Kategori: In English

Mamma Mia, what a party!

Mamma Mia!

I was lucky enough to get invited to a Christmas party yesterday. To be honest, it was a Christmas lunch but as the afternoon went on and the festivities evolved I think the word ”party” more adequately sums up the general feeling. Hosting, was the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in the UK, very professionally mastered by chairman Jan Olsson and CEO Peter Sandberg. Most of the work, however, done by the incredibly talented group of young men and women on scholarships with the Chamber. The reason I was there was that the project #elitesports2030 took part in the conference, #outerthinking, the day before. Having written about the conference, and the role of sports, already I am not going to go into that again. Instead I am focusing on the partying.

The role of the Chamber is to promote Swedish-UK relations in order to increase and help business. This could also be put in the reverse order. No matter how it is phrased, this is a long standing relationship. Sweden seems to have a good reputation, one linked to quality, nature and, overall what is perceived as sound values, in the UK. After a very nice lunch, filled with Swedish and British anecdotes, including a Swedish Lucia performance, the grand finale consists of a true Swedish success story. When the cast from Mamma Mia, the Party, enters the ballroom, they embody all the values that every politician and business person would like to be able to communicate, through being perceived as ”Swedish”. What Abba has done for the perception of Sweden abroad cannot be overestimated.

As I am travelling home the following day I am thinking that this is the role that sport has the opportunity to step into. Particularly as I remember the words of my next-door neighbour at the lunch, saying that the Sweden connection for our global companies is not all positive nowadays. The Sweden brand has been hurt by the changes of the political landscape, the increase in shootings and the overall perception of where the country is going. I think it is simply time for sport to step forward. After all,

When Sweden wins, we all win.

Sustaining sports

Through breakfast with a friend, where we are discussing the ins and outs of children’s and youth’s sports, I end up in very familiar territory. It is where most of us think that the way ”things” are done in the current ”system” of sports just ain’t right.

Most countries have ended up in a situation where we have physicians and medical doctors talking about how injuries that used to occur in the professional game, through years of overuse, are frequently seen among 15-year olds. We see numerous athletes fighting issues with mental health and, even more frightening, we have large groups within the population that either have not ever come in contact with sport, or have lost interest in it completely, somewhere along the road.

The question, how on earth did we get to this, might be simple but I have a feeling the answers are a bit more complicated. Unfortunately, I think high performance sport has a role in it. Or perhaps this should read: sport with incentives that relate to performance?

My head goes spinning as I come across an article in the magazine Times, about the Overtime Elite league. Here athletes are paid six figure (in USD) salaries to play basketball. Even I know that there are opportunities to play and earn money in sports. What I didn’t know is that you can do that, in basketball, instead of going to college, at the age of 16 to 19. The league suggests that this is an alternative route to get to the NBA and that the youngsters are also given support to study besides their basketball. Something in me starts to doubt that the latter will be particularly emphasised. The cynical in me instead sees similarities with how the young (boys), often with a deprived background, have been lured into various things before, and this is just yet another example.

However, the more I dig myself down in my own thoughts I realise that many of the young, and slightly older, athletes that are to compete in China in the Olympic and Paralympic games shortly have a very similar situation. Thanks to their excellence in sport they have been put on a scholarship, from an organisation that coordinates a national campaign for Olympic and Paralympic medals. Worst case they have been encouraged to scrap their education as that takes time away from training. And believe me, they have worked hard and focused on developing as an athlete. Some of them will come back with a medal, but very few will do so having secured a financially reasonable standard for themselves for the foreseeable future. Even less so have they earned themselves any points towards a healthy pension when, one day, it is time to retire. And, judging by what those physicians are saying, that day could come earlier than planned as by now, many of them will have been focused on one sport only for quite some time.

So, as a breath of fresh air comes this article about how Norway’s focus on participation, described as radically different, have helped lift the country to the top of the world in a number of sports. And these sports are not just winter sports with skiis closely tied to the feet. Interestingly, articles like this regularly come out ahead of, during or after the winter Olympics as Norway beats the rest of the world. Of course the sport for all philosophy is not the only explanation. Hard and focused work has a place in there to.

