Coaching och ledarskap, Digital innovation, Elitidrottsutveckling, In English

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?

Coaching och ledarskap, Elitidrottsutveckling, Idrottens roll i samhället, In English, Tider som flytt

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!

Coaching och ledarskap, Digital innovation, In English, Kommunikation

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!

Coaching och ledarskap, Idrottens roll i samhället, In English, Tider som flytt

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.

Coaching och ledarskap, In English

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.

Elitidrottsutveckling, Idrottens roll i samhället, In English

How about nearby sports?

The other day I had one of those amazing mornings that only a golf course, a good friend and a sunrise can offer. 9 holes mean there is plenty of time for discussions of the kind that very seldom occurs inside the four walls of an office meeting room. My friend is involved in a bidding process for the so called ”förbifart Stockholm” which will create a smoother way to pass Stockholm in years to come. Of course he is not bidding for the whole project but I am going to stop short of even trying to explain what it is he does. Förbifart Stockholm is budgeted at just over 30 billion kronor (€3 billion) and I am sure nobody will be surprised if it turns out more expensive. Judging by the number of cars on the roads around Stockholm already I am sure most would consider this investment necessary, though expensive.

An interesting question that arises is why we are so fond of our cars. My friend tells me about a conversation they have had over coffee at his workplace. He, and his colleagues were all in agreement that the main reason to still own a car is that we need it to take our kids to sports. That raises an interesting hypothetical question about what would happen if 31 billion kronor were used to build sport facilities close to where people live, instead of on building a road?

As I sit down to prepare a presentation that I am giving at the International Physical Literacy Conference in Umeå I come to think about this. Through our project leader for ”Places for sport” I learn that all of us are much more likely to be physically active if there is a nearby facility that makes this possible. In addition I learn that there are norms that govern how many parking lots that need to be built when developing housing facilities for x number of people. But there are no norms that stipulate the number of sports facilities that should come with a new set of houses. Over a coming number of years the plan is for Stockholm to have 140 000 new apartments. Isn’t it time to say that equals y number of sports facilities? It sure would be interesting to find out how many cars that would keep off the streets!

Coaching och ledarskap, Elitidrottsutveckling, In English

How open is the Open?

The Open, by many regarded as the most prestigious tournament in golf, this year has returned to Royal Portrush, a true gem of a golf course in Northern Ireland. As to outline a well thought out succession plan, the Open this year follows the week of the Men’s European Amateur Team Championships in which Sweden successfully defeated England to take home the trophy. That is no doubt a big win for the Swedish team and for the first time since 1961 Sweden are the reigning European Champions. But when the Open is now contested over the links of Royal Portrush the players from the winning team, or at least some of them, instead has travelled to Barseback to compete for the Swedish Team Championships. Securing a spot in the Open Championship is a tough job and between becoming a European champion and teeing it up on the links set up by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club lots of hurdles await the players.

In 2010 the roles were the reverse in the final of the European Championships. At Österåker Golf Club, England beat Sweden and got to travel in the pink winners’ limousine into the city. From that winning team three players are playing the weekend rounds at Royal Portrush. Tommy Fleetwood, Eddie Pepperel and Tom Lewis. They are all successful winners on the European Tour. Two of them are in the world’s top 50 (Fleetwood and Pepperel) and the third is in the top 80. And this is before they have reached thirty (all three are born 1991 and hence were 18 or 19 when winning the European).

Amateur golf is a bit like under 21’s in a different sport, even though it is open to players of any age that are selected by their country. It is very difficult to predict who will go from there to become a world class player. The best looking prospect may some months or years later have gone completely by the wayside. And in all honesty, there are multiple players, Europeans, in the Open field that have never won a European Amateur Team Championship.

When reflecting over all of this I look through an old presentation that I gave at the European Golf Teaching and Coaching Conference in 2014. I had a quote in there saying:

”Most of those that become GREAT players will have been good players at an ”early” age.

However – all players that are good at an early age will not become GREAT players. In fact – most will not…

Some players that were not particularly good at an early age will still become… but we’ll get to that!”

I think this was pretty well put and a win in an under 21 championship can certainly put an athlete in the first paragraph. That should provide every chance for a slightly less bumpy ride than that of an athlete in the third paragraph. So in other words, a group of Swedish male (and female as Sweden brought home also the women’s trophy of the Europeans) golfers have this summer put themselves in a good position. Whether we will see any of them in the Open Championship in 2028 is a completely different question!

Coaching och ledarskap, In English

Borrowing a podcast with Graham Henry

A great book that I am in the middle of reading is ”Legacy” by James Kerr. It is a book about leadership and business but the beauty of the book is that it finds its inspiration in sports. Every example that is explained by leadership theory comes from the business of the All Blacks, the New Zealand National men’s rugby team. The leader of this team at the time was Graham Henry. Sir Graham Henry that is. During Coach Henry’s time at the helm the All Blacks continuously punched above their weight. That is not unusual when it comes to the All Blacks but Henry came in at a difficult time and turned the team into what it could be. The best advice today will be to read the book. The second best is to listen to the podcast that I am borrowing from the NZBusinesspodcast. Enjoy!

Coaching och ledarskap, Elitidrottsutveckling, Idrottens roll i samhället, In English

A brief reminder of the meaning of ethics

To say that the world of sporting athletes (clean ones that is) and the world of antidoping (as in the World Anti Doping Agency) has had a bit of a clash is perhaps the greatest understatement in sport currently. In fact WADA seems to have crashed and burned with most of the World’s national antidoping agencies since its decision to again allow Russia to carry out doping tests on its athletes and also to, again, be able to host international events. The bulk of the criticism comes from the fact that this decision was taken despite the fact that Russia had not yet taken the measures set out by WADA following the so called McLaren report. Not many days go by without athletes (for example Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, National Antidoping Agencies or even an ex WADA lead investigator criticising the global watchdog. Much of the criticism is around WADA’s decision on Russia but also on how athletes feel they have not been listened to and how there is a perceived conflict of interest as the president of WADA is also an executive member of the International Olympic committee.

Ever since the 2015 World Anti Doping Code was published, and possibly even before that, there has been a movement wanting to separate the antidoping process from sport’s governing organisations and from the government. The reason being that sport, at least by some, is not trusted to control itself. This of course is a logical step. Having said this, I always remember the words of RF’s General Counsel, Christer Pallin, saying ”if ethics applied, lawyers would not be needed”. So the question then becomes, if wanting to change the current situation, is it best to work on the ethics or to employ more lawyers (or apply more control mechanisms)?

Of course it will never be one or the other but unless sport itself and the athletes competing in sports realise that the way (some) sports are headed leads to self destruction, there will never be enough control to apply to do away with the problem. Pia Nilsson, once the Head Coach of the Swedish National Golf Teams, and in those days my boss, always said:

”We (as in athletes and coaches) can never take sport for granted”.

This has simply never been more true.