NESC Forum 2009: Wilma Shakespear and Michael Scott

The first session of day was introduced by Anne-Marie Harrison (Victorian Institute of Sport). She welcomed Wilma Shakespear and Michael Scott to their joint presentation providing an international perspective to the Forum.

Wilma Shakespear discussed  her experiences at English Institute of Sport (EIS) and her global observations about high performance environments. She described her early experiences in arriving in England in 2001 and noted the transformation of the high performance sports system over the following eight years. Two key features of the change in this time were the merging of EIS in UK Sport and the  allocation of funds to successful programs.

Wilma observed that as the system changed the focus of the system changed. The system became creative and innovative. It was targeted at sports who were close to medal performance. There was broad spectrum engagement. Development programs were part of this change.

Wilma pointed to the emergence of a Performance Directors’ Forum within UK Sport. This forum enabled exchanges at a time when the system was developing. She noted too the annual conference hosted by UK Sport as a much anticipated event that everyone wanted to attend.

In her overview of global developments, Wilma compared the Olympic Gold Medal table for USA and Germany 1988-2008. She noted the structural issues Germany faced and the internal focus that emerged post re-unification. Wilma emphasised the global forces at play in high performance sport and urged delegates to respect and recognise the knowledge available within and outside Australia.

Wilma concluded her talk with the characteristics of an outstanding high performance system:

  • The Australian daily training environment
  • The Japanese planning approach
  • The French integration of education
  • UK funding, research and innovation
  • The German club structure
  • Canadian approaches to high performance independence

Michael Scott

images Photo Source

Michael’s presentation to the Forum was specific to swimming. As background information, Michael noted that Great Britain won 6 medals in Beijing  (more than last four Olympics combined). In the Rome 2009 World Championships Great Britain won eight medals (placed third on points score, and 27 finalists.)

Michael noted that performance success has clear implications for funding. He reported that UK Sport adopts a no compromise approach to funding success. Michael is accountable for the performance of swimmers and is employed by HP Swimming Ltd, a body independent of Bitish Swimming.

Funding for swimming in the 2005-2009 quadrennium was 20 million pounds (sterling) and for 2009-2013 this rose to 25 million pounds sterling. These funds include:  athlete funding awards, SSSM appointments in Scotalnd, Wales, and the There are 30 staff at present not all full time. There are additional funds for performance lifestyle support too. Further investment is being made in research and innovation. Michael has responsibility all aspects of World Class Performance.

In the UK there are 5 training centres with 14 full-time coaches. These training centres are operated and managed by British Swimming. Michael was very clear that Swimming in the UK controls its own destiny. It is one of a small number of sports that has guaranteed four year funding with additional funding bonuses if 2010 performance goals are met.

Michael noted that the performance plan for Swimming requires identified annual benchmark events  (2010 Commonwealth Games, 2011 World Championships, Shanghai). Athletes are assessed at these events. Success is calibrated in a series of athlete incentive payments: Podium Level A 26,000 pounds sterling, Finalist 19,000 pounds sterling, Top 16 finish 13,000 pounds sterling. Ultimately the strict incentives are designed to deliver performance at the home Olympics.

Michael directs the British Institute of Swimming. It is a hands on role. He has a strategic plan for four years. Each year there are Annual Performance Target KPIs in three Dimensions: athlete, climate, systems. UK Sport undertakes an independent survey of athletes’ perceptions. These KPIs:

  • Monitor progress
  • Provide evidence of impact
  • Inform prioritisation
  • Help understand factors most important in the lead up to the Olympics

Michael noted that 42% of Australian medals in Beijing were won by swimmers. He noted too that despite this funding in 2009 was the lowest in the quadrennium. ustralia had a $2m decrease whilst GB had an increase 5 million pounds sterling. Michael indicated that Europe is getting stronger in swimming and drew attention in particular to Germany and Russia. He noted Brazil’s improvement even before the Olympics award.

Michael’s strong concluding point was that Australia must decide on its funding model. He emphasised the importance of accountability and controlling one’s own destiny.

NESC Forum 2009: Panel Session

Patrick Hunt introduced Neil Craig, Ken Wallace, Gary Slater, Andrew Matheson as the panel members.

Patrick noted that the theme for the NESC Forum was relationships between coach, practitioner, manager, and athlete. This panel explored these relationships. Patrick worked as the facilitator for this panel.


Photo Source

Andrew discussed how a diverse group of people worked together in a network for a performance outcome cohered in rowing.

Neil discussed how the system worked in a club culture. It is a culture that is results driven. It is strong on continuing improvement. Athletes deliver the product. The expectation of sports scientists is to fit into the culture. The club has decided to compete in all games. This needs innovation and the willingness to make errors. The expectation is that you must contribute to the health of the team: you must trust each other and work together. It is important to address any issues early. Neil emphasised accountability and responsibility.

Gary discussed his role as practitioner bringing teams together. He noted the dfferent role he played as a consultant.

Ken discussed his role as an athlete. Want to work closely with coach. Trust and communication. A lot of services happen away from me as athlete. Athlete wants everyone on same page and for me to be the best. Example of Beijing Games. Communications system as an example. Ken’s background doing it tough outside the system. Love and passion before HP system. Still discovering opportunities. Top end 1% quest.


Photo Source

Neil discussed what would change the team dynamic. Losing He is getting better at being no different at all. Adversity is seen as an opportunity, and the voice of responsibility is encouraged. Players want a balanced approach from coach and from each other. Blame is transformed by responsibility. The club has a 24 hour rule about response to performance. After 24 hours next phase starts. Winning is a challenge particularly with a block of success (Geelong, Women’s Hockey) and can be seductive. There needs to be a rigorous, candid approach. AFL performance is very public. This is a whole club ethos and the senior coach’s responsibility. Neil defines and dictates the culture of the club. There are tough conversations to ensure no issues fester.

Andrew discussed his NZ experience and noted the strength of a centralised program. Everyone is in same place. It is easy to facilitate discussions and interactions. Centralisation helps simplify delivery. There are many enablers focused on performance.

Neil asked who controls this relationship? Who appoints? At the club Neil determines employment decisions. What if you are a sports scientist in a system? This led to a wide ranging discussions about sport scientists and coaching.

Andrew discussed chasing the 1% of innovation and missing the 95%: what if we get the right athletes and coaches; develop simple technical models from the first stroke: and the athletes are conditioned and nourished. They will be well prepared athletes. Andrew continued with his discussion of managing a data rich sport. It is very important to have critical wisdom to identify relevant, appropriate data.

Neil discussed managing interactions within a club and the importance to be attached to meetings and touching base. Gary discussed facilitating a network of practitioners. Ken discussed the occasional meetings with service staff and continuous daily work with coach.

Andrew, Ken, Gary and Neil discussed what excited them about their work.