When I now consider how to put a new, fresh injection into Swedish international high performance sport I understand that it needs to be done in a way that is sustainable and long term viable – for the athletes. And I think that we can find some strong partners in this quest for excellence!

Is it a new dawn?

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good…

Perhaps the words of Nina Simone in Feeling Good is a way to start the new year? In some respects, 2022 marks a fresh start for me as I am embarking on a new challenge. From now on I will focus on managing the project of #elitesports2030. This is a new sports-overarching elite sports programme designed to turn around a negative trend for Swedish high performance sport. It is a joint initiative from the Swedish Sports Confederation, The Swedish National Olympic Committee, the Swedish Parasport Federation and the Swedish National Paralympic Committee.

Of course this project is not a million miles away from the directing of the high performance programme that I have done to date. The difference though is that this new assignment focuses more on what we (currently) have not got, rather than on making use of what we have. Money that is. Financials. Resources.

Without spoiling, some new research from the SPLISS-consortium will be published in January. The researchers behind the study that identified the nine pillars leading to olympic medal success have reinvestigated the first pillar, finances, and reviewed the participating countries in the study ahead of Tokyo 2020 (which in the end became 2021). Sweden was not part of the original study in 2008 but we are included in the review. And it comes timely. The data shows that Sweden places dead last of the 14 countries in the study. Behind Finland and Flanders, which is not even a country but a part of Belgium that, because of the political structure of the Belgian state, has it’s own sports policy. If your job is to support Swedish elite sports, that is not great.

Looking out in the world it is not like other countries are standing still. I have previously written about the UK where the government is continuing it’s strong support to UK Sport, and just before Christmas, news came from New Zealand about substantial investments in high performance sports. 810 million Swedish kronor (90 million USD) is forwarded by the government to High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) and it is easy to be jealous.

However, there is no reason to start a new year in jealousy. Control the controllable is usually good advice and hence, work is just about to start!

The evolution of a sport – and a nation

Wimbledon Park on Sunday morning. Lots of courts and lots of tennis.

I had almost forgotten. What it can be like when a nation comes to a stop, because of sports. Perhaps it was not quite the type of Stenmark halt that Sweden came to in the 1970’s, when the alpine giant speeded down the slopes. But for 2021, it is spectacular how many of the British spent their Saturday night in front of the TV watching the Women’s US Open final. In fact, it was so special that it deserves an English blog post from me.

As it happened, I spent this weekend in London. And not just in the city, but in Wimbledon. Perhaps the most tennisloving part of the planet. My friends tell me about how the neighbors compete at doing the greatest tennis decoration of their house and garden, during the weeks of the All England Championship every year. This could be explained, at least in part, by the view that greeted me during my Sunday morning run through Wimbledon Park. There is a lot of tennis played in that park. It may not have increased from Saturday night, and Emma Raducanu’s fantastic win at the Arthur Ashe stadium where she entered the championship as a qualifier, but there sure is every chance to get involved if you are interested.

As the British papers write about this being the greatest moment of British tennis ever, transforming elite performance into mass participation has never been an easy thing. Something tells me the British might just be able to do that though. Yes, tennis is still (considered) elitist and expensive, but here is a champion of the multicultural country of the modern day. She must be a dream come true for the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), and why not for the Queen herself, given that Emma is already believed to be in line for the New Year’s Honour’s list. And if somebody can manage that conversion, from elite to grassroots – and back again, perhaps it is the LTA. They have got the money, the personnel and the desire. And they certainly have the support of the British media. Now, it is up to you guys.

Just do it!

The numbers game

Två miljarder, sjuhundrasjuttionio miljoner, sjuhundratrettiofem tusen, trettionio kronor. Och sextio öre. Google hjälper mig snabbt att översätta det svindlande beloppet 232 miljoner pund till svensk valuta.

2 779 735 039,60 kronor.

