Brazil Olympics 2016

Rio 2016: effective leadership is about making the tough call now as well as future performance development

In the second of his blogs from the Team GB camp at the Rio 2016 Olympics, IDG associate John Steele talks about how not to confuse resilience with survival, why work done at this Olympics will be vital for the development of future Olympians, and comments on Team GB’s progress so far.

Whilst the athletes have now commenced the intense competition that is Olympic sport, the political backdrop to the games in Rio also continues to ramp up.

There has been a mixture of responses to Russian athletes in the various venues with the crowd often showing their displeasure at the IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s recent decision – or lack of decision. In stark contrast the IPC (the Paralympic equivalent to the IOC) has suspended the Russian team from attending the Paralympic games in Rio.

You have to respect and expect this decision in light of the wide scale and endemic doping practices in Russia; it sends a resounding message to the world of sport that doping is morally reprehensible and will not be tolerated. It also puts into sharp focus how the IOCs decision not to do this could be hugely damaging to the Olympic movement in terms of public, government and sponsor confidence.

How often do we see a leader’s desire to survive in post or to avoid potentially personally damaging conflict mean that the “right thing” is not done. We should not confuse resilience with survival. Staying in post means nothing if you don’t make the tough calls, and eventually this approach will undermine a leaders credibility to the point that they are untenable anyway. This story still has a long way until it is played out.

The swimming events are in full swing at the Rio Olympics

For Team GB it has been a mixed start. No medals for the road cycling team but a healthy start in the pool saw a silver for Jazz Carlin and the discovery of a new star in Adam Peaty. To win gold, set a new world record and be 1.5 secs ahead of the next swimmer in a 100m race is some achievement! We will see a lot more of this man’s talent in the coming years. Other successes recorded in shooting and diving, and some frustratingly close fourths in fencing, gymnastics and James Guy in the pool. At the end of day three we are off the mark with the medal tally at 4 (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze). Early days with all to play for!

From an athlete support perspective we are ensuring that performance analysis data is being recorded accurately, processed fast and fed back to coaches and athletes in a way that can impact performance quickly. Anything that produces long term learning is archived for now and will be dealt with post games. It is necessary to have a two tier approach to performance development that ensures our debriefing is on the next performance and the here and now, but that we are properly recording data that will give us our long term gains.

In the last Olympic cycle we have worked with sports in all the normal support areas (strength and conditioning, sports psyche, biomechanics etc etc) and also some interesting other areas such as sleep, a new skinsuit in British Cycling and some innovative approaches to nutrition. The Institute and UK Sport has also recently launched the biggest multi sport talent ID campaign in British history.

Whilst currently focusing on delivering success in Rio, long term strategic development cannot stop. In most sports it is around eight years from talent ID to podium so initiatives such as “Discover Your Gold” are looking to uncover future Olympic athletes not for Tokyo but 2024. In the past I have seen sports cut costs and talent programmes to feed immediate success, and I understand the need to play what is in front of you now, but fail to nurture the ID and development of future talent and we store up inevitable issues down the line.

The intensity of competition is so evident. Years of blood, sweat and tears can boil down to a moments brilliance or in some cases a costly misjudgment. This is now the sharp end of all the planning and preparation and the next week will reveal the reality of Team GBs 2016 experience. You can feel the heat here in Rio.

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