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Friday, 5 August 2016

Olympic Blog 3: Let the wonderful whirlwind begin


By now the support staff will be bedded in, found their way around the hotels, training venues, competition venues and become familiar with the Olympic bubble that will begin to enclose. They no-doubt will have begun to track-test their procedures, snag any issues, to give them the best chance of being able to do their jobs seamlessly.

The athletes have now start to descend in to Brazil, through waves of flights, buses, check-ins, inductions, new surroundings, new or pre-recce'd training venues athletes will spend about a week or so in the holding camp. Over the next few days they will transition to the Olympic village, if they haven't already. The buzz is starting to build, but leading into a major competition is a strange time, because athletes do less and less training, they have more and more time on their hands, so time can go excruciatingly slowly. Having a plan of 'things to do' such as games or reading - can really help alleviate the anticipation of the looming performance.



Killing time, however, is not necessary for anyone delivering the events. The background work that goes into putting a games in action is immense. The logistics alone exceeds any global peace time operation. For example;

  • 7.5 million event tickets 
  • 70,000 volunteers
  • 85,000 security personnel
  • 200km of temporary fencing
  • 6755 hours of broadcast for NBC
  • 37 tons of dead fish removed from the rowing and canoeing lagoons
  • 60,000 meals served per day in the village

If you're heading around the Olympic venues, give a high-5 (then apply hand gel) to the folks that will be 'games makers'. Without them there would be a lot less calm, a lot less quality preparation, the event would be a total mess!

Now the games are effectively upon us support staff have to tread a delicate tightrope. They have to doing a sterling job, no surprises, being a steadying force, working long hours to do what is necessary. The best way to do this is to put their 'bullshit filters' up.

You might hear people chirp;

"It is only a sports event"
"Just like any old championships"

This type of mantra helps prevent getting carried away. This is very sensible and sound advice - you must stay grounded at the games. Hoooooowever, the Olympics is different - it is a wonderful, wonderful whirlwind, that can sweep you up, inspire you to perform (whether you're an athlete or support staff) at an incredibly high level! Why? Because it involves so clearly and tangibly working to a goal, an end-point and a climax. It is laced with PURPOSE!


The Olympic whirlwind exists because of 1) it's rarity being held every four years; 2) in simple terms it is 41 successive World Championships+ being held all at once with 306 events to be won. That's 306 occasions where the best put themselves on the line. Wherever you look there will be someone getting ready to perform, having performed, watching or helping someone perform or lots of people buying those funny little Olympic badgey things! Created by the sheer mass of activity, the scale of the event and the quality of sport, raised to the power of 204 countries, the buzz turns into a storm, then as the games begins - a wonderful whirlwind.

If you're there or if you were nearly there - get your head down and do a great job. If you're there, nearly there, were part of the journey or if you're simply a fan, enjoy the biggest, brightest* awe-inspiring celebration of achievement, endeavour and human spirit. That our little species choses to compete as a collective, coming from the distant quarters of the globe and that our representatives respect*** one another on the start line, compete like demons in the events, plying their freak like talents, and then respect each other at the end - is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Enjoy the whirlwind!

For more on supporting champions, see my No. 1 Amazon bestselling book, 'How to Support a Champion'

*Except those repugnant dopers!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Olympic blog 2: My precious

Olympic Blog 2. My Precious 

"We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious!"
Gollum, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Come games time there is a haze that wafts in and captures all involved in delivering an Olympic or Paralympic team. It is as if the BFG or a dastardly version of him, who only comes out to play with his special games time hazy contagion, is at play once every four years. No we’re not talking about the press whipping everyone into a ‘it wont be ready’ state, no we’re not talking about workers inability to snag an Olympic village - we’re talking about something unexpected, something that flies under the radar, but is more powerful, more intoxicating, more infatuating, that can bend behaviour with a mere mention of it...KIT!

Kit, precious kit, we wants it, we needs it! (well, you can keep those trunks, I think Tom is best wearing those bad boys)

At this time of the year, athletes are branded (not literally that would be harsh) winners or losers, but for support staff, there are those who have kit and those who don’t. Generally, it is a binary status. But for staff at games time they might actually fall into a few more categories - this is where the inner conflict can begin. 

It starts with selection. Any time between January and July of a games year you get an indication of whether you are;
  1. ‘GOING+’ (properly going, have a central role, in the village, full accreditation, full kit)
  2. ‘GOING’ (in the Olympic city, have an important role, can get day passes or have a job to do in the city, full kit)
  3. ‘NEARLY GOING’ (travel to the country/nearby for a holding camp, have important role in the preparation, probably wont go near the games, no/half/full kit)
  4. ‘GOING BUT NOT GOING’ (travelling with the team, have an important role, probably at the holding camp, might go to the games, will make their own way, no kit)
  5. ‘NOT GOING’ (not travelling, had an important role in preparing athletes, might take a call or two at most during the games, no kit)

At worst A, B and C will watch the official kit launch, their eyes widening with lust, “That’s mine. Mine. All mine, MWAHAHA” (strokes cat, swivels in chair, flairs nostrils). Oblivious of the pending wardrobe capacity issues, they will be summoned to a kitting out experience, where they will be indulged to their hearts content. They will get bags and bags of official Stella McCartney t-shirts, shorts and caps, sunglasses, napkins, stress balls - all sorts of paraphernalia. Generally, too much stuff than is needed, but hey it's the games so they are having it!

