The mission of the SPLISS consortium group is “to create a sustainable international network that coordinates research and develops and shares expertise on innovative high performance sport at the meso-level (policy level), in cooperation with policy makers, NOCs, national and international organisations, and researchers worldwide”. For more information, download the SPLISS-infographic: pdf fileSPLISS-new-infographic-150816.pdf (8.88 MB)
A SPLISS assessment evaluates a nation's elite sport system and climate. SPLISS assessments are characterised by four elements:
SPLISS model & its critical success factors
Involvement of elite athletes, coaches and performance directors
SPLISS Scoring system
Collaboration with a local partner/researcher
Key questions are:
What makes an elite sport policy effective and efficient?
How can nations improve their chances of winning medals in international sport?
SPLISS has more than 15 years of experience in benchmarking elite sport systems. A SPLISS benchmark increases insights into the effectiveness and efficiency of a nation’s elite sport policies compared to more than 17 other nations. It makes use of the experience developed during several benchmark studies (see SPLISS 1.0 and SPLISS 2.0, under "Publications" - "Books") and takes place at the ‘overall’ or national sport policy level. Key questions are:
Why do some countries win more medals than others?
How much do countries invest in elite sport?
How do nations prioritise their elite sport investment decisions?
An Elite Sport Societal Outcomes (ESSO) study addresses the question ‘What positive and negative outcomes does elite sport lead to for society and for your nation?’. In other words: in what way are successful athletes as role models, elite sport events and all stakeholders involved with elite sport able to inspire a nation towards positive benefits? Key questions are:
Does elite sport success increase our population’s national pride, happiness, national bonding, well-being… or not?
Are your national athletes, as role models, inspiring youngsters to participate in sport?
The SPLISS methods are characterised by three elements:
Theoretical model & its critical success factors
Elite Sport Climate Survey: involvement of elite athletes, coaches and performance directors
SPLISS’ research is based on a theoretical model (‘Pillar model of sports policy factors influencing international success', developed in 2006), that reveals all the key success factors, which can be influenced by policies and can be divided into nine key areas or ‘pillars’, as presented graphically in the figure below.
Each pillar can be explained more in depth:
Financial support: countries that invest more in (elite) sport create more opportunities for athletes to achieve success. SPLISS research revealed that “in terms of input-output analysis, the best predictor of output appears to be the absolute amount of funding allocated to elite sport”.
Structure and organisation: the amount of resources devoted to elite sport is important, but it is the organisation and structure of sport and its relationship to (a national) society that enables efficient use of these resources to increase the chance of elite sporting success. It is important to have a good national communication system, involve the stakeholders, have a clear distribution and description of roles in the system.
Participation in sport: although the (lacking) relationship between sport for all and elite sport is often debated, most top athletes originate from grass roots participation. A broad base of sport participation is not always a condition for success, but it may deliver a foundation for potential success because it provides a supply of young talent and various training and competition opportunities for this talent to hone their skills.
Talent identification (ID) and development system: pillar 4 studies the discovery and development of talented athletes. Policy makers need to focus on creating monitoring systems to identify talent characteristics, robust talent detection systems that minimise drop-out, and well organised scouting systems. Many countries have talent development initiatives to support governing bodies in setting up high level training and competition programmes and to support athletes to combine their academic career with a sport career.
Athletic and post career support: many athletes who have the potential to reach the top, drop out of the system before they achieve true success. We look at the different ways in which governments provide financial support for athletes to meet their living costs and have support programmes to provide access to the services required to realise their potential. Finally, athletes also need to be assisted in preparing for life after sport.
Training facilities: training facilities are an important success factor in the process of enabling athletes to train in a relevant and high quality sporting environment. A network of high quality national and regional facilities, specifically for elite sport purposes, should be established, enabling a close link with sports medics, sports scientists / cooperation with universities and the education of younger athletes.
Coaching and coach development: the quality and quantity of coaches is important at each level of the sport development continuum. Particularly important in Pillar 7 are the quality and organisation of training certification systems (where certification of coaches is required in sport clubs) and the level of time and resource commitment that (elite) coaches can give to achieve excellence with their athletes.
