The Performance Lifestyle (PL) team at the English Institute of Sport (EIS) work with a person-first approach to provide an individual coaching and mentoring service to all World Class Programme (WCP) athletes. Here, Jane Holden – Senior Performance Lifestyle Coach – explains how data has been incorporated into the PL strategy, and the positive effect it’s already having.
Career Assistance Programmes (CAPs) in elite sport increased globally over the last half of the 20th century, with early programmes focused on supporting athletes to adjust to athletic retirement and preparing for life after sport. More recently, research has shown the value of incorporating career development and career transitions.
Performance Lifestyle is the British Career Assistance Programme, with its purpose being to drive and deliver world-leading holistic athlete support and development for the benefit of both the person and the performer, as they move on to, through and beyond the WCP. Today the EIS PL team consists of 40 trained practitioners who are passionate about supporting athletes with their personal and lifestyle needs alongside their sporting ambitions, promoting and encouraging personal development that allows them to continue to grow as people as well as sporting performers.
Since the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there has undoubtedly been an increased focus on welfare, well-being and culture for all people in the high-performance system. UK Sport’s ‘Medals and More’ narrative is helping to shift the emphasis across the system, and initiatives such as the PL team’s #More2Me campaign are helping to encourage athletes to engage in personal development, interests and activities outside their sport to broaden their identity, grow as individuals and prepare for challenges and changes ahead.
The growth of the service in terms of number of practitioners and athletes has required an evolution of PL over the last two years. A key part of this was incorporating data to ensure we are effectively translating research into applied practice.
A strategic objective is to standardise our support and have clear PL sports strategies to ensure the service is individualised for each sport and athlete. A key part of this is capturing the athlete voice, ensuring we fully understand the athlete need and are effectively utilising our resources.
There were a number of examples where practitioners were capturing athlete need in a range of different formats. We had a clear picture of what we needed to do to create a standardised tool, but we did not have the resources or expertise to do so.
In addition to capturing the athlete need, we also wanted to enable practitioners to effectively document the work they are doing, giving them a clear understanding of where they have impact, and where the potential areas for development and exploration might be.
At the start of 2022, we reached out to the EIS Performance Data (PD) team to see what support might be available. This led to a data collaboration between our teams, where we looked to create a ‘PL Needs Analysis’ tool. Members of the PL team worked closely with the PD team over a number of months, to ensure we both fully understood the needs, required functionality and ultimate aims of the tool.
Through these conversations the PD team were able to create a tool which finally allowed us to consistently and easily capture the athlete voice. In addition to this, the PD team also understood that we wanted the tool to be much more than a data collection sheet – it needed to look good too! This led to the tool incorporating a visual report element, which allowed our practitioners to see and interpret the data that they had entered.
Whilst the whole reason for the project was to create a standardised tool to capture the athlete voice, we also required flexibility to cater for individual athlete need and an ability to use sport-specific language. The PD team were able to provide a customisable template which each practitioner could download and modify to suit their athletes and sports. This allowed us to capture all the data we needed, but also remain specific and relevant to the different sporting environments we were working with.
By collaborating with the PD team, we were easily able to explain our ideas confidently and as a result received a standardised tool for use across the entire discipline and team of practitioners. While the main focus of the project was to create the tool, we also saw that it was only useful if we utilised the insight it provided to have impact for athletes and sports.
Feedback from our Futures team, who provide support to athletes transitioning away from their WCPs, highlighted the positive impact of athletes tracking their own progress to help motivate and remain focused on their goals.
Emma Groome, Futures and Senior Performance Lifestyle Coach, said: “With the needs analysis tool being so flexible, we were easily able to customise the template and use areas which were more relevant to the athletes we were working with. A crucial aspect of athletes transitioning away from sport is their ability to make sense of it, and by using this tool the athletes were able to take control and identify particular areas of support they may require.”
The PL Needs Analysis tool is currently being piloted in Cycling and Equestrian, and we are already starting to see the direct impact it has for the athletes. I recently had the opportunity to work with an athlete starting on the WCP; they had just finished university and were moving into a rural premises to enable them to start their own business.
This transition can lead to some athletes having a sparse support network at an often very stressful time. In this instance we contextualised the tool to include ‘Support Network’ as part of the Mental Health & Well-Being pillar. We found that this particular individual had relatively low scores in this area during our first meeting. The tool allowed us to easily identify this, and we were able to prioritise meaningful conversations about how they felt about this transition.
This led to exploring potential options to improve their situation. After three months the athlete had taken steps to create better connections by dedicating time to engaging with their friends and family each month. The tool provided an effective framework and highlighted an important individual need, that may not have been identified from a previous induction conversation.
Whilst the tool enables us to identify these types of challenges, the greatest impact by far is enabling us to have more effective conversations regarding an athlete’s holistic development.
For more information about Performance Lifestyle at the EIS, click here. And more details about the Performance Data team can be found here.