Creating champions: five Olympic coaching strategies top employers use

You’ve heard the cliche; champions are not born, they are made. But this couldn’t be more apt when it comes to Olympic champions. Behind every medal lies an immense amount of work: from the athlete themselves and from their dedicated team of coaches, physios and sports scientists.

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Simone Biles poses with the bronze medal during the Women's Balance Beam Final medal ceremony on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

It takes talent, commitment and unparalleled training to succeed as a high-performance athlete. And it takes exactly the same for employees to become highly adept, competition-beating performers. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by top employers. With all eyes on Tokyo this summer, savvy business leaders are not watching the athletes, but instead paying close attention to the strategies of their coaches. These are the top 5 strategies that, come autumn, the same business leaders will be replicating in their own companies.

1) Going for gold
Top athletes have a laser-focus on their next goal, whether that’s a new world record, a medal or competition victory. When they lack motivation or focus, it’s this goal (and a clear understanding of how their training programme will push them towards achieving it) that inspires the athlete to get back into the pool, the saddle or the gym.

Successful leaders understand the importance of setting individual goals for each of their employees, as well as the collective goals shared by the organisation as a whole. When asked, employers should be able to confidently list their current professional targets, explain how their progress towards them is being tracked, and why their own goals matter to the ‘bigger picture’ success of the company. By celebrating the achievement of employees’ targets, employers reinforce their value, encouraging the rest of the team to aim higher.

2) Training quality over quantity
Malcolm Gladwell’s much-debated ‘10,000 hour rule’ states that a human must spend this much time (as a minimum) in practice before they have truly ‘mastered’ a skill. However, although Olympians most likely exceed this time commitment, their coaches understand that the quality of the training is what really matters.

It’s not enough just to go through the motions of practice. In order to make progress and to push the mind and body towards their full potential, the practice must be as close to ‘real life’ as possible, progress must be closely tracked, and the methods must be regularly assessed for impact and improved on. No detail of the athlete and their performance can be overlooked: all elements are equally important in the pursuit of victory.

Olympic coaches are not shy about stretching their budgets to ensure that their athletes have the best resources for training, and that’s because they understand that their investment will pay dividends when the tournament rolls around. Top employers are similarly willing to invest in the tools and solutions that will enhance the quality of their employees’ training experience.

3) Immersive preparation
When it comes to selecting tools and solutions, immersive reality tech is increasingly the ‘weapon of choice’ for elite coaches in the sporting and the business world.

Virtual and Mixed reality simulations can be incredibly impactful training tools, both for mental preparedness and for physical skills. For example, Olympic skiers and cyclers use VR simulations to ‘practice’ traversing specific race courses and ‘experience’ the race-day atmosphere, all whilst remaining in their own homes. By the time race day rolls around, the athlete knows exactly what to expect around every corner, how to pace themselves, and how to deal with any number of potential outcomes.

Similarly, employees can learn new skills and develop confidence remotely when they have access to VR training tools. An oil-rig engineer could practice a tricky repair job in a risk-free virtual environment, thus dramatically reducing the chance of error when they’re performing the same task out at sea. Or, a sales rep could practice their pitch in front of a virtual audience, interacting with an AI-generated human who could then deliver objective feedback on their soft skills and overall performance.

By exactly virtually creating difficult-to-replicate environments, immersive technologies can deliver the edge that separates the sporting and the professional winners from the runners up.

4) Guided by data
It might seem obvious to state that athletes and employers should both be paying attention to – and be guided by – their data. But what does this actually mean?

For athletes, it means tracking and recording every possible metric of their performance, and continually seeking to improve the statistics. A runner will not only be tracking their finish time, but also their stride length, posture angles, split times, heart rate, oxygen saturation, recovery speed and much more.

It’s equally possible for this incredibly detailed-oriented approach to training to be applied to employee training. With the right technologies, performance in training exercises can be measured along hundreds of different axes – from speed of response to facial expression. Employees can then take executive control (and be held accountable for) their own progress, with any subjectivity from third-party assessors removed from the equation.

5) Mental wellbeing as a priority
When Team USA gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to protect her own mental wellbeing, her actions exemplified the growing focus on mental health in the world of elite sport.

An expanding body of research has proven a clear link between psychological wellbeing and sporting success, mirroring evidence of a correlation between mental health and workplace performance.

In response, the highest-performing Olympic athletes’ now receive comprehensive mental wellbeing training in parallel to their athletic training. This includes learning how to handle failure, how to overcome mental blocks, how to deal with nerves and anxieties and how to improve focus.

These exact skills also have immense value in the toolkit of the average employee. The following sentence might be difficult for some employers to hear, but it’s one of the most important takeaway messages from this piece. If you’re not investing in mental wellbeing training and in practical schemes to support mental wellbeing, your talent development strategy is fundamentally unsustainable.


Not everyone can stand on an Olympic podium. But everyone can learn something from the people who know what it takes to get there. If you want your team to replicate the success of top coaches and top employers, now is the moment to start by embedding these proven strategies into your training.