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He was in a Directeur Sportif’s training camp of the UCI in Aigle - John Lelangue (Foto by Tim De Waele)
He was in a Directeur Sportif’s training camp of the UCI in Aigle - John Lelangue (Foto by Tim De Waele)

John Lelangue: Back to School

6. November 2009


This past week BMC’s Directeur Sportif John Lelangue joined 25 fellow team sports directors at the first installment of the UCI’s newly establish training course  for current and future sports directors which took place at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland. 

The initiative which is part of the UCI Academy is intended to professionalize the position across the board.  Though to take out a sports director’s license in many European countries including France, Belgium and Italy does require a university degree, not every nation has comparable programs.  By providing this mandatory training course, the UCI hopes to expand the number of managerial tools the directors can draw on in the course of their jobs.

Boning up on the managerial side
“This is the first time that the UCI has sponsored a course like this, even though in a lot of countries being a sports director is a regulated job for which you need to take a university degree,” Lelangue explained.  “I already completed a diploma in France and in Belgium before I joined Phonak, but the course this week has been completely different and should prove very helpful.”  Joining forces with the University of Manchester, the UCI-sponsored class is slanting the education more towards the managerial challenges a modern sports director will face, rather than the training, medical or sporting requirements addressed in other established courses of this nature.  “There were 26 guys registered for the course, all coming from the Pro Tour teams and of all different nationalities,” Lelangue said.  “I was only one of two directors from a Pro Continental team so it was a nice thing for me to be selected.”  The week consisted of various management gurus providing talks on all sorts of decision making processes, and dealing with topics ranging from management operations to athletic service and support.  “The experts would talk to us about the psychology of dealing with riders, the technical aspects of our jobs and we also had the UCI’s anti-doping head, Anne Gripper come in to talk to us also about how to face the challenges of doping in sport,” Lelangue said.  “It was all so interesting, I was really happy to be there.”

A Directeur Sportif’s training camp
“We would also take time to work in groups to deal with hypothetical on-the-job issues,” Lelangue explained.  “There were probably 13 teams represented at the course, and though we are racing against each other, we are all friends away from the race.”  With different racing schedules and agendas, the directors can end up as separated from colleagues as the athletes sometimes are when racing completely different schedules.  “Some of these directors I won’t see again until May, so it has been such a great opportunity to exchange information and ideas,” Lelangue said.  “We can interact on a casual basis not only in the classes, but also after class, in the coffee shop, and at the dinner table.  We can exchange coaching tips which will prove useful in our own teams.” 

Media training
“This course was different from the others I have taken because it didn’t deal at all with the training or athletic side of the job, rather it was more focused on things like media training, in addition to the management side,” Lelangue said.  “People from the BBC came to explain to us about how to handle ourselves in broadcast situations, so there was a point where we were tested talking into the cameras.”  With BMC’s goals for its future expanding daily, it is very likely that the team and its directors will be called on to interact with the media on a much more regular basis now.  “It is a good thing that the UCI is making this sort of training available not only as a principle, but also because it fits very well into our vision for BMC,” Lelangue commented.  “Also, I believe this is an excellent way to recognize the job of a Directeur Sportif.”  Believing that the role of a Directeur Sportif has been clouded in the public, Lelangue sees this as a good way to define what a sports director in cycling really does.  “There is a public confusion and we should fight to keep our identity,” Lelangue said.  “We have the largest role in devising tactics, strategy, training riders, on-the-road logistics and sports management.” 

What to take away
“I think a lot of the lessons we have learned this week are things that we already do subconsciously for the most part,” Lelangue surmised.  “But now we have been made aware of the methods and can improve our use of them to become even more efficient in our jobs.”  Effective interpersonal skills are the building blocks of any organization.  “I know that we will all see improvements in how we handle our relationships with our riders, with the organization of our staff and with our interaction with the media,” Lelangue concluded.  “This has been a very satisfying week of networking and finding more clues to solving the challenges this profession offers.”