• Jason Wulfsohn // MSc (Med) Exercise Science

Some take-aways from CONQA Elite Sport Summit


A few days before I departed for the lovely Cape Town to attend this Elite Sport Summit, I began to question whether it would be worthwhile for me. You see, I don’t currently work in an elite sporting environment. In fact, I work in a school environment. While we do our best and the sport is of a high level, I wouldn’t consider it “elite”. How much would I be able to take away and apply to my environment?

Well, on a personal level, it was very much worth it. I met some interesting and have a made a several connections for the future. Never mind the intellectual capital I had the opportunity to access. I probably learned as much from chatting to people during breaks, of which there were plenty, as from the talks. Also, it’s always reassuring to hear that some problems aren’t exclusive to me. I also managed to make a bit of a fool of myself when I was about to walk past former Springbok coach, Nick Mallet. I speak a very little bit of French, and I know he speak it. So, I thought I’d be smart and greet him a casual, “Bonjour monsieur. Comment ça va?” My accent must have been good, because without missing a beat, he rattled off something beyond my ken. Ashamedly, I had to then explain that I only knew un petit peu. I guess it’s not really a good conference unless you embarrass yourself somewhat. But I digress…

A few take-aways

The opening speaker was Mark de Stadler from Dale Carnegie (a company that does professional training), and he was fantastic. Of primary interest was a differentiation between COMPLIANCE, getting people to do something with intellectual engagement, and COMMITMENT, getting people to do something with both intellectual and emotional engagement. This really challenged me, because I had been spending a lot of time thinking about how to get better COMPLIANCE for training and monitoring. It seems I had been thinking about it the wrong way. I posted some thoughts on the topic of compliance.commitment in my previous article, "Of horses and water".

Per Lundstrum, from Red Bull, was next and I came away thinking that I really need to brush up on my sports tech. There are some seriously innovative things going on out there! I tend to get a bit bogged down by research and standard practice, and forget to be creative and think outside the box. This talk also got me thinking about the coach as an environmentalist, moving away from the instructor-type to someone who is able to create an optimal environment that allows athletes to discover, create, and learn.

Darren Burgess, director of high performance for Arsenal FC, was open and insightful. He really emphasised being practical about what will be best for your context. Even suggesting that sometimes we should ignore the science. In the same vein, a while back I wrote about being evidence-based, not evidence-biased. Similarly, Brent Callaway, performance director for elite sport at EXOS, was also very practical and showed us how they’ve established their system for training and evaluation, based on the foundational pillars of Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery (fig. 1). Practically, they have boxes that athletes need to tick and they believe in the system.

The last speaker I’ll mention here was Lt. Col. Darcy Schnack from West Point military academy in the USA. She spoke about leadership and how they’ve evolved their systems at West Point over the years. Part of their leadership training involves the cadets alternating between “practice following” and “practice leading”. I guess in order to be a good leader, one has to understand what it was like being a follower. Poignant for those who would be leaders. She was clear that the West Point program is done over 47 months, and that it can be longer, but never shorter. There are no shortcuts at West Point. It was quite relevant for me as I’m often pressured by athletes to hurry their training to the next phase or level. Linking this to the EXOS system, it is imperative to follow the correct path, trust the system, and don’t take shortcuts.

These have been some very brief points, but to come full circle; How much was I able to take away? Quite a lot. I managed to network, glean knowledge from discussion, learn from the talks, and was inspired and re-energised to get back to work.

Was it worthwhile? Yes.

#SportScience #Coaching #Performance #Leadership #Training #Evaluation

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