Human Performance, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Dec 20, 2019
Flow, efficiency and being athlete-centred are such some of the considerations at Paris St-Germain, the Boston Celtics, Toronto Blue Jays and the UFC.

A new training facility can make all the difference in terms of performance in competition as well as the values of an organisation.

By John Portch

The Boston Celtics have already moved to a 70,000 square-foot facility, while the UFC has opened the doors on its first two Performance Institutes [in Las Vegas and Shanghai] with clear plans to open a third in Mexico City. Moreover, the Toronto Blue Jays and Paris-St Germain [PSG] are either updating existing facilities or in the process of building new spaces.

PSG’s proposed Training Centre, to be situated in Poissy, just 25 minutes from their Parc des Princes Stadium, will house their football, handball and judo divisions, while providing an all-year living space for 180 academy athletes.

It signifies the ever-growing importance of the training environment. “The stadium is their theatre, their performance stage,” says Phil Osborne of AFL Architects, “but their home is their training facility.” But what are some of the considerations that go into creating the modern training facility? Our panel gave us ten considerations.

1. Find a suitable benchmark

When the UFC Performance Institute opened its doors in Las Vegas in May 2017, it was the culmination of a planning, design and preparation initiative that saw the organisation’s James Kimball and Forrest Griffin visit 50 different facilities across the world. “The optimal performance environment obviously has to be aligned to the performance mission and outcomes that you’re trying to achieve,” says Duncan French. Thus, this benchmarking process was crucial to the UFC’s desired outcomes, as James Kimball explains: “I think the biggest thing we took from touring and benchmarking other performance training centres was the efficiency. We didn’t want to build a showpiece that was just a marketing tool.”

2. Efficiency comes from flow

Efficiency is essential and that comes from frictionless circulation of athletes and staff. “You have everything on one level when it comes to training, preparation and recovery,” says Martin Buchheit of PSG’s Ooredoo Training Center. “Everything is central and everything is connected. From the locker room you enter straight into the mobility, stretching and warm-up area, which is chronological as well. You get ready, you get changed, then you go for functional work. Afterwards, their recovery, the stretching and mobility area is connected to the locker room, the hydrotherapy area is connected to the locker room; it makes it very efficient to get those recovery routines straight after training.”

3. Promote aligned, interdisciplinary work

Flow is also crucial to an aligned, interdisciplinary approach. “I do come back to flow,” says Angus Mugford. “One of the things I’ve found historically is that people gravitate towards their own space; the strength coaches may want to sit together and the trainers may want to sit together. People gravitate towards their own discipline and what we really want to make a commitment to doing is sharing that space so that space so that we’re really maximising the collaboration. We’ve already made that shift over the past few years, but something as basic as that is really fundamental when we have affiliate staff and groups sitting together so that natural exchange happens as we’d like it to.”

4. Space, space and more space

Ask Art Horne what the single biggest difference between the Boston Celtics’ former practice facility and the Auerbach Center and his answer is emphatic: “space”. He says: “In our old facility we had one basketball court that we could practise on. I can’t remember the number of hoops but just having one basketball court limited how we went about practice, structured the development, and just practice in general. Typically, we would leave Walton or Boston to do a training camp because we wanted a facility with multiple courts and just space in general in all areas but, in particular, the skill development on the basketball court, then physical development and weight room space were huge plusses.”

5. Create a pleasant work environment

Beyond upgraded modalities, modern practice facilities need to be appealing destinations and Art Horne speaks with a sense of awe about the 40-foot glass windows that overlook the city of Boston at the Auerbach Center. “Natural light is a huge plus in Boston when it’s cold and dark,” he admits. “It’s an inviting place,” adds Jay Wessland. “All that natural light and the city skyline; we needed a place a place that people are encouraged to go and work out in; that they didn’t think it was a chore.” Such considerations are uppermost in the minds of PSG, who plan to move into their Paris Saint-Germain Training Center and Youth Academy Training Center in the summer of 2022. The complex is to include the Club House, which the club’s official website says is: “Entirely glassed at ground-floor level to provide views out into the surrounding landscape and create an illusion of levitation. Inside, a shape entitled ‘The Blue Flight’ rises skywards, symbolising the ultimate goal of all of the Club’s athletes.”

6. Be athlete-centred

In order to maximise the potential of each athlete, a training facility must enable a customised, athlete-centred approach regardless of whether it is a team or individual sport. “We have an athlete-centred model that is facility-enabled and objectively led,” explains Duncan French of the UFC. “Key to our philosophy here is that everything is custom; there is no cookie cutter approach to programming and everything is done on a bespoke level that starts with a conversation around goals, desires, objectives and ambitions.”

7. Flexibility in programmes

Training facilities need to allow for the preferences of head coaches when it comes to training and PSG’s Ooredoo Training Centre has that covered – quite literally. In line with numerous clubs in European football, PSG have a 45x14m tent, which covers a pitch of synthetic turf right next to one of their training pitches. It is a useful tool for group work. “A lot of work can be done outside,” Martin Buchheit explains. “A portion of the group can be training outside on the pitch and the other half can be doing some strength work or some other exercises in this area – they don’t need to go back inside to take their boots off and a coach can do rotations. It offers efficiency and it also offers flexibility; depending on the coach, we’ll be using the tent a lot or not. It’s about being able to allow all staff and coaches to run their programmes as they wish. The agility of the building today is a legacy of the different coaches who worked with us in the past and so these adaptations are the fruit of a collective process involving the current and past backroom staff.”

8. Cook for your athletes onsite

The importance of a good diet is commonly accepted but culinary provision has become a staple of the Celtics at the Auerbach Center, which includes a gourmet restaurant onsite. “We have a kitchen that rivals any top restaurant in Boston. It’s fully-staffed and our Head Chef Nick Arcuri does an amazing job,” says Art Horne. “There’s people prepping and making food for our players pretty darn close to around the clock. I don’t know of any other teams who cook the food for all three areas: the games, practices and road trips.” Jay Wessland adds: “Previously, we could cater meals but there was no actual cooking space so this has made such a difference. Everything we do now to control the food has been a huge plus and everybody loves it.”

9. What does success look like for you?

The key factor to remember when assessing the success of a practice facility is metrics beyond mere winning and losing. Is that the case for your club? “Success is largely determined by wins and losses in the world of high performance sport but that is something unique about us – we are agnostic to the whole roster,” says Duncan French. “We might be supporting both fighters at the same time so our business model is evaluated a little differently. We are more of the support service around optimising the health and performance of our fighters and, once in the octagon themselves, we pull ourselves away and, however the fight goes, we just want it to be successful. We are judged on things like how many fighters are dropping off cards; if someone has a late but preventable injury that takes them off the card and potentially loses the UFC millions of dollars in revenue. In our first two years we saved 29 different fights and we’ve reduced the number of missed weights by half this year to date versus 2016.”

10. Be mindful of commercial opportunities

Commercial opportunities are likely to be down the list for performance staff but business imperatives are increasingly having their say. “The commercialisation is becoming more prevalent at most clubs,” observes John Roberts, of AFL Architects. “The sponsorship aspect must be taken into account and teams want the ability to have launch spaces, where the sponsors can create content with players. There is also the social media aspect too. His colleague at AFL, Phil Osborne, adds: “We are being asked to provide areas such as sponsor lounges at training grounds as opposed to at stadiums, which was more traditional.”

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.

The Performance Summit Charlotte

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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