The Business of Learning

Five Olympic-Sized Training Lessons for Corporations

As an avid watcher of both the summer and winter Olympic Games, I often find myself inspired by the stories of these athletes and the sacrifices they make in order to realize their dreams of someday becoming Olympic champions. For training experts, the games also represent an opportunity to explore the traits that make people successful in their chosen endeavors, whether in the world of sports or the corporate arena. As I watched the games unfold this summer, I did so through the lens of a training professional and have outlined five of the areas I would encourage the organizations I work with to focus on in order increase their chances of success.

  1. Practice makes perfect: a bit of a cliché, but if you spent any amount of time watching events such as diving or synchronized swimming you would instantly recognize that level of precision can only be realized by repeating the routine literally thousands of times. Another amazing example of this was Michael Phelps reliving a story from the games in Beijing where his swim goggles completely filled with water rendering him essentially blind. However, because he had swum that race so many times in practice, he knew exactly the number of strokes it would take him to negotiate each length of the pool. This type of preparation can be critical to completing a mission such as saving lives in the harshest of conditions.
  2. Visualization can be the key to success for high consequence activities: Gymnastics is clearly one of the glamour sports of the summer games and, as such, receives a great deal of attention on primetime television. When I tuned in to watch I was always captivated by how the gymnasts could be seen going through their entire routine in their heads prior to competing. Envisioning every move, every scenario, every potential outcome and how they will react. The ability to visualize is a tactic often used by professionals in high consequence fields such as healthcare and aviation.
  3. The results are often decided before the competition begins: When you see these elite athletes perform on the track, the speed and agility with which they perform is simply amazing. However, what we don’t see is the thousands of hours spent alone in the gym going through the rigors of intense training that allow them to perform at this level when the time comes. This is also true in the business world, as the countless hours of work and preparation most often decide the outcome when the heat is on.
  4. There is always someone willing to work harder: you often hear about how the greatest athletes are driven more by the fear of failure than the glory of winning. They recognize that if they rest on their laurels even slightly, that there will someone out there willing to put the work in to knock them off their pedestal. We see this every day in the business world when companies become complacent, and then watch their competition sprint by.
  5. The ability to perform under pressure can dictate the outcome: Throughout the Olympics, we see examples of superior athletes losing to their competitors because they lacked the ability to perform under pressure. The mental aspect is an often overlooked component of training, yet it plays a major role in deciding the success or failure of a mission. Through training methods such as simulation, professionals can be trained to compartmentalize the pressure and perform at peak levels during even the highest moments of stress.

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