4 high-performance tips from the Winter Olympics


23 February 2018


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4 high-performance tips from the Winter Olympics

The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was a historic even for Team GB, who experienced both, heartbreak and complete elation, surpassing their best medal count in Winter Olympic history (1). Achieving success at the highest level is largely dependent on the high-performance environment (HPE) that surrounds the individual(s) and is contingent on doing many things right, on a consistent basis. We’ve used examples from Pyeongchang to bring to life 4 tips to create a high-performing environment in your business that will breed success.

  1. Using leadership to motivate

A supportive leader helps performers feel motivated and empowered to achieve their vision. After three disqualifications at both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, setbacks are unfortunately familiar for short-track speed skater Elise Christie. Despite her bad Olympic luck, the triple world champion (2) has demonstrated sustained success outside of the Olympics and was the first British woman to win a gold World Championship medal, something that would not have been possible without supportive leaders around her.

"Elise is here to compete over three different distances. We have role-played what happens if the first one doesn't go to plan, so we will regroup, we'll refocus. We'll give her time to just digest…We have brought our psychologist out with us - we have scenario-planned a lot of this.” (Dr Stewart Laing, Performance director of British short-track speed skating) (3)

An effective leader should provide the right balance of vision, challenge and support. An environment that is too challenging with little support can lead to burnout, and an environment where there is little challenge and too much support can lead to complacency and underperformance. Leaders must monitor this balance and articulate the shared vision that the whole team is striving towards.

  1. Give people the tools to perform

“You can control the airflow over different parts of the suits by having different materials…We can then take that, run the simulation on it and then understand the aerodynamics for that individual athlete.” (4)

Inspired by the razor thin suits worn by GB’s cyclists in Rio 2016, a team of technicians have worked to develop aerodynamic suits for Team GB’s Skeleton Team, allowing them to reach speeds of up to 90mph (5). The exact makeup of the razor-sharp suits is top-secret but were a contributing factor in Team GB’s impressive 3 Olympic medals in this event. Comparatively, in a sport of fine margins in the women’s bobsleigh, the difference between 1st and 2nd place was 0.07 seconds (6). A lack of funding meant that Team GB struggled to compete with the high-tech equipment of their competitors and finished in 8th place. 

"To put it in perspective. Mica [McNeill] has a good sled but it's not compared to the BMWs, the sleds of the Germans. The start is solid, but again another four years of training and she's going to be right up there.” (6)

‘Performance enablers’ are the tools which give individuals the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. Here, we specifically focus on instruments which are the physical tools that can either help or hinder the performer. Success at the highest level can come down to the finest of details. This is shown by the technology that went into designing Team GB’s razor-thin skeleton suit compared to Team GB’s less technologically advanced bobsleigh sleds. Despite finishing in 8th place in the bobsleigh, duo McNeill and Moore have demonstrated their potential and are hopeful that they will have the instruments to be able to compete with the best at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“You're always looking at technology…You give them the training, you give them the knowledge and you improve the equipment - anything is possible.” (6)

  1. Get trust from leaders

"At times over the last four years it's been so hard and I've doubted myself and wondered whether I could get back to where I wanted to be, but the team never lost faith and that's why I'm back here on the podium." Lizzie Yarnold (7)

Yarnold’s second consecutive Olympic gold in Skeleton is arguably one of GB’s great successes of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. A contributing factor to Yarnold’s contagious attitude and drive to be the best athlete that she could be, undoubtedly came from the team that surrounded her. Her coach Eric Bernotas, played a monumental part in Yarnold’s comeback from Sochi 2014. Yarnold states, "…initially I wanted to be world champion and European champion and I managed that with Eric. And now together to win another Olympic title is just awesome" (8).  Yarnold describes Bernotas as having a deep respect and belief in all of his athletes, “…even when I'm not sure if I can do it, Eric is there giving me little nudges towards the start block” (9).

‘People’ is the third component of a high performing environment. Three critical aspects of human resource drive organisational performance: attitude, capacity and behaviour. Trust in a leader is a large contributor in motivating individuals, which will shape their attitude and will ultimately have an influence on their behaviour. Those who trust their leader perform at higher levels and show more commitment to the organisation with the belief that their team has the capacity to perform at a high level. This most definitely can be said for Yarnold and her gold winning performance and commitment to her coach and GB Skelton.

  1. Create a driven climate

In the run up to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, Team GB’s squad was stronger than ever, with 59 athletes in total. With our most ambitious medal target ever, aiming for a haul of five medals and a top end hope of up to ten medals, Team GB went into the games with a focus on achievement (8). This created a positive and determined climate for the athletes to go beyond the four medals that they won in Sochi 2014. Not only did this give team GB something to strive towards, but it also brought a sense of togetherness and belongingness, to embark on a journey together to make history for Great Britain. A culture that focuses on goal achievement has been found to have a positive influence on performance; it helps to stimulate a positive mindset across the team and a collective desire to be successful. This desire to achieve has been demonstrated by Team GB who already have their sights set on the next Olympics in Beijing. 


Gone are the days where human performance is viewed in isolation. Humans are not one-dimensional beings and the performance environment is just as important as the people performing in them. Together with the other core elements of the HPE model, the four focus areas discussed will serve as a useful tool for leaders to manage current deliverables and help build a framework for consistent, sustainable success in performance management.


Co-authored by Charlotte Derbyshire.












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