Elite Athletes Use Values And Teambuilding To Improve Performance


Australian Swimming began with the formation of the Amateur Swimming Union of Australia in January 1908. In 1984, Australian Swimming Incorporated formed and in October 2004, the organization became Swimming Australia Limited.

Their aim is to make swimming Australia’s leading sport through increased participation, continual outstanding performances and commercial excellence.’ , current National Youth Coach and the Head Coach for the Athens Olympic Team works to develop athletes and coaches so they can compete at top international levels.

Leigh shares his experience of Life Performance and the difference it has made to coaches and athletes as individuals and as members of a high performance team.

Developing more effective communication

Every athlete is an individual with unique motivations; so one single style of communication isn’t effective for all athletes. To elicit the best performance from each individual, a coach needs to understand how to communicate most effectively. Yet equally, athletes need to support themselves and their teammates with appropriate behaviours.

The challenges that athletes and coaches faced included how to:

  • Improve an athlete’s self-image and self-esteem
  • Develop skills to maintain a healthy self-image
  • Develop advanced communication skills
  • Communicate in ways that deliver a message effectively
  • Determine individual and team values
  • Create an appropriate behavioural code of conduct

Why Life Performance?

Swimming Australia had used individual organizations and psychologists for one-off projects, yet had never employed someone on an ongoing basis. Leigh had previously experienced Carol Fox’s presentation style and workshop content at a session run by the Victorian Institute of Sport. So he engaged Carol to tailor a program to meet the varied needs of Swimming Australia.

Carol developed a modular program that’s tailored to swimming and our needs as an organization. We can bring groups in at the youngest level so they’re exposed to the basic communication concepts. The depth of information expands as they become more involved in the program, as they mature and as team demands increase.

Leigh Nugent

Leigh was confident that implementing Carol’s concepts and simple techniques could become life-changing for the individuals’ involved. Yet he was also concerned that she may not be accepted.

Some of the ideas and concepts presented could be seen as way out of line by the more conservative people. Still, there is always an element of that and with Carol, the benefits outweigh the detractions. And Carol’s style is so open, honest and inclusive; there has been a great acceptance of the concepts she teaches.

Highest Performing Women’s Swim Team

One of the first programs that Life Performance implemented was a staged program over three years with the women’s swim team. A group of about thirty athletes and their coaches participated in the program.

Female athletes are motivated by a different communication style to male athletes. For women it’s about being validated and listened to. Our coaches needed an awareness of how they could really get their message across to their female athletes. And the athletes needed to become more aware of how they saw themselves.

The result has been the development of the highest performing women’s swim team in the world.

While there are many other factors that contributed to their achievements, Carol’s program is certainly a part of the reason for their success.

Filtering out messages from society and the media

While elite athletes must develop focus, they are still influenced by society, the media and television.

Everyone’s affected by societal behaviours. Some are good, some are bad. The behaviours that are pushed through television and film are not the behaviours that support high performance sport.

And Leigh also knew from previous work with Carol that Life Performance places strong emphasis on individual and team values.

Unless you determine your values, you don’t have a framework to work by. So the values are critical in the overall scheme of things.

By knowing your own values and those of your team mates, you can actively choose thoughts and behaviours that support those values. So Swimming Australia also engaged Life Performance to work with the swim team to build a set of shared team values and to develop a behavioural code that would support those values.

Initially when you’re challenging their behaviour, there’s some resistance. It can take some time for them to get which behaviours support and foster performance and which don’t. Once you set the team values, there’s a reference point and the team can build their behaviours around those values.

Developing champions

The Australian swimming team has enjoyed great success and team members are hailed as champions by a supportive public. And while external recognition will always make them feel good, Life Performance aimed to reveal and discuss the real behaviours of a champion.

Some people have a misconception about how champions think and act. They might be influenced by an extrovert who’s a champion. Yet the real champion doesn’t go around beating their chest. The champions’ response isn’t necessarily about winning; it’s about how you perform and how you did it.

Working with all levels

Swimming Australia continues to engage Life Performance. Workshops can include athletes and coaches, only athletes or only coaches. There can be anywhere between ten and one hundred participants. Yet all workshops and sessions aim to foster a spirit of personal awareness and congruency that enhances individual and team performances.

Carol works with our junior teams. She comes in when the team first assembles and establishes some values and identifies team behaviours that are conducive to team functioning. It’s very basic, though it does generate some awareness.”

“More harmonious teams that have performed at a higher level”

The swimmers supported and developed by Swimming Australia have already shown dedication, commitment and athletic talent. Yet the simple skills and techniques that Life Performance showed them have changed their outlook – and perhaps, in some instances, their futures.

If you can’t create a new awareness in individuals, you can’t create a change in the team. From a team perspective the Life Performance techniques and concepts have created more harmonious teams that have performed at a higher level, increased respect for each other and their individual differences and maintained a far more co-operative environment.

Leigh Nugent