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After the Olympics: Lessons for Association Professionals Bookmark

It’s been almost two months since we celebrated athletes from around the world and watched the Olympic flame get extinguished in a dazzling and bittersweet celebration of globalism, athletic exceptionalism and fair play.

As the triumphs and heartbreaks fade from the public's memory, I must admit I miss the daily coverage of all the Olympic events. More so, I miss learning about some of America’s most compelling citizens.

While we begin the long wait for the 2020 Olympics to begin in Tokyo, I’d like to reflect on two lessons I learned from this year’s Olympic Games that are applicable to my role as an association executive.

Lesson 1: Fostering Collaboration Can Create a Foundation for Success When Márta Károlyi took the reins as the USA Gymnastics’ national team coordinator and head coach in 2001, she made changes that would transform the struggling program into a juggernaut.

To quote SB Nation’s Lauren Hopkins, Károlyi:

“… [Károlyi] made crucial changes in an effort to find a balance between Bela’s one-man show and the "too many cooks" circus of coaches before that.”

Károlyi realized the power struggle between national and personal coaches was hurting the overall program. She also witnessed how the lack of relationships between gymnasts made it difficult for the athletes to perform as a team on the national level.

Károlyi’s solution? Convert her Huntsville, Texas ranch into a training facility - now an official Olympic Training Center - with camp cottages. Top gymnasts and their coaches gather there for one week a month to learn from each other, network and create lasting relationships. Károlyi’s idea completely changed the culture of USA Women’s Gymnastics. With a focus on collaboration and teamwork, instead of individual success, she was able to develop USA Women’s Gymnastics program into the dominating competitors we witnessed in Rio.  

Things to consider: How can associations foster collaboration?

Lesson 2: Bench marking Performance Can Lead to be Better Results A dropped baton. A solo re-run. Gold medal success. There are many lessons that can be learned from the controversial USA women’s 4x100 relay race – how to react to outside forces, maintaining composure in the face of adversity to name a couple. 

However, I’d like to focus on a less obvious takeaway. The power of bench marking to improve performance. The USA women’s 4x100 relay team was forced to re-run the trial race alone on the track after Allyson Felix dropped the baton due to being bumped by a competitor during the hand off. There was concern the runners would not be as successful without the other competitors. They needed to beat China’s time of 42.70 to progress. And they did. The team was timed at 41.77, the top qualifying time. So you’re probably wondering how this is a lesson for bench marking? During the finals with the other runners on the track, the team was timed at 41.01. With other runners on the track, the USA team was able to push themselves to a faster time proving that competition can drive higher performance. They left proudly with gold metals around their neck.

Things to consider: How can associations help benchmark performance?

Conclusion Do you think you can incorporate these considerations to improve the professional environment that your members work in? Share in the comments below if you've learned any lessons from the Olympics or from any other unconventional source.

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