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Developing Champions: Diamond Sports
15 November 2011

by Jesse Phillips, National Kayak 200m K2 champion

Diamond Sports 15.11.11, 5:30 – 8:45pm

Department of Sport and Recreation, Leederville

As for most new environments that we are introduced to there is a period of adjustment and assimilation. Social learning environments are particularly interesting in that there is a specific outcome aimed at the learner and delivered by the teacher - this makes for a period of adjustment on two levels. One: student understanding content, outline and connecting with the teacher, and; Two: teacher understanding the subtle difference in student learning, shaping the content to suit the groups level of comprehension.

Since my involvement in the Developing Champions Program I have a greater awareness of the skills that athletes at the top level maintain. Skills that are generally take for granted – skills that have helped take them to the top of their sport. The main differences between those striving to be the best and those at the top is only small – often a combination of small changes over a number of key areas: physical maturity and conditioning, refined skills through long-term practice, approach to critical technique, motivation and mental skills, to name a few.

These changes can be made for a young sporting career with the help of other experienced athletes, coaches and experienced support staff. Developing Champions is the ideal vehicle to achieve this.

The time spent "winning” for an athlete in his or her sporting career is just the tip of the iceberg, with a considerable bulk of work having been consolidated well before any major success is achieved. This bulk is the grounding for the success and is the ‘stuff’ that makes the feeling of winning worth it.

The Diamond Sports athletes, comprising Baseball and Softball players, had a genuine desire to contribute and learn the topics of the evening workshop. This showed their capability to understand the content for practical use in their current sporting lives - which is the key intention of the Developing Champions program. The three major topics we dove into were Communication, Relationships and Mental Skills.


The skills required in breaking down information from another person; the means of understanding others around you; to share; the means of connection between people

The number one priority for anyone aiming to improve his or her communication is practicing Active Listening. This skill is surprisingly rare to find in our modern age, with the many forms of entertainment and technological distraction – we so easily answer people without the mindfulness of what has been shared with us. To truly listen to another person is to give your full attention, and, to be heard is a gratifying feeling - a way of expression that aids human development.

The group of 11 athletes tested this theory out by role playing two scenarios: 1) a storyteller conveying a story to a listener not actively listening and easily distracted by their own thought, compared to; 2) a storyteller conveying a story to a listener actively listening and interested.

The responses from each athlete were that the active listening scenario was much more interactive and the storyteller felt as though their voice was being treated with respect and a bilateral rapport was built.

Active Listening is critical in team sports success for these reasons: the sporting adage that "there is no ‘I’ in team”, or, "a champion team is more successful than a team of champions” are so often proven correct.

Team Success for me is: To combine with others of similar skill in an activity that links each member’s individual role to a greater objective that necessitates a unified approach. When there are breakdowns in communication within team roles - responsibilities become cloudy and indirect.


The way that two or more people are connected, or; the means of relating to another being.

Fostering healthy relationships with all people in your life is a fundamental skill in achieving a fulfilling existence. These links are so important that without them we would find it quite disturbing to have those relationships jeopardised. It often takes a time of personal need, the need to reach out to someone close to you, for you to understand how important he or she is to you. We humans are social creatures; therefore the utilisation of the skills (communication) to develop and maintain relationships is rather important.

There are times in sport when relationships are the one element that glues your goals back together after a disappointing performance or another let down in life. The more connected we are as people the more intrinsic value we see in our role within our society; which means that we become part of a larger structure of life, rather than just thinking of the importance of ourselves.

Mental Skills;

Skills practiced by our mind that we use to control our mood, feelings, attitudes and focus.

When athletes get to the top of sport the smallest margins separate the results in the gym and on the track. The main differences seen between winners and the rest are that the winners’ strategies of mind are refined to a point of optimal performance. Mental Techniques develop Mental Skills that maintain Mental Qualities leading to Optimal Performance.

The key to mental skills training is to identify areas that are weak and integrate strategies in your training and competition to exhibit these techniques, over time developing them into skills and ideally leading to automated qualities. Mental Skills becomes another part of your performance, which is not physical, BUT can have pivotal affect on your physical capabilities.

A few musicians I suggest, that helped me write this: Andreya Triana, Aloe Blacc, Alice Russell.

Also, a short film on success (learning from our forefathers is important): http://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html

Best wishes to all in pursuit of your best in life.

Jesse Phillips

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