The Perse School

Breaking down the barriers to elite sport through social enterprise

11 Oct 2018

The future of elite sport was the basis of a 42 lecture from former Perse School student Tim Harper.

Tim, who left The Perse School in 2006, set up his own elite sport consultancy Harper Performance in 2015, helping talented sportspeople and teams from developing countries fulfil their potential.

He told students how he initially got involved in sport as a strength and fitness coach with the British Army rugby team while studying for an exercise physiology degree, before becoming a strength and conditioning coach with Premiership club Saracens.

Tim went on to join London Scottish as Head of Performance, overseeing their sports science and sports medicine operations. After leaving the Championship club, he continued working within a diverse range of sports from rallying to eventing both at home and abroad.

However, Tim explained it was while working with the Zambian Olympic Committee that his focus changed to seeking ways to optimise elite athletes. He said he realised the barriers, whether financial, logistical or cultural, which were faced by gifted athletes in developing nations and wanted to help break those down.

‘Challenging the Radical Monopoly through Social Enterprise’ was the theme of Tim’s talk as he questioned whether sport was “living up to the ideals that drew him in” such as equality. He felt “results are largely dictated by where you’re born” and that sport needed to live up to its ideals to “remain relevant in the future as a beacon of fairness”.

He viewed the ‘radical monopoly’ – the perceived way to gain success – as being based around the Western model of getting as many people as possible playing a sport, providing well-funded training facilities and pumping money into sports science.

However, Tim felt previous attempts to boost elite sport in developing countries had often fell short. He said rather than mimicking western models, HP wanted to help such nations develop their own sustainable solutions. This could be achieved by producing top-level athletes through social enterprise, combining the sports science, nutrition, psychology and coaching expertise of its projects team with the local knowhow and experience of local coaches. Funding for projects, such as the Football for Good Academy in Uganda, comes largely from the proceeds of HP’s work with UK sportspeople and teams.

He concluded: “It’s about changing the thinking and approach to sport. There has been a shift which has allowed people like us to go into this environment to show they can do this their own way with less reliance on what’s happening in the West.”

Listen to Tim talk more about HP’s projects below.

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