NESC Forum 2009: Dan Billing

Allan Hahn introduced Dan Billing as the first presenter in the afternoon session. At present Dan’s work is addressing occupation (trade) specific requirements in the Australian military. His talk was entitled Human Performance in the Military Context.

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Dan discussed the environments in which soldiers perform and considered the implications of physical fatigue in a military context. He noted the importance of adaptability and discussed the monitoring of the potential weakest links in teams.

Dan explained the deployment cycle for military personnel. The cycle involves personal training, task force generation, preparation, deployment, and demounting (reconstitution, recovery and leave). He discussed the recruitment prcesses and the dilemmas posed by the difference between chronological age and training age. He noted the need to identify early those individuals of poor physical condition and how to monitor carefully the exercise dose across 1000 recruits.

In the next part of the talk Dan discussed selection into specialist occupations in the military. He noted the importance of physical robustness, dealing with dislocated expectations and mental resilience. The recruitment process was particularly important in identifying those with an internal locus of control.

Dan discussed the prevention of heat injuries in the field. He noted the use of hand held heat stress monitors. Dan’s group is developing guidelines for heat acclimation. He noted that the incidence of heat stress is linked to the load military personnel carry. These loads can range from 22kgs to 55kgs in some cases.

Dan developed his talk with a discussion of mission rehearsal exercises. He noted the importance attached to the fidelity of rehearsal contexts and the use of equipment to monitor physiological status. He indicated that prognosis and diagnosis are possible with these status measures.

Dan discussed deployment with reference to physical capability and body composition. He noted the different approaches required by missions and emphasised the importance of balanced physical capability.


Dan concluded his talk with a discussion of the development of generic fitness standards for military personnel and the establishment of baseline standards.

Dan concluded his talk with some key challenges:

  • The relative proportion of pull (reactive) research compared to fundamental push research.
  • Converting research into policy is time consuming
  • Posting cycles impact upon planning
  • Hierarchical structures


NESC Forum 2009: Morning Session Day 1: Introductions


Peter Fricker, Director of the Australian Institute of Sport, welcomed delegates to the 2009 NESC Forum. There are 250 delegates in attendance at the Forum. Peter noted the importance of collaboration in the ethos of the Forum.

Peter invited the new chair of NESC, Steve Lawrence (Western Australia Institute of Sport), to open the Forum. Steve noted the venue for this year’s Forum and its significance in world sport. Steve recognised NESC members and thanked Wes Battams chair of NESC for the last five years.

Steve affirmed that NESC has been a vigorous focus for debate. He noted that NESC supports national success within state based rivalry. This sports system has tensions and NESC has worked for sixteen years to deliver outcomes for Australian sport. Steve emphasised the importance of the daily training environment in NESC’s work: a coach led multidisciplinary approach to enhancing performance. NESC represents a $90 million investment by the Federal Government and State Governments (this is a $20m greater investment than for the Sydney Games). There are 3100 athletes in the system (a 20% decrease from Sydney) and 490 core business staff (a 20% increase). Coaches make up 45% of this increase in staff. Steve confirmed that NESC invests in support for athletes and reported that 75% of all Olympic athletes came out of the NESC system in last two Olympic cycles. Recently, NESC has developed a national collective agreement and national athlete support agreement.

Steve introduced David Martin to the delegates.

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David presented a talk entitled: Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery.

David pondered whether imitation is the first sign of weakness. Is AIS a copy of Russian and GDR systems? Is it an ethical GDR system?

David suggested that we converge on good ideas rather than copying them. He explored some ideas around convergent evolution.

David discussed early scientists at the AIS. He cited the work of Dick Telford, Allan Hahn, Peter Fricker and Louise Burke. He argued that these scientists are great examples of people prepared to put their skills to a real test.

David’s talk paused to acknowledge the 11 o’clock minute of silence. On recommencing the talk, David spoke movingly about Amy Gillett. He discussed the characteristics of a special institute that welcomes athletes and affirms their life choices in sport. David reflected on the Sydney Olympics and the energy that comes with a home Olympic Games.

David concluded his talk with  a proclamation of confidence and used a video of a recent AIS altitude camp to demonstrate this confidence.

NESC Forum 2009: Graeme Joy

Steve Lawrence introduced Graeme Joy. Graeme was the joint leader and navigator of the International North Pole Expedition where he became the first and only Australian to ski to the North Pole..


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In this presentation he discussed his North Pole adventure and explored how to be successful as a team of eight people making it to the North Pole.

