by tim harper : founding director at harper performance CIC
Our recruitment policy is all about getting the very best people in the room, and then working around the clock to give them the freedom and the tools to do their jobs. We make no secret of pursuing the best suited, most experienced, most qualified and most successful performance-science practitioners in the world for our roles, people like Dr Kellie Pritchard-Peschek, Dr Kate Spilsbury, (soon-to-be Dr) Elly Rees, and Dr David Macutkiewicz. We do so unapologetically because we believe that for performance-support provisions to develop in disadvantaged sporting communities across the world, then they are just as deserving and need to blend the very best global practice with local know-how - a few wide-eyed gap year students or fresh graduates on a jolly before getting a “real job” isn’t going to cut it!
With all that said on the pedigree of our team, we take our CPD or ‘continued professional development’ programme very seriously at HP CIC and work just as hard on developing our practitioners as we do as building capacity and tackling inequality in global sport. Our practitioners work (and work extraordinarily hard) for HP for a tiny fraction of their market value, all the while balancing other jobs in sport, so aside from being an integral part of who we are as an organisation, our CPD programme is another way we hope our work can positively impact our team of brilliant practitioners in the long term.
Beyond the usual book, article and video sharing amongst the team, our structured CPD programme is an ever-evolving framework to equip our team with all the skills and tools they need to operate at the very highest level. It’s unlikely this post will be able to communicate the depth or breadth of our internal CPD programme, but I hope it gives a little taste, and if you ever want to find out more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d be happy to share what we do!
What do we focus on in our CPD programme?
Well, we rarely if ever dive into the hard science of exercise physiology, nutrition or sports medicine altogether - for one, I’d immediately be out of my depth, but more so, that’s the individual responsibility of our practitioners and the sub-teams within the team. We help secure places at conferences, talks and webinars where relevant and appropriate for our staff to develop specific skills relating to their specialist areas, but the team are great in aggressively pursuing opportunities off their own backs, probably what made them good at their jobs in the first place.
So, instead of that, what do we do? We focus on three thematic areas; first; developing “soft-skills”, second; developing an appreciation of the contextual demands and history of sport and development in the Global South and disadvantaged communities across the world and lastly; we continually expose ourselves to different cultures and environments in and out of sport to learn what’s working for others.
Soft skills development, which all-too-often has been seen as all a bit too touchy-feely to think about in the oft-overtly macho world of elite sport is simply put, the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively with other people, in the context of high performance sport, soft skills are the bridge between the science and the application - things like communication, teamwork, decision-making, problem solving and empathy. Soft skills are the basis of all human interaction, and so it seems prudent to look to develop them in any team. But beyond the usual list like the aforementioned, the biggest soft skills for our team is the ability to understand through active listening and then communicate to influence.
We’ve been particularly influenced by Chris Voss of the Black Swan Group, a former-FBI negotiator, who if you haven’t heard speak, is a hugely engaging speaker (see video below for an example). The ideas of likability and Voss’ ability to distil early-stage interventional dialogue to such simple parameters and questions really did help lay the foundation of our communication strategy as a team consulting with organisations and clubs around the world.
Beyond this, Kellie (Head of Performance-Support) and I have worked hard to understand how our use of language impacts one another, the rest of the team and those we speak to outside the organisation, we’ve phased in and out conversation-planning models, of mirroring language to expedite familiarity (I refuse to say fair-dinkum however) and we have experimented with various different communication methods and strategies internally and externally. Some of this was developed organically, we were forced into a professional relationship mostly held over Skype, WhatsApp calls and email, with Kellie mostly-based in Brisbane, Australia and myself in London, UK. For two predominantly introverted characters, it was a baptism of fire as we muddled our way to an effective working relationship as quickly as possible but I have no doubt that our commitment to soft-skill development (plus pure necessity) made this possible.
Beyond communication, HP CIC happened to find itself growing as a non-profit in tandem with another new organisation; Supporting Champions, founded a few years ago by Steve and Rachel Ingham who came to the scene off the back of unprecedented success in elite sport, on a confrontingly honest crusade to make the development of soft-skills a central tenet of the conversation around practitioner development in high performance sport.
Supporting Champions is now an official partner, and the team and I have enjoyed leadership, communication and innovation workshops up at Loughborough University, three years of the Supporting Champions Conference and 38-odd episodes of the Supporting Champions podcast - all of which explore the daily non-specifics, the little bits of culture or environment, or how we go about our work long term, that can make the difference between a good programme and a world-beating one. Rather than attempt to regurgitate the far-more eloquent Steve Ingham, I will simply recommend that if you are involved in high performance sport, or indeed, anything, then you check out what Steve and his team are talking about. They continue to mould, adapt and refine our processes as we develop as an organisation.
