A little PR coaching for the U.S. Olympians

More national pride might endear them to us in the run-up to the Vancouver Games.

In a few weeks, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will begin. Sadly, when it comes to pre-Olympics promotion/communications, many U.S. athletes have been out of the medal race.

Athletes ought to remember that during their Olympic competition they represent the United States, and they should acknowledge that in their media appearances. With some exceptions, when people watch the Games, they are rooting for their country as a whole—not any individual athlete—to win the gold.

When sportscasters and commentators talk, it is usually about how each U.S. Olympian represents our nation. Most of the U.S. athletes I’ve seen aren’t conveying that; instead, they focus on themselves.

Certainly, any Olympian’s road to the Games depends in large part on individual ability, sacrifice and effort. But they are there as U.S. team members, not solitary performers.

On “The Today Show” on Jan. 8, likely Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt, talked only about what she wants to do as a skater, with no mention of her representing her country.

On the Minneapolis/St. Paul station KARE11.com Web site, an article looking at two potential Olympians, Kiri Baga of the United States and Kate Charbonneau of Canada, again showed this tendency among American athletes.

The article read in part, “Getting my chance to show everyone what I can do is personally really self motivating for me,” Baga said of her skating. Compare that with the quote from Charbonneau, who is vying for a spot on Team Canada: “I just think that it is the achievement of all achievements to compete in the Olympic Games,” she said of her dream to skate for team Canada.

A paucity of patriotism?

In a Google News search, it was difficult to find athletes talking about pride in representing the United States.

One, Olympic speed skater Katherine Ruetter, told Steven Colbert on his show it was her dream to represent the United States in the Olympics.

Although Apolo Ohno appeared in a long (and sickeningly commercial) segment on “The Today Show” in early January, he only briefly mentioned representing the United States, instead concentrating on his personal goals and passing up other opportunities to appeal to the U.S. audience.

Compare that with this article from Newfoundland. Brad Gushue, curler, is in the twilight of his reign as an Olympic champion.

“When you win the Olympics, you get four years of glory,” he said. “Our four years are up now in a couple of weeks. We’ll enjoy it, and hopefully Kevin [Martin] can bring it back to Canada and show the world that we’re still the best.”

Humility breeds affection

Look at some of the most admired athletes in our country. There appears to be a direct correlation between their popularity and how much they talk about the fans.

Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith still mentions the St. Louis Cardinals fans in just about every interview. People love him. The news media love those comments, too, because they relate directly to their readers or viewers.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban, after winning the national collegiate title, was asked on national TV to talk about what capturing his second championship meant to him. His answer was brilliant: “What it means to me is I am so happy for our entire team—our fans, who have been great ever since we have been in Alabama.”

He went on to talk about how players and coaches and even the school administration contributed to making a great team. He concluded the answer with, “I am really proud of the state of Alabama and the folks this means a lot to.”

The bottom line: We are proud of our Olympic athletes. They will be more effective in endearing themselves to us if they start talking more about their supporters and less about their personal quests for glory.

They must remember that they are part of a team and that team represents all of us.

Tripp Frohlichstein is founder of MediaMasters Inc. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at www.mediamasterstraining.com or e-mail tr3@aol.com.


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