Would you rather compete with your friends and lose, or compete with talented assholes and win?
Wow. Really? Is this what we’ve come to? That regardless of how you treat people, as long as you’re talented and win, your behavior is not only forgiven, but also perhaps even celebrated? Because if that’s the case—if that’s true—not only are we limiting our ability to perform, but we’re also helping to perpetuate a belief that is as toxic as it is destructive.
If you’ve read any of my earlier blogs, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of bravado and swagger. That how an athlete shows up as a person is as important as how they perform. In fact, I believe that you cannot and should not separate the athlete from the person—who you are as each will ultimately speak to your success. However, as much as I get it—as much as I understand where the quote comes from and why it remains the modus operandi for so many—too many—high performance athletes, I don’t buy it anymore. Hell, I not only used to believe it, I was it—I was that talented asshole. However, one of the greatest gifts that I ever received was meeting and then watching a world-class Canadian middle distance runner achieve high performance on the world stage on her terms. Which essentially meant that she not only embraced her competition, she celebrated them.
Robyn Meagher, now my wife, was that runner. Her favourite expression when she ran, which epitomized her approach to competition, was “Together we fly.” She believed that when athletes, in her case runners, raced with each other—sharing and utilizing their desire to run fast that each runner was invariably capable of achieving more than if they were just racing to kill and win. She still marvels at Canadian geese flying overhead and admires their inspiring demonstration of synergy. They understand that in order to optimize their performance, they not only have to get along, but they also have to work together. The same is true of high performance teams, regardless of whether we’re talking athletic or corporate competition—the more effectively you work with each other, the more effectively you work—there’s no getting around that.
So, when I read a quote like the one above where a world-class coach justifies the mistreatment of others in the name of winning, not only does the potential negative messaging on young athletes disappoint me, but it’s also perplexing to me as a strategy for success. I appreciate that approach can and does work sometimes, but my experience would tell me that more often than not, it doesn’t. Case in point would be a Syracuse Freshman Eight that I was a part of in 1984. We were a boat full of very talented individuals—truth-be-told, some of us very talented assholes—myself being one of them. In fact, Sports Illustrated wrote an article on just how talented we were and chose us as the boat to watch that year. What happened in final of the National Championships? We came second—we underperformed. Today, I can truthfully admit a big part of what transpired in that race was the result of how we treated each other—there was no love lost between us. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned as a coach it’s that the final ingredient—team chemistry—is as integral to a team’s success as the raw talent it possesses.
What I’ve finally discovered to be true is that when you have a team culture where members put the interests of the team before themselves, you have tremendous potential. When teammates push themselves to the brink of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion because they feel so connected to the crew that they would sooner pass out than let down their teammates, that’s a powerful place from which to race. Conversely, when team members compete for themselves first and the team second, you can still find success—but it’s limited.
My job as a high school rowing coach is to help guide my athletes with proper technical checks, strategic input and a training program that will result in them finding their best race on the day. However, along with those tangible components, I believe my job is bigger than that. It’s also my job to help guide their behaviour on and off the water—for two reasons. As I’ve said before, coaching is about changing lives, not just making boats go fast. But, I also see it as a competitive strategy. The more “love” there is in the boat; the more potential there is for speed. As my business partner reminds me frequently, finding talented individuals is not the challenge in running a successful business; it’s creating an environment where those talented individuals can work most effectively together that’s more often the determinant—because, when we work effectively together, we do indeed fly!
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!