What comes after disruption?

I have spent the morning reflecting on Wayne Goldsmith’s Facebook post about the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

The introduction to his post includes this observation:

It’s breaking my heart – and I am outside the Australian system these days – I can’t imagine what it must be like to actually work there.

I empathise with Wayne’s sentiments.

I was fortunate to be at the AIS for five years. I came to Australia in 2002 to be part of a vibrant culture that had so impressed me at the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000.

I do think the Sydney Games disrupted world sport and in doing so placed the Australian high performance system at peril. The triumph for Great Britain at the London Games in 2012 is one example of the disruption being amplified beyond Australia. I think too that the flourishing of Japan and New Zealand among other Olympic nations is part of this process.

Australia’s high water mark in 2000 set a level for other nations. It demonstrated that a commitment to a daily training environment guided by coaches and supported by passionate service providers was scaleable in any country committed to an ethical high performance system (and to those who were not).

Australia had to deal with internal forces of disruption too. Applied sport scientists became targets for increasingly well-funded football codes (particularly rugby league and Australian rules football). Each professional club became a micro institute of sport emboldened by the AIS model.

I believe it was profoundly difficult to address the disruption caused by Sydney 2000 in a federal political structure without a commitment to long term funding for sport. The entrepreneurial spirit that had characterised the AIS in the 1990s appeared to be more constrained by the political climate in the decade after the Games. 

The constraints upon the AIS coincided with professional sport in Australia exploring innovation. These codes were able to manage risk (and face the consequences) rather than avoid it.

Wayne has a ten point action plan for a relevant and resurgent AIS. His point 6 relates to coaching and the role a national coaching institute might play. I see this as a bottom up approach vital to Australia having a values-based sport system.

I do think this is a time of a whole of sport response to why we lay claim to sport being a central life interest for Australians. Our future is more about people than it is about facilities.

I do believe that we have an immense task ahead of us to re-embed daily physical activity in our culture. Teachers and coaches in the community are for me the synapse that allows us to think globally and act locally.

The next decade is a time when a humble Australian sport system might re-invent itself. We might learn from, rather than copy, others whom we have disrupted.

More than ever, we need to persuade young people that sport can be a life interest nourished by a process of learning rather than an economic investment in medal outcomes that loses the soul of personal engagement.

Wayne’s post and my experience at a local school yesterday prompt me to think we can do better by being ourselves.

At the school, it was the last day of term. The whole school (130 pupils) was out in the playground … skipping. It was a torrent of activity and laughter. Year 6s cared for Kindergarten children, boys and girls played together effortlessly. I was delighted that my granddaughter, Ivy, was right amongst it.

I am naive enough to think that care is at the core of the renewal of Australian sport. Our point of difference could be our cultural diversity.

A values based sport system lets go of outcomes, I believe. The outcomes will take care of themselves because in not aspiring to be the best sport system in the world, we can be through our efforts.

I am profoundly grateful to Wayne for enabling me to reflect on my experiences. I love the idea that we can flourish by de-emphasisng facilities and emphasising our people.

Photo Credits

Mongarlowe (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

St Bede’s (School web site)

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