Ahead of deployment to Uganda for the first time, the team committed to a number of tasks designed to challenge us to rethink our own soft-skill prowess - this included a task to identify the 50-odd biases we fall victim on a daily basis and then have a free-for-all discussion on how those biases might impact our work specifically in Uganda. We all completed the University of Harvard Implicit Bias Tests to objectively determine where our natural biases lie and then openly challenged ourselves to be aware and critical of our knee-jerk reactions to the things we might encounter pre- during and post- deployment. We are always adding challenges and tasks to make us question how effective we are as practitioners and where we can identify areas to improve our soft-skills - it’s of huge credit to the team that our discussions in these areas, which are often honest and frank have always remained wholly constructive.
The second theme of our CPD programme focusses on developing a contextual understanding of where we’re working, who we’re working with and how our approach to our work moulds what we do. We also work to understand the history of where we work, both from a sporting perspective but also in general. After all, before joining HP, only Kate Spilsbury had worked on the continent before, and whilst sport is a universal language, there are challenges and indeed opportunities that are unique to the developing world that are important the team are acutely aware and have an ever-evolving comprehension of.
We are aware that the dominant narrative in the West depicts the Global South as something in perpetual crisis, devastated by poverty, conflict, disease, hunger and other forms of human suffering. Whilst these realities do exist, they are just one small part of a wider reality. So, as we look to develop contextual understanding of the places we work, this doesn’t mean we think and talk at length about the aforementioned challenges in the Global South. I personally completed a hostile environments training course prior to working on another project, and share pertinent points and advice to the team from that and we conduct a series of checks and enact a few processes when deployed to err on the side of caution, but beyond a pre-deployment briefing to the team, we do little in the way of preparing for “Africa”.
We do however take understanding the future of the places we work incredibly seriously. Every new member of the team joining HP CIC is required to read the book ‘The Bright Continent’ by Dayo Opolade - a jarringly confrontational book that rips apart the prevailing narratives of the West when it comes to Africa and the developing world as a whole. If you follow any of our social media channels, you’ll see us regularly quoting Dayo and her writing reminds us of our role in ensuring that the future of African sport belongs to Africa, not us, not any other outside organisation, governing body or nation state. It’s worth a read, whether you work on the continent or not - it’s certainly triggered some lively discussions amongst the HP team!!
Our contextual understanding is obviously developed most effectively when deployed, when we are faced with the realities of the challenges and opportunities our partners in the Global South contend and wrestle with and when we have the opportunity to meet with people in and out of our partner organisations who know far more than we do. But we work hard to supplement these experiences with briefings, readings and sharing our own experiences as a group to progress our collective understanding and feed that back into how we approach our work.
The final piece of our CPD programme is to expose ourselves to as many different environments and cultures as possible, both in and out of sport. Over the past year, we’ve had hugely constructive visits to Saracens Rugby Club, Brisbane Roar FC, The Gold Coast Suns AFL team, the Queensland Reds, various governmental institutions, a military unit in the UK and a great number of professional and semi-professional teams across the UK. These visits are critical to staying on top of what is currently being enacted in different organisations to develop high performance. Whilst the team are all still working in elite sport at the highest levels, the opportunities to share knowledge and thoughts with peers at the top of the game from a wide variety of institutions and clubs provides invaluable opportunities to test and challenge our latest thinking.
And with that, our internal CPD programme is all but complete - we try and remain agile and proactive in exposing ourselves to different stimuli, different voices and challenging narratives to best prepare us for the complexities of our work, so often ‘random’ things will pop into the programme to shake things up, but on the whole, our goal is to patiently and consistently improve as individuals and as a collective - and if we can remain comfortable being challenged, maintain a thirst for knowledge as non-experts, despite the undeniable pedigree and expertise in the room, then our CPD offering is doing it’s job!
Got a question? Want to share what you or your team are doing to improve? Drop us a tweet!
Whilst you’re here, we’re a non-profit social enterprise that exists to tackle inequality in sport and support sportspeople from disadvantaged communities across the developing world. Utilising a team of some of the leading performance-support practitioners in elite sport from the Europe, the USA and Australia, we work in collaboration with stakeholders across the Global South to develop accessible, relevant, sustainable and above-all else, locally driven solutions to elite sports development.
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