Så mycket tillkännagav den brittiska regeringen nyligen att man tänker satsa på att stärka landets olympiska och paralympiska chanser i Paris 2024. Jämfört med perioden som ledde fram till Tokyo-OS är det en ökning med 44%. Storbritannien, som i dessa sammanhang kompletteras med de nordirländska idrottare som väljer Team GB snarare än Irland, är framgångsrikt i både olympiska och paralympiska spel. Så har det inte alltid varit. Då jag 2005-2006 någon gång deltog på UK World Class Coaching Conference som organiserades av UK Sport minns jag hur det nästan låg ett löjets skimmer över målet ”fourth in the medal table” som just hade satts för Peking-OS 2008. Dels för att många tyckte det var märkligt att sikta på fjärde plats, om man nu skulle ta ordentlig sats, dels för att det ansågs nästan utopiskt. Målet nåddes, spelen på hemmaplan i London 2012 blev närmast mytiska, och 2016 blev British Olympic Association först att vid påföljande spel, efter sådana hållna på hemmaplan, vinna flera medaljer än just vid hemmaspelen.

Även hos oss har en viss diskussion förekommit i media om statligt stöd till elitidrott. Sveriges Olympiska Kommittés förre vice ordförande, Per Palmström, skrev om att medaljer i mindre idrotter kostar statligt stöd. Mottagandet från de (män) som engagerade sig var minst sagt svalt och tämligen raljerande. Att medaljer i ädla valörer och välstånd i landet skulle hänga ihop ifrågasätts kan man säga.

Och det är inte så himlans lätt att visa samband mellan idrottsliga framgångar och nästan vad som helst faktiskt. Kanske det kommer någon mer turist till ett land som visat sig framstående, möjligen säljs det en och annan exportvara ytterligare, och inte helt omöjligt är det att någon utsocknes ifrån, gärna med stort kapital, bestämmer sig att flytta hit.

Eller så är det bara så att det, för i alla fall ganska stora delar av befolkningen, är roligare när det går bra, än när det går dåligt. Och ska det gå bra så kommer det att kosta. Det verkar den brittiska regeringen ha accepterat. Och även om det går att tycka allt möjligt om att statliga pengar satsas på att bevisa nationalistisk excellens gör det onekligen situationen allvarligt svårare för oss andra. Det blir helt enkelt till att kavla upp ärmarna!

An outsider’s view

With the current state of ”all things digital” that we live in I ran a workshop the other day on the topic of digital transformation of sport, relating to performance. There are, of course, many areas that due to Covid-19 have switched from in real life events to digital equivalents. Mostly, I see this in way of conferences, educational offers and initiatives involving some sort of communications. If the block on crowds at events continues for much longer I am sure we will also see new inventions on the fan side of things in order for sports to try to reestablish some sort of atmosphere, that used to be unique to sports. I, for example, have already seen a Japanese invention where fans through an app on their phone can contribute to the noise in the arena where a match is played, thanks to the massive speakers that have been put there, connected to the app. Instead of actually being in the arena fans do this from the comfort of their living room couch. Anyone who has endured a Bundesliga football match of lately would welcome that.

What is striking to me in this webinar that I am hosting though is how people from the outside, with completely different expertise from what we are used to in sports, can contribute if we only dare to let them loose. This time it is two people with a background in statistical analysis in business, i.e. real estate, stock broking and insurance, that with their understanding of numbers open up insights that I and many more in sports have not previously come close. With the enormous big data sets that are often available today, the skill to analyse and use data to forecast future events has become a must have in a successful coaching team.

With that I guess one could argue that sports are nearing the kind of modelling that is currently frequently discussed under the heading of Covid-19. Perhaps not quite as serious but in order to move things forward on our end we have at least decided to start a network for ”nerds of numbers”. Who is up for it?

Not just the The English Game

With the Corona-virus, or some other bug, holding its grip firmly around my neck I spent Saturday night on the couch with my only company being Netflix and the brilliant new original series The English Game. This takes us back to the late 19th century when football was a game played between gentlemen that predominantly came out of the private schools in the south. Already in the first episode these gentlemen are challenged by a team from the north, made up of working men from one of the many mills where football was what carried a bit of hope and joy into the hard life of a blue collar. For the quarter final of the FA Cup where this team of northerners were to travel to London the owner of the mill had brought in an additional two players from Scotland. This caused serious friction in the team as why on earth would somebody leave home to play football? Football was something you did with your mates in your local team. Of course these players were two of the first professional players in the game, even though payment probably came in the form of a job at the mill.

