Jono Byrne

As a longstanding supporter of Al, Mark and Andrew’s direction of travel with myfastestmile, I was delighted to accept their invitation to play a small part in their ongoing story. Hopefully, my contribution will measure up to the quality and novelty of thought that they’re providing in conversations about the development of sport.

At the onset of the Winter of 2016, I took a conscious decision to take a ‘time-out’ to reflect on the 20th anniversary of starting my professional journey in applied human science. That journey has led me to a realisation that we had entered a period that was bringing life to that famous old Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times”

From the world of politics to sport at both home and abroad, 2016 provided a series of unpredictable outcomes that wrong-footed the analysis of pundits and pollsters alike. In Britain’s ‘national game’, Leicester City FC mocked the notion that only a member of the financially powerful ‘Big Four’ (Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal) could possibly win the English Premier League title. Meanwhile, in an Olympic year, we’ve witnessed the bizarre spectacle of simultaneous media critique and elsewhere cheerleading of state-directed high performance sport programmes as a means of delivering medal success.

In troubling times of growing uncertainty, it’s human nature to gravitate towards sources of comforting reassurance; the providers of recipes, models, formulas and maps to ‘guide’ us out of the foreboding forest we feel lost within. Bestselling hindsight-based narratives of the paths purportedly taken by those who went from ‘Good to Great’ appear superficially comforting to the lost, but adopting a healthy degree of pragmatic skepticism is, as ever, a sensible precaution. By contrast, myfastestmile takes the far rockier and much less comfortable ‘high road’ (apt given Al’s Scottish lineage); promoting realistic and constructive suggestions about learning to cope (and ultimately thrive) in an undeniably volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence” (Henry David Thoreau)

Why is it so hard to follow Thoreau’s timeless advice? Perhaps there are clues in the increasingly compelling evidence of mankind’s collective genetic heritage to a circa 500-strong East African tribe of the first modern humans (the original Homo Sapiens). The ultimate colonisation of the planet by the direct descendants of that tribe suggests that the urge to explore a path ‘beyond the horizon’ is a vital part of what it means to be human.

Whilst the urge to explore appears central to the ‘human condition’, it’s self-evident that the great migration outward from the ancestral human homeland must have been punctuated by opportunities to ‘settle’ in newly discovered habitable land. Logic suggests, therefore, that most of us are likely descended from those ‘settlers’ who found comfort and security in the newly familiar; perhaps, then, our collective fear of an uncertain futures is ‘hard-wired’. Maybe our urges to banish the ‘heretics’ who call for ‘pushing on’ to the next horizon of human possibility are similarly inbuilt.

So, what is to be my small contribution to the expanding landscape of progressive thinking in sport that is being painted by myfastestmile? In the near term, I’ll be providing some reflections on my long and intimate relationship with that corporate buzzword of choice “innovation” in a series of blogs.

In pondering my longer-term part in the myfastestmile story, I’ll conclude with a further thought on this curious year of 2016. In March of that year, American rock music giants REM celebrated the 25th anniversary of their breakthrough 1991 album ‘Out of Time’. As an insufferably ‘alternative’ teenager at the time, I was a committed fan of the band’s extensive (but little known) 1980s ‘alt-rock’ back catalogue. This unheralded body of work comprises no less than 6 studio albums recorded in the 10-years prior to ‘Out of Time’. REM’s stratospheric ascent from ‘indie’ obscurity defied prediction at the time, and as a pretentious student who took comfort from carving out very personal pop culture niches, I remember feeling ‘robbed’ at losing a secret to a mob of late-arriving ‘bandwagon jumpers’.

Notwithstanding the intrinsic value in poking fun at the absurdity of my younger self, the REM story sits neatly with the core narrative of myfastestmile:

Can the ascent to ‘elite’ performance really be predicted from early career outcomes?

Is early success a pre-requisite of later success?

How do we encourage the patient apprenticeship of skills and craft as necessary foundations of longer-term excellence?

Like REM’s Michael Stipe all those years ago, I’ve recently found myself (as a ‘recovering sports scientist’) to be ‘Losing My Religion’. I’m fortunate to have discovered the pioneering folk of myfastestmile as I part company with ‘safety seeking settlers’ and venture towards a new horizon of possibility for sport.