The past few months may have been a strange and challenging time for everyone but, over the next week, the English Institute of Sport wants to share some of the story of how the organisation has supported its staff, practitioners and the sports and athletes it serves, adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and adapted its services.
During such an unprecedented time, the EIS, in playing its part like so many other organisations in combating the crisis, has been a pioneer in the high performance sports system, working incredibly hard to ensure performance support could continue as close to normal during lockdown and then providing guidance for the process of getting athletes back to their training environments.
Nigel Walker, EIS National Director, said: “It’s been the most demanding period of my career full-stop, on a personal level.
“What we have done is made sure we’ve been as prepared as we possibly can be to get us through this pandemic and kept our eyes open and had a 360-degree view of this, every single day.
“I’ve got an enormous amount of pride for what we’ve done. The organisation has come together to work differently to provide the services it does and to support each other, which is really important.”
At the end of 2019 most athletes in the world of sport were enjoying their final major break before the Tokyo Games – but little did they know that a new virus was spreading across the world, which would have a significant impact on all our lives.
As the first few months of 2020 went by and the crisis began to worsen, it became clear to the EIS that the virus was going to have a significant impact on the UK and the high performance system, so drastic measures such as closing EIS sites had to come into effect from March.
Dr. Rod Jaques, Director of Medical Services at the EIS, said: “We genuinely wanted to ring alarm bells with UK Sport and with the high performance system saying ‘this may have a significant impact on us and I think we’re actually going to have to think about closing down centres’.
“We drove the process through UK Sport to get national governing bodies to really consider Plan B. Plan B had to be athletes go home to train and make do with what they could. This planning had to be done very quickly.”
The subsequent lockdown and a move to a remote way of working and learning was guided in the EIS by our ethos of putting the person first and characterised by three key themes: stay safe, keep connected and get creative.
The theme of staying safe was delivered predominantly through the process of shutting down sites initially, and then abiding by the rules that came with lockdown.
Following that, connection was another immediate priority.
Kevin Currell, EIS Director of Science and Technology Development, said: “I think the first thing is you have to very quickly adapt. It probably came at us quite quickly back in March and we had to very quickly reprioritise from a focus of going into Tokyo and how we support the practitioners and the sports we work with to do that to step into the unknown.
“We also had a real big focus, particularly early on, on people. It was more about checking in with people, seeing how they are as opposed to what work they were doing.
“Our psychologists, our lifestyle advisers, our mental health team came together and started to look at how best we help people cope with and adapt to a constantly changing situation.”
Using creative methods, countless hours were put into ensuring all staff, practitioners and athletes were cared for and still received the EIS’s world-leading support and knowledge over the past few months.
For example, 150 learning events were delivered online during the first two months of lockdown, while there were also over 1,000 contacts between technical leads and various practitioners in that time.
In addition, we also set up a knowledge and expertise hub on our internal server, SharePoint, which has received over 13,500 views over the past 90 days.
The EIS’ work has gone far beyond sport, with several members of the team having fundraised for the NHS or volunteered for food delivery driving in their spare time, while our doctors have given up over 70 hours a week of support to the NHS.
However, in order to try to return to normality, there has also been an explicit focus on planning for a return to training.
The EIS supported the development of government policy by sitting on an innovative panel of doctors and sport providers, invited by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and hosted by UK Sport through its CEO Sally Munday which looked at a five-staged process whereby sport and training could resume in more familiar environments.
And, as part of a return to training, a specific working group was established to identify and source appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and to do so in a way that would not detract from any sourcing by the NHS.
The EIS has benefitted from the support of companies such as Skymark, who donated aprons free of charge to the EIS, in sourcing PPE that our practitioners and people can use in their support of sports and athletes.
Peter Elliott, EIS Director of Operations, said: “From day one it has all been about the individual members of staff and making sure that they’re confident that the EIS is doing everything in its power to ensure that they’re returning to an environment that is appropriate and conducive for them to be working in.”
It has been a tough and busy few months but much has been learnt and this will help the EIS to continue to provide performance support in the coming months, flexing to adjust to whatever may arise.
Dr. Jaques added: “I hope that we’ve added value to the system to help Olympic and Paralympic sport move forward in this very difficult time.”