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Thursday, 14 September 2017 15:13

Developing successful teams: what we can learn from elite sport

We are proud to have sponsored a project with Find It Film, wherein the crew are following the journey of the GB Short Track Speed Skating women's team and their journey to qualify for the Winter Olympics 2018 in South Korea.

This article was written by Nicola Waterworth who expands on some of the thinking and learning from the interview with the GB Short Track Women's coach Paul. During the interview, Paul explores what it takes to build a successful team and how coaching and feedback is essential to improving performance - video interview included below. We feel passionate about this partnership as the core purpose of Prosell is to help 'improve performance' through coaching, skills training and the application of knowledge.

Find It Film working with Prosell Learning Ltd

When we partnered (Find It Film and Prosell) to document the journey of the GB Short Track Speed Skating Women’s Relay Team through Olympic qualification, it was obvious there would be plenty of opportunities for learning about growing and developing people. Here we reflect on the key lessons we have learnt during filming from Paul Worth, Assistant Lead Coach and the coach responsible for the women’s relay team, about building a winning team.

Prior to coaching Paul was a former Olympic and World Championship skater, whose parents were also skaters and, “literally as soon as I could walk they had me on the ice.” Paul completed a degree in Neuroscience following his retirement from competition and has been coaching at the National Centre of Excellence at the Nottingham Ice Centre since 2012. He is now a member of UK Sport’s prestigious Elite Coaching Apprenticeship Programme and is one of a group of coaches working directly with individual athletes and the GB squad as a whole.

The GB Women’s Short Track Speedskating Relay team is made up of a squad of 7 skaters, with 4 taking to the ice to  compete in a race. The team, which includes 3 time World Champion Elise Christie, is aiming to be the first British women’s speedskating relay team to qualify for the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February 2018.

1. Shared purpose

We talk a lot in organisational and business development forums about the need for ‘shared purpose’. On one level the goal for the relay team is clear, “qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics” through the four autumn World Cups. But to become a shared purpose something more is required than a single goal or target. Potentially more so when you consider that as with a 4x100m athletics team, each of the skaters maintains their own individual event and purpose, potentially even competing against each other, and that while all 7 will have invested in the 4-year cycle of training and competing as a team for qualification, only 5 of them will travel to the Olympics should they qualify.

So, as well as the goal, Paul focuses on the importance of, “team cohesion as a massive part of our key values” as critical to staying on track with a shared purpose. No more so than when it comes to the difficult messages of the selection process, something Paul foresees will be “very difficult” for a possible Olympic squad. The Olympics are, after all the pinnacle of their dreams as athletes. This means Paul sees maintaining the sense of belonging and cohesion in the team as essential, “each one of them is to be in the team and support the team and be able to perform. The reality is a couple of them are going to miss out… but equally at that point they still have a very important role to play.”

2. Strong team relationships

Strong relationships with each of the athletes, with other coaches and between the athletes is essential to Paul for that team cohesion and eventual success. He considers his, “ability to communicate and deal with emotion, being comfortable working with emotional vulnerability” as key to making this happen, and essential to keeping quality communication channels open.

As well as good communication, the strength in these relationships comes from shared accountability; creating an open and transparent culture of decision-making everyone's bought into. When performance is discussed focusing on the team effort enables everyone - athletes and coaches - to be treated as equals, “and so through that everyone gets to have their say and their opinion.”

The coaches model this in Paul’s view by working as a team to support the athletes, bringing the benefit of all their experience and expertise to play in reflecting on performance and working on progression,

“we reflect back on what we’ve done, if there are any lessons we’ve learnt, can we do anything better. We have a good relationship where we can challenge each other but it not feel like an attack and just help each other to progress and make sure that we’re doing everything we can. But equally just a place where people are open to ideas, so if someone else had an idea for the girls relay then they could come and say and it wouldn’t be an issue – I’d be open to listening it.”

The buy-in of the team to the focus and collective accountability is something Paul is incredibly proud to be part of. This shows up when the team meets weekly, demonstrating that purposeful, fun and engaged meetings for teams are not just a distant pipe dream, 

“all of them have been 100% bought in, to it. We have this system where every meeting one person brings some fun, another person brings a healthy snack that they’ve either bought or they’ve made for the group. Everyone’s always eager to help or provide. Everyones eager to turn up because it feels very much like a team effort. In what is predominately an individual sport…. what it comes down to in the end if we’re successful, which hopefully we are, is the team that they’ve created and that makes me feel very proud to be a part of that.”

3. Timely and relevant feedback

Feedback that works is timely, specific, evidenced and ideally comes with support to improve. For the Relay Team getting the feedback right to accelerate the learning process has been essential and it’s here where using technology has made a big difference to the speed at which performance has been able to shift. The team review all races immediately, use video footage in regular meetings and examine the performance and technique of their competitors;

“having the technology to do that is really important and that’s really accelerated our learning. We do a lot of talking but to learn quick enough, they need to have that extra stimulus to actually see what they’ve done and then to learn from it. Without that the process would have been a lot slower.”

Paul is also clear that within the feedback loop it’s the job of the coach to understand different learning styles of the team, taking the time to use different approaches to learning where individuals are finding it a “bit more challenging”. Making sure everyone is on the same page will be critical going into the following race.

You may not be preparing a team to achieve their life’s dream but there are definitely lessons we can take from the Relay Team to help us all with building successful teams. And to finish we think Paul has a great lesson in the role of the coach in dealing with the pressure when the team is getting on with the job you’ve prepared them for;

“one of the key things the girls ask from me as their coach on the barrier during the race is that I  stay as calm and as neutral as possible, so if anything goes wrong rather than looking over and have the coach kind of waving around and going a bit crazy and caught up in the moment, trying to be really calm and neutral.”

About the author: Nicola Waterworth is an executive and business coach and co-founder of Find It Film Ltd, presenting visually stunning and inspirational stories of women and girls sport.

You can find out more about the Find It Film collaboration at www.finditfilm.com

You can also follow the exploits of the GB Short Track Speedskating Women’s Relay Team and their colleagues @GB_ShortTrack 

Source: Find It Film


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