Every year when the Tour de France comes around, I am mesmerized by the strategy, grit, human performance challenges, and commitment of the riders and support teams. Part of my fascination is that it reminds me of the end of year race that so many of our executives do every year at this time. Like the tour racers, they are sprinting up hill after hill, they are trying to wrap up key projects, and then they are trying to quickly recover overnight to get up and do it again.
Over the past 5 years, one team stands out above the others for consistently creating excellence – Team Sky. They have won 4 of the last 5 Tour de France races and have dominated the last 2 Olympics. And interestingly enough, they did it in a Tignum approach of doing small things to accumulate marginal gains. Even more interesting is that Team Sky was developed on the heels of a history of doping scandals to win clean.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit with Fran Miller, Head of Winning Behaviour at Team Sky. We spoke about Performance Recovery and she shared some fascinating insights into their approach to recovery for these elite cyclists.
During a 3-week race such as the Tour de France, athletes will commonly stay in 2-star hotels, sharing a room and moving each day as the race progresses. When Team Sky launched in 2010, they questioned every aspect of their athletes’ preparation and knowing the importance of sleep, they elicited some sleep scientists to analyse their sleep biometrics. From this they identified the optimal type of mattress, linens, and pillows for each athlete. This led to creating a customized sleep package for each athlete. While this may seem small, for those of you who travel regularly, you know the impact that even a pillow can make.
With this astute attention to the small details that add up, a forward team arrives at the hotel a day ahead, removes all the furniture, and gives the room a deep clean to reduce the chance for infection. Personal bedding is installed, temperature and humidity levels are adjusted (the team carries dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and air filters), and water bottles are left to optimize hydration.
This may seem like overkill, but we recently took a group of leaders and had them wear a monitoring device for 48 hours. We tracked their autonomic nervous system (heart rate variability), movement patterns, heart rate, respirations, etc. After a hard day of numerous meetings, deadlines, and putting out their metaphorical fires, 75% had low quality of sleep with frequent waking episodes, poor deep restorative sleep, and too short of sleep. In other words, they were operating at a deficit, something that Team Sky has worked hard to avoid.
To make matters even worse, researchers at Brown University have shown that the first night of sleeping in a hotel (a new place) puts the brain and nervous system on high alert. This type of left hemisphere overdrive is thought to be part of a surveillance strategy when we encounter new surroundings.
When talking with Fran, one of the things that fascinated me was that Team Sky could not always measure the impact of each of the incremental changes they had made. Instead, they were willing to use common sense, logic, the best supportive science they could apply, and their willingness to do a lot of little things to improve. In the end, they were interested in the sum of the parts and clearly their results indicate it is working.
At Tignum, we create Quality of Time™ (the intersection of productivity, impact, fulfilment, and fun) by combining 55 different fairly simple strategies. Every day you have over 1,000 choices (some in Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, Recovery, and preparation for your peak performances) and becoming aware of how these simple choices impact your Sustainable High Performance may be the difference between whether you win your Tour de France or you don’t. Team Sky’s appreciation of the impact of the aggregation of marginal gains has put their racers on the podium.
As always we would love to hear your thoughts.
By Angela Walker
Tignum Performance Coach