Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Psychologist’s Thoughts on the Tour De France

It’s about teamwork

The cyclists cover thousands of miles across France, and at the end of the race there can only be one winner. However, it’s impossible to imagine anyone being successful over such a long trial without the backing of their team. Wheels need to be changed; drinks need to be brought up. Sometimes a rider sacrifices their own bike to pass it to another member of their team whose bike has crashed and who has a better chance of winning. If you can’t maintain the support of your team you will never win.

Respect differences 

The Tour De France is a race for all types. Some of the racers are lean little whippets who excel at sprinting away on the flat. Some cyclists are powerhouses of muscle who get away from the pack on the long hills. Each team has a balance of people who are best at different things, and they had better understand and respect each other for their different contributions.

The journey is the prize

If you don’t make one of the top three placings or win a special jersey for King of the Mountain or similar the financial rewards aren’t that great for three weeks spent pedaling around 3,500 kilometers (or more than 2,000 miles). I read that the prize for the fourth place winner is 70,000 Euros (about $US100,000), and that tails down to the rider that finishes 19th earning just 1,000 Euros. Even the winner, Alberto Contador, isn’t that well rewarded. He gets 450,000 Euros, but that has to go toward paying for the team (all nine of them), the support vehicles, the team managers and cooks and buses and everything else. The ones at the top get enough in support and endorsements to make it worthwhile. It’s not the money that motivates the average participant. You can bet they get in the flow when they get on their bike, and they get a reward from what they do that isn’t just financial.

Team results? Team rewards

Even if you only want to maximize the performance of the best rider, you had still better make sure you reward the whole team for their support. We know that there can only be one winner, and you would think the way to ensure that everyone puts in their best effort is to focus on rewarding individual achievement. Instead, the teams and the organizers ensure there are prizes, jerseys and accolades enough to reward everyone. Not every rider can be number one. When you have to get the best out of more than a hundred cyclists you have to ensure that everyone has a stake in making it a great race.

Knocked over? Get up again

Every day someone “hits the wall” and falls behind, or literally hits a wall or something else and falls over. Every day they get up and start over again. Kids often have tremendous resilience. If they fall over they just dust themselves off, get a bandage or two and carry on. As we get older we lose that, and yet here are people riding with broken collar bones, bruises, cuts and all sorts of damage. Most of what we think hurts us isn’t really that bad, and if we just get back on our bikes we are surprised by how far we can go.

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