14 Feb 2019
Coaching through social change
High-performance sports coach and entrepreneur Daniel Lavipour explains why he wants to bring elite-level strength and conditioning to state schools.
‘From the last two Olympic Games, 30% of Team GB was made up of athletes who had attended independent schools, when they only make up 6% of the country’
Performance Ready is one of the six social enterprises that joined Investec's social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business, in 2018. L-R, back: Jay, Dave (Investec Bank plc's CEO), Daniel, Webby; front: Johnny, Beth, Aoise, Charlotte and Laura.
Starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of time, it can take a lot of money, and often you don’t know what you don’t know.
Today, you'll hear from Daniel from Performance Ready, a social enterprise that supports physical education in schools to provide young people with world class strength and conditioning programmes.
We talked to Daniel right after his pitch to join Investec's social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business. Daniel talked about his journey as an elite-level coach and the benefits of strength and conditioning to children in state schools.
Ana Jenkins (AJ) – Hello, Dan. How are you today?
Daniel Lavipour (DL) – Hi, thank you for having me. I'm good. I'm a little nervous and shaken from the whole interview experience, but I'm good. I'm glad to be here.
AJ – How was the pitch?
DL – I think it's always really hard to tell in these situations as with any interview. But, yeah, I think I got the key points of the business across and some people were nodding and they asked good questions. So, I'm hoping they like what I was talking about and now we just have to wait and see if we're successful.
AJ – Fingers crossed.
DL – Fingers crossed.
Addressing sport inequalities
AJ – Dan, can you tell us about Performance Ready and the journey which led you to start it up?
DL – Yes. The central idea of the business is that there's a lot of benefit to including a strength and conditioning programme in a school to complement what already happens within a physical education curriculum.
I'm a strength and conditioning coach. My background is in elite sport. As you may know, strength and conditioning is a profession that typically supports elite athletes training towards performance goals so they're ready for the demands of training and competition.
It's not that common for this profession to exist within schools, although right now a few independent schools are starting to hire strength and conditioning coaches for a couple of reasons. One, they recognise there's a benefit to addressing physical preparation for young people, and, two, because they have more freedom to run the type of curriculum that they want.
So, they have the ability to bring them in, and they also have a bigger budget to do it.
That doesn't mean there's not a requirement and importance to support people who are not in independent schools. In fact, it's even more important to support them.
‘Our poorest UK communities are living shorter lives and experiencing a range of problems associated with inactivity.’
Right now in the UK, we have these massive health inequalities and performance inequalities between our wealthiest and poorest communities. Those inequalities come up in part because of the support that some communities don't receive.
From a health perspective, our poorest communities are living shorter lives and experiencing a range of problems associated with inactivity.
From a performance perspective, we see this massive over-representation of our wealthiest communities in elite sport. One of the things I've communicated in the Dragon's Den just now is the statistic that from the last two Olympic games, 30% of Team GB was made up of athletes who had attended independent schools, when they only make up 6% of the country. As I said, this comes about because of the increased support that these communities receive.
So, I've put together this programme in a way that can run in the state system that's affordable, that makes use of the knowledge that teachers already have and that I'm supporting them. The feedback I've had already from the schools it's running, and I have the programme in four schools already, the feedback is amazing from teachers, parents, pupils. We're seeing kids develop their physical competency so they're able to access more sports.
The central idea of the business is that because sports and physical activity is made up of different movements. If you can learn to move in more ways and if you can become stronger in those movements and fitter in those movements, you can access more sports.
So, someone who isn't as physically ready is really limited in the number of activities they can start to access, but by hopefully shifting some of these physical qualities, they can take up different sports and start to experience more success.
‘We're seeing kids develop their physical competency, so they're able to access more sports.’
From coach to CEO
AJ – Thank you for this intro, Dan. Now, to apply for Beyond Business, you had to produce a very detailed business plan. How was the process?
DL – It's a great question. I'm a trained coach and I've spent a lot of time trying to master my craft. I definitely haven't mastered it yet, but I spend a lot of time trying to become a better coach. But only recently have I tried to become, I guess, a businessman, if that's the way to describe it.
