by tim harper : founding director at harper performance CIC
With the team now back in their respective home cities in the UK and Australia, our first full-team Project Uganda deployment is over and as the dust is starting to settle on what was an absolute whirlwind of a deployment, now is the time to give you, our supporters, an update on how the project, in partnership with the Football For Good Academy in Kampala, is panning out.
What was this deployment all about?
One of the key factors of our approach to consulting, whether it be with organisations like Football-For-Good, national governing bodies or even individual athletes, is that we don’t rush to trying to solve anything.
We take the understanding part of the problem solving process incredibly seriously, and with members of the team like Kellie, who’s eye for detail rivals Steve Jobs at times, we are totally committed to gaining a depth of understanding to the constraints and obstacles facing those we work with. Perhaps more important though, is our determination to understand ‘why’ things are the way they are - a key driver for Kate Spilsbury, our Sports Science lead, who reminds us at every meeting to avoid indulging our initial, potentially knee jerk reaction to situations - when we do that, we take our own biases and presumptions with us to try and shortcut the understanding process… so instead, we try very hard to acknowledge our biases and question the epistemology, if you like, of each and every part of the jigsaw.
Does this mean the process takes longer?
Absolutely it does - but we made a deliberate decision when we launched The Kanju Projects, that anything we try and do to add value to the environments and systems we are consulting on, would both stand the test of time, and also provide a foundation from which to build a sustainable and ambitious future. Quick fixes don’t do that, you can only plug a hole with sticky tape so many times, eventually you have to find out what’s making the hole in the first place and fix that!
That’s our goal, that’s the first and second stage of the HP Projects process that Kellie and the team have put together and that have now been completed - to really understand the situation, really get to grips with the lay of the land - to back up what we’ve already found out remotely over 6 or 7 months, and to further dig into the reasons as to why things are the way they are, and where we can add value and help build capacity.
What does this look like on a day-to-day basis?
The team arrived in Kampala with a messy, but relatively in-depth understanding of some of the challenges the FFG faces in the development of the physical and mental qualities of their scholars (athletes). To build on that understanding and work out exactly what we can do to help build a performance-support programme at the academy, the HP team spent their days shadowing, asking questions and engaging in discussions with both the FFG staff and athletes.
This meant we were at the Academy from 6am some days and weren’t leaving until almost 10pm, so we could get a real feel for what goes on and why things happen the way they do. This meant the team could really jump start their relationships with the staff and scholars at the FFG - a hugely important factor in determining whether we can create buy-in to our suggestions and ideas further down the road.
Elly, our Sports Nutrition lead shadowed Bella, the FFG cook and Suku, the FFG Medical Coordinator, and person i/c of sourcing food for the scholars nutrition programme. Elly joined Suku at the local markets most days, sourcing everything from beans and rice to meat and fish, all for budget-friendly prices using Suku’s incredible network of suppliers across Kampala. Elly was able to talk to the vendors with Suku and ascertain why certain vegetables were favoured over others, and what other options were available to potentially add to the FFG nutrition programme along the line.
Elly also developed a strong bond with Bella, the FFG cook, and was able to develop a thorough understanding of why the scholar’s meal plan was structured the way it was and how the meals were put together from an ingredients perspective. On top of all this, Elly was also present at Academy training, monitoring the availability and utilisation of snacks and the hydration strategies already employed by the FFG, as well as taking the time to talk with the scholars on their level and depth of understanding around nutrition-science and the fuelling of their own bodies.
Elly, the longest standing consultant at HP CIC, was an example to us all throughout the week and epitomised the HP approach to how we go about our projects - quick to draw us all back to our principles and values, and boldly living up to them in all that she did, from a Project Lead’s perspective, it was an absolute delight to watch Elly go about her business all week.
It was critical that in this area especially (sports nutrition), that we didn’t arrive with a set of principles and ‘rules’ about nutrition that lacked relevancy to the context in which the FFG works. It would be easy to write a nutrition programme for the developing athlete, counting the right micros and macros, an appropriate calorie intake and nutrient timing strategy from our offices in London, but that would ignore the challenges and the advantages that the FFG face when putting together their nutrition programme.
Bella cooks fresh food everyday, with ingredients sourced each and every day from market vendors across Kampala - when the scholars eat fish, that fish has come out of Lake Victoria that morning, when they eat chicken, one of the athletes themselves has slaughtered the chicken that day. It would have been all too easy to sit back in London and prescribe a meal plan based on our own set of biases but that’s not how we do things at HP CIC, and it was great to see Elly put her wide-array of experiences in elite sport over many years and all her industry-leading knowledge of nutrition science to work in collaboration with the local staff at the FFG. I’m really excited about some of the ideas that Elly and the FFG staff have been co-developing since deployment and am confident that in this area, the FFG can not only compete with the very best academies in the world, but we can, quite genuinely, surpass them - all by embracing the opportunities and advantages that are unique to Uganda, and to the FFG.
Sports Science & Athletic Development
Kate and David, our Sports Science and Athletic Development Leads respectively, spent the week developing their understanding of how the FFG develop their scholars from a technical perspective. Why? Because anything that we suggest from a performance-science perspective must complement the great work the FFG are already doing in producing the next generation of East African footballers.
