Building A High-Performance Model for Sport:
A Human Development-Centred Approach
Anthony N. Turner, PhD1; Chris Bishop, MSc1; Jon Cree, MSc1 Paul Carr2, Andy McCann,
PhD3; Brett Bartholomew, MS.Ed. CSCS*D, RSCC*D4, Laurence Halsted5.
1. London Sports Institute, Middlesex University, England
2. Human Performance Lead, UK Military.
3. Manchester Metropolitan University, Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care,
Department of Psychology, England
4. The Bridge Human Performance® and The Art of Coaching™.
5. Danish Fencing Federation, Performance Director, Copenhagen, Denmark
All teams in sport should aim to develop a human development-centred high-performance
model for sport (HPMS). A model can unite a team toward a shared vision, acting as a clear
sign of why the performance program exists, and why athletes should trust their sporting
careers in them. It also recognizes the merits of an analytical approach to establishing a training
system, thereby ensuring objectivity and promoting best practice. Finally, the model can
support and promote a holistic, whole-person centred approach, where it is no longer
acceptable to seek the spoils of sport, whilst turning a blind eye to the health and well-being of
its participants. The aim of this paper is to assist the reader in the development of a human
Performance models can be used in sport to roadmap the route to achieving a team’s
overarching aim, whether that be gold medals or championship trophies. A model is generally
constructed with a series of short, mid, and long-term goals, surrounded by the processes
required to achieve them. Such planning is essential to the team’s success and normally
requires the development of a rational deterministic model. Deterministic models aim to predict
the relationships between a performance (outcome) measure and the biomechanical factors that
produce such a measure (Chow & Knudson, 2011). This approach helps to avoid selecting
arbitrary performance indicators by ensuring a sound theoretical basis is in place, driven by
statistical analysis. The process is therefore efficient from both a time and resource perspective,
as well as providing the greatest opportunity to maximise the desired outcome. However,
sporting performance should also be seen as a process that extends far beyond the formation of
a series of data-driven steps and viewed as an opportunity to provide potentially the most
significant ingredient to success, a collective vision that drives the intrinsic motivation to
achieve it. While knowing what to do is of course essential, so too is the unwavering
determination to achieve it. This perspective is in keeping with VMOST Analysis (Sondhi,
1999), which is used within business to ensure the selected strategies and supporting activities
are geared towards and influenced by the eventual achievement of the company vision. Here
the acronym spells vision (V), mission (M), objectives (O), strategy (S) and tactics (T).
Therefore, using the model to engage our emotional drive is fundamental and in harvesting this
attribute, models should look to outline the team’s purpose (i.e., its vision and mission), as well
as outlining the inherent culture, values, and training philosophies that steer behaviour towards
this end. Finally, and in keeping with the current socio-political climate of sport, the model
should be seen as an opportunity to support and promote a holistic, whole-person centred
approach, where it is no longer acceptable to seek the spoils of sport, whilst turning a blind eye
to the health and well-being of its participants.
The aim of this paper therefore, is to assist the reader in the development of a Human
Development-Centred High-Performance Model for Sport (HPMS). In this paper we use the
example of fencing, but its carry-over to other sports (and domains) should be obvious.
Equally, given the authors’ background, we focus on the development of this model from the
angle of strength and conditioning (S&C), but again its development from the perspective of
other disciplines (e.g., physiotherapy, psychology etc.) should be clear.
Ensuring Evidence-Based Practice
We will start building the HPMS via the development of a deterministic model. However,
without establishing clear statistical links between performance outcomes and training-based
variables, which can often be the case given the open nature of many sports, it may be better
described as a training map. The training map should identify the following key areas: (1) the
coaches’ key performance indicators (KPI’s), (2) the physical qualities that underpin them, (3)
the tests that predict them, and (4) the exercises that train them (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The training map, detailing (1) the coaches’ key performance indicators (KPI’s), (2) the physical
qualities that underpin them, (3) the tests that predict them, and (4) the exercises that train them.
The coach, as the expert, should consider the technical and tactical KPI’s, with Figure 1
illustrating hypothetical KPI’s for fencers. These may be quite standard and well recognized
within the sport (perhaps more so with closed skill sports such as rowing and cycling) or may
be open to interpretation and made specific to the needs of a particular athlete or team (which
seems more probable in open-skill sports). Where several coaches are involved, philosophies
differ, or when coaches are not present, determination of KPI’s can be sought through surveys
such at the Delphi method (Iqbal & Pipon-Young, 2009) and thematic analysis (Braun &
Clarke, 2006). Using experts in the field, these surveys enable the identification and grouping
of common themes and aid in reaching a consensus of opinion. Such approaches may also help
to negate the biases (and potential errors) of a single coach.
