I think that all of us inherently understand both the process and value of identifying key success factors while planning the work that we do. That holds true when trying to identify the elements of a successful training program for an individual athlete or rebuilding a team or team culture. Recently I was introduced to the concept of identifying not only key success factors but also the “key success loops” that can hopefully reinforce and sustain ‘success’ and/or identify potential balancing response or choke points within identified variables and the timeframe for implementation . The loops can provide a way to both articulate current reality and also help to unpack vitals areas of focus of resourcing and monitoring.
I decided to give the concept a try as a team from work began a deep dive into our academy programs’ over-all quality. I have two key staff who will help me run point on supporting our coaches across the 18+ sports and will help to guide curriculum development and planning across sports to ensure that we have addressed all the important elements of growth and development, foundational athletic skills and psycho-social aspects around children and youth sports. We held a mini retreat to try and brainstorm.
We spent the better part of a day unpacking our current reality across all sports in a very general sense, identifying the obvious challenges and glaring areas that needed attention and improvement. We went away with some homework – all of us would try and think of what our key success factors would be as we envisioned a quality academy program.
We came back the next day with 5-6 each and pasted the post-it notes all over my office. We first articulated our vision and how we would measure it: a quality academy program as measured by qualitative feedback and quantitatively by demand and retention. After a couple of hours of discussion around our long list of success factors, the group agreed on three: quality of coaching in the academies, the quality of programming and curricula and parent “buy-in” and support. All seemed obvious – the harder part was identifying how we measured those objectively.
Once we did that, we set out trying to work out causal loops around them by discussing what would first cause them and/or what actual success in the factor would bring. We then worked through a process of trying to ‘systematise’ a monitoring and support system. The one around coaching looked like this:
Basically what my poor scribbling of our massive sketch on a white board tries to describe is that, first, in order to improve the quality of our coaching, we needed to improve the quality of professional development support for our coaches (and it needs to address their specific needs). An increase in quality of coaching should lead to an increase in professionalism and pride in our coaching staff (since quality will be measured formally and informally through assessment) which in turn should lead to better reflective practices in our coaches (which help them identify further areas of needed support) which in turn informs our needed professional development support. We also recognised the need for formal professional advancement as the system builds out (the ability to advance from assistant to head, pay increase etc) which in turn should create further reinforcement of the desire for coaches to improve.
Without going into the details, we did the same for our other two loops:
After several hours of exciting conversation and creative process, we stood back and looked at the work. After “high-fiving” each other for clarifying some of our focus points, something jumped out at us above all else – in each of the loops, one of the primary drivers was the need to ensure that our staff (coaches and technical people) were supported to be able to design and deliver the programs! That resulted in the combined diagram above. It was very clear to us that our success boiled down to preparing our people appropriately in each of our key work areas.
I now have charts hanging my office. I recognise that they are a ‘first cut’ of a work in progress but the exercise was empowering and enlightening. To be able to undertake a process like this with my staff gave us an amazing sense of co-creation. The product of the process has really started to clarify some areas around which we can build our workplan. The level of detail that we put in to identify and articulate measurable variables in the loops further clarifies our system and monitoring of progress. From a leadership perspective, it was one of the most impactful activities I have undertaken.
From my background in coaching, it clearly reinforced that sport is a people business. It all comes back to coaches being equipped to design and deliver to their audience – the art and science of what we do as coaches.
I have no idea if this will be relevant to anyone else but, as I often do, I wanted to capture it here while it was fresh in my memory so that I have a personal record. If there is value to you, even better! If I can assist with pointing anyone towards some readings and resources on the process I am most happy to do so!
Happy coaching! Let’s get better every day.