some great thoughts on winning

Ken Read’s farewell note to the ski community follows:

My personal thanks to all who called or wrote since last week. As I move on, I did want to leave you with some personal thoughts about the past six years.

Two weeks ago, I came across the following quote from Jake Wetzel, rowing silver medalist in the coxless fours at the 2004 Games in Athens, member of the Canadian Olympic Team:

“The most important thing is winning. If you’re not in the fight, there’s no excitement. It’s not about the participation. It’s about the scariness of lining up when you have a chance.”

Win. Clear, focused – such a simple verb, yet if used properly, it says everything. Take a moment and look it up in the dictionary. Few words carry such weight. Yes, it means to finish first, but it also means to succeed by striving or effort; to succeed in reaching a place; to get by effort as through labour, competition or conquest; to gain, as by qualities or influence.

Why I like Jake’s quote above is his final comment “it’s about the scariness of lining up when you have a chance.” It’s about direction, inspiration, motivation.

Sport – whether one wins, participates, supports, cheers or works – is about being in the game. Over the past six years, what has been most gratifying has been to watch Canada “get in the Game”. To see confidence build in athletes; pride in coaches and ski clubs; energy and enthusiasm in young athletes who are still shaping their dreams and motivated by winning Canadian athletes. We learned that winning….can inspire and be fun! That we can wake up each weekend morning throughout the winter in anticipation – who would be the Canadian on the podium today?

Winning is fragile. The sports world is filled with distraction. Our geography is so enormous. And to become a winner in high performance sport, it takes an all-consuming relentless effort. The phrases “Best in the world…at every level”, “The relentless pursuit of excellence” and “the human, technical and financial resources to put out athletes on the podium” were intended to provide clear, direct guidance to the real task – to be the best we can be.

Watch how very young athletes at the entry or kinder levels (under 12) grapple with the concept of winning. In every ski race this is only one winner. So what do the other 139 youngsters think or feel once the race is over? Spend a little time around the scoreboard and you hear real insight – youngsters know where they stand and what is a measure of success, be it to ski beyond their expectation, test their confidence or comfort zone, have a great day with their friends or learn a tough lesson about commitment, bad luck or perseverance. They learn about life. They learn to deal with the curves in the track. And they are better for it.

Winning is so easy, yet so terribly difficult. To relentlessly pursue hundredths of a second means uncovering every rock, examining every angle, rehearsing, observing, living, eating and breathing performance. That is why we say “be performance centred”. It encompasses everyone in the organization – in the effort to build champions.

Athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, sponsors and supporters appreciate clear vision. That is why an organization’s Mission Statement should be no more than one sentence – and in our case, it is one word: Win. It says it all. It gives us clear marching orders: to be dedicated to delivering the human, technical and financial resources to put our athletes on the podium. It provides us with the crucial guidance in developing our athletes to be ‘best in the world…at every level”, now codified in “Aim-2-win”. It inspires a passion for excellence which is easily translated into the relentless pursuit of performance, safety, fun, camaraderie….the values that make sport and the family of alpine ski racing so special.

In ski racing the clock is always ticking. In training or competition, our athletes are measured by the exacting standard of time. Winning always comes down to the effort invested to find precious hundredths of a second. The only way to beat the clock and aim to be better than our competition every day is through teamwork, a passion for ski racing and the relentless pursuit of excellence.

We now know we have the talent, the experience and the confidence to aim to be ‘best in the world’. Aim to win. Let’s make those precious hundredths of a second our friends in the margin of victory.

Ken

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