GB’s Olympic Curling: the individual & team attributes needed in a startup

Not since 1924 have Britain managed to win a men’s curling gold medal at an Olympic Games, and in Saturday’s final we fell short after an extra-end to Sweden and the 98-year wait goes in. Captain Bruce Mouat’s team had made pretty much flawless progress to this gold-medal match, and with Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, and Hammy McMillan all having roots from Stranraer, the town was ready to party.

I was up at 630am for the final for the slow‑burning tension of an Olympic final. The BBC coverage build-up included an epic montage featuring Arcade Fire to stir the soul and stand the goosebumps to attention. A piper escorted the teams the ice over in Beijing.  I’d become addicted to the spectacle of the curling, the sights, the sounds, the strategy watching every minute I could of play on ‘sheet’ loving the shouting and the noise – The Roaring Game, originates from the rumbling sound the 44-pound granite stones make when they travel across the ice.

One of the world’s oldest team sports, curling originated in the C16th in Scotland, where games were played during winter on frozen ponds and lochs. It’s an icy alternative to shuffleboard, and I had to know more.  For example, did you know that the ‘sheet’ is covered with tiny droplets of water that become ice and cause the stones to ‘curl’, or deviate from a straight line? These water droplets are known as ‘pebble’.

When the stone touches the pebble, there’s friction, which can slow down the stone and makes it curl away from its straight path to the ‘house’ – the target that looks like a big bulls eye. The centre of the ‘house’ is known as the ‘button’, and basically, the object of the game is to get your stones closer to the button than the other team gets theirs.

Obviously, this friction is not always a good thing, which is why you see frantic sweeping of the ice in front of the stone. The sweeping raising the temperature of the ice, which diminishes the friction between the pebble and the stone, and keeps the stone moving in a straight line. Still with me?!

In each ‘end’ (period of play), both teams send eight stones down the sheet. Once all sixteen stones have been delivered, the team with the stone that’s closest to the button effectively wins the end. Only this team will earn any points for the end. It gets a point for each of its stones that are in the house and closer to the button than the other team’s closest stone.

Sounds complex, but it’s a lively spectacle and competitive, you soon get the gist of the rules once play is underway. So here’s my recall from the final.

  • 650am: Sweden have the red stones, while GB are using the yellows. Sweden’s Sundgren sends down the first stone of the gold-medal match.
  • 7am: Mouat is down in the house, indicating where Hardie needs to deliver his stone. He is using his broom to point to the various stones already down there. He looks a little like a World War II army commander shoving little model regiments around a map with a prodder in a bunker somewhere. 
  • 706am: Great Britain 1-0 Sweden (after one end)
  • 720am: Mouat attempting an ambitiously double take-out. He needs it to be powerful but accurate to ensure it rebounds on the right trajectory. It is a very difficult shot. And it doesn’t come off. Two points for Sweden.
  • 739am: Oh, Bruce Mouat! Splitting the atom is child’s play compared to this double plant he pulls off, sending a Swedish stone to the boards through a skinny gap. But Niklas Edin is just as inspired! Sweden steal one Great Britain 1-3 Sweden (after three ends)
  • 810am: This is close! A game of inches in every sense. Half-time GB 2-3 Sweden (after five ends). 
  • 834am Sublime from Grant Hardie! He swings a perfect stone right onto the button. The momentum shifts GB’s way 3-3 (seven ends).
  •  858am: Not quite from Mouat, Edin has room to slide a stone into the button and score one, 3-4 (after eight ends)
  •  905am: Here we go, the ninth end. Lammie with a precision missile of a stone to dynamite away a Swedish guard. Rasmus Wranaa replaces it. Lammie peels away another. Back and forth. To and fro.
  •  916am: Tenth end under way, tit-for-tat opening moves. The guards go up, centre and corner. No margin for error. McMillan’s effort clips a Swedish guard. The first wrinkle in the sheet of ice. The first twist in this final chapter.
  • 922am: Lammie nuzzles his stone up against the Swedish effort, within four-foot range. Eriksson gets rid of Lammie’s effort though with a dead-eyed shot of his own. Hardie with another beauty!
  •  932am: GB 3-4 Sweden (after nine ends) Mouat tucks in a stone closest to the bullseye. But it is a straight shunt for Edin to knock Mouat’s stone to the boards! Mouat must swing his next shot to within four feet on his final shot to score one and take this to a final end. If not, Sweden have gold.
  • 935am: Extra end time! Mouat lands his stones! 4-4. Mouat It was an easy one in theory. But this isn’t theory. This is a gold-medal match at the Olympics. Nothing is easy here. We are into an extra end. Sweden with the hammer will slide the final stone in the 11th.
  •  938am: Sweden know the odds are in their favour now with the hammer in the decider. GB need a mistake. Will Edin blink? Lammie delivers a deliciously weighted stone into the house. It dies right on the T line. One yellow one red, time out in the extra end.
  •  943am: Agh! 4-5! This is all boiling down to the skippers’ final stones. Edin v Mouat. A shoot-out. Edin has undercooked his penultimate stone. Is the door open for Mouat? He has a final stone to knock Sweden out of contention…
  •  955am: Final Score – GB 4-5 Sweden after three hours and eleven ends. GB came so close,
  •  957am: Mouat and his men trudge back up the rink. Faces long and pale, and there is not a lot being said as they gather together and pack up kit. In the end Mouat was left with a difficult shot to try to steal one and the match, but it fell short. Instead, Edin – considered one of the best players of all time – now has the gold medal that eluded him when taking silver and bronze at the past two Olympics.

