#LoveIrishReserch Blog: Performance Management in Elite Sport

Conor Molan is an IRC Employment Based Programme Postgraduate Scholar working with Sport Ireland, and in collaboration with University College Dublin to develop a performance management framework to assist national sports governing bodies in better managing Olympic and Paralympic programmes.

Nothing transcends all strands of society like sport. Whether you are volunteering for your local GAA club or striving to represent Ireland on the world stage, sport engages the interest of people from every demographic and is embedded in our culture. At an elite level, the Olympic Games epitomise the pinnacle of sport due to the sheer scale of the event and the impact it can have on sporting careers and national pride. Due to the increasingly professionalised nature of elite sport, national sport organisations operate high performance programmes in order to manage the people, planning, and operations involved in elite sport performance. While I am absorbed by the action at Rio 2016, I have always been intrigued by how elite-level performance is produced. In particular, how can the management and coordination of high performance programmes support elite athletes, coaches and support staff in realising their sporting goals? This is a question that has driven my desire and passion to research and explore the world of elite sport.

My curiosity in the management of elite sport emerged while competing as a soccer player at a national level in the League of Ireland, then developed further as a professional coach working with elite youth players. My interest in understanding how athletes and teams are developed to an elite-level then took me to University College Dublin, where I undertook the MSc in Sport & Exercise Management with a particular focus on the sport management stream. This gave me a comprehensive understanding of subjects in the field of management, leadership, and organisation behaviour in sport.

After successfully completing my MSc dissertation, I spent some time developing a research proposal with my supervisor Dr James Matthews and commenced my PhD within the Institute for Sport & Health at University College Dublin in October 2014. The Institute, under the directorship of Professor Colin Boreham, was the ideal setting for me to pursue my PhD as its research centre has a strong reputation for promoting high quality research and has close links to many Olympic sport bodies and athletes.

I was delighted to be awarded funding through the Irish Research Council Employment-Based Postgraduate Scholarship, which is supporting me to work with Sport Ireland in its High Performance Unit. The scholarship allows me to conduct research that will contribute to Sport Ireland’s work in the area of high performance sport, while also undertaking a high-quality PhD programme at University College Dublin.

My research project investigates how the management of high performance programmes can contribute to producing elite-level athletes, teams, and performance outcomes. The research addresses a pressing need to look beyond the topics of coaching and governance in elite sport, to management-led processes and organisational dynamics involved in preparing elite athletes, and the people who support them, for the Olympic Games. I will draw on management expertise inside and outside the sport domain, and gather data from people working at an international level in Olympic sport across 6 countries, to further understand this topic. The research project will inform Sport Ireland and national sport organisations on how high performance programmes can be best managed in the pursuit of world class performance. This evidence will help in deciding how organisations should invest in the development and operation of their own programmes. As an Irish Research Council scholar, I am privileged to be able to work with great organisations in developing new perspectives that will hopefully make a positive impact within the domain of elite sport.

Image above: Katie Taylor, credit Sport Ireland.