ALP Coach Alison Powers was asked to be the guest speaker at the EPA Region 8 yearly awards ceremony. The topic was Team Spirt. Here is her speech.
I grew up ski racing which is very much not a team sport. It’s the racer against the clock, and nothing else matters. Your teammates can’t help you carve a perfect turn, and your coaches can’t give you the ability to ride a flat ski. No matter the country or whom you train with, it was athlete against athlete. There were even times, at the highest level of the sport, when it felt like the coaches were not on my side. With medals to earn and world rankings to achieve, if you had a bad day, the coaches were not always there for you. It could be a very lonely journey to achieving top performance.
What I learned from this individual sport of ski racing was to be tough, and to take care of myself and my needs, and to not show weakness. With limited spots available at World Cup races, the coaches were going to take the athletes who showed promise. Either the athlete could achieve good results and success or they were showing progress in the hopes of achieving success in the future.
My own god given talent was not great, but what I was good at was working hard, giving 100% every day, and showing the coaches that I wanted to be the best. No weaknesses.
Fast forward 5 years to one first of my cycling teams. Having achieved descent success at an individual sport- ski racing-, I had no idea what “team” meant. I took care of myself, I trained by myself, I raced by myself, I ate what I needed to, and I went to sleep when I needed to. I lead by example and I showed no weaknesses.
This self sufficiently lasted until my results came to a stand still. I was no longer getting better, faster, or stronger. Riders who, in my mind, were on better teams, who had better equipment and who being provided better opportunities, were beating me. After years of pushing back weakness, I had no idea I was the one holding myself back. Relying on myself was causing me to not grow as an athlete or as a teammate- and thus, as a person.
In 2013, a man named Mike called me and offered me a spot on his new women’s cycling team. Instead of blowing sunshine and rainbows my way- as most team owners did-, he told me I was a head case and come big events, I couldn’t perform. I asked why, if I’m a head case, would he want me on his team? He thought he could fix me. Fix my self confidence and help me perform. I could be his little project. I told him to F-off, and hung up the phone. Then I cried on every bike ride after for a week. Did I really have a mental weakness? After 15 years of toughening myself up, was I a head case?
It took a while, but once I let my own personal toughness guard down, I realized I was a head case. The weeks leading up to big events, I would start to fall apart and come race day, I couldn’t put the pieces back together.
I called Mike back and asked; if I’m a head case, which I now think I am, how can you fix me? He said with teamwork. He thought he could help me achieve results that had eluded me over the years. But I would have to work with him and the team. We would have to be a team who communicates and is honest with each other. I had to trust him, the other staff, and my teammates and in return they would trust me and provide me with the things I needed. I would have to allow the team to help me.
This idea of admitting weakness and asking for help when I didn’t know the answers was totally foreign to me. But it was awesome. A giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was free to learn, ask questions, and continue my growth as an athlete and ultimately as a teammate and team player. My teammates were no longer my competition, they were there to help me, to support me, and in turn, I supported them. We raced together, we trained together, we ate together, we had success and failures together, and through it all, we got better, we got faster, and we won a lot of races. We were a team. A family in sport. Personally, I was no longer doing everything possible that was best for me. Instead, with an open mind and willingness to try new things, I started to do things that were best for the overall success of the team. That year, I had some of the best results I had ever had and the most fun. Thanks to the team, I was able to grow and have success as big events. I may have still been a head case, but I was able to be honest about it and ask for help with no judgment.
I wish I knew what I know now. Perhaps, while ski racing, it wasn’t that the coaches were not on my side, it was that I pushed them away in my desire to be self sufficient and strong. Perhaps I held myself and my own results back, by not trusting the people who’s job it was to help me and to teach me how to grow as an athlete.
Learning how to be a true member of a team has helped me in both my personal and professional life. I do not know everything nor am I as tough or as strong as I’d like to think I am, but I have friends, family, and coworkers who have my back. And I have theirs. Together, we are tough, strong, and knowledgeable.
We are a team