High Performance Trends in Australia

Posted by in Alistair Milner, Australia and New Zealand, Elite Performance, Jonathan Harris

Earlier in the year, SRi hosted breakfast forums in both Melbourne and Sydney which were attended by over 50 leaders involved in High Performance within the sports industry. The attendees ranged from Chairpersons to Chief Executives, and from Technical Directors to Heads of Sport, across various sporting codes, national sporting organisations (NSOs) and institutes of sport.

The forums were chaired by Jonathan Harris, SRi’s Managing Partner in Australia and led by Alistair Milner, head of SRi’s High Performance Practice, which operates on a global basis from our London office. Alistair has worked very closely with a number of major organisations on assignments for positions such as Head Coach, Technical Director, High Performance Director, Head of Football, Chief Medical Officer and Academy Director.

Alistair travelled to Australia in order to examine the global nature of various trends he has identified during his three years’ recruiting in this environment. In addition to these breakfasts, he also had the opportunity to meet with a number of key industry influencers in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. These trends included:

The Professionalisation of Sport

  • The number of sports benefiting from a professional HR practice is increasing. This applies to both technical and non-technical appointments.
  • Only a few small clubs/NSOs have a dedicated HR resource as it is an area of expertise that might only be needed for discrete periods of time. This is an area where external expertise can be of value.
  • There are a range of sources for external recruitment and selection expertise. For example, the Australian Institute of Sport and Australian Sports Commission offer expert guidance and presence on recruitment panels.
  • National sporting federations in the UK are also working closely with sports organisations in terms of governance and recruitment.

Technical Assessment

  • Assessing technical capability in High Performance environments in order to make a hiring decision is complex, as there is often no internal expertise to make an objective assessment.
  • Non-typical approaches to technical assessment can include, observation in simulated environments, external experts on the panel, formal/informal referencing, data analysis, peer review etc.

Medical Appointments

  • How medical practitioners contribute to High Performance environments is constantly evolving. This is a global trend with distinct differences dependent on the sporting code.
  • The contemporary challenge revolves around independence from, and integration with, other High Performance functions.
  • The challenge facing some sports is the balance of compliance, player welfare, mental welfare and team results.
  • Recruiting on a part-time and full-time basis from the medical profession into High Performance is difficult. The full-time model is not often used, so medical professionals have to balance their sporting career with an ongoing clinical or medical career.
  • Reporting lines are increasingly under scrutiny. Organisational design of how medical professionals contribute is critical to this.


  • Major appointments in High Performance are made in pressurised environments, especially in professional clubs. Strong governance is a key component for successful recruitment and can ensure that process and procedure are followed, regardless of the time taken to make a recruitment decision.
  • Stakeholder management, board unity and support throughout a process where everyone understands their role and responsibility is critical.
  • There is increasing value in auditing board performance and the role of sub-committees.
  • There is significant financial consequences to poor recruitment decisions. Utilising an external search firm can assist in making the most of this change and mitigate risk.

These forums and meetings provided an invaluable opportunity to learn how some aspects of High Performance are unique to Australia and also what the country shares with the rest of the world. From these discussions we have collated what we felt were the major talking points.

Breakfast Forum Major Discussion Topics

  • New major broadcast deals have made large sums available to sport. Subsequently there are dynamic conversations between NSOs and clubs on how to use this additional resource effectively. While this is a global theme, certain sports and geographies are at different stages of the journey.
  • There is an ongoing debate on how to balance additional resource between High Performance and participation growth. This relationship is critical, non-linear in many cases, and is a tough challenge to solve.
  • Club sport is highly competitive and there is natural caution to participating in information sharing, for the purposes of advancing the sport.
  • Player welfare is a very contemporary challenge to both NSOs and clubs. The frequency of concussion incidents and protecting the reputation of the sport from substance violations is being debated, not just in Australia but across the world. In particular, the independence of those professionals making decisions on player welfare in a live match environment.
  • There is also a wider debate on how medical based roles can balance a sport’s compliance, player welfare and contribute to higher levels of athletic performance.
  • Expenditure on football departments and High Performance is increasing and creating unprecedented inflationary pressure on salaries. This is having a knock-on effect for organisations with less resource or who are more reliant on government/state funding.
  • There is an increase in clubs and NSOs looking for external support in recruitment of both non-executives and executives. Organisations are looking for a combination of selection expertise and global reach, which offers a competitive advantage. This is especially true within High Performance.
  • There is the perennial issue of changing the lead coach and losing associated staff. This is usually followed by the appointment of a team of individuals at significant cost. Although this a global issue, there are no ‘one size fits all’ recommendations. Some clubs are addressing this in order to manage costs and protect culture and stability.
  • The major sports are now looking at how they can expand the talent pool across leadership and coaching appointments. There are examples where NSOs are proactively developing existing talent and looking at succession planning.