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Some Business Advice From an Olympic Champion Coach

Most people don’t know Marcel Lacroix’s name, but anybody who watched our Canadian Speed Skating team at the Olympics saw him coaching our athletes. My kids are at the Olympic Oval in Calgary this week in a speed skating camp. He is giving talks to the kids about what it takes to get to the elite level of the sport. As I listened to his talk, I drew a lot of parallels to business and the challenges our clients face in getting to the top of their industries.
Participation Versus Commitment
Marcel has worked with many athletes and puts them into two general categories — participants and competitors. Participants typically have a lot of skill and natural ability. They tend to like the sport and have fun. They usually don’t fulfill their great potential, as they are satisfied with moderate results. They are happy to make a team, or make an event. They are happy to “get the jacket.” The second type is the competitor. The competitor may start out without the skill and natural ability of the participant, but makes up for it in passion, hard work and sheer determination. Competitors love the sport and push themselves and their coaches to be as good as they possibly can be. Marcel cites Christine Nesbitt, Olympic Gold Medalist, as a competitor. When he started coaching her, Christine was extremely strong but was not a good skater. Together they worked on her fundamentals and eventually were able to transfer her great strength to the ice. She took everything he set out for her seriously and put in maximum effort to reach the podium in Vancouver.

Christine Nesbitt accepting the gold medal, 1000 m speed skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Quality Versus Quantity
The second main point Marcel made was quality versus quantity of work. He would much rather have a skater do two laps in perfect position than 10 laps in poor position. He said that practicing the wrong things makes you good at the wrong things. Practicing in the right form will build your endurance in the right form.
Work on Weaknesses
Third, he said that to improve, you need to work on your weaknesses. If a skater has good endurance, but lacks balance, her times will greatly improve if she improves her balance. This is analogous to a manager elevating the constraint in the business instead of improving areas that won’t improve throughput.
Finally, his recipe for success comes with a series of short term goals leading to the eventual goal. If a skater and coach can map out a series of short term goals that are challenging, yet achievable, they can reach their ultimate goal. This is very similar to the flywheel concept described in Jim Collins’ book Good To Great.
So how can Marcel’s advice help you in growing and improving your business? Firstly, you should ask yourself whether you are a competitor or a participant. While there is nothing wrong with being a participant, a competitor is required to reach the full potential of your business. Work on your weaknesses. In business, you can buy a remedy to your weaknesses. Improving them will hit your bottom line. Thirdly, having a roadmap to your ultimate goal with short term goals along the way is extremely powerful.
Marcel Lacroix is available to give talks to groups to share in person his recipe for success. You can reach him at lacroix@ucalgary.ca

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