For E, they are not involved and whilst they might liked to have travelled they are not ‘in the mix’, they can put their feet up with the occasional studious glance at a textbook or interest in testing out a new bit of kit, to show they have something to show for their summer’s efforts. They have done their bit, time to be content in watching a lot of sport. They will probably have a pang when the athlete they work with performs, especially if they win.

D and sometimes C, will be on the periphery. Yes they got a ticket, yes they were part of the critical dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s phase. But in a weird way they are not fully included. There is a high risk that they will have a continuous knotted feeling in the stomach, a look of uncontrollable envy, a low level of permanent inferiority. Why? Because they haven’t got the kit! As much as it sounds gossamer superficial, it is a potent and vigorous miasma that all can succumb to. 

The famous experiments of Henri Tajfel exploring social identity theory shows that even when "complete strangers are formed into groups using the most trivial criteria imaginable”, for example flipping a coin to decide the group they are in, people were more positive about their (arbitrary) in-group members and more negative about the out-group.

This is what it feels like if you wear non-Olympic kit at the games!

I have been to four olympic games and at two I had kit and at the other two I didn’t. Arguably at the two I didn’t, I had a more influential and important role. I recall vividly, in one of my ‘no kit’ Olympic experiences, ’not getting the memo’ that tomorrow was going to be a white t-shirt day. I turned up to breakfast that morning wearing a red, non-official t-shirt, met by a sea of white, Olympic branded people. The rush of anxiety that flooded through my veins in that instance was palpable. I spun on a sixpence, went straight back to my room and put a white non-Olympic t-shirt and went back to breakfast, slightly happier that I was wearing the right colour but still in high-envy status from not having kit. At one holding camp, I recall finding a ‘no-kit’ (D-type, above) member of staff trying to hack into the kit cupboard, just to get one t-shirt, that they said they “wash every night”. This wasn’t a regular criminal, used to resorting to crooked ways*. This was someone subjected and falling foul of a powerful social identity exclusion, and they just couldn’t stop themselves from obsessing about it. They wants in, they needs it! 

Tajfel tells us that the in-group force raises self-esteem. Robert Cialdini found the number of university t-shirts worn on campus after a football game was higher after a loss - presumably to re-energise collective self esteem. So the effect of common apparel, clearly helps a team galvanise and prepare for the rarified exposure experienced by athletes and coaches in the Olympic cauldron.

Kit is like the RING in Lord of the Rings, slip it on and everything feels dreamy; spot that someone else has it, but not you, and you can feel persecuted. 

Whatever your kit, here’s what I suggest;

Ghana's simple possessions!

  • For those not included in-the-group remind yourself of the important role you play, you are part of the overall team effort. Be like Ghandi - eschewing these material obsessions*.
  • For those who are well and truly kitted out, enjoy it, you will undoubtedly earn it with 15+ hours of work per day. Though, I share with you a story of the GB boxing team pre-London. The team leader got all the staff and athletes to pool a portion of their kit (on the basis that you get more than you actually need anyway) and they gave a small but significant gift to the C, D, E type team members that had spent 3.99 years working towards the shared goal. Classy! Give a try, it’ll make you feel good.
  • For the powers that be - invest in enough kit for all staff in your system!! Why wouldn’t you exploit this infectiously unifying team effect and embrace everyone to feel part of the collective effort.
  • For athletes focussed on your performance - there’s nothing to see here - go about your business!

* though these days you can just buy it, if you're desperate enough, but bear in mind your precious will be pyjamas or gardening kit by the end of the year!

Friday, 22 July 2016

Olympic blog 1: Games time! Not a time to play games!

Games time! Not a time to play games!

"I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself."

Robert E. Lee

With days to go the the almighty ‘sports day’, what is going on behind the scenes for the biggest show on Earth? This blog and a few others over the next few weeks aims to share a few insights about 'how it works', 'the challenges', 'the opportunities' to 'Support a Champion'....


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of 'How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete'

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of 

How to Support a Champion

Performance Immersion


On first meeting with Sirs Matthew Pinsent (Four time Olympic Gold medallist) and Steve Redgrave (Five time Olympic Gold medallist)


It was some time in July 1998. It was probably Tuesday 7th July, but I can’t be sure. I know roughly when it was as I started my new job on 22nd June. I’d missed the first opportunity to meet Steve Redgrave the week before. He’d cancelled his appointment for physiological testing with us up at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow owing to a minor injury niggle. On that day I had the pleasure of meeting his other half, Matt Pinsent. 



For more,  click here for 'How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete'

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Yann Le Meur infographic of 'How to Support a Champion'

How to Support a Champion - what's it all about?
Check out this infographic courtesy of the brilliant +Yann LE MEUR @ylmsportscience

Thursday, 12 May 2016

How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete. Preface part 2

Part 2 of my Preface includes the chapter outlines...

The first chapter describes my work with the legendary rower Sir Steve Redgrave in the final flurry of his career as he headed