5 Lessons From An Olympic Team

On Monday evening I joined my Canadian Fencing team for our final mental toughness workshop before they compete in the Olympics. They have settled into the Village and are ready to do battle! Excitement is in the air! I’ve learned a lot about them since they hired me two and a half years ago. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an Olympian? Success in any field has some common factors. I’ve come away with five lessons that we can emulate to be an Olympian in our own career!

Lesson 1: Endurance Matters

One of the big differences between my Olympic team and my “normal” engagements with sports teams is the duration of the journey. Olympians train for four years. It’s not a “season” that has a beginning and an end, though there is a cycle of world cups and other competitions. The ups and downs of performance are relentless. It’s the physically and MENTALLY strong that perform well under the pressure of the Olympic spotlight (and a pandemic).

In the workplace, we might be in a role for two years or five years or ten years. It can be a grind. Understanding how to train, perform, rest, persevere, and remain mentally focused is a competitive advantage in the corporate world. It requires practice so that we achieve sustained success. When I’m tired and cranky, or feel like giving up, I think of my Olympic team. They are in it for the long haul, and so am I.

Lesson 2: Discipline Matters

If you follow former Navy Seal and leadership expert, Jocko Willink, you know he’s a big believer in discipline. He wrote a book called Discipline Equals Freedom. He believes that being disciplined means a life with fewer regrets. Olympic athletes must develop the discipline not only to train in their craft (in this case, fencing), but also develop discipline in how they eat, think, strengthen their body, stretch, and rehab from injury as needed. I’ve watched how disciplined my fencers are with all the other stuff off the fencing strip.

In the workplace, our success depends not only on discipline in our craft. There is also discipline required in how we engage with colleagues and clients, bosses and employees. We must do things when we don’t feel like it, just like Olympians, so that we show up every day, ready to give our best. Sometimes when I feel that “Never mind, I’ll do it later (tomorrow, next week)” thought coming on, I visualize my Olympic team. They motivate me.

Lesson 3: Be A Great Human Being

Greatness in sport is a holistic adventure. Being physically talented is your ticket to the game. Being “so much more than that” is your secret weapon. For example, watch how an athlete engages with their coach, teammates, other athletes, and with the public. People show us who they are. My Olympic team is full of greatness – not just great athletes, which they are, but great human beings. Check out these two quick examples from NBA champ Giannis Antetokounmpo and tennis great, Ash Barty. They are champions at the game of life. It’s a choice they make.

I’d like to introduce you to some great human beings – my fencers!

Shannon Comerford, a fencer with a heart of gold and the courage of a lion. She did something so brave in our first workshop! Someday I will write about it. Remarkably candid, inclusive, and smart.

Kelleigh Ryan, a fencer with a consistent approach to success on and off the strip. Nobody puts in the work more than Kelleigh. In one of our conversations, I shared an article about how all teams need a “super-vet”, a veteran to keep the team strong and stable. I still call Kelleigh my super-vet.

Alanna Goldie, a fencer who raises the heat. Head Coach Paul ApSimon said it best on Monday night. When Alanna hits the fencing strip, everyone’s compete level goes up. This was important when there were so few opportunities to compete during Covid.

Eleanor Harvey, an Olympic champ with a mind as vast as the ocean and emotions to match. One of the kindest people on Earth. Verbally gifted and an excellent conversationalist, Eleanor also has a great scream on the strip when she scores a touch.

Jessica Guo, the “youngster” who turned 16 years old last month. When I first met her, she was 13. I walked out of the room thinking she was unlike any other 13-year-old I’d ever met. Uber mature for her age. She’s had a great year after winning the gold medal at the Under 17 and a bronze in the Under 20 at the World Championships in Egypt. Jess is lighthearted, funny, and super humble.

I took this photo of my Olympic team at the Pan Am games in Toronto. Fencers Alanna, Jessica, Eleanor, and Kelleigh. Little Melody is an up and coming fencer, and was my trusty assistant!

I admire them and I adore them. They adore and love one another.

Being a great human being is a success strategy in the business world. Writing great code, designing a product, or mastering the art of finance is important, but it’s not enough. Being unselfish and kind with those you interact with sets great people apart from the rest.

Lesson 4: Nobody Succeeds Alone

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the entire team – Coach Paul ApSimon, Coach Mike Pederson (who read my book, Destination Unstoppable, which is how this whole wonderful adventure began!), Physio Tony Revitt, Sports Psychologist Carl Nienhuis, and Strengths and Conditioning Coach, Frank Raymond. They are outstanding human beings who care deeply about the fencers.

The fencers and staff are dispersed throughout Canada, making it difficult to train for the Olympics. Therefore, the coaches and support team made serious personal and professional sacrifices to attend long training camps (with quarantines!) and global competitions. They remained calm and steady throughout the ups and downs of team challenges and the pandemic. I admire and adore them, too!

Look at where you are in your career. None of us got here without the support of others.

Lesson 5: Attitude of Gratitude

Does your team know how much you care for and value them? Do you tell them often?

We ended our meeting on Monday evening with an exercise I call, “The Circle of Appreciation.” The team forms in a circle, and each person shares what they appreciate about the person to their left and to their right. I sat in my kitchen, watching them in Japan via Zoom, and listening to the gift of gratitude they gave to one another. It was awesome.

I am forever blessed by my learning journey with this remarkable team. I am grateful we’ve walked side by side through a grueling and awesome adventure. I’ll be cheering you on from here!

Love,
Maureen

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