The journey to the North Pole started at Cape Columbia. The straight line distance from there to the North Pole is 860kms. The team travelled over 1100kms to get to the Pole as a result of sea ice movement. Temperatures at the start of the expedition were -60 degrees.

Graeme presented some of Jim Collins‘ ideas about sustained performance. These included setting a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for the Pole expedition. Graeme cautioned about idea assassins. The more vocal of whom appear to know least and mobilise failure information.

Graeme discussed personality types and team membership. He identified: drivers, amiables, expressives, and analyticals. He pointed out that we are attracted to people with whom we get along but it is difficult to build a team around this attraction. He considered how directed responsiveness and directed assertiveness were components of the team environment. Graeme pointed out that teams needed variety of preferred styles to enable agility in decision making.

The three members of the leadership team were: a driver/driver; an analytical;  and an expressive/driver. Three leaders were chosen to avoid one leader’s burnout over a two month period.  in the team. It was decided also not to change leaders regularly in a democratic way to avoid constant change in the team’s atmosphere. A team of three provides a sustainable style.

Graeme noted that Level 5 leaders: were ambitious for the team; sustained results; committed to whatever it takes; and accept full responsibility. The team that went to the Pole was selected over a seven month period.  The three expedition founders people made the first team choices and thereafter the team was built with ongoing inclusion in decision making.

The remaining five members of the team were: expressive; analytical/driver; analytical; amiable/analytical; analytical/driver. Graeme believes that “we put the right people on our bus”. Team members had the same view of the same expedition.

Graeme provided details of how the team trained for two years to get ready for the expedition. He provided examples of training in rough ice (there were 2500 pressure ridges between the start and end points of the expedition which equated to climbing Everest from sea level) and the need to minimise all weight carried or dragged (including an eight-man tent weighing 1.5 kgs per person load). The team slept out of the tent in training to prepare for damage to the tent in the expedition. Graeme discussed deliberate practice (Anders Ericsson) in this context.

The aim of training was to address the brutal facts of the journey: recognise the real truth; acknowledge a step by step approach; and to confront real. The Ericsson-inspired approach to training meant that the team  spent a great deal of time on ridge ice. They used immediate feedback and continuous improvement. Graeme observed that “rough ice not pleasant but we got through it”. On the ice you can move backwards by going forwards. But can you move forwards too.

Graeme then turned his attention to making mistakes in training. He suggested these mistakes occurred either because the individual does not know enough or conversely you know it so well you do not pay attention to detail. An example of the latter is a frostbite blister one of the team members developed in training.

The whole aim of the preparation was to deliver the ability to work for set hours per day activity and measured rest intervals. During the expedition the team saw 36 sets of bear tracks. Given the polar bear is one of most effective hunting animals the team sought Inyuit advice about how to manage bear attacks. Interestingly, the analyticals in the team researched this part of the team’s needs.  (This was also the case in learning how to ‘read’ the ice.)

The expedition did receive regular deliveries of resources by plane. Ice splitting example. Each plane drop costs $45,000 and therefore required some skilled people at the home base to ensure all materials were packed for each drop. The provisions were resourced, packed and shipped by an analytical type.

Medical tests were conducted throughout the trip. Graeme shared some images of the frostbite dangers in the trip and the need when necessary to have whole body washes with medicated soap.

Graeme gave some examples of what if training that proved valuable particularly for wayfinding with a sextant when GPS systems froze.

Within the expedition there were opportunities to resolve conflict and Graeme gave an example of an Amiable and Driver interaction over nutrition. He noted that during conflict individuals revert to their strongest personal style. Other team members defused this conflict by addressing the team’s agreed goal and then discussed what (if anything) had changed. The problem was resolved by communication.

Graeme then discussed the role courage plays in forging a team. He noted that the team increased its workload to 12 hrs per day for 20 days. This involved moderate risk taking and a chess game with contours and fissures in the ice. The terrain bred a culture of discipline in thought and action. Fissures in the ice require teams to work together to advance on the ice.

The North Pole goal was achieved whilst supporting a team member who had badly frostbitten toes and a frostbitten heel. The a team removed responsibilities from injured team mate. “We reduced the weight he had to carry because we could not tow him!” The injured team mate still has to decide to make it happen. One foot in front of the other for 20 hours. He was not allocated new roles other than the role to get to the Pole. (There were only two moments of doubt on the expedition: these injuries, and the step up from 11 to 12 hours per day.)

Key characteristics of this experience included:

  • Accountability and responsibility
  • Assessment of  progress
  • Seeking the real truth
  • Solving disagreements and conflicts immediately
  • Understanding differences
  • Embrace and nurture winners
  • Commitment to making the team great