Organizations that don’t understand the real value of athlete development, lose more.

There was a time, not long ago, when speaking of athlete development, you would think of; training harder, running faster, throwing farther.

Even more recently, when thinking of athlete development, many would think of services and resources designed to help athletes transition out of sport.  Although important, it led athletes to equate athlete development services and the people who offered them to an on-going and endless discussion about the death of their sports careers.  Who amongst us is eager to discuss our own funeral?

Our perspective on athlete development has never really changed. At its core, athlete development is about one thing, driving athletic performance.  When we discuss athlete development, what we are really talking about is non-traditional approaches to leveraging performance by actively engaging athletes outside of practice, training and competition.    

To achieve this perspective, organizations who manage athletes must acknowledge that they aren't dealing with just athletes.  Athletes are not uni-dimensional characters or robots that you just turn on for competitions.  They have lives outside of athletics that includes; families, relationships, interests, problems, financial concerns and whatever else you can dream up.  The issues beyond the game are just as likely to have a positive (or negative) influence on performance.  Believe it or not, athletes are people first and foremost.


In short, if your organization works with or manages either a small or large number of athletes and you are looking to help them optimize for peak performance, you must consider the whole development picture.  Consider the following:

  • Do you truly understand the athlete's environment?  

    • You may think you do, but there is a good chance you don't know.  Athletes are trained from a very young age not to rock the boat.  If you want to understand what is going on and to get below the surface, you'll need to conduct independent assessments in that are both quantitative and qualitative in nature.

  • Do the coaches understand their athletes and are they open to athletes having lives outside of sport?  

    • Coaches are typically the worst offenders of trying to keep athletes entirely in a sports box.  The reality is their incentives are skewed to want to keep athletes thinking about nothing other than their sport 24/7.  This is massively counterproductive.  Coaches (and many parents) need to be educated that the all-in approach at the expense of everything else DETRACTS from optimal performance.

  • Don't do top-down athlete development.  

    • Fight the urge to deliver interventions by edict. Resources and services must be designed to engage athletes and meet their needs, not organizational checklists.  Top-down athlete development typically fails.  Poor engagement, middling response to athlete outreach, no athlete ambassadors are indicators of failure.

Athlete development is about driving long-term sustainable performance.  If you truly want to impact long-term performance for your athletes and organization, perhaps it is time to pause and understand that athlete development is not about getting athletes jobs, doing courses or discussing the so called nanny state issues (drinking, substance abuse, sex, social media, etc.).  It is about creating athletes optimized to perform at the highest levels. Period.

Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.
Duncan Fletcher