A few days ago, I interviewed U.S. field hockey captain Lauren Crandall after her team’s first loss of these Olympics. I asked her if, considering all she’d just told me about how she and her teammates had re-committed themselves to the team — they even relocated the program from Chula Vista, Calif., to Amish Country in Lancaster, Penn, three years ago to simplify their lives and train in the heart of the sport — and how physically and mentally prepared they were for anything, if that preparation extended to a loss. She’d told me her team was “gritty.” Would they have the grit to refocus after losing to Great Britain and take on Germany on Monday.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Our team is so process-oriented.”
It’s a phrase Crandall used several times in our conversation and one I included in the piece I wrote on the team. USA BMX program director Jamie Staff used the phrase when I spoke with him about his team last month. I didn’t fully understand what the words meant. It sounded like road-to-Rio BS, like they were quoting from their team what-to-say-in-interviews-about-our-philosophy manual.
Then yesterday I was thinking about the job my colleagues and I do here in Rio. I was feeling envious of the athletes who came here with focused, tangible goals. For the field hockey women, despite the fact that they finished last in London in 2012, they came to Rio with the goal of winning a gold medal. It seems easier to get up for the daily grind when there’s an end goal in mind, one by which you can measure the success of the past three years.
As I slogged through my longest day in Rio on the least amount of sleep, and re-grouped after losing my computer, my files and a lot of work the night before, I wondered what my end goal here is, what any of ours is, to motivate us when the days feel exceptionally hard. Is it to get a pat on the back once we get home or to get invited back to cover another Olympics in two years? Is it to feel proud of our work, even if no one notices? Is it simply to end each day knowing we did our best, hit the reset button and understand that tomorrow is an opportunity to be better? Is it just to catch the damn bus to the media center on time? None of that feels like a goal worthy of this process.
With that thought, Crandall’s words started to make sense. “We are process-oriented.” The process is the goal. Not the gold medal. Not the wins. Not the back pats. If a team is outcome-oriented — if the outcome is the goal — then it is devastating to lose. The sacrifice of the past three-and-a-half years must seem like wasted time. But when the process is the goal, the work is the goal. The struggle is the goal. The incremental growth is the goal. The person you become throughout that process is the goal. That’s the win, not just the medals.
Waking up after a few hours of sleep and walking out the door, credential around neck and smile on face, to tackle another day is the goal here in Rio. Writing a story or doing an interview or TV hit you’re proud of is the goal. Not losing your mind when your computer blows up in the middle of a late-night writing session is the goal. Feeling proud that you’ve made it to the final stretch is the goal. Hitting send on another story even though you didn’t think you’d be able to pull another cohesive thought out of your brain is the goal. Remembering to stop, breathe, be present and enjoy the moment, whether it is spent watching a gold medal being won, a country cheer its hometown favorite or a colleague bring you a glass of wine when you’ve had a tough day is the goal.
I can say, at least for today, I was process-oriented. Goal achieved.