UK Sport's 13th annual World Class Performance Conference presented by Sportscover takes place at the Midland Hotel in Manchester next week (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.
As part of our preview to the conference, we spoke to Bernard Petiot, one of the keynote speakers and the Vice-President of Casting and Performance at Cirque de Soleil.
What is your keynote at the conference going to cover?
I want to give a global vision of who we are and have people understand how we go about creativity and how, in our world, we are making sure we are putting the systems in place to find the appropriate people but also to take care of our artists and make sure they are able to perform on a long-term basis. As well as this, I will cover the whole area of working in an artistic environment where creativity is at the heart of the company and how much that impacts on the managerial strategies you have to use in trying to combine the business and artistic challenges.
Obviously, as a red line throughout the presentation, collaboration is very important. The integrations of various areas of expertise, allowing the dialogue to continue even when things seem impossible and then the solution is found and driven by the will to go beyond current available expertise in order to be able to keep moving forward.
The global theme of the conference is ‘Motion’ and for you guys in the UK that seems to be taking the result of London and yes being satisfied but wanting to do equivalent or even better for the next round.
Your role seems to involve making the impossible possible. How do you ensure you keep to such a high level of performance?
I guess the key thing is that we don’t take things for granted. We’re working with humans, so there is variability, for us it is to maintain our capacity to adapt within the variability of humans, because we’re dealing with human performance. We’re not under the rules of competition, but for us the rendezvous is between us and the public and our wish is to please the public for what they’ve bought and the experience they want to go through. We take that full responsibility and commit ourselves to make sure that rendezvous is a good one and an inspiring experience. We take that very seriously and every show is a new one that we put in front of the public and that is to the highest standard that we could do at that specific moment.
How important is it to have a world-class support system behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil?
First, I congratulate the sports system and the coaches for the incredible work that is done. We’re only as good as the excellence that was produced within the sport community. Sport doesn’t have an obligation to produce talent for us so we have to find ways to be good and respectful neighbours in the way we’re getting to the talent as well as the way we’re taking the good work that is done and continuing the road of excellence. That, for us, is fundamental.
How important has cross-industry knowledge sharing been for both you individually and Cirque du Soleil?
It’s fundamental. That’s part of our culture – we’re casting people who are coming from over 45 different countries with different culture backgrounds, experiences, knowledge and ability and for us, this is very rich. For me, having this kind of relationship with the sports community - the Olympic group which is striving for excellence and the way they are going to address their challenge, I will learn. Every occasion I have to do a conference with any group and sport in particular is an occasion for me to come back with an inspiration or idea that I can eventually transfer in my environment.
Is there a sport in particular you’re looking to learn from at the conference?
I will look at what is there, but I won’t attend for a specific sport, more for a body of knowledge, points of view that I could bring back to Quebec with my group of people. In terms of the sports we normally have a closer relationship with, then the gymnastics family is the sport that is the closest.
What would you say is the key to improving performances long-term and achieving consistent success?
I could relate to the challenge in my world. The performance of Great Britain at London 2012 was outstanding, so it would be hard for me to impose a judgement for the next round. What I could say is that when we do a show, as we did with the last Michael Jackson one in Vegas, we pushed the bar. The question for us is what about the next show we deliver in 2014. The question in everyone’s head is “What can we add to push the next frontier?” I think the answer is to have everybody committed to that objective and to have the humility to say what we know now may not be sufficient for what we need to solve for the show, so that we have to question and push ourselves, to have very hot and engaged debate and dialogue to find the appropriate solution as long as communication and co-operation still stands.
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.