Just like that, in a flash, another Olympic Games have come and gone—World records, personal bests, upsets, emotional drama, controversy—the greatest spectacle on earth did not disappoint. It’s been one week since the 2012 London Olympics came to an end and by all accounts it was a huge success. While the cleanup and preparation for the Para Olympics continues, to be sure, the parties, too, are ongoing celebrating the accomplishments of so many—athletes, coaches, families and support staff who gave countries from around the world a chance to gush with national pride.
Here too in Canada, our own Canadian pride, albeit polite, is shining brightly as the cocktail circuit of politicians, corporate sponsors and government officials who are responsible for the wellbeing of our athletes is well under way, also. Parading our own Canadian Olympic success stories, along with their well-deserved medals, for the media and others to admire has become an Olympic tradition. And, so it should. The time, effort and financial resources that have gone into building a high performance Canadian Olympic team that can compete on the world stage has been substantial to say the least. Never before have we witnessed so much money being spent on world-class coaches, state-of-the-art facilities, and ensuring our athletes have the means to utilize both on a fulltime basis as we have in the past number of years. Taking some well-deserved time to kickback and bask in the glory of it all is justifiable.
However, as sure as the cocktails are being served up across our proud nation so too is another tradition unfolding—coming to terms with the death of an Olympic Dream. That’s right; believe it or not, there is another group of athletes experiencing vastly different emotions from the ones on parade—none of them positive. This group, in all likelihood, underperformed for whatever reason and are currently riding out an unfortunate phenomenon where their every waking thought is, “I’ve just lost and let down countless people who were depending on me to win—how do I choke that back?” If you watched any of the Olympics, you most likely saw the beginning of this occurrence as the look of devastating personal defeat slid across the faces of some of our athletes following their event.
Why are so many athletes devastated at the loss of their Olympic Dream? Truth be told, a lot of it has to do with how they’re wired. Olympians are driven individuals—they like to succeed at pretty much everything they do. When you compete at the Olympic level it’s not about a trip and a tracksuit—it’s about performing at the level you’re capable of and hopefully winning. As long as we have the Olympics, we’re going to have disappointed athletes. Having said that, there are some things we can do to help our athletes not only achieve what they’re capable of and perform better, but also be okay with it when they don’t.
If you look at the results of our Canadian athletes, you’ll see that far too many of our projected medal hopes had performances that on the day were short of what a medal finish would require. Why? There are lots of reasons, but one of the major ones was the pressure that comes with being an Olympic medal hopeful. I appreciate that the television networks like to prepare stories on the athletes as a way to introduce them, build some hype and give context to what we can expect from them. However, too many of those “stories” dealt with winning in London. In my opinion, for some athletes, that is the kiss of death. When the expectation is winning and the stakes are high—and they don’t get any higher than the Olympics—you create the perfect scenario for athletes to become emotionally overwhelmed and consequently impede their performance.
Skeptical? Go back and look at the medal winners—recognize all of the names? Probably not. Why? How? Simple, they’re called dark horses. And, the phenomenon of unexpected winners is a consequence of an athlete who can show up on the day of competition with absolutely no pressure to win or own the podium, and feel free to perform to their potential. Sometimes, as we witnessed in London, those performances can result in a podium finish.
I believe we need to take a long hard honest look as to how we’re going to proceed forward as a sporting nation. It’s time to put down the Kool-Aid and ask the difficult, challenging and unsettling questions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in business, it’s that the people you should listen to are the ones who ask those questions. In the moment, yes they can be uncomfortable, but invariably they lead to growth, and improved and more efficient operations systems.
First off, in my opinion, the branding that is Own the Podium (OTP) has to go, period. Okay, it was a catchy slogan and you garnered the attention of the world for better or for worse—congratulations—but now it’s time to move on. Let’s either utilize another name that is more about supporting our athletes’ journey and less about national chest pounding or not even brand it at all. Investing in the future of our Olympic athletes and the concurrent health of the nation does not necessarily require a name. However, there are some, sports castors and Olympic bloggers included, who would have us believe that being the meek little Canadians we are, the name Own The Podium is a necessity to give us permission to be the best in the world. Come on—who are you kidding—we don’t need permission to be the best—what a crock! Wayne Gretzky, Hayley Wickenheiser, Steve Nash, Nancy Green, I could go on at nauseum, did not require permission to be THE best. When Terry Fox decided he was going to run across our great country, he didn’t need a slogan that told the world he was capable of doing it—he just did what all good Canadians do, he got on with it believing deep down in his very core that he could as long as he believed he could—that was good enough.
Let’s not overcomplicate this. In order to be the best in the world at something, you require a few things. With sport, the first prerequisite is an unrelenting desire to be the best. Combine top notch coaching and with world-class facilities and you have the beginnings of what will support and develop that desire. Throw in a tireless work ethic, and I mean tireless, and you could be on your way to an Olympic medal performance. But lets be clear on one thing, that medal performance has nothing to do with swagger, bravado or cockiness. The inherent message that is OTP does not only impede our athletes ability to do that very thing, but it also compounds the struggles that they face post competition when they have failed in that pursuit. If we focus solely on what contributes to high performance and lose the showboating, we would go further to not only win more medals, but also create a healthier culture around competitive sport here in Canada.
Based on the number of Canadians that I’ve heard from, some of them Olympians and national team coaches, since my interview on CBC’s The Current with Jim Brown, I know I’m not alone with my concerns for the name of our supposed national cheerleader. Many others have the same concerns that I do for similar reasons. Additionally, it’s my understanding that one of the main reasons OTP is reluctant to forgo its name is because of the supposed backlash from it’s current sponsors. The basis of OTP’s apprehension is that their win-at-all-costs persona fits perfectly with the aggressive nature of the corporate businesses presently footing the bill. If they changed the name, then who would line up to support a movement that celebrated the journey of athletes and recognized the value of all of our Olympians—not just the medal winners? According to the powers at OTP, apparently, no one. I couldn’t imagine a more shortsighted and disappointing strategy. That’s a copout, plain and simple, and another perfect example of how financial interests are often made priority number one before the long-term wellbeing of our athletes.
Look, I, like so many Canadians, want what’s truly best for our athletes—as high-performance athletes—yes—but as human beings, also. Speaking from experience, the fallout of an Olympic loss can be rough and persist for years, even decades. The emotional trauma and depression that resulted from losing in our Olympic final was avoidable. In the next few weeks and months it is the job of our current national team coaches and support staff to check in with our London athletes regularly, especially the ones that missed the podium, and make sure they are coping with their loss. Then, going forward, we need to ensure all of our elite athletes are coached and developed in a healthy and positive manner that will support their Olympic dreams regardless of whether or not they come to fruition. It’s what Canadians do.
Jason Dorland is a High-Perfomance Coach who believes the most undervalued and underutilized components of reaching our goals are the mental and emotional areas of our lives. With your commitment, Jason can help you make a positive difference in how you approach your life’s dreams and goals. Guaranteed! To find out how, contact Jason today for a free no obligation consultation. He looks forward to meeting with you and getting started soon!