#GoldenPoint2 – Michael Macri
The term “high performance” gets used a lot among sporting organisations around the world however what does it actually mean?
By definition, “high performance” is the act of “performing to a high standard” (Oxford Dictionary) however in the case of sporting organisations, this definition is quite broad. There are many cogs that make up the complex ecosystem of a sporting organisation, for example, the players, coaches, performance department, medical/rehabilitation, administration, supporters, etc., and although some may appear to be more important than others, in reality if one cog fails then the other cogs aren’t able to work as effectively and efficiently. Therefore “high performance” shouldn’t be solely applied to the team side of things but rather the entire organisation working collectively within a “high performance ecosystem”.
Bryan Miller, a Strength and Conditioning Coach from the United States Naval Academy, wrote a fantastic article (“Cultivating Your Ecosystem”) detailing what he believes to be the pillars of a successful ecosystem – “Culture, Competency, Capacity, Competition and Coaching.” Bryan makes a strong case to suggest that in order for your ecosystem to flourish then all five of these pillars need to be in perfect harmony as well as functioning at a high level of performance; something that I completely agree with! Although these pillars were applied to the team setting and training environment, there’s no reason why they can’t also be applied to the rest of the organisation namely the administration and the supporter base. For all the good work and long hours that the team staff put in in order to prepare the team to compete at their maximum potential, if these five pillars aren’t in harmony among the rest of the organisation then long term success is harder to achieve. Sure enough there are many organisations across the globe that have chaotic administrative departments where in-fighting, poor management and financial issues (just to name a few) reign supreme whilst their team continues to produce results on the field. In the short term, this can most definitely happen. How many times have we seen a team win a championship title in these instances? Plenty! And it will continue to happen however it’s my belief that long term success can’t be achieved without synergy within your “high performance ecosystem”. For as many times we have seen a team win a championship title under duress, we’ve seen that same team disappear from title contention just as quickly in future seasons and find it hard to recover. It’s those teams with synergistic ecosystems that are able to constantly stay at the top of the competition and frequently challenge for, and win, titles. But how is synergy achieved within a “high performance ecosystem”? It begins with everyone knowing their role.
Much like Bryan Miller’s five pillars that form the building blocks of an ecosystem, a sporting organisation also has various layers, both internal and external, that contribute to its overall success. For the sake of simplicity, I will split the structure of a team environment (whether it be football, rugby league, basketball, etc.) into three areas: the players, technical/tactical coaches and physical performance staff. These three areas are where most of the big personalities and ego’s lie within an organisation, whether it be the Head Coach of a team, the star player or the Head Strength Coach/Sport Scientist/Physiotherapist. Therefore it’s important to determine where each individual fits within the team by defining their roles.
Let’s take a moment to look at the break down of a Formula 1 Pit Stop. Prior to a Formula 1 driver entering the pit lane for any given race, a strategy is discussed pre-race in order to determine a particular lap in which the driver will schedule a stop. As the specified lap gets closer the driver will confirm this with his team via radio – generally one lap before the stop takes place – in order to give his pit crew the necessary time to prepare for his arrival. When given the all clear, the driver will enter the pit lane and come to a halt. Immediately the pit crew will get to work. There’s crew in charge of undoing the wheel nuts whilst other crew members raise the car off the ground with their jacks. Another crew member is in charge of connecting the fuel line so that the car can be refuelled. Once the wheel nuts are undone, further crew take off all four wheels whilst other crew members place on four brand new wheels which leaves the “wheel nut” crew to tighten the new wheels to the car. On completion, the car is dropped from the jack and when the car has finished refuelling, the fuel lines are disconnected. As the fuel hose comes off, the crew member in charge of refuelling will wipe away any spillage from the car. Once given the all-clear by the pit crew, the driver is able to select first gear and leave the pit lane in order to return to the race. From the moment the driver becomes stationary when he first enters the pit lane to the moment he leaves, approximately 6.5-7 seconds has elapsed. Talk about efficiency! Without synergy within the pit crew and each member knowing their role, the job of refuelling, replacing old tyres with new ones and making mechanical adjustments wouldn’t be able to be completed within the 7 second time limit. In fact, a race can be won or lost on a pit change therefore the reliance on the pit crew is extremely high in this situation. Just like it’s important for the Formula 1 pit crew to know their roles within their team, it’s also important for players, coaches and performance staff within any given organisation to know where they fit in so that there’s no confusion and/or hesitation in defining moments.
