developing the World’s Leading Fighter Pilots

Speaker: Brig. Gen. Robert Novotny, Brigadier & 57th Wing Commander, US Nellis Air Force Training Base

  • We do endless amount of planning and training on how to mission plan appropriately, to help people execute successfully.
  • We have a strong culture of the debrief in the fighter pilot community. Debriefs can be from 4-7 hours long. Create and recreate the environment.
  • Service before self – you take your rank off during debrief so you can hold each other accountable
  • When it comes to coaching coaches, we take it to another level. It’s something we focus on a lot and create opportunities for them to get out of their own bubble.
  • Expert + humility = trust & vulnerability. Imperfectionist perfectionist who have high standards and shared goals.
  • We develop a robust understanding of how to perform under stress. This helps to realise when it may afflict you, and can therefore build up a resilience against it.

Are We All Optimised?: Lessons in Making Intelligence a Competitive Advantage

Speaker: Cody Royle, Author of Where Others Won’t & Head Coach AFL Team Canada

  • Optimising talent shouldn’t stop with athletes, it needs to extend to your coaches and staff too.
  • How can we take better care of ourselves? If we can do that, we can take better care of those in our organisation.
  • Asking a question on self care in interviews and the recruitment process can be useful. How do you take care of yourself? How can we as an organisation help with that?
  • Cross-departmental sharing of intelligence is impactful and important. Especially within the realms of mental performance. Training in the corporate team could well have knock on effects in time with the athletes. An aligned organisation.
  • A role within a staff that coaches coaches can take an organisations understanding of high performance to another level. It helps to re-apply the thinking.

The Greatest Show: How an Artistic Director Masterminds World Class Performance

Speaker: Pierre Parisien, Senior Artistic Director, Cirque du Soleil

Moderator: Peter Vint

  • We have a theme, a message or a feeling at the start of a process or designing a performance. The theme will always be respected.
  • The role of the director is to make sure that the roles and themes will always be respected throughout. They always bring people in line and united.
  • When we create a show we don’t think about what people would like to see. We think about what we want to do and what we want to achieve, and then hope people like it. This is something we do on a daily basis. We have to follow our instinct and intuition.
  • The athletes/performers know that their career on stage is short, so they make sure they look after themselves. The artist is solely responsible. The average career span is between 5-8 years.
  • Unique problems/challenges with this group of performers? We do 460 shows a year, which can become an issue for many of them. But then it becomes a routine. They don’t lose their passion, but sometimes they do questions themselves and whether it is what they want to do.
  • There is a great, great unity within a cast. They all want to be the best, and that transcends into a great culture.
  • Sustaining success is largely down to making consistency a priority.

Royal Flushes: Evaluating Risk & Trusting Intuition

Speaker: Daniel Negreanu, 6x World Series of Poker Champion

Moderator: Peter Vint

  • When I was in my early 20s I was obsessed with poker. But as the years went on, I realised I needed to focus more on my mental state as well as having a good work/life balance. That’s why I’ve been able to prolong my career.
  • You have to have a deep fundamental understanding of the game, first and foremost. The basic learning part. The second is an understanding of people. Third thing is discipline. A discipline in making the right decision even when things aren’t going well (which in poker is called ‘tilt’).
  • What separates the good players with the best is self-awareness. A lack of confidence is the number one downfall of any good player.
  • Exposure to different environments, such as online poker, is educating new talent on how to understand and utilise data.
  • Poker is about continuous learning. What are others learning? How can I adapt?
  • Seek influence and inspiration from new talent – challenge yourself and your curiosity to get better. (New Age Teaching).
  • There are always going to be evolutions, it’s about humbling yourself to be prepared to adapt and evolve your own game.
  • Defeat is inevitable. Debrief and evaluate what you did and write down anything you didn’t do well.
  • There are three elements to staying present in poker: removing emotions, controlling feelings and considering the physical.

And there we have it ladies and gents. A memorable couple of days in Las Vegas, and a whole lot of insight to go with it.

Thank you to our host-est with the most-est, Mr Peter Vint. I think everyone will agree the level of commentary and insights knitted the sessions together perfectly.

Thanks to Cirque du Soleil and Bryan Burnstein in particular for being brilliant hosts on Friday at the members’ roundtables. It’s safe to say the KÁ Theatre will go down as one of the most inspiring venues that any of us have been in.

Thank you of course to our event partners Keiser. As always, we can’t do this without them and it was a pleasure to have Al, Dan and Gary once again by our side.

And finally a huge thank you to James Kimball and all the team at the UFC Performance Institute. An incredibly opportunity to host in one of the best high performance facilities around the globe, and we couldn’t of been prouder to bring the Leaders Sport Performance Summit to your home. We can’t wait to come back in 2020 already.

Thanks to all of those who attended the event, we hope you learnt something, met some new faces and enjoyed every minute as much as we did. We love feedback, so do let us know how we did and how we can improve. If you couldn’t make it, you were sorely missed.

Next up for us is our unique Leaders Meet: Wellbeing event at Manchester City FC on 21 May . From there we’ll be in Atlanta for our flagship US summit at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on 25-26 June.

For now, we wish you a safe trip home and successful results with your teams and athletes until we next speak.

Leaders team, over and out.


Join us in Atlanta

Our next Sport Performance Summit will be held at the home of Super Bowl 2019, Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, with confirmed speakers including General Manager of Atlanta Falcons Thomas Dimitroff and President & CEO or Toronto Blue Jays Mark Shapiro. Join us there.

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