The High Performance Leadership Program has seeded a different line of thinking..."

The High Performance Leadership Program has seeded a different line of thinking..."

G. Rajaraman, Editor of circleofsport.com, was one of the select few special invitees at the inaugural High Performance Leadership Program launched by ELMS Sports Foundation. Given his extensive experience of 37 years as a sports communication professional, we invited him to share his candid views about the program from a participant’s perspective. We hope this piece will provide a realistic perspective on the benefits of attending the High Performance Leadership Program for those who are serious about making an impact in the world of High Performance Sport.

There has been so much talk these days of ushering in a better sports culture in the country and propelling India to the top 10 in the 2028 Olympic Games medals table that it is hard to escape being drawn into a conversation around the subject. And if you want to end the debate quickly, you would speak of the absence of an environment that encourages high performance sport.

From a distance, it appears there have been few elite athletes and fewer coaches who can hold forth on high performance sport, let alone officials of National Sports Federations and the Sports Authority of India. The reluctance to embrace high performance methods, sometimes dismissively, due to beliefs that they do not bring results commensurate with investment, has been conspicuous.

Although there has been a perceptible shift in some sports, if India is to realise its dream of being a sporting power, it has to adopt methods that encourage and nurture athletes in high performance sport. The credit therefore goes to the ELMS Sports Foundation and the Abhinav Bindra Foundation for being the first off the blocks and for putting together a High Performance Leadership Program. It is noteworthy that, in this program, leaders from different domains, from high performance systems to governance structures, from psychological safety to emotional intelligence in leadership, from STEAM Sport (Science, Technology,Engineering, Analytics and Medicine) to planning and innovation, made time to share their experience with the participants and paint the complete picture of high performance sport for us.

It is a good guess that the teams at the ELMS Sports Foundation and the Abhinav Bindra Foundation would have burnt midnight oil in scheduling the online sessions during the times of the pandemic. To bring together an array of talent, each of whom is willing to share the most intricate knowledge will have taken some doing.

Furthermore, the care with which the range of subjects for the 16 sessions was chosen is quite evident, too. It ensured that a fine balance was maintained in introducing and articulating the diverse elements that go to make high performance sport. And the ease with which the complex nature of high performance sport has been simplified is there for all participants to see.

Then again, it is one thing to conceive things on paper and altogether another to execute it by bringing the right personnel to not only throw light on the chosen subjects but also encourage the participants to explore new horizons. I must say the quality of faculty contributing to this High Performance Leadership Program is worthy of high praise. Moreover, the interactivity that some of the faculty brought to the sessions has been enjoyable, while the breakaway sessions allowed some of the participants who preferred to soak in the learnings but did not express themselves in the larger group to show their deep understanding of their respective domains and an eagerness to imbibe more.

More importantly, besides the learning, two aspects stand out among the many positives of the program. First, it has helped diverse people in the Indian sports ecosystem connect with one another and get to know the evolving landscape better. In fact, it has seeded a different line of thinking and has got some people to speak the language of high performance sport. This can have a multiplier effect and pay dividends.It is important that the learning and the environment that promotes high performance seeps down to the grassroots level in India so that there are no culture shocks to athletes as they step up the ladder, rung by rung, towards courting international success. There is hope that since a number of participants represent their States, this can turn into a reality.

If one has to identify an area of improvement in the program, it has to be the low level of interest evinced by National Sports Federations and their State units. Instead of leaping up at the thought of attending a High Performance Leadership program, it appeared as if they let go of a good opportunity to expand their knowledge that would surely benefit their athletes.

Perhaps, that was one reason why the participants did not have the benefit of extrapolating the learnings shared by the wonderful faculty from overseas with Indian experiences. I’m sure the quality of conversation would have reached greater heights, especially with the faculty willing to listen and lead the discussion from an Indian point of view as well.I would have also liked to see greater activity in the Open Space that ELMS Foundation created so that pre-reads and exercises could find resonance with a larger group. Of course, it would be difficult for working professionals to carve out an extra hour each week towards this, but the romantic in me saw some possibilities of collaborative work that could benefit Indian sport.

Despite having first apprised myself of sports science in British Council and American Center libraries back in the 70s and 80s, and despite having tried to keep pace with the evolving high performance methods in my 37 years as a sports communication professional, the program has been an eye-opener in itself and has got me excited about the endless possibilities. Come to think of it, I had least expected Abhinav Bindra to offer me a spot among the participants when I messaged him early in July. But with more than three-fourths of the course behind us now, I am glad for this opportunity to continue learning. I must confess that the mind has been exposed to more components of high performance sport than a few months ago.

Indeed, I have enjoyed the opportunity to revisit and revise some areas of interest while expanding my horizons to some hitherto unexplored territories. The journey of learning thus far has been engaging and invigorating and I am sure it will shape the rest of my time in the Indian sports ecosystem, which itself is poised at a very exciting stage of development.