The former Olympic triathlon champion talks about the role the campaign consultants play in helping coaches and athletes prepare deliver when it counts most.
What does the role entail?
I am part of the HPSNZ campaign consultant team with Adrian Blincoe, Tracey Paterson and David Slyfiled. What we do is work alongside coaches and athletes on their campaigns and help them figure out how best to prepare so that the athlete is better prepared when they stand on the start line at their pinnacle event. We offer an external perspective, where the coach and athlete can test their thinking and ideas around their plans and preparations towards a pinnacle event, which might be anywhere from two to eight years in the future.
In our work, we try to help them identify gaps and if required take a longer term view . We might also assist with their approach to learning around pinnacle events or figure out what actions should be taken based on what was learnt . We ask them what their performance in future needs to look like in order to be successful and develop a plan which will allow them to deliver that performance when it matters most.
How do you determine which athletes and coaches to work with?
We work with athletes and coaches from the funded Olympic sports. For our role to effective the coach and the athlete must be open to our input and feel it makes a difference to performance. We operate on a needs basis. One some occasions we think we can add some value and sometimes when we can’t help we might try to help them find someone else who needs their needs.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the role?
It is important to have an understanding of the pressures of the coach and athlete’s environment and it is about helping them identify key elements to their campaign, which will make a performance difference. The role – if done well – should have an impact on performance and that comes from providing deeper thinking into the preparation required to succeed. This is not always easy to achieve because you are dealing with, in some cases, coaches and athletes who are the best in the world, so to find those one or two elements which might make a difference is not easy. The advantage we can have as consultants is more of a one step removed helicopter view of the campaign, which can be helpful in identifying something the coach and athlete may not be aware of.
How often would you communicate with the athletes and coaches on their campaign?
It really does differ, although, generally, the start of their campaign cycle is when we try to encourage most of the thinking to occur. As we approach the pinnacle event most of the thinking has been done and the coach and athlete should be confident and trust in the plan. Many coaches and athletes are very organised but the unexpected always happens – the key is being able to skilfully deal with those surprises when they occur.
What have been some of the big success stories?
David Slyfield has been a campaign consultant for many years and he has supported a number of successful Olympic campaigns including Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, the Rio 2016 49er Olympic champions. He has also had a role to play with Lisa Carrington in the work he does with her coach, Gordon Walker. In the last cycling I worked with Rene Olsen, coach of the women’s K4 team (which finished fifth at the 2016 Rio Olympics). They only had around 18 months to put together a plan that would firstly qualify for the Games then go on to perform at their best in Rio. In working along side Rene he managed to put in place a strategy which allowed the athletes to learn quickly and apply their learnings. This was a real strength of the campaign.
How important have the campaign consultant team been to the High Performance Sport NZ landscape?
There is often a good correlation between how well prepared an athlete is and how well the athlete performs. Everyone knows we have athletes with varied levels of preparedness. As a system, I believe we are getting better at working with sports to constantly improve how we prepare our coaches and athletes, and there is still opportunity to do this better than our competition, but that is part of the challenge.
What is the most rewarding element to your role?
If our work can go some way to helping an athlete or a coach identify gaps, accelerate learning or provide some deeper critical thinking around performance it can be rewarding to see the impact this might have on performance . For me, the role is all about working alongside the coach and athlete so they are as prepared as possible to be able to deliver performance when the time comes. That is the outcome we are seeking.