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Collective purpose and the Team USA dynamics

'Dean Brenner'    US Sailing Olympic Team
I think there is something very interesting going on here in Qingdao, and it's not happening on the water. Sure, the racing is great and the experience is intense. But I'm talking about what is happening off the water within our Team USA. If you were here in Qingdao and if you looked closely at how our team is interacting with each other off the water, I think you would clearly see what I see.

There is a great camaraderie on the US team. There is a strong support network and you see athletes supporting and taking an interest in other athletes. I see them sitting together in the evening and doing internet together. I see them sitting together in the dining hall, all in one big group. I see them watching movies together in each other's rooms at night, and when I walk down our hall in the evening, sometimes more than half the doors are open.

Keep in mind two things... this team is in a highly stressful environment, and they have been together 24-7 for more than three weeks already. Considering those circumstances, it would not have surprised me if they had started to splinter into smaller groups or if doors were constantly closed. But that's not what is happening. On their off days, I see sailors who did not sail that day still come down to the boat park to help those who did race put their boats on dolleys and to provide a pat on the back. I see them taking an interest in each other's performance. In fact, during the day we almost always have all the sailors not racing sitting with me and the rest of our staff watching the racing on TV and out our windows on Course A.

Why does this matter? Why am I writing about this? Well, on one hand, it's just nice to see people getting along. It's always more enjoyable to be in a positive environment. But that's only a tiny part of the story. The much more important part of the story is that, whether these athletes realize it or not, they are lifting each other's performance levels. They are all contributing to a collective, positive environment that can, repeat can, cause a group's performance to exceed the sum of its parts.

Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) clearly enjoying her regatta and early points lead - with an ice bag draped over her head for the camera. -  © Richard Gladwell?nid=47684   Click Here to view large photo

Having a great group dynamic is not the only key to success. In fact, without sailing skills, proper fitness, and good and reliable equipment, the best team dynamic in the world won't help you race better. But when you have world-class sailing skills (which this team does), and proper fitness (which this team does) and great equipment (which this team does), then a great team dynamic can be, possibly, a variable that can put you over the top.

I think this is a lesson for all of us, and one I am sure I will come back to in a later post. But as I watch this team succeed on the water - and incidentally, there are some who have told me that yesterday was the most successful single-day performance in the history of Olympic Sailing.. 6 race wins in 11 races - I am beginning to think that their collective interest in each other is having an impact on all of them.

I am beginning to think that without even realizing it, they are raising each other's performance levels by being supportive, enjoying each others' company, and caring about more than just themselves.

There is still so much time left here in Qingdao, and I could easily be thinking something very different in a day or two. But Team USA is sailing well, and I think, when this whole thing is over, we may want to look back and examine some things like this.

Anyway... yesterday was a great day. But yesterday is over, and it's time to think about today. Lots of racing today. Lasers, Radials, Ynglings, Finns, 49ers and Boards all go today. Day off for 470s, and Tornados and Stars have a practice race. Today is a big day. But then again, it is the Olympics, and every day is a big day!


by Dean Brenner Team Leader US Olympic Sailing Team


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3:04 AM Thu 14 Aug 2008 GMT

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