Tuesday 13 November 2012

Canadian Game Changers - London 2012

The theme of the 2012 Sport Leadership Conference this past weekend in Montreal was "Game Changers".  There were three streams, Coaching, Leadership Development, or Education & Research, of workshops and presentations where presenters used the theme as the basis for their topics.  I mostly participated in the Coaching stream of presentations where the workshops and presentations focused on topics such as coaching effectiveness, developing talent, and team management.  I will include a summary of some of those sessions in later posts.  

For now I wanted to highlight the topic of Saturday's keynote "12 Game Changers from 2012".  Canada's Chef de Mission at the 2012 London Olympics, Mark Tewksbury, summarized his experience at the Games by presenting what he saw as the 12 Game Changers for the Canadian Team.

Office of Chef de Mission - Canada is only 1 of 3 countries at the Olympics to use a former athlete as their Chef de Mission rather than a bureaucrat.  Using a a former athlete in the position gives the athletes a sense of comfort knowing their leader has been in the same situation of undergoing what they are now experiencing.

Team behind the team - While the Chef de Mission may not have all of the necessary abilities to fulfill all of the duties there are plenty of support people to support them supporting the team. There are many great people that take care of the behind the scenes issues and duties so that there are no distractions for the athletes or coaches so that they are able to perform their best.

5 words - "World class, Proud, Fierce, Relentless, Unbreakable".  Canadian athletes ranked top 5 in the world were invited to a meeting prior to the Games where they were asked "When the world sees the Canadian Team what is it that they want them to think.  The 5 words chosen were a shift from from the tone of the words used at previous Games.  Over the course of the 2012 Games Mark saw specific instances where the Team exemplified the meaning of the words.

A unified Canadian team - The athletes felt that they were part of the greater team Canada. 62% of the team were first time Olympians.  So marching out for the opening ceremonies Mark formed the veterans of the team into an honour guard to lead the team into the stadium.

Beaver cheer - A team cheer that Mark had created for his university swim team, adapted for his Canadian Swim teams, and reintroduced to the 2012 Canadian Team.  "I'm a beaver your a beaver and when we get together we do the beaver cheer".  When Mark saw team members perform or mimic the actions to the cheer or asked him to do the cheer he knew spirits were up and things were OK.

Focus of attention - The Chef de Mission plays 4 roles: leader, ambassador, mentor, and cheerleader.  Being all 4 but knowing when to be each is important to the position.  After missing the women's Gymnastics team's historic 5th place finish for a press conference Mark made the decision to do no more conferences.  He made the decision to be there for the team and ignore other distractions.  He felt this was a good decision because he was consistent.  Even though he said "no" to interview requests he knew he was visible at the events doing what he was supposed to be doing.  In the end there were no hard feelings from the press because of it.

Twitter - Initially resistant to Twitter Mark caved in because "these were going to be the Twitter Games."  He found it to be an effective tool as Chef de Mission because it allowed him to follow the athletes, know the athletes, communicate with the athletes, and promote the athletes.  There were some lessons learned on the proper use of Twitter.  One of his first Tweets while visiting Halifax in the spring was a comment on his distaste of the McLobster Sandwich.  He was gently reminded that McDonald's is an Olympic sponsor and so he quickly removed the Tweet.

The dark horses - When dealing with the press they always wanted to know who the winners were going to be.  Mark avoided the question by expressing hopes for the breakthrough athletes. He was overjoyed when the first dark horseAntoine Valois-Fortier and then later Derek Drouin, mounted the podium for Canada.  The dark horses electrify the team because they are unexpected and show the team that anything is possible.

Canadian meeting places - The Moose statue inside the village and Canada Olympic House outside the village provided a place for Canadian team members to congregate prior to exploring the city and other venues and events.

CTV coverage - Any sport could be seen on any CTV channel at any time.  The Canadian public was able to experience the highs and lows along with the team.

Team sports - Teams bring an energy en mass to the larger team as a whole.  A majority of the athletes participate in individual sports and so have not developed a sense of team spirit.  The team sports have that team spirit an inject it into the great group.  For this reason Mark hoped that the way that team sports are funded would be reconsidered.  (ed. My own experience at Canada Games is that the teams are the catalyst of spirit and enthusiasm that spreads amongst the greater team.)

Mark Lowry - Former COC Director of Sport changed the focus of how we fund sport in Canada with OTP.  Though the team fell short of its goal in 2012 it was not because of lack of resources.  There sometimes were outside factors (Women's Soccer) and simple human error (Men's 4 x 100m Relay) that are inevitable.  However, without the resources Canadians may not have achieved what they did.

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