Kate and David shadowed Ben, FFG Coaching Coordinator, Kawa, FFG Scouting Coordinator and Coach and Pappa, FFG Head of Operations and Coach for the majority of the week, spending time at the Academy campus breaking down the comprehensive development pathway the FFG have been putting together over the last four years, at the training ground, assessing the make-up, physical intensities and duration of training sessions and even on a match day, travelling with the senior FFG squad to an exhibition match against the Uganda National U17 team.
There was a huge amount for Kate and David to break down and understand during the week, a task both of these highly experienced practitioners grabbed by the horns and ran with. Whilst the days were very long for both Kate and David - on the second day they were up before 5.30am and weren’t back at our accommodation much before 1am the next day - and Kate was motoring through notebooks of notes each day, the insights they were able to gain from deployment have been invaluable in the development of ideas and suggestions to better support the FFG scholars from a sports science and athletic development perspective.
Again, it would have been easy for us to take the information garnered from our remote audit and prescribe a athletic development pathway and sports science programme that ticks all the boxes from our perspective, but that would have neglected the specific constraints and opportunities that the FFG face on a day-to-day basis, most notably, the sheer amount of football-related, academic and personal development work the scholars have to get through on a daily basis. A question we posed to ourselves early on during deployment was; is there any time to work on athletic development? Of course, with a better understanding of the why’s behind the what’s, David and Kate were able to generate some workarounds and suggestions for how the FFG could start developing the physical and mental characteristics of the scholars in a way that complements all the other commitments they have throughout their week.
Kate and David are both hugely experienced practitioners and have worked extensively at the very top echelons of elite sport for many, many years both in the UK and overseas - Kate for example has spent periods in both South Africa and Kenya whilst working with British Athletics and the English Institute of Sport. From my perspective as the Project Lead, it was humbling to see these practitioners so personally invested in the success of the FFG. All of the HP Projects team could legitimately be working anywhere in the world, for some of the most successful professional sports clubs and governing bodies on the planet, but they choose to be working with HP CIC, where there is no ‘glory’ and very little in the way of financial reward. To see practitioners like David and Kate wrestling with the challenges facing the FFG in Uganda over the course of the deployment was everything that HP CIC is set up to be - global best practice collaborating with local know-how to give a ‘sporting chance’ to some of the most under-served athletes in the world.
Kellie, the Head of Performance Support for HP CIC was tasked with the responsibility to lead the rest of the performance-science team, to link them altogether, keep them on track and to provide me the answers to my increasingly demanding questions! A job she has been executing for over 6 months already incredibly effectively.
On a day to day basis during deployment, Kellie split her time between shadowing FFG staff, assisting the rest of the HP team and liaising with me and accompanying me on some of the non-performance-science related tasks we had to complete throughout the week. At the same time, Kellie was also pulling all the information together from the team, directing where we needed to explore further and leading meetings throughout the week to keep us all on track and within the scope of our project goals.
Kellie joined me on meetings with external stakeholders throughout the week, including with the British High Commissioner to Uganda; H.E. Peter West - an essential part of what we do is building awareness of our work and managing an ever-growing network of individuals in and out of sport who can help facilitate our work. Kellie was on hand to outline the details of performance-science and how it can take good athletes to be great athletes, successful sportspeople to be outstanding sportspeople.
Since Kellie has joined HP CIC, she has been leading the development of the 'how' at HP CIC from a performance-science perspective, no small task (!?), she was presented a wide-ranging mission (our 'why' and 'what') and has been asked to distil the world of sports science into making our vision a realistic mission - this has seen her develop, in collaboration with her team, a comprehensive and extremely detailed framework that provides us with a foundation for exactly what high performance actually is in sport. Based on the very latest research from the world of academia, coupled with a collective team experience of over 100 years in elite and professional sport, the HP high performance framework is an agile and adaptable concept that has honed our understanding of what we are looking to achieve with our partner organisations, like the Football-For-Good Academy in Uganda. Kellie is an outstanding performance-science practitioner and physiologist, of that there was never a question, but her ability to apply her knowledge, and her experience to the HP mission has been a continuous breath of fresh air over the last (almost) year. As the Founding Director of the organisation, I knew from day one that despite spending a decade in professional sport, I needed someone who could quite legitimately call themselves 'world-class' to lead the performance-science team whilst I focused on the bigger picture at HP. I shortlisted about five or six targets for the role, four of which were realistic and obtainable, one of which was a pipe-dream - someone who had worked across several different continents in very, very senior roles, had worked on building out Olympic and Commonwealth programmes and had been instrumental in seeing projects through to the end in hugely challenging circumstances, one of which included leading teams who spoke three languages, none of them English. That one target was Dr Kellie Pritchard-Peschek, and I remain grateful for all her experience, all her expertise and above all, for having such a 'good human being' leading the team!
The next stage of the project (Stage 3) is in full swing - and as I write this, the weekly report from the team has pinged through into my inbox, the team are busy co-developing and fleshing out the details of our proposal on where we can add value to the FFG from a performance-science perspective. I look forward to Kellie and the team updating you all in due course on exactly what we're working on. In the meantime, please do follow us on social media for the latest updates on what we're up to, and keep an eye on 'The Hub' where we will be uploading more opinion pieces and some updates on our advocacy work to help tackle inequality in sport.
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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