As I watch the English game I reflect on how sports over the years at different times have had to deal with the issue of professionalism. To the players in the English Game playing football for money was to go as low as you could possibly go in sports. It was cheating, not just because it was against the rules but because it had absolutely no decency. Now, compare that with where football is today.

Other sports have been much later in this process. For example my own sport, golf, is only now looking at rewriting its rules of amateur status. The purpose of the amateur status rules in most sports have always been twofold:

  1. To protect the (amateur) athlete who plays sport in his or her time off from work and therefore will find it difficult to compete with somebody who plays full time.
  2. To protect the sport from what would always be ”the lure of the dollar” where the risk of players bending, or even breaking, the rules in order to find advantages on the pitch would simply threaten to destroy the game.

Watching the English Game gives me a feeling that something at the heart of what sport used to be, and probably was meant to be, has been lost, and is also forever gone. Even if it might take some time before we have another chance (post Corona) it is worth considering what difference it would have made if that next Premier League or Serie A match did not have money on the line. But then again no, in our time that is impossible to even imagine!

Why augmented reality should loose its augmenticity

A very Swedish tradition is the week’s break from school that students have sometime from the second week of February to the second week of March. Starting with the southernmost part of the country the break works it’s way up north. It is called the ”sport break” alluding to the fact that a good idea would be for the kids to get out of school and hit the slopes, the ice or perhaps nowadays, even the more or less evergreen grass. Whether kids actually do this is another issue as we know that much of the behaviour of children when they are out of school depends on their parents.

So, with very little winter sport happening around Stockholm, we decided to go on a little family trip. Our youngest child have read a serious of books called Pax. Seriously dramatic and exciting books taking place in the little town of Mariefred, south of Stockholm. The great thing now is that the books can be relived in the authentic surroundings of Mariefred. All it takes is a phone, the downloaded app and a pair of headphones. Five of us entered the world of Grimmen, Alrik and Viggo and in no time we were completely absorbed by the story and our exploration of the little village. An hour later we had clocked up 5km of walking without noticing.

As I return from an EU meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, on the theme of ”Why European sport needs skilled and competent coaches” I think about our experience in Mariefred. The skilled and competent coach is one that can influence people in a positive way and make them do things they did not think they were capable of, and perhaps did not even think they wanted to do. What I wonder though is whether the coach will have to be an actual person? I am still waiting to meet the coach that can tell me the kind of story that will make me so wholeheartedly step into what I am doing as the Pax-app did in Mariefred. Augmented reality simply needs to become reality in coaching!

Is this the end of a beautiful friendship?

I still remember the first day we met. As a young and very nervous 19 year old I was abroad for the first time. Yes, in those days, and where I came from, that was not all that uncommon. In fact, it was the first time I sat foot on an airplane on my own. Some would say that I have spent the rest of my life catching up on that. I cannot say that it was love at first sight. On the contrary, I felt you were rather odd. You had habits that I certainly was not used to. Crossing the street in your country could be lethal, mainly because cars came running from the wrong direction and looking left was not something that I was familiar with. The breakfast you served was either ”continental” meaning I was hungry again after 30 minutes. That was about as long as a slice of white toast with jam lasted. Or it was big enough to go for a normal lunch. And it was cooked. The weirdest thing however was the fact that in your country most bathrooms had carpets, something I still do not understand.

From that first meeting our friendship slowly grew and, I would say, developed into love. Thanks to work later in life I had the opportunity to visit many times and you took me to some of the finest places on earth. Yes, another love of my life is golf and it was magical to get to experience some of those pieces of land, called the links, next to the ocean where golf has been played for generations.

