The Canada Winter Games, held in Prince George. B.C. this past February, brought together a collection of Canada’s finest Junior Athletes across a multitude of sports. Individual athletes and teams competed to attain personal bests and medal achievements for their provincial organizations. For some, these Games would bring them one step closer to possibly representing their country at the next Olympics. From the start of the Opening Ceremonies, to the daily meals in the dining hall, to the conversations heard at the Athletes Village, Prince George was a bevy of excitement, pride and positive energy that everyone could feel – including the local residents and volunteers. Each training day and each competitive event was evidence of not simply the best of the best on display, but of the many hours, determination and dedication needed to get each and every athlete to that point.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Games with the Freestyle ski team of five athletes and two coaches – one from Alberta and from Quebec whose world accomplished talents were lent to our Manitoba team to give them the experience of a lifetime and a competitive edge. What struck me each and every day as we moved from Village, to Mountain, back to the Village and then interacting with the other provincial contingency of athletes and coaches, was the skill and attributes so many of these athletes shared. Twenty-five hundred young adults, across more than 20 sports, who at some point had started out with a mere interest in a sport, had then moved to the competitive journey of getting themselves ready to attend and compete at the Games.
These were not just your everyday teens and young adults! These were definitely not the teens and young adults who have been classified as being reluctant to do anything but stay indoors and game, or pass numerous hours online, or those who seem entitled to having everything given to them, or who have been directed by a hovering parent on what they should do every minute of every day. What I saw was a group of team and individual athletes who were all independent thinkers, focused and dedicated, and who understood that an investment of their own time and effort would get them closer to reaching their goal. I saw a group who understood that they had to eat and sleep well to support their training and train hard, take direction and execute on action from their coaches – who DID know more and had even greater experience and knowledge to share. As a group, these were the ones who now had gone beyond the "participation trophy" and knew that at the end of the day there would be winners of medals, and disappointment and frustration for those who would not win any medals. They also recognized that they had already won; what they had learned from the experience of this journey would take them into their next competition.
I was amongst a group of kids who did not expect to win the gold medal only after entering their first year, of course, but knew that the devoted training hours, focused attitude and natural ability is what would get them to their next level. These individuals, a mixture of seasoned athletes with several years of competition and the nervous first timers looked up to each other and admired each other’s talents and sport. Some were envious of each other and may even have felt a driving desire to exceed their own expectations, deal with adversity and perhaps even prove a point to that one coach from their past – perhaps someone who had once said, "You’ll never be good enough!"
As I passed my days amongst them, I thought of the comments often heard regarding the next generation of employees who are entering into the workforce. Issues of a lack of engagement; or of workers who do not have the commitment to do a little more to succeed; or who feel that after 12 months they are experts and should be rewarded with a raise or a promotion; or of those who are job hopping because "they don’t like their manager" or that they simply do not have the patience to put in the time to really excel within their role.
I considered the questions often asked: How come we don’t have a strong enough work ethic amongst the newly hired that we have seen with the baby boomers and the other generations? Yet, as I saw these athletes compete in Prince George, it struck me – maybe here was the answer! Perhaps we should make a real conscientious effort to hire athletes! Of course we have all heard that athletes learn about being on a team. This is more than just good team members! Perhaps as employers we should seek out these competitive athletes, bring them into interviews and really ask them about their journey and their commitment to becoming the best, or the 10th best or even the 30th best across the country! Perhaps the answer really is in cultivating a scenario of bringing in these athletes, fostering a commitment to their sport while they compete and translating that same personal commitment to the organization’s success.
Perhaps it is time that every HR director and manager not only look at work experience and simply gloss over that section of the resume that presents involvement in sports and activities, but instead, bring the exploration of that sport's experience to the forefront and see how it will translate into the workplace.
Hiring the best of the best is not about simply finding that one gold medal winning athlete, but finding the group that fall along behind; the group that also competes and places across the country and have developed an incredible skill that elevated them to that status! That type of talent, attitude and dedication is easily transferable if supported.
So the next time you consider a Millennial for an entry level position or perhaps the Gen X employee for that next promotion, rather than only focusing on their recent work related accomplishments and experience, scroll down to the bottom of that resume, and really delve into the story of their competitive sports journey. You may just realize that the answer to, "How best do you build a team of focused and dedicated individuals,” has been answered. By hiring a competitive athlete, you'll bring on someone who knows what it means to want to win.