This is the second in a series of four articles written by Matt Michel that discuss what we can learn from the accomplishments of one of the greatest Olympic athletes of our time, Michael Phelps.

6. With a Team, You Accomplish More. As an individual, Phelps is a great swimmer. Yet, he could not have surpassed Spitz’ record without team efforts. Phelps knows it. He said, “Without the help of my teammates this isn't possible. I was able to be a part of three relays and we were able to put up a solid team effort and we came together as one unit.”

“For the three Olympics I've been a part of,” Phelps continued, “This is by far the closest men's team that we've ever had. I didn't know everybody coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single person very well. The team that we had is the difference.”

The athletes came together and swam as a team, not as a collection of individuals. T-ogether E-veryone A-chieves M-ore really is true.

Is your company a collection of individuals or is it a team? Is it one unit?


7. Never Become Satisfied. After winning six Gold and eight total medals in the 2004 Olympics, Phelps was on the top of his game. Well, sort of. His coach, Bob Bowman thought he looked ordinary kicking off the wall. Phelps couldn’t do enough of the “dolphin kicks” so Bowman and Phelps worked up a plan to correct the perceived deficiency that resulted in more strength training and added 14 pounds of muscle to the boy dolphin.

Phelps is the best in the world in his sport, yet he’s constantly trying to improve his game. As the 2008 Olympics were closing in, Phelps was trying to slightly lower the position of his head in the freestyle. “I have never swum it right,” he says. “I always criticize myself. I always think about what I can change to get better.”

What can you improve? What can make your company better? What can make you better?


8. Take Advantage of the State-of-the-Art. Speedo, NASA, coach Bob Bowman, and Phelps collaborated to design the LZR race suit that Phelps wears. The suit allows swimmers to go 2% faster, which is huge in a sport where fractions of a second make a difference.

The LZR uses a synthetic fabric with the lowest drag coefficient in water. It compresses the body in places, reducing movement that increases drag. The suit isn’t sewn together, it’s welded. Phelps says it feels like a spacesuit.

Since it’s introduction in February 2008, through the first part of July, 47 out of 51 world records were broken by swimmers wearing the LZR. What swimmer wouldn’t use this state-of-the-art product?

Are you using the state-of-the-art in your business? Are you still time and materials? Do you lack a website?


9. You Will Always Have Detractors. Successful people must always fight jealousy. No one writes Horatio Alger stories anymore. The focus of the media is not inspiration, but envy and class warfare.

A reporter asked Phelps, “You follow sports in the United States. You know that recent heroes who have done super-human feats like this have always seemed to end up [like] Marion Jones or Barry Bonds. What do you say to the American people who say this is so good, it's too good to be true?”

The reported was all but accusing Phelps of performance enhancing drugs. It’s the type of question an athlete, a contractor, or any other business owner might face if he becomes too successful. It’s a question of envy. It’s a question to tear someone down, to knock the pedestal from under a person’s feet.

Phelps responded to the reporter, saying, “People can say whatever they want. I know that I am clean. I did Project Believe with USADA where I purposely wanted to do more tests to prove I'm clean. People can question all they want. The facts are the facts and I have the results to prove it.”

USADA is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Phelps volunteered to undergo more strenuous testing than the Olympics require to prove he’s clean. And yet, he still gets questioned.

In a sorry statement about world competition, Phelps is under strict orders by his coach to watch what he eats and drinks. He can never leave a water bottle lying around for fear that someone might add a few drops of a banned substance that would later give the swimmer a positive for performance enhancing drugs.

It’s not enough that Phelps is clean. It’s not enough that Phelps takes extra steps to prove it. He’s also got to guard against sabotage.

How are you protection the reputation of your business? What are you doing to guard against the potential for an enterprising reporter’s attempts to tear your company down and sabotage you through a sting?


10. Everyone Needs a Coach and Mentor. Phelps success is his own. He’s the one cutting through the water. Yet, he wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far without his coach, Bob Bowman.

Bowman is a former collegiate swimmer from Florida State who majored in developmental psychology. He understands swimmers and knows how to get inside their heads. This year, as the head coach of the University of Michigan swim team, he won the Big 10 title and finished sixth nationally (as a professional, Phelps doesn’t swim for Michigan, though he enrolled in the college so he could continue training with Bowman).

Bowman doesn’t always listen to what his swimmers tell him. He watches what they do. He feels them out, claiming that coaching swimmers is somewhat like training horses. Horses? Well, Bowman’s avocation is horse racing. He owns a farm in Maryland and owns several racehorses, so maybe he’s taken his equine intuition and applied it to his athletes.

Together Phelps and Bowman are a team. Phelps often talks about his performance as “we” and “us,” meaning Phelps and Bowman. According to Phelps, the relationship is somewhat like a marriage. The coach and pupil do not agree and have had a few heated exchanges.

Nevertheless, it was Bowman who first helped Phelps dream big. It was Bowman who told Phelps he had room for improvement after the 2004 Olympics when everyone else was calling him the best in the world. It was Bowman who established the disciplined training program, who demanded perfection, who pushed Phelps to work harder than he wanted.

Without Bowman as a coach and mentor, Phelps would have been good and might have been great. He probably wouldn’t have been the best in the world. “Bob has helped me think that anything is possible,” said Phelps, “And that I can swim as fast as I want.”

Bowman says, “I’m always trying to raise the bar.”

As Phelps puts it, “He doesn’t ease off on the gas pedal. It’s just full speed ahead and if you aren’t ready, well you better get yourself ready.”

Do you have a coach who helps you become your best? How are you coaching your team? What can you learn from observing your employees and not just listening?

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.