I had the privilege to work with the Canadian Women’s Eight Rowing Team Head Coach during her time with “Own the Podium”, a program of performance excellence for Olympic Coaches.
She reached out to me and asked me to help prep her team for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan in 2021. Covid had already set the tone with restrictions and uncertainty. There were three key challenges that were identified:
- Create a stronger team dynamic and communication;
- Address the fear component and inculcate belief in the mission; and
- Increased accountability and competitive ownership.
Sean was an asset to our team. We developed our team’s mission for the Olympics with his help and delivered—returning to Canada with an Olympic Gold medal in the women’s eight.
Kristen KitMulti-Sports Athlete, Olympic Gold Medalist 2020 Tokyo
The coach and I started with a detailed interview on the team and any strength and friction points I would have to work through.
We galvanized on a mission “win your perfect race”, this statement is about giving everything of yourself and leave it on the finish line. We then clarified the coach’s intent: “A solution-based mindset with the focus to stand in the fire of competition”. Now that we had this, it was time to meet the team.
We met the team in person and provided them with the 12 Commandments of Mental Toughness. In this we addressed the crucial importance of mental toughness in adversity, what it means and practical tools in which to engage with. This was followed by a dynamic conversation where we addressed what their thoughts and concerns were. This was an import beginning as it sets the standard of their mental toughness and how it relates to the team’s performance in both training and competition.
Coming in the door for the second session I was informed that the team had suffered a set back with one of their teammates who was injured during a mountain bike outing, with that specific athlete suffering an injury to her clavicle.
The concern and energy in the room was felt by everyone, we had to address the elephant in the room. The injury of one athlete could not stop the team from achieving their mission; and that athlete would heal, rehabilitate the injury, and earn her way back into the boat. She was still a vital member of the team. Now with that done, and some tears of support provided, we attacked the mission. So, what was it? I started by asking the team what they “wanted” to accomplish at the Tokyo Olympics. Their answer wasn’t surprising…they wanted the gold medal, the center of the podium. Great. And with that in their hearts and minds, we challenged them to take it further, to reach beyond their grasp. I asked them “What do you need to do in Tokyo to make an impression on your competition?” I gave the team a three-minute window of time to consolidate their answer as a team. They answered, “we need to break the world record”. Now we had their mission.
I joined the head coach on the boat and was on the water with the women’s eight team as they went through their practice runs. This is where we tied mindset to the physical, where trust in the mission, each other and the coxswain’s direction determine the results. They pushed beyond, they created more than just motion, but true synchronicity. An energy of the power of nine powerful athletes.
GOLD! Under the Coxswain’s command and the daunting pace she set…nine women brought home the gold medal – winning for the first time in 29 years!
The center of the podium was theirs to own, and all because their communal reach exceeded their grasp. Their trust in each other became their harmony. Mentally and physically the perfect race.
It should be noted, the injured athlete, healed as best she could, went to Tokyo, and earned her way back into the boat with her sisters and directly contributed to the gold medal through audacious mental toughness and heart.
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