Coaching & Development, Data & Innovation, Human Performance, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Jul 8, 2020
The first day explored the themes of leading during a pandemic, the development of holistic athlete management systems, and the crucial ingredients that make a great team.

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We are at the halfway stage of the first Virtual Leaders Meet: Total High Performance and take a pause to reflect on the first day’s proceedings.

By John Portch

On day one, Leaders Performance Institute members from across world sport logged on to listen to best practice insights from the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia Eagles, English Institute of Sport and Google.

When the pandemic put paid to the 2020 Leaders Sport Performance Summit in Las Vegas, which was due to take place this week at the UFC Performance Institute, the Leaders Performance Institute worked with our event partners, the UFC and EPIC Risk Management, as well as main sponsors Keiser, to create a virtual event that delivered the levels of shared knowledge and insight to which you have grown accustomed.

“We are here to create a world that enables the high performance community to out-perform,” said host Michael Caulfield at the start of proceedings. “We want to provide any and every opportunity to learn, grow and develop.”

Whether you were able to attend or not, we hope these takeaways will help you to begin to achieve that aim.

Major League Leadership: Reinventing & Leading During Ambiguity

Speakers: Brian Wright, General Manager, San Antonio Spurs and Howie Roseman, EVP of Football Operations/General Manager, Philadelphia Eagles

It felt apt, if inevitable, to kick things off with Covid-19. The impact of the pandemic is going to be felt across sport for years to come but the major leagues have now moved beyond their initial holding patterns to detail clear, if fragile, plans for the way forward.

  • Both Wright and Roseman reflected on the uncertainty of recent months and how it sparked creativity, invention and sharpened the decision-making at two of North America’s leading sports organisations.

The Spurs broke down the total problem posed by the pandemic into four distinct phases:

1. Education – players and staff were kept informed prior to the NBA’s formal shutdown in March and, when the suspension officially came, the team sought counsel with experts and consultants as they looked to develop protocols and ensure all players, coaches and staff are on the same page.

2. Athlete health conditioning and wellness – the Spurs have a firm foundation of shared leadership and were able to jump into planning mode. In short order, the organisation set up remote training environments and provided virtual assistance in terms of such considerations as nutrition and mental health

3. Engagement – Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich is an intentional leader and there were efforts to create a virtual locker room where players were engaged as people first and players second.

4. Creating testing protocols – from that base, our building can be adapted to ensure health and safety upon our return.

  • Rather than hinder communication, Roseman has found that remote communication has enabled him and his staff to become better listeners and people have been able to better articulate their vision. A growth mindset was a prerequisite.
  • You no longer have to guard your desk. Time in the office can better be spent at home with your families and this could be an opportunity establish a work-life balance that challenges the existing culture.

Innovation, Collaboration & Excellence: Integrating a Holistic Data Management System into Your High Performance Framework

Speaker: Craig Ranson, Director of Athlete Health, English Institute of Sport

In 2016, Craig Ranson became the EIS’ first Director of Athlete Health and signalled the organisation’s ever-growing focus on the mental as well as the physical aspects of performance.

In the middle session, Ranson spoke at length of the EIS Performance Data Management System and its role in developing, delivering and evaluating athlete health strategy for Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic teams across 40 sports.

Ranson began with the EIS’ mission statement:

To pioneer the delivery of science, medicine and technology services to drive medal success at Olympic, Paralympic and international competition.

  • The EIS Performance Data Management System has created a mass of info stored in a relational database – it is important that the data is presented in a usable form – and it has enabled the organisation to harmonise data and practitioners are given ownership in order to keep data quality and compliance high.
  • Having filterable dashboards allows practitioners to do their own health surveillance and set priorities. The system enabled the organisation to demonstrate that upper respiratory illness posed the greatest physical threat and, particularly during winter, the EIS could be pre-emptive in its responses and the information it provided. This ultimately maximised and optimised athlete performance and availability.
  • Mental health support is more difficult but the EIS performed a cultural health check in 2017 that established mental wellbeing as a priority and it led to the creation of the organisation’s mental health strategy, the four pillars of which are:

1. Education – particularly mental wellness and psychological distress for athletes and coaches.

2. Direct provision – when the EIS could put numbers to particular problems it enabled a more targeted approach.

3. Communication – this is especially aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health.

4. Assurance – to check that our efforts have been effective and hitting the target.

  • The EIS has developed its mental health referral pathways and athletes have greater access to the expert help and support that they need.

Project Aristotle: Lessons & Actions From Google In Their Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Speaker: Abeer Dubey, Director of People Analytics, Google

In 2012, Abeer Dubey was selected to lead Google’s Project Aristotle. The initiative draws its name from the famous quote, often attributed to Greek philosopher Aristotle, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ During a two-year study, Dubey’s task was to ascertain why some teams at the organisation succeeded and others floundered and, to that end, he assembled his own team of statisticians, researchers, organisational psychologists, sociologists and engineers to look at 180 teams at Google.

In the final session of the afternoon, Dubey delved into his team’s findings, which showed it mattered less who was on the team than how they worked together. The five most important characteristics of effective teams, in descending order, are:

1. Psychological safety – when teammates felt comfortable and confident enough to admit to mistakes, ask questions and suggest new ideas.

2. Dependability – when teams are dependable members tend to meet deadlines. You also need to establish how much structure you wish to impose.

3. Clarity – establishing clear expectations and consequences promote team effectiveness. Both long and short-term goals, whether individual or team-based, must be specific, challenging and attainable.

4. Meaning – internal validation. Whether it’s financial security, family support, contributing to team success or even finding a means of self-expression, purpose is essential to team effectiveness.

5. Impact – external validation. It is important to see that your work is having an impact.

But wait, there’s more

Virtual Leaders Meet: Total High Performance: The Key Insights – Day 2 features learnings from the likes of the Atlanta Falcons’ Dan Quinn, the Anaheim Ducks’ Dallas Eakins, Deloitte’s Jen Fisher and the UFC’s Forrest Griffin.

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