Benchmarking of elite sport systems
The organisation of elite sport systems has been the focus of a great variety of different investigations over the past ten years. In particular, many studies have compared the structure and organisation of different national elite sport systems on the macro and meso levels. A result of the existing investigations is a clear convergence of the service portfolio different elite sport systems offer their athletes and coaches. Despite this current trend to a homogeneous elite sport system design, medal tables of major sport events suggest that some nations are still more successful than others in specific sports. This suggests that more successful sport systems might have found better ways to implement the otherwise similar and conventional support portfolio. However, there is a lack of studies that focus on what practices successful elite sport systems apply in the actual delivery of the support services to their athletes and coaches; in how far these practices are related to the ,success of the sport systems; if these practices look similar across different successful sport systems; and if these practices provide useful lessons for other systems to learn from. The management tool benchmarking appears to be a useful framework to guide such comparisons at the operational level. Thus, this thesis evaluated the applicability of this management concept for furthering understanding of elite sport system management. In order to conduct this evaluation it was decided to analyse the operational processes and structures two successful elite sport systems apply for the delivery of five elements of the elite sport support portfolio. In specific, the investigation focused on the comparison of the design of the squad system, the hierarchy of coaches within the squad system, the organisation of the coach education, as well as the provision of sport science and lifestyle support, which were the Benchmarking Objects of this study. The Swedish athletics and the Norwegian cross-country skiing national team, and the general elite sport support institutions they cooperate with, were chosen as the Benchmarking Subjects, i.e. the comparison partners, for this investigation. This research was based on a series of semi-structured interviews which were conducted with about 50 key pOSition holders such as coaches, athletes, lifestyle support managers, or performance diagnosticians during two study visits to Norway and Sweden. This study concluded that benchmarking can lead to insights into the operational management of successful elite sport systems. It must however also be stressed that benchmarking is not a universal remedy for the problems managers of elite sport systems face today. As this research showed, the two Benchmarking Subjects applied unexpected solutions for the delivery of some of the chosen Benchmarking Objects - and some of these practices appeared to be heavily linked to the organisational and cultural context of the investigated sport systems. Thus, it must be carefully evaluated for each process or structure, which is identified during a bench marking exercise, if it constitutes a transferable best practice which is applicable outside the organisational context of the respective Benchmarking Subject.