The mentoring I've had was with Kim and Alan [from the Bromley by Bow Centre] on the programme, and some of the other people whom I've met and have taken the time to speak to me.
‘[Investec mentor Steve Ive] spent three hours with me on the phone talking about my business plan. The discussion we had was invaluable.’
There was a gentleman, Steve Ive (from Investec Corporate Lending), who spent three hours with me on the phone talking about my business plan. The discussion we had was invaluable for me in terms of figuring out how to put this together.
I've been running the business on a small scale for three years, just figuring out as I went. The first school I supported, outside the school I work full-time in, heard me speak at a conference and after that they approached me and said, "Do you have a programme that you can use to support us?" I didn't, but, of course, I said I did. Then I called them back a week later with the programme and we just took it from there.
But, now building this business plan right now, I guess I'm in a quite fortunate position in that I've been running a smaller version of the business I've proposed for the last three years.
’The first school I supported heard me speak at a conference, approached me and said – ‘do you have a programme that you can use to support us?’ I didn't, but of course I said I did.’
Lessons and inspirations
AJ –Where do you see the business going in the next five years?
DL – The first goal is just to get this programme into as many schools as possible and start to support more pupils, particularly from state schools. Where it goes, I guess it could go in a number of directions.
Strength and conditioning right now is a new profession to be included in schools. So, potentially one of the routes that this business could take could be leading the way to introduce this type of training into schools, and potentially working more closely not just with schools, but local authorities or the Department of Education as a whole, to try and introduce this type of training across the board, across different schools.
But, yeah, in the first instance just get kids training on the programme, try and spread to gospel of strength and conditioning and improve how teachers are supporting their pupils.
‘Reflecting on all of my coaching experiences, those with community and youth at their heart have been the most rewarding.’
AJ – It does seem that it was a big change for you working with schools after working with performance sports for so long. What motivated you to make that change?
DL – I think if I reflect on all my coaching experiences, those which have had say community and youth at their heart, they've been most rewarding to me.
I reflect on the success I've had in performance sport – there have been huge moments personally and career-defining moments for me. But in terms of personal rewards, being able to support young athletes over a length of time are definitely the most rewarding experiences, and actually the most necessary experiences to have because that's the foundation of everything.
Whether a young person wants to train for performance or just to be healthy in life, supporting them when they're young, that's the time to do it because that gives them the option to decide where they want to take their sport or their physical activity.
‘Whether someone wants to train for performance or just to be healthy, supporting them when they're young is the time to do it. It gives them the option to decide where they want to take their sport or their physical activity.’
AJ – What advice would you give to yourself three years ago, somebody with a great business idea, which will also contribute to society, where to even begin?
DL – I feel like I'm not completely experienced enough to reflect back and answer the question fully, but I definitely know like at the beginning, I was quite paralysed by a few things that I didn't understand.
I remember even before I started this business and I took on my first private coaching client outside employment, I didn't know how to file for tax. So, I didn't take a client on for a long time because I was worried about figuring this out. But then, of course, it's really easy to figure out. You just have to go and do it.
Similar things like that have happened along the way, you know, being worried about how to do something quite practical that's outside of coaching. But what I've learned just figure out as you go. There's always someone you can ask for advice and not to be afraid to ask about something you don't know that's really important.
‘Figure out as you go. There's always someone you can ask for advice, don’t be afraid to ask about something you don't know.’
AJ – It really is. How do you think we, at Investec, can help you in your business the most in your journey?
DL – You know, obviously, what will hopefully come out of today, if I'm successful, is firstly some funding, which really is essential for me to take the risk at this point in my career to leave full-time employment and chase this.
But alongside this, the mentorship and the support that I've had a taste of already, for that continue and be something to support my coaching.
As we talked about at the beginning, I'm a trained coach, rather than a trained businessman. Having a network of people here to help me drive that side is something that's invaluable and maybe more important, in fact, definitely more important than any capital that I can get from the programme.
AJ – Thank you and best of luck!
DL – Thank you.
After the interview
Performance Ready is one of the six social enterprises that joined Beyond Business in 2018. They received up to £17,000 each in funding and invited to the Beyond Business College, where they will receive one-to-one specialist advice and inspiration from experts from all around Investec. They will also receive continuous support to help their business grow.
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