“The harder I work, the luckier I seem to
– Jack Nicklaus
Talk about thinking outside the box. Fresh from a promising — yet ultimately disappointing — Olympic experience in 2006, the Canadian Snowboard Federation had some difficult decisions to make. Arguably the darling of the Turin Games, competitive snowboarding faced its own unique challenges in Canada.
Under-funded and only marginally understood by this country’s media, the Canadian Snowboard Team was an uneasy amalgam of different attitudes and styles — a hodgepodge of talented riders who struggled with the inherent contradictions of a sport based on non-conformism and rebellion trying to fit into the straight-laced world of the IOC. And it wasn’t working.
“The problem,” says their new head coach, Jim Miller, “was that there was absolutely no culture of high performance established among these athletes.” He pauses. Smiles. But there’s an edge there that can’t be ignored. “In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a swimmer, a wrestler or a snowboarder,” he explains. “High performance is high performance. It’s the way you live. It’s what you eat. What you dream. How you approach challenges. You see, at this level luck has nothing to do with results. Saying ‘we had bad luck’ (as the Canadian boarders did in Turin), simply allows one to duck responsibility for their poor performance…”
Sounds like fighting words to me. Yet the former wrestling star makes no apologies for his strong words. “Luck only plays a role in your performance when you’re not that well prepared. And that’s not the case with our snowboarders. I’ve been hired to lead the team to success in 2010 and I want the image of our destination to be very, very clear for everyone involved.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s pretty simple,” he says. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll only get there by accident. Which begs the question: Do we really want to use up the $1.5 million we got from the Own the Podium program and hope for an accident?”
Jim Miller is not a snowboarder. He says he’s not much of a skier either (although his brother, Bob, was a highly-respected member of the Canadian ski team in the 1970s). And that’s where the “outside the box” thinking comes from. For Miller is one of Canada’s leading experts on top-level sports. A world-ranked member of the Canadian wrestling team from 1969 to ’76 and the coach of the team from 1980 to ’96, he was most recently the National Team High Performance Director for Pacific Sport (a Canadian multi-sport organization devoted to developing and nurturing elite athletes).