- Talent Management
In recent months, most commentaries have agreed on one thing–Brazil’s 2016 Summer Olympics will pose unique challenges. So far, this has proven true. As the clock ticked down to the opening ceremony, the world watched the country’s leadership collapsed. A declining economy and the rising threat of the Zika virus only added to the nation’s woes. By the time the opening ceremony happened, expectations for the games were already relatively low, with many coaches worrying about the safety and health of its athletes. Reports of raw sewage, garbage and even dead bodies in the local harbor where sailing competitions will take place have been circulating for months. Yesterday, the diving competitions were overshadowed by the strange green hue of the pool, which had been blue the previous day. The question facing anyone managing athletes at the Rio Games is simple: How to get the best out of one’s athletes under less than ideal circumstances?
At least some teams have adopted extreme measures to ensure their athletes can rise above all the peculiar and unsafe conditions defining the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. The U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams, for example, are staying on a luxury cruise ship. While reasons given for the exile range from the players’ desire to spend time with family to security concerns, the bottom line is that the boat is a way to ensure the players remain as focused as possible throughout the games. Great Britain’s athletes are living in the Olympic Village but only above the 3rd floor, since the team maintains that apparently mosquitos that bite tend to buzz around only below 25 feet (though there is no solid evidence to support this claim). Either way, these are just two of the many precautions team managers are taking to ensure they can get the best out of their team members at Rio. But are isolation tactics really the best approach?
First, consider how athletes have approached the green pool water. What we know is that on Monday, the water in the diving pool was blue. Throughout the day, the color was changing. By Tuesday, the diving pool water was a murky green–indeed, it looked closer in color to a swamp in Florida than a well-maintained pool. In fact, the pool, which is next to another pool being used for water polo competitions, was clearly a completely different color by Tuesday morning. Divers from around the world admitted, they had never seen anything like it. Surprisingly, however, at least some divers competing found way to put a positive spin on the pool’s insipid color. A Canadian bronze medalist in diving, Meaghan Benfeito, explained that on sunny days, it can be difficult to navigate blue pool water, since it can be hard to distinguish between the sky and the water as one rotates in the air. As a result, the green water, she explained, did make the pool more visible. Benfeito’s diving partner added that they came to the games to win a medal: “We came here with a mindset of ‘expect the unexpected.’ If the water was going to be orange, blue, green – it didn’t matter.” Green water or not, the pair’s attitude and positive spin on the insipid pool water evidently worked, since they are currently among only 4 Canadians who have earned medals at the games.
As already noted, the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams have once again opted to stay on a boat far away from the Olympic Village. While the move may appear to be designed to help the team focus (and deal with security given the teams’ many high-profile athletes), in the past, the U.S. men’s basketball team’s lack of flexibility and adaptability has also backfired. While isolating the team from other athletes, even those on the U.S. team, is bad for morale, some critics suggest there may be other potential perils. The last time the U.S. team stayed on a boat in 2004, they failed to win gold, despite the fact that basketball is a sport the United States dominates. A staffer working on the luxury cruise ship at the time later told GQ Magazine that the players likely lost the gold because they spent all their time on the cruise ship eating hamburgers rather than training. Rumors aside, the U.S. basketball teams’ isolationist strategies do raise several questions. After all, shouldn’t some of the world’s top athletes be able to perform well under a range of conditions?
What can managers learn from the Olympics? The Olympics, especially when they take place in unpredictable environments, reveal that a positive outlook and high level of flexibility and adaptability can go a long way. Indeed, some of the surprise medalist at this year’s games may simply be those who are able to adapt to the game’s unusual conditions.