John Cawley on 'Owning the Podium'

During the last few years we heard a lot about how the Own the Podium program was going to give Canadian athletes the boost they needed to dominate the Winter Olympics with a record medal haul. It was supposed to give Canadian athletes the superior training and the swagger to overcome our habit of being satisfied with performing “our personal best”.
In the postmortem on the Olympics the brain trust at the Canadian Olympic Committee might want to reflect on a couple of issues before renewing the brand. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for increased funding for facilities, coaching, travel, etc. that will allow Canadian athletes to represent Canada to perform to the best of their ability. It is the emphasis on outperforming the competition, on kicking American butt, that rubs me the wrong way for two reasons:

  1. It runs counter to good coaching practice: Every coaching course that I have ever taken has emphasized preparing athletes to perform their best, not to focus on results. By focusing on the prize (winning a medal), you can lose track of those things that you do control – your stride, your shot, your delivery, your breathing – and actually perform poorly. Perform your best and the results will look after themselves.
  2. Canadian values: I like to win at any sports competition as much as the next guy but ultimately competitive sport for me is about people realizing their potential, about becoming exceptional team mates and leaders, about celebrating the performance of all those who compete whether they win or lose. The cross country skier who finished off the podium but had the race of his life after years of toiling in obscurity needs to be celebrated as much as the stars of the games.

I watched a soccer game the other day and after scoring a goal a 12 year old taunted his opposition by yelling: “I own the podium”. I could only think of what my dad, the most fiercely competitive athlete I ever met, would have said: “You should say very little when you lose and even less when you win.”