Working with a high-performing team

Kieran Holmes-Martin is a PhD student in medical engineering, and an Associate at Outsmart Insight. A member of the British Sailing Team from 2012 – 2020 in the Olympic Windsurfing discipline, he ranked among the top 5 in the world consistently. You can connect with Kieran on LinkedIn.

I began windsurfing when I was 7 years old. Growing up in the Midlands, finding bodies of water was a challenge, so my parents would take me to the local lake on weekends and summer evenings. It was there that I first tried windsurfing and immediately fell in love with the sensation. From there, I joined the local sailing club, then eventually the national youth team where I was able to continue my windsurfing journey and begin to travel the world.

My sporting career has been filled with significant highlights and some lows. I began my journey with great success, winning the World Championships in the U15, U17, and U21 categories. After graduating into the senior fleet, I spent nearly a decade as a member of the British Sailing Team.

I balanced my professional sailing career with pursuing an undergraduate degree, which meant that neither received my full attention.

In my senior windsurfing career, some of my most memorable achievements include finishing 2nd at the European Championships in 2016 and securing consecutive top 5 finishes at the World Championships in 2017 and 2018, placing 5th and 4th respectively. Additionally, at the 2018 World Championships, I qualified the nation for the Olympics.

However, this accomplishment also brings me to one of my career lows. Despite my successes, I never managed to secure that single spot for the Olympics. One poor performance at the trial competition ended my Olympic dreams.

The real highlight, though, was working with the incredible team at the British Sailing Team. What many people don’t realise is that performances on the water are backed by an immense effort behind the scenes.

There is a whole host of support staff—nutritionists, physiotherapists, psychologists, S&C coaches, etc. — all dedicated to helping each athlete perform at their best. It was truly an awesome experience to witness and be a part of such a comprehensive and supportive environment.

Like many athletes nearing the end of their sporting journey, I found myself torn between nostalgia for all I had accomplished and excitement for the adventures ahead. My time came to an end in early 2020, coinciding with the onset of the first lockdown. In hindsight, this was a blessing. The months of lockdown provided me with the perfect opportunity to plan my next steps.

My advice to others would be to broaden your network and reach out to the many individuals who can assist athletes in transitioning to new roles. If you’re unsure about what to do next, start by trying anything—often, the rest will fall into place. Personally, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I experimented with various options, and eventually, one clicked.

Now I’m on the other side of elite sport, I can appreciate that the best part of non-athlete life is the reduced stress. As athletes, the constant mental strain of a 24/7 focus on the next training session or competition, and the pressure to maintain top positions for funding, can be exhausting. Transitioning out of this lifestyle frees up time to explore the many other opportunities life has to offer. On the flip side, the worst part is the lack of travel. In windsurfing, I had the privilege of competing on sunny beaches around the world.

This not only allowed me to explore different cultures but also enjoy a year-round tan!

I am nearing the end of my PhD tenure at the University of Bristol, having spent the last 3 to 4 years researching medical engineering, specifically focusing on sensors for healthcare monitoring.