The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics wrapped up this summer with many memorable performances and results by Team Canada. Although the athletes’ work was complete, the work of the high performance managers, coaches, and administrators was not yet done.
Each sport that participates in the Olympics and Paralympics is led by a National Sport Organization (NSO). NSOs are responsible for preparing detailed plans for the four years (called a quadrennial) leading up to Games. These plans define how they will prepare their athletes, compete, and ultimately win medals at Olympic and Paralympic Games. The plans are carefully reviewed by Own the Podium, and NSOs receive funding to execute those plans based on their likelihood to win medals. Own the Podium receives its funding from the federal government.
Following the Games, teams conduct quadrennial debriefs to evaluate their plans and their results. They discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what must be changed as they head into the next quadrennial. Different stakeholders are consulted in this debrief process. The high performance leadership then prepares and submits a comprehensive report to Own the Podium, and meet to discuss that report. The decisions that come out of the debrief are funneled into the next quadrennial plan for sports to execute in pursuit of sustained or improved performances on the world stage.
I was privileged to support four sports through their quadrennial debriefs through my work with Sheffe Consulting. Facilitating these debriefs was a new experience for me, as well as working with elite, international sport. I gained many insights about managing sport at the highest level and I’m sharing three here today.
Performance on Demand
A concept that I hadn’t heard before that I find intriguing is the concept of performance on demand. One must have the skills and abilities to perform at the top level, but then they must also be able to perform at that top level on the day that it matters most, no matter the circumstances. For some athletes, being able to perform on demand resulted in personal bests and/or medals in Tokyo. For others, podium performances were expected but not achieved. Discussion centered around how to prepare athletes to be able to perform on demand, more often.
Finessing the Fine Details
At the top international level, any number of individuals could win on any given day. While technical and tactical skill on the field of play is important, it’s the small details off of the field of play that can make the difference. More and more, sports are using the integrated support team (IST) to enhance their performance. IST includes physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, mental performance consultants, dieticians, psychologists, physiologists, strength and conditioning, and others. These professionals are supporting athletes on a regular, ongoing basis, with the goal of eking out greater results. Discussion centered around how these IST skills and expertise could be maximized.
Enhancing the Culture
Sports spend a lot of time discussing the culture of their organization, their high performance programs, and the dynamics within their smaller teams. They are focused on enhancing their culture and making it a safe and welcoming place to compete and perform. They engaged in dialogue respectfully, but frankly, and made every attempt to facilitate brave and honest discussion within their programs. Mentorship programs between senior and junior athletes were being implemented and expanded. Consideration was given to how they could support athletes by supporting their family and friends. There were countless other examples of what was being considered to facilitate the enhancement of their culture. As one person said, “If we’re doing it well, we won’t notice. But if our culture is poor, it will negatively impact our performance”.
The process for quadrennial debriefs is robust, with many key learnings for both the teams and us as facilitators. Many actions were identified as things to implement or change in the next quadrennial. It was a pleasure to support these teams in their debrief processes and I’m excited to see how these debriefs impact performances moving forward.