After a while you and I got to know eachother really well. In 2005 the relationship that I was then in had gone a bit stale. I was looking for options where I could get out, to continue to grow and develop. You provided me an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful. In August we, me and my family, packed our home in boxes to throw ourselves fully into your arms. We went to live in a rural and friendly area where one of the best golf courses that I have ever seen is located. The start of our new, deeper relationship, was a bit rocky. Many things were new to us and without the friendliness of the people that I worked with, and the people that we met, our relationship would have ended quicker than it did.

As most relationships ours grew stronger with time. You only had to look at me at your front door (there was a system at immigrations called Iris which meant that a machine could recognise my irisis to let me through) to know that I was welcome. I learnt to appreciate your habits and in fact, picking up the Evening Standard on my way through the London Underground on a Friday night became one of my favourite pastimes. For five years we had a rather complicated distance relationship as I divided my time between Stockholm and your place. Love, however, is strong and can endure also pressured times.

Today is January the 31st and the divorce that you started talking about long ago is to come into effect. What I did not realise back in 2005 was that the rural part of the country that my family came to was to be one of the most pro-Brexit areas in the whole of Britain. The people that I met and became friends with are now divided into two. The Brexiteers and the Remainers. The latter have turned into Rejoiners. It truly is a sad day and I cannot tell you how sorry I am that my children will not have the chances that I once had. You say that we will always have a special relationship. Perhaps. But today something fundamental in that relationship is changing. And I am so sorry to see you go.

Goodbye Britain.

Leadership of a new decade

I have put more thought into this post than what I usually do. Still, I am sure that should it go viral, which I very much doubt it will, it will cause more discussion than any of my previous posts collectively. Leadership is a difficult thing.

To discuss this without having at least a PhD in a related area may be to open up for trouble. I am an essay shy of a Master in Educational Management and I have held leadership roles for the last 30 years. In no way does that make me an expert but it means I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about leadership.

What sent me into thinking mode this time was an article I read over the holidays. James Hatch is a retired serviceman of the US Navy who was wounded in combat in 2009, on a mission to rescue an American hostage. At 52, James is a freshman at Yale University.

James Hatch writes about his Navy Seal service that;

– ”Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit.

In two sentences Hatch summarises what has been a basic principle of most successful teams over many years. The high performing group is always superior to the sum of the individuals and their abilities within it. However, every now and then, stories of how these ”high standards” are set and maintained leak and when the NHL had its #metoo moment just before Christmas it was a disgraceful story about a leadership, thought to be much outdated in this day and age, full of bullying, racism and abuse. All there to try and differentiate between those that can manage to rise to the standards (of the coach) and those that cannot. My guess is that should James Hatch tell us what his experience of leadership in the navy was like, some similar stories would come out. In fact, if I and many of my friends were to talk about our experience of the military (which at the time was compulsory for young men in Sweden), it would not be that pretty when it comes to leadership. Having said that, hockey players would still contribute a lot of their and their team’s performance to their coach. I, and my friends, would say that the superior in charge of our group in the military made us perform outside of what we thought we were capable of. What effect that had long term is however a bit more unclear.

That leadership in sport, where extraordinary physical and psychological performances are highly required, is not always as humane and sound as we would hope came through loud and clear in the British department for culture and sport Duty of care review in sport, in 2017. Similar patterns and problems have been seen in other high performance programmes across the globe.

As I continue to read the article by Hatch my mind goes spinning when he describes the meeting between his own often low self esteem with the, by others, so called snowflakes of the university. The snowflake analogy insinuating these young people would view themselves as unique, just as every snowflake. Nothing could be more wrong Hatch says. These youngsters are smart, hard working, many of them first generation Americans and when it comes to discussing difficult subjects they are not uncomfortable, as he is.

As I read this I am confident that the generation z that is now storming into the workplace and in many aspects have already taken over sports, demands a different leadership. One where being wrong is not the end of the day, but where not giving it a go is unimaginable. The performance of the group will continue to be greater than the sum of the individuals, but only of we make disagreement our best friend. No one person will ever be able to have all the future answers. And leadership is to be smarter than everybody else. Collectively.