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Keep the flame burning

What a summer! How humbling has it been to watch Team GB Paralympic and Olympic athletes give their all in Rio? How extraordinary was it to see the teams confound the history books and four years after a home games, rather than dip, break more records? How do you build on success the way they did?

In October 2012, I was privileged enough to have dinner with Sir Dave Brailsford, the then head of British Cycling and Jurgen Grobler the head of British rowing. We were talking about the afterglow of the London Games but what amazed me was that neither was basking in the glory; the two most successful team leaders in British Olympic history were already talking about Rio and they were talking about their greatest challenge.


What we were talking about was long term success and ensuring that their teams could develop a culture of sustainable change and innovation. They were both focused on how, despite the incredible achievements in London, the teams would need to evolve in every way if they were to remain competitive. At the very point of glory, they were aware of the dangers that could emerge in a team that felt that they had found the formula and as a result, should stick with the same methods that had got them there.


Both men were fully aware that when the teams reassembled over the following months to begin their 2016 journey to Rio, that there would be a temptation to stick to what had worked to that point but as Sir Dave observed, "Do you really think that the other nations, particularly the Australians, are going to go back, lick their wounds and not push the envelope and innovate in order to beat us? We cannot stand still."


Grobler explained his emerging strategy over dessert. He was going to focus the next couple of years on winning the one rowing event that had evaded him; the world eights. His plan was to take the best rowers from their familiar boats and challenge them to win in the eight crew and if they could, then he would allow them back in to their usual births. It was his way of constantly challenging his athletes and coaches, of making them master things outside of their comfort zones; to try new things, to encounter and solve new problems and in the process, stimulate their creative processes. Whatever finally happened, it clearly worked; Rio was the pinnacle, but on the way, they won the world eights!


It is often at the point of glory that the challenge really begins; whether on a personal or professional level, what do you do to keep the flame burning?

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© Richard Gerver