Coaching / Development Human Performance Leadership & Culture Performance | 11.07.18

Wisdom from the Windy City: Day One

Unique insights from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the United States Olympic Committee via Wall Street.

Good evening sports fans, I type this while enjoying a $7 ‘Daisy Cutter’ (thanks Mr Gera) at our chosen watering hole in Chicago tonight, The Scout, after an action and insight packed day one of the Sport Performance Summit. We had pints of best practice, a pitcher full of insight and even a shot of inspiration at Soldier Field today, and below are the key takeaways from all the session on stage today [for day two click here].

By Matthew Stone

We start today’s content in the Queen City, with the new kid on the block at the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kyle Dubas, and a slightly more experienced kid on the block, Ben Cherington of the Toronto Blue Jays. Naturally we start on lessons from the past, plans for the present and hopes for the future at their respected organisation in the ‘The 6ix’. Ready, steady, go!

• When discussing the ‘short term vs. long term conundrum’, if you have a team with a veteran core, how do you complement them with young players? Unsurprisingly a good culture give you the best chance. So work on that.
• The only way to weigh up the short term vs. long term strategy, is to make a real effort to have those honest internal conversations and debates on the pros and cons. Decide on a vision as one.
• A lot of pressure is put on the young players to step up when going through a rebuilding phase. Important to also protect them, but also let them grow. You don’t want them to adopt a losing mentality.
• When rebuilding, it’s integral that from top to bottom (ownership to players) everyone is aligned in the vision and goals. Ownership is the most key relationship on this – it helps when they are brought in and fans themselves, too. But not always the case.
• As a young exec himself, Kyle wants his organisation to recruit the best young people to work for them, and to help them grow if they already exist. He’d be proud if the Maple Leafs become renowned for this.
• On a personal level, Kyle explained the commitment he has to himself to improving, too. Every day. And he expects his staff to do the same. Get out there and speak to new people , and learn. That’s how you improve.
• Ben said that looking back to his time in Boston, he would have wanted more critical feedback. That’s undeniably integral to improving personally, and organisationally.
• As a leader, you have to be accountable for the weaknesses that your staff and players highlight – and you have to have an avenue for them to be able to give you that critical feedback.
• When discussing external pressures, Ben highlighted that the notion of ‘being a good teammate’ is important. Good teammates (whether it be a player, coach, or front office exec) find a way to help one another deal with pressure.
• Kyle sees it as his duty, as a leader, to shelter the staff from any negative outside noise. Having an effective mental skills team to support the players (and staff) is imperative to this.

From Toronto to Pyeongchang. A long trip geographically, but only a few minutes on the stage as Troy Taylor (US Ski & Snowboard) and Scott Riewald (USOC) were up next to share their case study of how they prepared, performed and evaluated their time at the Winter Olympics.

• Preparation shouldn’t be about about perfection. It’s there to promote agility, and about understanding the challenges and the opportunities.
• We look to remove challenges too often, when actually that sometimes lures us into a false sense of security on achieve things that are unrealistic.
• Implementation can only be effective when you know how long you need to achieve it. As a leader, you should establish a time-frame to work within, and once that’s been defined don’t move the goalposts – stick to what was agreed, and don’t keep adding pieces.
• Have faith (and patience!) in the performance plan – you put it in place for a reason, so refrain from any last minute deviations.
• The Olympic games is something you are unable to recreate, much like high stake competition in any sport. Therefore recognise that no matter how well athletes can handle the pressure in ‘normal conditions’, things can change on gameday.
• Investing time to help the athletes to understand pressure is crucial – identify ways to alleviate this pressure.
• Focus on you, not the competition. Sure, keep an eye on them, but stay focused on the controlling the controllables.
• A lot of information out there, so work out the best way that your coaches and athletes are going to use the information that you give them in your environment.
• You shouldn’t underestimate the ‘feel good factor’ – create that in your camp, and it will go a long way to being successful. Athletes and staff need to enjoy what they’re doing.
• How do I get performance tomorrow? Focusing resource is very important.

1. SELECT and re-select players with podium potential
2. Keep talent HEALTHY by minimising injury and rehabbing optimally
3. MONITOR training adaptations
4. ENHANCE training adaptations = Increase ROI
5. Optimise a true competitive PERFORMANCE



From a US case study, to a UK one. We were delighted to have Owen Slott, the author of The Talent Lab, share his thoughts and a couple of secrets from the research he’s done to find, create and sustain success.

