David Brailsford: an Evidence-based Manager?

I enjoyed Gary Lineker’s interview with David Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling, on day 12 of London 2012 Olympics. Brailsford has led the British Cycling Team to numerous outstanding achievements at three successive Olympic Games – Athens, Beijing and now London 2012. Brailsford, in his role as Team Sky principal, also led Bradley Wiggins to victory in the Tour De France.


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Mlenny

Brailsford said that his philosophy was to help his athletes ‘to be the very best they can be so that they perform when it matters.’ To achieve this, I think that he employed an evidence-based approach…

Firstly, he embraced the best available research evidence – Brailsford stated that his team sat down and asked what do we know about how people perform and then applied it to cycling. It was evidence first, cycling second.

Secondly, he gathered the best possible information from the context (individuals and circumstances) – his backroom team of more than 20 examined every single detail from rider’s physiology and training programmes right right down to the pillows used by cyclists to sleep on.

Thirdly, he deferred to the expertise, experience and judgement of his team – Brailsford notes that “…the thing about British Cycling is it is a system. I’m not a coach, I look after a system.” His appointment of psychologist Dr Steve Peters was described by Brailsford as ‘the best appointment I’ve ever made’ – Peters had the expertise and experience required to help riders develop the mental toughness to compete at the highest levels.

The fourth element of an evidence-based approach – taking into account the opinions and needs of stakeholders or ethical considerations – was less clear from the interview. Brailsford undoubtedly had the best interests of the British Cycling at heart and gets the most out of his athletes, but I do wonder if this approach takes a broader and longer term view. For example, how much support has been given to Victoria Pendleton to retire from the sport and make the transition into ‘normal’ life? If Brailsford does consider the longer term implications of his performance approach on his athletes I think that he would qualify as one of the best examples of evidence-based management in action.

If evidence-based management is working for team GB’s cycling team, maybe it could work for you?

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