Armed with the coaches’ KPI’s, the support staff must now formulate their strands (physical
qualities, tests, and exercises), ensuring an objective approach is taken, by conducting a
thorough needs analysis of the available literature and using data collected while working with
the athletes in question or those alike. This data can be used to statistically support relationships
between KPI’s, test performance, and exercise selection, and thus challenge the cognitive
biases of the coach and athletes (and even the S&C coach) in an objective manner. For a
detailed review on conducting a needs analysis see Read et al., (2016). By way of justification
for this training map, studies support the validity of the KPI’s used (Turner, et al., 2014), and
that lunging distance is related to broad jump performance (Turner, et al., 2017), footwork to
change of direction speed tests (Turner, et al., 2016), and offensive pressure to a fencing
specific lunge test (Turner, et al., 2016; Turner, et al., 2017).
In summary, the coaches’ KPI’s are akin to the aim of the training map, and the tests are akin
to the objectives. In this context, aims are general statements concerning the overall goals, ends
or intentions of training, and objectives are the individual steps that athletes must achieve on
route in order to reach these goals; aims are the “what” and objectives the “how”. The
objectives (the tests) are therefore measurable, and as such, if athletes improve at these tests,
they should improve, or at least have the physical capability to improve, at all areas identified
by the technical and tactical KPI’s relevant to it. Furthermore, the quality of job delivered by
the S&C team is in part based on improvements in these tests. This generates a level of
responsibility (and thus accountability) that is an important characteristic of all staff. Clearly,
and over time, benchmarking data for each test will need to be provided and may be specific
to each athlete. These will be informative of athlete progress, and able to be used during athlete
reviews as an item on the checklist toward each overarching aim and achievement of the final
Establishing Purpose Through the Vision and Mission
Central to the HPMS is defining why the high-performance team exists – focusing on the long-
term vision and the internal drive (or intrinsic motivation) it aims to generate. As the term
suggests, a vision is something you can clearly see and resonates with the saying that “athletes
don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. The mission statement details the more
immediate (< 2 years) ambition or goal of the HPMS, serving to also define the strategy
required to achieve the vision; it identifies what the performance team does, and how it will
eventually attain the vision. The vision and mission statements ensure our aspirations are also
emotionally charged and are a source of internal motivation that helps explain why we go to
work each day.
Importantly and perhaps surprisingly, focusing a team’s effort on external motives, such as
gold medals or trophies, is not the most effective method when pursuing tasks of a complex
nature. External rewards serve only to narrow focus and thus hinder creativity and innovation,
therefore negatively affecting performance. For example, Ariely et al., (2009) found that in
eight of the nine tasks they examined, higher incentives led to worse performance; a robust
finding that challenges the assumption that increases in externally derived motivation leads to
improvements in performance. Furthermore, Deci et al., (1999) conducted a meta-analysis of
128 studies which examined the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. They
found that tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.
They note that while external rewards can control behaviour (presumably its main feature), it
tends to forestall self-regulation, thus undermining the responsibility for self-motivation and
regulation. Furthermore, rewards are often accompanied by greater surveillance, evaluation
and internal competition, which act to further undermine intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan,
1985). Instead therefore, the end goal (or rather the vision and mission) must be one that centres
on intrinsic motivation, as this generates sustained effort and the use of a broader skillset to
accomplish the task (essential requirements in a highly competitive, non-algorithmic
environment). Equally, our design as social animals, ensures we are “hard wired” to work
toward a purpose which is to the betterment of our community (Young, 2008; Kosfeld,
Heinrichs, & Zak, 2005), thus the end point must feed these innate desires. By way of example,
a vision and mission statement is provided in Table 1 – these will be used to construct the
HPMS exampled herein.
Table 1. Example vision and mission statements, along with core values (including their personalized
meaning) used to construct the HPMS.
