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What happens when two sports legends get together?


4 Min Read

Feb 19 2019

By Alistair Milner

Last week I was in the company of an audience of elite football leaders and two sporting greats who were sharing inspiring insights about their careers. From my professional perspective, in the world of high performance talent, it was fascinating to hear how different sports can learn from each other and how defeat and under-performance can spur sportsmen and women on to “strip back to the bare bones”, make sacrifices and try even harder to succeed.

As well as my ‘day job’, head of the elite performance practice at SRi, I sit on the board of the Association of Sports Directors (ASD); a not for profit organisation focused on enhancing communication and learning across peer networks, opportunities for continuing professional development and creating and sharing best practice.

The ASD held an event last week and we were lucky enough to have Olympian and IAAF President Lord Seb Coe, and former All Blacks Captain, Shaun Fitzpatrick sharing their greatest lessons with an illustrious group of sports directors from the world’s best football clubs.

It struck me that their advice and insights were relevant not just in my world of elite sports performance, but more broadly. Increasingly we’re seeing cross-fertilisation of ideas across not only the sporting world, but the broader content and entertainment sphere. Frankly their advice was too good not to share.

The journey to bring London from ‘total outsider’ to come on to win the right to host the 2012 games to that unforgettable opening ceremony is nothing short of fascinating Lord Seb Coe generously shared the key factors behind making that incredible leap. Although the operational challenge to host the equivalent of 54 world championships in twelve days is nothing short of ‘Herculean’, Lord Coe explained that it was not the toughest part.

My interpretation of Lord Seb Coe’s five lessons:

1.     Have clear, unwavering purposeWe heard sobering facts about lower life expectancies in East London and how parts of the now Olympic Park were previously urban wasteland. ‘Inspire a generation’ was the vision for the London 2012 Olympics, and whenever times got tough, or the team were at a cross-roads, this purpose would guide the right decision and renew determination.

2.     Have the best people around you, with no compromise. World class people do world class things and create world class teams. The best leaders relish challenge and diversity of thought to drive overall effectiveness.

3.     Cultivate relationships to build resilience. Your power to achieve great things grows when you have established win-win relationships established with a broad network. You may need support from this network at a key moment. Equally, they may need support from you. Today your relevant sphere of influence is much more likely to be across an ecosystem than a single entity or industry.

4.     Over communicate. A universal truth. In a digital world, the power of being face-to-face with your team, customers and stakeholders is not diminished. If anything, it is more important. Talking, and more importantly listening, builds trust.

5.     Ask the difficult questions. Don’t shy away from addressing ‘The elephant in the room’. More often than not, it is the question that needs to be asked.

It is very well known to everyone at our event that making it to the top, in any field, does not happen by accident. Hard work, focus and unwavering determination are not hard to come by in the world of sports.

My take on the five Lessons from Sean Fitzpatrick:

1.     Show Up. Not just for big ticket games, meetings or pitches. Every single time you play. Preparation, sacrifice and mental application set you apart.

2.     Channel failure to fuel your future success. You learn more from your failures than you ever do from successes. Embrace them.

3.     Pride without arrogance. Be proud of your shirt, logo or team. Celebrate successes, but briefly, before turning back to improving.

4.     Champion equality. Fiercely. Equality manifests itself in respect for every single person you interact with. Everyone matters.

5.     Finally, ‘bloody enjoy what you do’. A great reminder.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for this fascinating event, not least Lord Seb Coe and Sean Fitzpatrick and my colleagues at the ASD.

Connect with Ali here.  Read more about the event: A Winning Mentality  here. 

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