Archive for July, 2012

Learning to win

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Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings write: When British Cycling’s Performance Director Dave Brailsford launched the Sky road racing team in 2009 and announced that it would produce a British winner of the Tour de France within five years, most long-standing cycling fans were disbelieving. For all of Brailsford’s success in track cycling, le Tour was a very different proposition.

Britain had never got a rider into the top three, and the last British trade team to compete in the Tour had run out of money before it got to Paris. Winning the General Classification is an unforgiving business measured in seconds and minutes over three weeks of racing; the winner has to be able to excel at time trialling and cope with climbing (or vice versa) and hope they don’t have a bad day. Bradley Wiggins had finished 4th in 2009, but the consensus was that he was close to his limits.

But British Cycling, on track and road, is an interesting type of learning organisation that combines an obsession with incremental improvement (shades of Clive Woodward’s approach to rugby union) while also searching for disruptive innovation opportunities as well. On the track, which is a controlled environment, especially in disciplines such as the pursuit, the one percents here and there add up, eventually, to a winning margin, helped by the smart use of psychology.

On the road, something more was required. Two or three innovations come to mind. The first was Chris Boardman’s ‘Secret Squirrel’ project, which experimented with technical improvements to equipment. The second involved looking outside of cycling’s traditional approaches to training and fitness, in this case to swimming and the coach Tim Kerrison, who brought different approaches to managing form and intensity. His first year wasn’t successful, while he learned about the new sport; Wiggins followed his 4th place in 2009 (with the Garmin team) with a 24th place with Sky. The coaching team put it down to learning and carried on. Most companies would have been less patient.

The third was breaking with the conventional wisdom that the only way to train for racing was to race. Part of winning at cycling is psychological, of the whole team knowing what it feels like to control a race when it holds the lead, and Sky shifted the balance, reducing the number of racing days and competing in those races to win. Wiggins’ record this year in the stage races he has entered is impressive by any historical standards.

In the process perhaps British Cycling has invented a new type of “brand Britain” when it comes to sporting achievement, one that marries the best of British ingenuity, bloody-minded determination and humility in understanding that being good takes graft. In the place of the plucky underdog (Tim Henman), the glorious one-hit wonder (Rugby World Cup) or the technically undistinguished cloggers of our football teams, British Cycling is producing – on track and road – people who expect to win, who take winning in their stride, and who remember that there’s more to life than sport.

Tom Ding wrote a post on this blog about listening to David Brailsford after the Beijing Olympics. The image at the top of this post is the Wiggo III jersey from Milltag, via Headset Press, and is used with thanks.

24 July 2012 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment

The future of golf

Andrew Curry writes:

As The Open Championship hits its stride in Lytham St Annes, I thought I should mention that we’ve just written for HSBC a report on the future of golf. HSBC’s a patron of The Open, and sponsors a number of tournaments – including women’s tournaments – in various parts of the world, as well as supporting junior golf programmes in both the UK and China. Hence their interest in how the game could evolve.

Golf’s 2020 Vision: The HSBC Report looks at the big trends that will shape the game over the next decade, including the rise of Asia, more women (and young people) coming into the game, the emergence of shorter forms, the impact of digital technology, and the rise of sustainability issues. Working with Hill+Knowlton’s sports team, we also secured a range of interviews with leading golfers, including Gary Player, one of the game’s greats.

For the moment, the report can be downloaded from The Futures Company website (opens pdf) and from Scribd.

As a taster, here’s the ’12-hole guide’ to golf in 2020, taken from the report:

  1. Golf clubs and golf courses will become more family friendly. There will be family rooms instead of bars, holes set up for younger players, and certified womenfriendly facilities.
  2. Six and nine hole formats, and othershort-forms, complement the 18-hole tradition. A pay-TV sports channel accelerates this trend by promoting a professional short-form competition.
  3. Golf will benefit from its association with younger fitter players—driving more fashion and more word on the street.
  4. The ‘next’ Tiger Woods—the hot sponsorship and TV property of 2020—will be a young Asian player.
  5. Asian golf brands will be making major inroads into the golf equipment and clothing market.
  6. Golf becomes more unisex. As more women come into the game, golf becomes the way for men and women to share leisure time—as cycling has done in richer markets.
  7. Golf simulation games—using motion sensors and gestural interfaces—become mainstream.
  8. Gamers become golfers. Social gaming environments and family-oriented golf video games encourage people to move into the sport, not the other way around.
  9. The app as caddy: smartphone and tablet software helps golfers make the right choices, while sensors in equipmentand on courses—the smart coach—help players learn from their mistakes.
  10. Golf becomes a centre of expertise in water management, conservation and biodiversity.
  11. The first carbon positive courses are opened—in a hail of publicity.
  12. The authorities change the rules about equipment to reduce the distances achieved by professionals and bring course lengths back under control.

The photograph at the top of the post, included in the Golf’s 2020 Vision  shows American golfers Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer of the USA giving advice to young golfers from Singapore and China during an HSBC Junior Clinic held in Singapore. It was supplied by HSBC and it is used with thanks.

20 July 2012 at 4:24 pm 4 comments


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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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