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  • Col. Devraj Gill

High-Performance Leadership Program - a critical force multiplier

Developing elite athletes is no easy task. It needs motivation, commitment, and drive not just from the athlete but from the entire team working with the athlete. As a person with a background in army operations, Col. Devraj Gill learned the ropes of honing talent and making them high-performance athletes thanks to the Elms Sports Foundation and Abhinav Bindra Foundation's curated High Performance Leadership Program.

Read on to know about his firsthand experience of overseeing the development of world-class athletes, who represent our country in international sporting events, at the Army Sports Institute in Pune.

In September 2021 sports became an integral part of my life when I joined the Army Sports Institute, a facility to facilitate the development of high-performance athletes, as the Commandant. Coming from an operational role in the army, I did not have much of a sports background, except for some school-level basketball, and volleyball; troop games such as hockey in the army; and some golf and squash at an amateur level. So my knowledge of sports was quite limited, to say the least.

Being at the helm of affairs at ASI however, meant it was my duty to provide a conducive environment to the athletes and develop medal winners at the National and International levels. The job at hand required a thorough understanding of the sports ecosystem prevalent in the country and the functioning of the National Sporting Federations so as to make a meaningful contribution to the medal-winning prospects of the nation.

At ASI, the training of high-performance athletes is conducted with the aim to be part of the national team, representing the country, and winning medals for the nation. And the stakes were pretty high since Sub Neeraj Chopra, a prodigy of ASI had just won India’s first ‘Olympic Gold’ in track and field events.

In order to make some meaningful contribution at ASI and to get into the groove at the earliest, I was looking for a course that would enable me to develop management and leadership skills in all spheres of high-performance sports. So when I heard about the High Performance Leadership Program being conducted by ELMS Sports Foundation & Abhinav Bindra Foundation, I immediately latched on to this opportunity.

The High Performance Leadership Program has provided me with a holistic understanding of the sports ecosystem in India, right from the grassroots level (conceptualizing development programs for novice athletes), to their growth and performance at the national level, and then taking them further to the pinnacle of sports which includes competing and performing against the best athletes in the world at the Olympics Games.

The program has offered me numerous opportunities to interact with renowned international experts and personalities involved in the field of High Performance Sports from various countries including Canada, the USA, Britain, and Australia. I had first-hand exposure to the sporting culture of these countries and how they manage things differently to develop champions at all levels.

Through this program, I was also exposed to two fundamental pillars of an athlete’s peak performance, namely Psychological or Mental Strength and Emotional Intelligence, and how they make or break an athlete.

From a personal standpoint, this program ingrained in me a few key points:

  • Talent Identification & Development

ASI has a Boys Sports Company (BSC) where young boys between the age of 8 and 14 are recruited in one among seven disciplines. It is here that I learned about the parameters of a sound talent scouting program. The critical aspect of ‘Talent Migration’, was highlighted, and the same also became part of the six-monthly performance review of BSC at ASI.

  • Psychological / Mental Strength

As soldiers we have been trained in a fashion that it’s all mental and not physical, however, in, the case of athletes, both these go hand in hand. After interacting with the Tokyo Olympic-bound athletes at ASI, it emerged that psychological/mental strength was a grey area for them and they were not prepared to handle the pressure of the Olympics and the expectations of the country. This resulted in a drop in their performance. Since then, mental conditioning has been one of the KRAs to be implemented at ASI and is being addressed with intentionality.

  • Application of Sports Science

An amalgamation of science and sports is the need of the hour to outperform one’s opponents in the international arena for a Podium finish. The Leadership program exposed me to the various fields of Sports Science and its application as a performance enabler, be it biomechanics, nutrition, rehab, or recovery. ASI has a fully functional Sports Science facility and it has been further upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment for its optimal utilization.

  • Peer Learning

The leadership program’s third batch was subscribed to by various sports personalities and sports administrators. The program provided a platform for cross-learning and excellent interactions. The interaction during online sessions and at a personal level has enriched me and a few of the ideas exchanged will make a marked difference in the way we manage the affairs of the ASI.

As an organization, the leadership program has aided ASI in more ways than one, such as:

  • Implementation of the LTAD Programme.

ASI has an LTAD program that is being implemented. However, thanks to HPLP certain key aspects of LTAD have been reexamined and implemented with greater impetus so that the athletes can gain from it.

  • Talent Scouting Cell

We have now established a Talent Scouting Cell and have spread our tentacles in search of new talent across the country instead of sticking to the traditional pockets alone.

  • Psy/ Mental Strengthening

Addressing the key requirement of the trainees of BSC, a full-fledged Psychological Strengthening program is being implemented. The trainer will also accompany the team of ASI to have far-reaching effects.

  • Coaches Skill Enhancement

Coaches at ASI are army personnel who have themselves been elite athletes. To keep them abreast with the current training methodology, coaches are being made to undergo refresher courses so they can better serve the athletes.

Takeaways for Prospective Candidates

Given my personal experience, I can positively say that the High Performance Leadership Program is a well-conceived course being conducted by experts in their field. Any future prospective candidate will end up gaining critical insights into the development of management and leadership capabilities encompassing all verticals of high-performance sports. The prospective candidates will have context-relevant learning and skills associated with higher performance.

They will get an insight into the implementation of the Talent Identification Program and leveraging Sports Sciences for Performance Enhancement. Prospective candidates will further be exposed to utilize Emotional Intelligence and psychological Strengthening as tools that will have far-reaching, result-oriented effects in the respective fields and above all an opportunity to interact with some of the best sportspersons and administrators for skill enhancement through peer learning.

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