Swimming Psychology: Australia – The Lust For Gold!

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Swimming PsychologyIt’s damning! Critical! Condemning! The 2012 Olympics were an abysmal one for Australia swimming. A measly haul of one gold medal, was all that this proud nation had to show for their work in the pool.

The just released report into this dramatic under-performance by the sports governing body makes grim reading. Here are some of the key points:

Participants reported that in the zealous and streamlined attempts to obtain gold medals, the delicate management of motivation, communication and collaboration were lost.
There was an increasingly desperate emphasis on gold
Management appeared unprepared to tackle the absence of success, leaving swimmers feeling “undefended, alone, alienated.
Swimmers described these games as the ‘Lonely Olympics’ and the ‘Individual Olympics’.
Some individual incidents of unkindness, peer intimidation, hazing and just ‘bad form’ as a team member that were escalated to personal coaches were not addressed.
If you wanted a case study in ‘how not’ to create an environment that attracts success, then here it is. The long and short of it, is that in the desire to achieve gold medals, the Australia Swimming leadership group became consumed by outcomes and results, rather than the environment that attracts those results in the first place.

Leadership psychologies no doubt, born out of fear of failure. They were under pressure to deliver medals for their country. And they simply couldn’t handle the pressure and demands.

For Australia Swimming, read many thousands of cultures in sport and business across the world. This story is the rule not the exception.

The need to deliver high level results can overwhelm weak leaders. The over-bearing pressure on them from the top brass, gets channelled directly into the athletes. Lack of self awareness, means that the under-pressure leader fails to stand back and self-evaluate how the pressure is affecting them.

They perceive asking for external help and support as a weakness, instead of a strength. Thus they carry the burden of the pressure themselves, and this pressure and demand cascades down directly to the athletes. Leading to the outcomes described above – ‘The Lonely Olympics’.

An unforgiving culture was created that lacked core human values such as warmth, togetherness, inclusion, belonging, team-spirit and so on. Put simply, the demand to achieve medals was greater than the will to look after and support people in the right way.

And the results show the flaws in this ‘strategy’. Poor outcomes born out of athletes who didn’t feel cared for or valued. Leadership pressure became athlete pressure, and the love of swimming and performing became negated by the desperate need to win.

When you perform with the words ‘I must win’, or ‘I musnt’ fail’ reverberating around your head, it is very difficult to relax and allow your mind and body to do what it has been trained to do. These demands create blocks in the system that prevent energy flow and distract natural focus.

There is now so much excellent knowledge and strategic information out in the public domain, on how to create winning team structures, from leaders who have been there and done it, that there is no excuse for the creation of such a mis-aligned culture as Australia Swimming. Their failure is a warning to any leaders who feel that you can create successful teams, without a strong foundation of core human values.