Vision and Mission statements
To push athletic boundaries and in doing so, inspire athletes to unlock their true potential
To create a high-performance training environment where success is inevitable
We are reliable and honest with ourselves, our colleagues, and the athletes we coach
We will fulfil our duty and be accountable for our actions
The goal-posts are always moving, this we must accept and thus be ready to adapt and
We should carefully evaluate all our opportunities and determine which ones to say no to.
Doing the best job we can requires time and uninterrupted attention.
We understand that there is life beyond sport. We are fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters
first, we are athletes and coaches second. Therefore, it is not acceptable to seek the spoils of
sport, whilst turning a blind eye to the essential humanity of its participants.
Culture and Training Philosophy
We are a team built on trust, wanting to support, engage and inspire our athletes. We value
coaching over technology, we focus on solutions not problems, and the process not the
outcome. We are adaptable and accommodating because in sport, the goal posts are always
Ready and Robust
Given the achievable nature of the mission, it requires a strategy to achieve it beyond just the
training map identified above in Figure 1. For example, it is important to consider the resource
demands, staff training, as well as the required athlete support. Therefore, we recommend the
team consider other strategies facilitative of fulfilling the mission. Figure 2 highlights some
Figure 2. Strategies in place to achieve the mission. The strategies in blue shaded boxes (culture, values and
philosophy) are those that can shape and direct behaviour toward attainment of the vision. Those in open
boxes are those relating to resources and checkpoints
Guiding Practice through Culture, Core Values, and Training Philosophy
The implementation of the model is guided by culture, core values and training philosophies;
these must now be defined. Culture describes the ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a
community, and may simply be described as “the way we do things around here”. While
culture may be an outcome of the model and form organically over time, here we also see it as
a mechanism to drive the delivery of the model. Therefore, by defining culture from the outset
(accepting that it may alter slightly over time as the model and team interweave), it can act as
a means of implementation, to steer the actions of all those concerned toward the vision.
Similarly, core values collectively define the operating principles that guide a team’s behaviour
and describe their deeply held beliefs. Core values may be described as the lenses through
which you view the world, they underpin your biases and provide the context. Again,
identifying and establishing these from the outset further ensures the HPMS is appropriately
acted upon. Importantly, once the core values have been identified, they should be made
personal to the high-performance team. By way of example, the culture and core values
(including their personalized meaning) of the model used herein are provided in Table 1.
With respect to recruitment, staff and athletes aspiring to work with or for the high-
performance program, will be able to assess their fit by how well they can relate to the vision,
mission, culture, and core value statements. They must believe in its direction and purpose, and
be prepared to demonstrate the behaviours, beliefs and attitudes demanded by its culture and
core values. If these are not aligned, the relationship between athlete or staff and the program
team will most likely fail. Therefore, when interviewing for staff (or athletes), assessing staff
against these criteria may be one of the most important ways of ensuring the right person is
recruited. Furthermore, Erikson & Gratton (2007) advise that companies should not try to be
all things to all people. Instead they should communicate their “signature experience” i.e., the
distinctive practice that best conveys their working environment and what makes them unique;
this again ensures the right person is employed and also ensures the companies themselves stay
true to their purpose, culture, and core values.
For the final task around implementation and guidance of practice, each discipline should then
develop a training philosophy, which is in line with the vision; this further helps to focus
training on the process required to achieve it. A philosophy defines your beliefs, values and
training principles, all of which again serve to steer your actions. A philosophy helps you
maintain focus and direction and describes how and why you coach. The S&C team’s
philosophy may be different from each individual S&C coach’s personal philosophy. Leaders
within each discipline should aim to capitalise on these individual differences (strengths), by
ensuring as best as possible, that their program roles and responsibilities match their approach.
Again, it may be that the training philosophy is a consequence of the training map and all that
went before it. Equally however, it can be steered from the outset to align with the vision,
subject to some subtle alterations over time. By way of example, the S&C philosophy for this
model centres around all athletes being “ready and robust,” defined as a training system that
ensures all athletes are available for practice and selection. This philosophy recognizes the
principle role of the S&C team, acknowledging that ultimately if we are to succeed, athletes
need maximum exposure with the sports coaches (to develop sport-specific motor skills and
improve decision making and tactical agility) and of course, you need to be in it to win it. Staff
that join the S&C team will then adopt this philosophy given its pertinence to the environment.