(Inter)national competition: the organisation of international events in the home country has a positive effect on international success. In addition, a well-developed and high-level national competition structure is of significant importance, as frequent exposure to sporting competition is a necessary factor in athlete development.
Scientific research and innovation in elite sport: pillar 9 seeks to examine the extent to which nations take a coordinated approach to the development, organisation and dissemination of scientific research and knowledge. This also includes studying to which extent (technological) innovation plays a role in elite sport success.
For a full article on the theoretical model and conceptual framework, click here.
Each ‘pillar’ in the theoretical model is operationalised by the identification of so-called Critical Success Factors (CSF), or the key policies, actions and activities that are required within each pillar to improve the elite sport climate of a nation. For a full list of CSF measured in SPLISS at the overall sports policy level, check out this file: pdf filecfs.pdf (1.48 MB) .
The SPLISS research takes existing calculations of inputs (e.g., money) and outputs (e.g., medals) and considers the “black box” of throughput or processes of elite sport policies into consideration as the critical link between resources put into the system and results that follow.
The term “elite sports climate” is defined by van Bottenburg (2000) as “the social and organisational environment that provides the circumstances in which athletes can develop into elite sports athletes and can continue to achieve at the highest levels in their branch of sport”
This survey aims to collect comparable empirical data in different countries based on the nine pillars regarding: the socio-economic situation of elite athletes and their coaches; training and competition facilities; cooperation and communication between structures; sport technical; (para)medical; financial support during both the talent development phase and elite athlete phase; and the organisation and structure of policies at overall and NGB level. These parameters will give information on some main sports policy aspects, which countries can learn from from each other, in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own elite sport management system.
The SPLISS study is characterised by its specific methodology for measuring competitiveness and for moving beyond the descriptive level of comparison. Hereby, a scoring system has been developed in which qualitative and quantitative data are transformed into numeric counts (see De Bosscher et al., 2010). Overall scores and traffic lights offer improved insight into the extent to which nations have evolved in managing their elite sport success. Repeating this approach for each pillar can help nations discover their strengths and weaknesses in a competitive international environment and thereby provide a basis for improving their policies. That way, the elite sport policy evaluation is based on both an objective evaluation and descriptive information.
Based on the models used above, it can be concluded that elite sport policies should be evaluated at three stages.
Inputs are reflected in pillar 1, as the financial support for elite sport. If nations do not have the means to invest in elite sport development, chances of success are much less controllable and depend much more on individual athletes.
Throughputs are the support services and systems delivered to athletes, coaches and organisations at each stage of the development process. All the other pillars (pillar 2-9) are an indicator of the throughput-stage. Special attention needs to be paid to the processes behind each pillar.
Inputs and throughput are the independent variables. The dependent variable is the output.
Outputs in elite sport are actual performances, which can be defined in absolute or relative terms. Nations’ performances can be expressed in terms of Olympic or World championship medals, top eight places, numbers of athletes qualifying to take part in elite championships, times and distances, etc. The 2008 methods used to measure success were based on the principle of market share. Moreover, success can be interpreted in relative terms, controlling for exogenous macro influences such as economic, sociological and political determinants (such as population and wealth), which cannot be shaped by policies.
It is not sufficient that these nine pillars are ‘present’ in order to reach success; what really counts is ‘how efficiently’ they are ‘implemented’. Inputs and outputs are clear. They can be expressed in quantitative or qualitative terms and are therefore relatively easy to measure. Throughput refers to the efficiency of sports policies, that is, the optimal way that inputs can be managed to produce the required outputs. ‘Throughput’ is more difficult to measure and often will have to be assessed using indirect rather than direct means. In the SPLISS study, the measurement of processes will partly be covered by the involvement of athletes, coaches and performance directors, who will evaluate the elite sports climate of their nation.
Finally, the outcomes are the possible effects of success in elite sport. Elite sporting success is not only an end in itself, but can also be a medium through which other (governmental) objectives can be realised, such as increasing social cohesion, national pride and international prestige. Literature on the wider role elite sport plays is scarce, and ‘evidence’ is often anecdotal, which make the value of elite sport rather fragmented. Therefore, other future SPLISS research projects will aim to address the longer-term effects of elite sporting success.