Back in the 1970s when Australian Football was just beginning to make the stretch into the modern age of professional sports, myself and many of my friends started to get really interested in the training required for a footballer.
At the time, most clubs had a "Fitness Adviser". Most of these men were either former athletes or simply fitness fanatics who had no formal education in any human sciences. However, they were revered due to their athletic success or their capacity for the performance of extraordinary physical efforts.
In most cases, the training was tough, punishing and gut-wrenching. I am sure we missed out on witnessing the craft of many fine athletes who simply could not tolerate the extreme demands of the training. It seemed there was a contest between the teams during the off season as to which one trained harder.
The reality was though, when we look back with 20-20 hindsight, that most teams where comprehensively over-trained. Injury rates were high.
When we began our push to get into the major clubs in the early 80s and start to carve out careers as sports conditioning specialists, there were many fixed mindsets we had to work with and slowly create a change. I remember once in an interview with Collingwood Football Club. I was asked what I would do about the club's reputation for lacking speed. When I answered that I would gear the training to develop speed, the two interviewers looked at me with disdain and said, "Everybody knows speed is a god given thing and it cannot be improved!" I didn't get that gig!
But all the while, the driving force was a fear among coaches and players of "not being fit enough". There was little, if any focus on performance. I remember going into another club to take over the program and was told a certain player had to have a "brutal pre-season" or he was out because he just kept running out of gas during the third quarter. The coach looked at me and said I had to give this player extra training because he had great talent but was a disappointment. So I took the player out for coffee and had a chat. He was anxious because his career was on the line. He wanted to improve and had the work ethic to do it. None of it made sense to me so I took him out on the track to watch him run. Gaping flaws in his running technique revealed the problem. So over the next few months he did the work to correct his technique and became one of the clubs finest running players for the next 8 years.
How times have changed. It is now all about performance. And the clubs, who were begrudgingly shelling out maybe $80 a week to us "Fitness Advisers" now have conditioning budgets in the millions.
So let's roll this around to corporate health.
For years, the backbone of corporate health has been testing and seminars. The tests focus on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. The seminars are typically about stress management, nutrition and exercise. They are again, traditionally filled with "shoulds" and 'should nots'. Health fairs are used to back up these messages and keep people informed. Sometimes a company will install a gym or provide yoga classes but these are notoriously poorly attended. Often they are used as a marketing tool to attract talent.
But like the old football clubs fearing not being fit enough, most of the health messages have had a fundamental aim at creating fear around morbidity through heart disease or the possibility of diabetes or cancer. Very little is about the exciting area of human performance.
I will argue that for change to take place, and for growth to occur, their needs to be inspiration. When people are inspired, they unleash motivational forces that may have lay dormant for years. I argue that workplace health and well-being education would be more effective if it sought to inspire people to go for something better, to grow and evolve; to enhance themselves.
This can be done by first awakening a viewpoint of what is possible and finding the inspiration in each individual to want to go for something better. This can then be followed by education that builds understanding, which can then be supported by ongoing tips, tools and strategies to unlock their potential.
As the program progresses and the person begins to explore these strategies and starts settling in on the things that are working for them, good health will naturally evolve and disease risk will diminish.
I get a strong sense that people have "disease warning" fatigue and the message no longer goes in.
In this modern day, I believe that corporate health and wellness programs will be more effective and bring greater value if they are aimed at developing people, inspiring them to go for goals and then providing the guidance, understanding, strategies and tools to improve their general health, increase their physical fitness and capacity for work and play, and to become more resilient against stress.
I do feel a program that identifies a person more as a "corporate athlete" than someone in danger of injury or disease, will be impacting, penetrating and effective.
Let's stop talking cholesterol and start talking inspiration.