Last trip, at a team meeting in Switzerland, our coach Dave Jarrett brought up the idea of culture. Usually, Dave is more likely to work through a spreadsheet than philosophize, so I’ll admit I was a little surprised. He shared a PowerPoint that presented culture as one of the most important factors in continuing success for any team or business. A consulting company created this presentation for USSA this spring, but the ideas can be applied just as easily at our sport alone.
In a room filled with a good portion of the sport of Nordic Combined in the US, DJ asked, “What’s our culture, as a sport and as a community?” “How do others see us, and how do we want to be viewed?” We were all given the chance to internalize this, and Billy contributed the bulk of the discussion. It goes without saying that Bill is the best one to answer this; more than anyone, he’s been the face of US Nordic Combined for years.
US NC started to change back in the early 90’s, when Dave was competing and the likes of Bill, Todd and Johnny were just coming onto the scene. Back then, a top-20 in a World Cup felt like a win. Now, that’s a great stepping-stone, but as an end-goal, that’s not good enough, our guys decided.
You all know how the story ended up – but the road there is often overlooked. To become the best, our guys redefined their approach, took some risks, trained smarter, and trained harder than anyone else. From one side of the story, the culmination of this, the big payout, was Vancouver. But’s its even harder to stay on top than to get there, as Dave put it and learned over the next couple seasons.
On the other hand, the essential result from this change in attitude 20 years ago wasn’t a collection of gold, silver and bronze medals. The real upshot is the community that these guys helped created (and you, reading this, are most likely a part of). It is a small group of people scattered across the entire US, not to mention our fans and staff as far away as Sapporo, Slovenia, Oslo and Cologne. This is a community that supports us, the athletes. And it’s a community that we share our stories of struggles, tears, triumphs and laughs with. It’s a community that we embrace wholeheartedly and without egos.
And I think we already proved that we have a culture of tenacity. Collectively, we’ve grown tighter than ever over the past few months. USA Nordic Combined is now tied in with USA Ski Jumping, finding new sponsors and working creatively with USSA. In a few short months, we’ve proven to be a tough, tight-knit group, and our supporters have been even stauncher in the face of turmoil. Furthermore, every year, in our fall Drive for 25, our community shows its great generosity.
Dave left us with the reality of the moment: here in this room, we have the faces of US Nordic Combined, current and future. How do we want to continue the culture of sharing, giving, growing, and excellence? It’s no small task, but if we do, 15, 20 years from now, some of us could be in a room much like that one, with new faces, new hopes, and the next generations of skiers.
We could do what we do only for ourselves; after all, we’re individual sport athletes. But, even better, we can take part in the sport for the group, the future, and the life of our community. That’s what I took away from this meeting.
This was an important revelation for me. We all share in the success of our group, and I’m proud to be able to ski for much more than just myself. By acting for of the greater community of US Nordic Combined, ski jumping, and skiing in general, I have a bigger foundation to represent and a much greater sense of purpose.
Where am I?