Stepping out of your comfort zone
Kate Haywood, Olympian at EP shares a powerful story on her time as an Olympic athlete and the need for people to try something new.
Each season we would welcome new members into our squad, whether an athlete or member of the training staff. As an important part of our preseason training, we were required to get out of the swimming pool, change our mind sets and definitely get out of our comfort zones! Why on earth would professional swimmers train out of the pool – a mistake surely? Well it was all about developing and maintaining the positive culture within our group and building relationships with new members of the team and challenging all of our thinking.
Getting out of the pool – Literally and figuratively would bring the team together in a new way, away from our usual stressful and very regimented environment. We would often be tasked with performing activities and challenges which meant we needed to step out of our comfort zones and stretch ourselves and each other by participating in new and different challenges. This was an excellent way to show peoples weaknesses and strengths and helped us identify different ways of supporting and challenging each other, outside of our day to day lives. This broadened our understanding of ourselves as well as that of our team mates and leaders.
One such event which really stretched us was participating in rock climbing. There was a mixture of emotions around the activity but as a team it enabled us to identify those that were struggling for fear of heights and give them extra support and encouragement. It also helped us work on our own strengths and weaknesses in a different way and understand each other better. The ultimate achievement of these exercises was building trust and real friendships within our team and really reinforcing our culture and the respect that we had for each other.
“On one of the most memorable days we all had to carry a 5-10kg medicine ball each plus a 20kg water bag between the group up the side of a mountain. Challenging? Yes! Fun? Definitely!”
A more extreme challenge which we were very fortunate to endure one year was in the Sierra Nevada mountains, high up at altitude. This was an environment which was harsh, exciting and completely out of everyone’s comfort zones. On one of the most memorable days we all had to carry a 5-10kg medicine ball each plus a 20kg water bag between the group up the side of a mountain. Challenging? Yes! Fun? Definitely! Why? Well we were all in training for the London 2012 Olympics, so we all had the same goal and to make this visible and tangible, the water bag had the wording in bold LONDON 2012, for extra encouragement. One at a time we would drag the bag up a steep hill in snow up to our knees. The support from the team was incredible, with everyone shouting encouragement, it certainly helped!
There were tears, there was laughter but for us as a team by completing such a massive challenge we had achieved something which was mentally and physically tasking and which had tested us in ways we could never have imagined – individually and collectively.
We left that mountain on that day feeling like we could achieve anything – anywhere!
We always found that these experiences and challenges would have a big impact on all of us when we returned to our usual training environment. Our team would be more supportive, everyone would be more focused and be ready to achieve their goals for that year.
We believe that taking people out of their usual environments and stretching them will help broaden their thinking. This should result in teams which are more productive and have stronger cultures.