No matter what industry you work in, the relationships of people play a vital role in the success of your organisation. If you had a boss that constantly treated you like crap by talking down at you, swearing at you, making you feel bad about yourself within your role as well as a person, etc., would you be motivated to perform at a high standard for this person? A lot of you are probably thinking, “yes I would still work very hard because at the end of the day the success of the team is far more important and if I don’t work hard I’ll be letting the team down as well as myself as my reputation as a hard worker will be at stake”, or something along those lines. That’s a fair statement because a lot of people are willing to take the high road and put up with a lot of crap from their senior staff members for the betterment of the team. But how long can this last? We all have those days where we are so tired and mentally fatigued that our performance dips slightly. It’s human nature! Would you still be motivated to go the extra mile on one of these days? Probably not. In fact you may be thinking nasty thoughts in your head as you reluctantly do a half-arsed job just so that you can say you completed the task that was asked of you. However even though that you completed the task, you may still be letting the team down inadvertently because in this particular instance, the team needed 100% from you when in fact you only gave them 50% as you were annoyed with your nasty boss. The domino effect of having negative relationships within an organisation, although not seen straight away, can have detrimental effects to the teams overall vision for success. I’m not suggesting one bad day can ruin a whole season of hard work. What I’m saying is that if you let poor standards creep into an organisation due to the result of negative relationships with staff members or players then it’s hard to weed out. On the other hand, how would you perform under a boss that was strict but fair, gave you constructive criticism without making you feel bad about yourself and was one that genuinely cared about you as a staff member and a person? For one, I’m sure you would enjoy coming to work every day a lot more. As well as that, you are more likely to go above and beyond for someone that you respect. It’s these positive relationships that helps build trust, a strong culture and most importantly, a successful team and organisation.
The debate regarding who is in charge of the physical performance department (Strength and Conditioning, Sport Science or Medical) will continue for as long as our industry is around, however it’s important to realise that all these areas are just as important as one another in the overall success of the team. You start getting into dangerous territory when you make arguments that one area needs to be above another because not only does this create an “us versus them” mentality, relationships are compromised which in turn affects the team. Successful teams and organisations are ones that can develop a chain of command that everyone respects, with everyone being given the opportunity to have a say whilst at the same time being governed by someone who is the head of the department. Some organisations have the Head Strength Coach as the head of the department whilst others have a High Performance Manager or a Head of Medicine. Whatever the hierarchy, the person in charge must act as a mediator that appreciates everyone’s opinions and point of views. Ultimately this person has the final say however it’s the ability to make everyone feel like they’ve been given the opportunity to state their claim that is of the most importance. Most people within organisations can live with the fact that their ideas or opinions are turned down if given the opportunity to express themselves. It’s when people are turned down before they’ve been able to give their opinion that really rubs people up the wrong way so it’s important to make sure that everyone within the organisation essentially has a voice, whether their ideas are accepted or not. This may be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when trying to establish a “high performance ecosystem” as a stable department within any given organisation usually has the most synergy amongst staff members.
When speaking about successful sporting organisations, the most frequently forgotten piece of the puzzle is the administration. Understandably, most articles are written from the perspective of Strength and Conditioning coaches, Sport Scientists, Physiotherapists/Rehabilitation coaches, etc. for fellow coaches within the industry. But who’s to say that “high performance” is strictly limited to the physical performance side of things? All successful sporting organisations around the world have their administration department working hand in hand with the team. Sure enough the team within a sporting organisation is usually the main focus; the team is the reason why the fans turn up every weekend in all sorts of locations and climates as well as the main reason they support their respective sporting organisations. However, without the administration, the process of the team turning up every weekend to play a game becomes a little more difficult. Let me explain. A successful administration helps promote the team to the community, fans, sponsors, etc. Sponsors help bring in revenue to the organisation which helps pay for gym, sport science, medical and coaching equipment. These sorts of equipment don’t just appear out of thin air and sponsors don’t buy organisations equipment and supplies out of the goodness of their heart. It’s the administration department that works hard to lure sponsors and fans to the club so that the team can benefit. Mind you, sponsorship is just one small piece within the administrative puzzle. There are many more avenues in which the administration has to deal with therefore it’s important to understand how important they are to the overall success of the team. Therefore the more successful the administration, the more the team benefits and therefore the more successful the team becomes. Now this sounds too good to be true for most of you and I assure you it’s not as simple as it all sounds. There are always anomalies and it can take years and years for a sporting organisation to create a successful administration and even longer for the team to become successful as a result however those sporting organisations that have had and continue to have long term success, are the ones that have created a “high performance ecosystem” consisting of the team, administration and community/supporters all under one umbrella.
The “high performance ecosystem” is a complex topic that can be discussed in much more depth than what I have presented in this article however it’s important to understand that success within a sporting organisation doesn’t come just from one avenue but from many. It’s also important to note that the points I made in this article are strictly my own views and opinions so please feel free to state your own opinions on this topic. Any type of discussion is a good discussion. At the end of the day, each organisation is different to one another and although the end result is generally the same, the journey in getting there will ultimately be different. It’s up to you in how you want to develop your “high performance ecosystem” that works for you and your organisation.
Miller, B. Cultivating Your Ecosystem – Part 1. Strength, Power, Speed Website. http://www.strengthpowerspeed.com/ecosystem-part1/ October 9, 2016.