• Performance isn’t the same as potential, and potential isn’t the same as performance. They’re often talked about in a similar light, but they don’t always come hand in hand.
• Potential alone will not bring you success, and in turn winning won’t be as simple as just performing.
• What makes someone super-elite? Good question. They expect the unexpected, and they see the abnormal as normal.
• As a leader of a successful team, you and your staff need to be able to manage super-talents – the type that might have ego, be ruthless, selfish, but of course need the support to turn that into success.
• Preempt mistakes. What could go wrong? ‘What if’ planning can help you prepare for the pressure around the corner. This way, you can manage the threats and ways to cope on how to respond mentally, and physically.
• Mistakes happen, to all of us. No matter how good you are. So accept them! Value staff and athletes that are curious, but never lost sight of the outcome – to sustain success.
• Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (I think Daft Punk said that once?). But it’s the truth in sport too, you have to be learning faster than your opposition to be able to then be better and stronger.
• Curiously is a very good thing. Find people in your sport and outside it who are curious – these people will ask you questions, and will in turn become assets for future breakthroughs in performance.
• Demand critical feedback. This will help to turn frustrations into solutions.



We’re jumping around a bit now, from Toronto to Pyeongchang, to the UK and now to Wall Street. Denise Shull, who has helped traders make millions and athletes win trophies, delves deep into the topic of decision making and performing under pressure.

• Emotional neuroscience, it’s a revolution. If you want to be able to engage and develop the next generation, then you should encourage them to ask feel, and ask what is being felt, and why?
• In a strange turn of events, it turns out the assumed negative emotions such as fear, frustration anger (and so on) can actually produce very high level of performance, both as the individual and the team.
• Accept losses and negatives. If you recover better from a loss, a mistake or even a longer term slump in form, it will help you appreciate wins more, too.
• Accept uncertainty, it’s going to happen and it will always exist. Especially in sport. If you and your athletes can learn to thrive in the unknown, you’ll also become better risk takers.
• Wall Street is very similar to sport when it comes to analytics – you need a mix of data and gut feeling. Combine human feeling with computer driven analytics for the most optimal outcomes.
• Getting traders to realise that emotion is integral into their decision making is very important. This will be the same with your athletes – adopt it!
• It’s not only tackling emotion which is important, it’s the ability to get the athletes to talk about their emotions. Especially the negative ones. This build resilience and character.
• Positivity can be misapplied – research suggests that reward-seeking processes are activated by sadness. Why dwell on the negative when seeing the bright side is going to help you succeed?
• To find the solution to slumps in form, go back to the beginning. Have the courage to identify, feel and name all of the feelings from the initial mistake.



Another geographical link (are you bored of them yet?) as we move from Wall Street back to Canada. Angus Mugford of the Blue Jays makes his moderating debut and leads a discussion on injury prevention and rehabilitation with Jeremy Bettle of the Maple Leafs and Marty Lauzon of the Atlanta Falcons, who unbeknownst to us is a Montreal native. O Canada…

• How important is the wellness of your athlete? Obvious answer, but very. It should be a constant consideration in the rehabilitation process of your athletes.
• When it comes to data, it should be used to help answer the questions that the coaching staff has. It shouldn’t necessarily dictate decisions, but it should definitely inform.
• For practitioners, there is an opportunity to to shift the culture from one which is implementing high performance strategies, to one where you’re actually educating the athletes. Are your athletes taking ownership of the culture to help drive the group forward?
• When it comes to data, you need to know the difference between what the athlete needs to know, what the coach needs to know and what your medical guy needs to know. It doesn’t make sense to give everyone the same data and info – give them what they need to make decisions.
• As a performance team, you have to go with your load management data to support hockey, it’s not a sports science lab. Have a humility to use the data to not take away from the sport, but to enhance the opportunity to perform.
• Finding common language is important. Spend time with the coaching staff to know what they need. Finding a common dialogue from the off is how you will build that trust and get that buy in from the coaching staff.
• The ability to relate to the athlete is much more powerful than being smarter. It’s much more important to have those communication skills.
• You can talk about tech, wearables, data etc. as much as you want, but at the end of the day, it’s a people business. You have to make and build relationships with athletes, coaches etc. Can you relate and empathise with a player? That’s important.



And here we are ladies and gents, it’s the final stretch. But one thing is for sure, Alex Hutchinson was the last speaker on day one but by no means was he least. A perfect end to the day, exploring all things mind, body and the curiously elastic limits of human performance. Intrigued? Me too…

• High performing teams require the following five components:

1. Shared understanding
2. Emotional stability
3. Efficient processes
4. Effective leadership
5. Psychological edge

• Seeing and believing in improvements in a lab, don’t necessarily mean that it’s going to lead to success on the pitch, field, ice or court. Sport is ruthless, but you need to have patience.
• Immediate improvements may not be obvious, but believe in the process (76ers alert!) and push yourself to explore new things.
• Fairness matters. Period.
• If you have a physical limit of weakness, then it almost certainly descends from the brain. Athletes are harder, better, faster, stronger…and fitter. But are you approaching the way you develop them mentally in the same way?
• Little innovations will lead to big performance wins.
• Find a balance between finding that 1% and also perfecting the other 99% that you can control. Both are as important as one another.
• By improving the controllables by just 1%, you can see a huge impact.


Further reading:

Wisdom From the Windy City: Day Two