Training for the Olympics...

Being on garden leave during the Olympics has been fantastic!  

I feel privileged and lucky to have been able to watch hours of live coverage and go to a number of events without having to worry about taking time off work.  I was also extremely fortunate that as SPAR is a sponsor of UKA (United Kingdom Athletics), during my years there and through that association I got to meet and spend time with a number of the current Olympic athletes and coaches.  What has always amazed me is the commitment, dedication and hard work that all the athletes have, especially the successful ones.

It is this dedication to learning and perfecting their craft that makes them so impressive. Obviously they require some level of natural ability but it is their attitude that makes them different.  What is striking is the way in which they learning and develop.  They train virtually every day.  They practice the same techniques again and again to improve.  They are coached daily.  They are mentally strong.  They visualise a positive outcome and more than anything they want to be the best they can be.

When i think about this in the context of my children, it occurs to me that when i teach Jolie or Fraser to learn something, it is often through repetition and practice that they learn.  For example, when my daughter first looked like she was going to walk, my wife and I were very excited.  We did not however, sit her on a chair, explain to her the principle of walking, walk across to the other side of the room and say “Come on, get up, walk” and then get annoyed when she fell flat on her face. This may sound obvious. I hope it does.

So what did we do? Support, encourage, help and guide. This meant that before she could walk, in fact before she had even considered walking, we would help her stand up, we would hold her hands and walk her, we would put her in walkers to allow her to walk while supported. When she first pulled herself up on her own, we got very excited and told her how happy we were with her and how clever she was. Then over the next few days as she started to pull herself up on the furniture, stand unsupported, walk a few steps and so on, we continually encouraged her and supported her every move. Finally, after a few weeks, we had a child who walked and soon after a child who walked with confidence.

This was absolutely identical to how we approached potty training. We did not explain the principle of using the toilet, remove her nappy, put knickers on her and wish her luck. We explained to her what was happening and why and we actually let her run around with no knickers on and accepted that there might be some accidents. We were not annoyed about this.  We did not shout at her because she didn’t know any better. We tried to create a positive and supportive atmosphere within which she could learn. And with help, support and positive reinforcement she was potty trained within 5 days, with only two accidents.

Now whilst i accept that these may be simple examples in comparison to perfecting the high jump in preparation for the Olympics, I do believe that the basics are the same. Being told the principles, being coached, practising and accepting there will be faults, mistakes and failures.

When i think about this in the context of management, it occurs to me that we often forget that the people working for us are striving to achieve. However, I would argue that we don’t treat the people we work with and more specifically the people who work for us with the same level of respect and support. We brief or train people badly, assume they know more than they do and then when they make mistakes, we get annoyed and blame them. We should actually blame ourselves as managers.

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