UK Sport's 13th annual World Class Performance Conference takes place at the Midland Hotel in Manchester later this month (25-27 November).
The Conference theme this year is 'Motion'; with sights firmly fixed on beating our London 2012 medal haul in Rio, as well as success in Sochi, UK Sport will be using the Conference to focus minds and efforts on breaking new ground. The Conference will explore three components; Energy (our personal resource), Mass (our capacity for greater expertise), and Acceleration (our ability to act) - which all contribute to our goal of creating a stronger and more sustainable high performance system.
Ahead of the three-day event, we will be speaking to a number of key speakers who will host sessions. First up is Britain's first-ever female fighter pilot, Jo Salter.
Are you looking forward to the Conference?
I’m fascinated by the people who will be at the conference. The calibre of the people attending is incredible – there already seems to be so much energy about the whole thing.
You're hosting a session called 'Acceleration: Our ability to act' - what will you be talking about?
I’m going to tell stories about what it was like to fly a fast jet, to be the first girl to be in that environment and hopefully in sometimes serious and sometimes amusing ways.
What do you think the coaches and sports present can learn from your experiences?
It’s very interesting with UK Sport because something that’s very close to my heart is elite performance and how we can maintain the energy levels to achieve our goals. Flying especially is a great comparison: it’s often about practising all the time, yet there’s only one chance at the point of delivery to get it right. You can spend years and years practicing to deliver - whether to achieve an Olympic medal or a time on target or taking a photograph in peacekeeping as a fighter pilot.
I have a story about the RAF physical training instructors and an activity they carried out with flying instructors. I think it’ll be really relevant and show how many comparisons there are with two very different but it's all to do with high-performing individuals and teams.
What about you - what will you pick up from the conference?
As for me, I love to learn and love to meet people. I find that wherever I go, I want to do whatever it is the conference is about! I used to be a very good fencer when I was a teenager and I know I’ll be having pangs of regret about having never continued with it or fenced for England. Perhaps they’ll be a fencing coach there too!
How important is cross-industry sharing to improve performances and efficiency?
It’s true in every walk of life. I remember being at an event were I heard that Heathrow Airport Holdings [formerly BAA] were concerned about queues in airports so they went to Disneyworld. They thought about which industry has to deal with queues and manages it well, visited and learned to understand the psychology behind queues and how people needed to feel like they were moving faster and then they replicated that in airports. If you can replicate that from Disneyworld to an airport, then I think you really can take best practice from other industries.
There’s a great thing about believing in oneself as well, the examples I've described are tangible, but there are things which are intangible such as individuals just believing they can do something.
When you started out as a fighter pilot, you were one of only five female fighter pilots in the world - has it changed much since then?
There are more [female fighter pilots] but there aren’t huge amounts. What’s interesting is that when I meet young pilots going through training, they don’t even imagine that girls couldn’t do it and the guys they’re training with can’t imagine them not being able to either. It’s just a totally different mind-set.
Were you inspired by London 2012?
I thought the whole thing was fabulous. Jessica Ennis is my favourite – I think she’s wonderful. I love that fact there’s a level of maturity in the sports rather than just being about youth. There’s an ideal combination where you need the physical prowess of youth but the psychological maturity of having raced before and not buckling under pressure.
What it did for us was that my daughters and I would really like to do a triathlon. My objective from the conference is to find out from a coach how to start training a mother, her 15-year-old and 10-year-old daughters. Three girls who want to train together – how do you start?
Since its inception in 2001, the World Class Performance Conference has become the key event in the diaries of coaches, performance directors and sports science and medicine practitioners, as the one opportunity every year for the entire Olympic and Paralympic high performance community to come together to network, debate and share best practice. The aim is to equip these individuals with the skills and knowledge to make sustainable improvements to their sport’s World Class Performance Programme.