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5 L&D Lessons We Can Learn From Olympic Champions

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The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are in full swing in Rio de Janeiro! There’s so much we can learn from the Games about training and development, as there’s no better example of the power of great training than these incredible feats of athleticism. Here are five ways we can apply Olympic training strategies in our own organizations:

Think about the future, but focus on the present.

For Olympic hopefuls, long-term planning is just as important as short-term performance. Many develop highly detailed training schedules for the entire four years leading up to the games to ensure they reach specific performance goals, but at the same time, they’re hyper-focused on meeting today’s training goals.

The most effective L&D professionals use a similar two-tiered approach to training. They focus on immediate needs like onboarding new hires, closing skills gaps, and making sure people know how to use the tools that make the business run. But at the same time, they also design learning programs for the long term needs of the business like succession planning, leadership development, and innovation.

Dreaming of tomorrow, disciplined today.

Dreaming of tomorrow, disciplined today.

Take small steps to achieve big goals.

At Grovo, we extol microlearning, the process of learning complex skills in small, focused segments (have you read our latest microlearning whitepaper yet?). We’ve found that it is the most effective and efficient way to train today’s teams, and it mirrors the way many Olympians view training.

As former Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller said, “It’s great to have that ultimate goal, but regardless of what that long-term goal is, you have to set those short-term goals. Think about what you can do each and every day to make that long-range goal happen.” Encourage the people at your organization to train one step at a time and view learning as a lifelong activity.

Maintain a healthy learn/rest balance.

Olympic champions recognize the importance of taking time to recharge (by sleeping, stocking up on calories, meditating, etc.). Ryan Lochte, the second-best male swimmer of the 21st century, naps every day in between workouts, signifying the importance of a train hard/rest hard schedule, “I could really sleep for days and days straight. But I know that if I don’t get up early and go to practice, I’ll fall short of the goals that I want to accomplish in the sport of swimming.”

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Do not disturb. I’m learning.

Just like Olympic athletes, learners need breaks too. Our brains need to engage intensely with learning material, maybe even forget some things, then come back and relearn them. As Benedict Carey said in his 2014 book How We Learn, “Some breakdown must occur for us to strengthen learning when we revisit the material. Without a little forgetting, you get no benefit from further study. It is what allows learning to build, like an exercised muscle.”

Never underestimate the power of mentorship.

No Olympic athlete achieves greatness on their own. Just ask Andrew Lemoncello, who ran for Great Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and attributes much of his success to having excellent mentors. “I was blessed to have coaches guide me through my training from year to year and incrementally increase my training load so that I could be a better athlete each year,” he says.

Initiating a mentorship program in your company’s culture of learning is a cost-effective way to facilitate information retention and get employees invested in training and learning from one another. According to the Huffington Post, 67% more millennials than baby boomers said that having a mentor is important at work. Mentorship goes beyond showing new hires the ropes; establishing a one-on-one mentoring program will enhance your team’s capacity to work effectively and allow mentees to be more confident with tackling their workload with ongoing guidance.

Resilience is a skill. Build it in your learners.

American Olympic swimming coach Eddie Reese said, “The hardest skill to acquire in this sport is the one where you compete all out, give it all you have, and you are still getting beat no matter what you do. When you have the killer instinct to fight through that, it is very special.”

As learning professionals, we need to develop that same resilience in employees. Inevitably, they’ll struggle as they take on new challenges in their careers. Whether an employee is making the leap from individual contributor to manager or transitioning to a role in a different department, we have the opportunity to provide training, support, and encouragement every step of the way.

Not giving up any time soon.

Not giving up any time soon.

Going for gold: Developing a workforce of winners

Watching Olympic athletes fulfill their dreams reminds us of the impact an excellent training program can have. As an L&D professional, think of yourself as your employees’ coach; push them to constantly develop their minds, learn something new every day, and live up to their full potential. Bring these Olympic training tips into effect in your own L&D programs, and see your people develop into champions! Show your support for your favorite Olympians this summer, and enjoy the Games!

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