Ensuring Athlete Well-Being Through A Human-Development Centred
An important outcome of this model, and any model, is athlete well-being. Stories of
discrimination, burnout, bullying, performance anxiety, depression, and doping are frequently
reported and aimed at the highest levels of sport. For example, Baroness Grey-Thompson, in
an independent review on Duty of Care commissioned by UK Sport (Grey-Thomspson, 2018),
stated that “this raises challenging questions about whether the current balance between
welfare and winning is right and what we are prepared to accept as a nation”. Subsequently,
there are growing calls for the result-focused sporting culture to be replaced with an alternative
paradigm. The most eminent of these propose a “human development model” to replace the
dominant achievement-based approach to sport (Kaufman & Wolff, 2010). Baroness Grey-
Thompson’s report emphasised the responsibility of sport National Governing Bodies for Duty
of Care to all athletes going through their high-performance pathways and laid out a set of
recommendations to the government to address the issues. It is logical that athletes and staff
will thrive in an environment where they are “physically safe, personally valued, morally
supported, personally and politically empowered, and hopeful about the future”. These
sentiments have been echoed elsewhere (Coakley, 2011; Martinek & Hellison, 1997).
Given this new direction, any HPMS currently under design should concern itself with ensuring
that the well-being of its participants is weaved into the very fabric of the model. This would
be epitomised by a long-sighted, individualised (as opposed to a generic or systemic) approach,
which places real value on the ‘softer’ skills of empathy and communication, and that
recognises and embraces the innate differences between people. These sentiments should also
extend to staff, ensuring they feel safe, supported and appreciated, and thus the general mood
is positive. A positive mood leads to greater cognitive flexibility and facilitates problem solving
across a range of tasks; these in turn lead to greater creativity at work (Baas, De Dreu, &
Nijstad, 2008; Mitchell & Phillips, 2007). Therefore, if the leadership style is appropriate
(Goleman, 2000), staff and athletes are intrinsically motivated, and the team are able to
effectively communicate with each other with an absence of threat or conflict (Agervold &
Mikkelsen, 2004), then it is likely that cognitive processes are primed. Significant to the latter,
non-threatening and encouraging ambiences inspire team members to share ideas, think
broadly, and take risks; these are key ingredients to success (Slot, 2017), which encourage a
growth mindset culture (Dweck, 2012), with staff and athletes happy to learn through trial and
error, aided by their peers. Threatening situations on the other hand, demand a narrowing of
focus, hindering creativity and risk-taking, hastening “decision fatigue” (Vohs, et al., 2008).
This holistic, human development centred approach to high performance sport is beginning to
be adopted in certain nations, for example Denmark (Henriksen, Stambulova, & Roessler,
2010). However, no definitive conclusions can yet be drawn about the comparative efficacy of
this approach versus the traditional win-at-all-costs model. Therefore, one of the questions that
we must answer as a society, with particular relevance to any future HPMS, is to what extent
are we willing to sacrifice our sporting success (assuming there is a trade-off) in order to ensure
our athletes (and staff) are generally well protected, supported, and valued as individual human
beings. Evaluative data will be revealed over time, but until then we must acknowledge that
this is an ideal, moralistic approach, and an important outcome of the HPMS, but it is yet to
have a firm base of evidence to truly validate this direction.
Conclusion and the Building of the HPMS
In summary, a model should unite a team towards its vision, acting as a clear sign of why the
performance program exists, and why athletes should trust their sporting careers in them. The
model and its vision generate a sense of purpose that is both rational and emotional; it inspires
our work ethic and directs our focus. Stulberg and Magness (2017) nicely surmise that purpose
fosters motivation, and motivation helps us to endure the effort required to truly increase
performance. When we feel passionate about helping others, and our purpose is directed toward
this, our motivation is maximized.
Finally, The model will provide a time efficient, streamlined process, where roles and
responsibilities are defined, and expertise is channelled appropriately. The model provides an
evidence-based approach to training, providing objectivity and meaningful data to challenge
cognitive bias. Importantly, the model helps define the culture of an organization, as it is
important that staff and athletes know what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of attitudes and
behaviours. The final data and purpose driven HPMS is illustrated in Figure 3.
Figure 3. A data and purpose driven high-performance model for sport. The training map, akin to a
deterministic model, is achieved through strategies (purple boxes) around resources and athlete support and
those that direct behaviour, focus and attention (i.e., culture, values and training philosophy). All are driven
by a sense of intrinsic motivation as defined by the model’s purpose, that is its mission and vision.
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