Human Performance, Performance | Feb 19, 2020
LSPS Charlotte gave attendees the opportunity to identify the factors that affect team resilience and devise steps they can take to develop more resilient athletes in the future.

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The Leaders Sport Performance Summit made its first visit to Charlotte earlier this month and one of the most popular features was the Open Spaces.

By John Portch

This popular interactive session at the Bank of America Stadium provided an opportunity for each delegate to join groups of five or six and, armed with marker pens, flipcharts and Post-It notes, discuss the topic of team resilience.

The Open Spaces were preceded by Tish Guerin, the Director of Player Wellness at the resident Carolina Panthers, who discussed how she has worked with her team to put wellbeing at the forefront of the Panthers’ organisational culture.

Guerin, who made the connection between athlete wellbeing and resilience, covered performance anxiety, taking time to get to know and understand your athletes, providing support to their mental health, and appreciating them as people first.

She began turning cogs in minds, and so the room, drawn leagues far and wide, including the NFL, MLB and European soccer, as well as from sports ranging from tennis to swimming, was primed and ready to discuss factors that impact upon team resilience and future actions designed to enhance that resilience.

Here we present the key findings from an hour well-spent.

Factors that impact upon team resilience

Each group at the Opens Spaces assessed factors across three key areas: lifestyle, environment and the individual athlete themselves.

With the benefits of a healthy lifestyle universally noted across the room, the focus turned to the individual athlete, particularly the matter of talent identification and recruitment. Can we, at our organisations, identify resilience and recruit those athletes who fit within our desired parameters?

The consensus was that it is often easier to spot an absence of resilience rather than a presence. This led to further questions:

  • How adaptable is the athlete? Have they faced adversity and overcome it?
  • Do they have a growth mindset? Have you witnessed ever-increasing competence on their part?
  • Do they understand the aspects of performance they are able to control?
  • Do you provide safe spaces for athletes to try and, inevitably, fail? Moreover, does the athlete themselves accept the inevitability of failure and is willing to fail in pursuit of their development?
  • Does the athlete accept the uncertainty that characterises the arena of elite sport?

The focus then turned to the impact of a team’s environment upon its resilience, with questions being asked around its character and makeup, with a toxic environment representing the biggest fear for all.

Connectivity and communication were seen as natural bulwarks against toxicity. Group members asked each other:

  • Is there open communication in your organisation?
  • Do the players build relationships with each other?
  • Are people connected? Are you building relationships with your players?
  • Do you have the right leaders?

Actions to enhance team resilience

With these questions addressed, and with Guerin’s words still fresh in mind, the groups at the Open Spaces suggested actions that may enhance team resilience.

They took their lead from Guerin who, in her presentation, raised the question of performance anxiety and the value of positive self-talk. This is perhaps at its most effective when the athlete is self-aware and knows how best to process success, failure and the pressures inherent in performance.

For athletes to reach that outcome, there were a number of steps suggested across the Open Spaces:

Safe, deliberate practice – this has the twin benefit of combining skill development and, as intensity increases, it forces athletes to experience, confront and process failure. Done properly it eventually gives the athletes the tools to prevail. A number of the groups expressed the importance of athletes being ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’ – a prime characteristic of resilience.

For deliberate practice to be at its most effective, it was suggested that there be a constant feedback loop for athletes to help chart their progression.

Guerin had also spoken of trust and support and these training environments need to provide a safe space for both failure and feedback and this was reflected by the groups, who spoke of the need for trial and error in a consequence-free environment.

Educate and empower the athlete – specifically, this means to empower the athlete with information. Following deliberate practice, education best serves as the reflective piece that enables learning to stick. Athletes that understand the ‘why’ are better-placed to be familiar with the tools they need to perform when adversity strikes, as it inevitably will. To bestow this education is within the gift of the coach and performance staff, who can communicate a firm idea to the athlete of their role and impact on a game or season. Again, this is incumbent on a positive working environment and Guerin promotes the idea of being ‘agile, not fragile’. Terminology is key.

Create a culture of wellbeing – mental wellbeing should be a priority for all, with Guerin emphasising in her talk the need for taking in the ‘full picture’ of the athlete, who is not just a performer but a person. There is a need to train and support the whole person, with trust and support being freely given and confidentiality being respected. Beyond provision of services, the Open Spaces acknowledged there are steps that coaches and performance staff can take every day to create the right environment.

Promote social relationships – Guerin advocated the idea of coaches being available and familiar with their charges, which makes it easier when the time comes to check-in on their wellbeing. She said: “It helps me to understand what the behavioural baseline is; I know what normal looks like, so then I can identify when something isn’t normal.” Bonding experiences were universally viewed across the Open Spaces as opportunities for building collective spirit and resilience. Trust and support comes from knowing the ‘full picture’ of the athlete.

The balance of hierarchies and role models – the Open Spaces suggested the need for balance here. On one hand, it was suggested that everyone be free to contribute in team meetings and training sessions, with no regard to hierarchies. On the other hand, role models are vital for modelling desired behaviours and values.

What is it going to take to win in 2020?

That is the focus of our latest Performance Special Report. Download The High Performance Manual: Winning in 2020, which features sports organisations as diverse as Red Bull, the Brisbane Lions and the Royal Military Academy discussing the pertinent topics across Leadership & Culture, Coaching & Development, Human Performance and Data & Innovation.

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