Each Olympian strives for peak performance and achieving a personal best, they have the determination and mind set of a winner, choosing to move forward even when it is uncomfortable – all of which we seek to emulate in our startup.

These are not ordinary people. Let’s face it, most of us are not motivated enough to get up early and practice our hearts out for six hours a day, seven days a week. Most of us couldn’t handle the pressure of having the world watch us, carefully scrutinising our every move. But for the Olympic athlete, this is what drives them – competition, challenge, defeat and victory – and they come alive, living for that moment of opportunity to win.

Olympians start out as ordinary people but are motivated with an exceptional level of personal drive and learn to take on habits and traits that are extraordinary to achieve their goals. The clarity of what must be achieved to win gets them out of the comfort zone, determined to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. These characteristics are the key to their power and ability to conquer fears, insecurities, physical and mental barriers, and bounce back in the face of adversity when things don’t go their way.

As I watched the Men’s Curling triumphs and then ultimately defeat unfold, it was clear that the traits that make an Olympian outstanding are the same ones that define today’s most successful entrepreneurs. For example, you must be passionate about what you are trying to achieve, focus intently and follow your gut instincts, listen to your inner voice and put in the hard work that you know it will take to reach your goal.

So, whilst GB didn’t quite hit the heights needed to win, they certainly had the traits to take into your startup business and pushed themselves to their limits in high-pressure competitive situations. The performances in China reveal typical examples of the traits and attributes of entrepreneurs:

Vision: Athletes have a clear vision of where they’re going, they are purposeful about it as a clear goal, and avoid distraction which saves time and energy. Athletes know they need to ‘push’ them when they want to quit. The key is clarity on seeking personal growth to achieve a personal best. Founders need this drive and clarity too, to focus and guide themselves.

Mental toughness: Sports psychologists have identified four components of mental toughness – control, commitment, challenge and confidence. Mentally tough athletes have a high sense of self-belief and unshakable faith that they can control their own destiny and can remain relatively unaffected by adversity. Show me a successful founder that doesn’t share these traits.

Lack of fear: The psychology of overcoming fear is particularly relevant to athletes in high-risk sports on ice, and for a startup, you have to push yourself to be able to progress, you have to walk that fine line of using it as a motivator and not letting it inhibit you. You have to keep going into the unknown, where you have no experience just instinct and determination to guide you.

Block out negativity: Olympians run through their events mentally before they even do them – this gets them in the ‘zone’ and gives them an edge; visualise your startup business success, and get this energy. Olympians lose more than they win, but it’s their strong, determined spirit that keeps them moving forward when others would quit. Both Olympians and founders have a growth mindset that enables them to bounce back after setbacks.

That’s the mindset of the individuals, but watching the footage and interviews from Beijing, four principles stood out for me as being at the heart of their Curling team successful collaboration:

  • Appreciation Collaboration requires a mutual appreciation of each other’s abilities, skills, knowledge and ideas – a sense that none of us are as smart as all of us. People who value and appreciate others naturally gravitate towards each other and is a key attribute for team building.
  • Trust is built on appreciation. It’s easier to trust someone who appreciates us than vice versa. Trust from leaders means people will go that extra mile to incorporate the learning. Trust keeps the wheels spinning and ensures an efficient engine.
  • Commitment is about a sense that the commitment of one to doing what it takes to deliver the project will be matched by the other. It triggers spontaneous action, enhancing motivation and ultimately innovation. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
  • Recognition Appreciation is essential for collaboration, it is a key lubricant. Nothing kills team spirit quicker than failing to give recognition to those who made a difference, it sparks things to life. If we don’t recognise their achievement the bonds weaken over time.

When you lead a startup dealing with the stops-and-starts, having the blue sky thinking of what you want to achieve and equally the washing the pots of jobs to be done, it can be overwhelming. However, it’s the people who persevere with determination and tenacity to keep going and vision that will succeed.

Entrepreneurs, like Olympians, must choose to meet each day with the knowledge that their path holds both obstacles and opportunity. The external competition – and that with yourself – will be tough, unpredictable and unforgiving, but that’s what it takes to win. So dig deep and unleash what drives you: not for money or fame, but for the joy of doing what you do best, and doing it to a new standard – a personal best.

What I saw from GB Men’s Curling were the essential characteristics for building a culture of ownership that creates, sustains, and builds unity in a startup. Team collaboration is hard. Its success depends on making the work more important than any one individual. It asks us to find personal satisfaction in the joint effort – but, all hands on deck collaboration produces some amazing results. 

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