My first experience as National Sporting Team leader

Last year it happened that I was elected Council Member of the Italian Athletics Federation, that is the institution in charge of coordinating the activities of the athletics teams operating in Italy and preparing the national teams for international competitions like the Olympic Games. I had previous experience as team manager and manager of regional committees of the federation, but it is the first time that I am involved at the national level. Actually I do not have much free time to devote to it, but I am trying to do my best.

One of my first commitments was to be the Team Leader for the National Team of Race Walking at the European Race Walking Cup that took place in Podebrady (close to Prague). I must say that it was a great experience. To be involved in a major international sport event was an unprecedented emotion. I fully perceived the dedication and involvement of the 18 race walkers who were approaching the target of several months (and years) of training. For them it was an important step forward to the world championships that will take place in London in August 2017.

What I will never forget is the emotion that I proved when hugging the successful athletes soon after the finish line. I could physically perceive their top excitement for a dream come true. I was so emotioned that in more than one case I got close to tears. I myself run a lot of competitions as an athlete, but I never reached such a top level. Being so close to these excellent athletes after their successful performance I felt like I could share part of their joy for an important success.

We got the gold medal (!!) in the 20km women with Antonella Palmisano. It was an excitement that cannot be described by any word to see her at the finish line with the Italian flag (photo by courtesy Colombo/Fidal). She also did something unbelievable.... she was close to her personal best, but decided to grab just before the finish line the Italian flag that a fan threw to her. Unfortunately she couldn't grab it promptly and the flag feel on the paved road. Then, Antonella walked back a few meters, took the flag and finally went through the finish line. In doing that she lost some 5-8 seconds and the personal best was missed. She was not concerned at all: taking the flag was more important than making her best! This was an amazing sign of dedication to her country and team, something that emotioned me a lot. It was another demonstration that the way we achieve our target is more important than the target itself. It was an important lesson to be learned. A video of her last meters can be seen here.

While we all members of the national team were excited and cheering to Antonella, she was called for the interviews with the press and TV. She was a little bit afraid by questions in English (actually she did a great job) and therefore I was asked to assist her as an interpreter. I was afraid a little bit... I was concerned by my little knowledge of race walking technical English terms, but I had to go. When I got on the floor I was a bit nervous, with so many cameramens, photographers and journalists. Actually the questions and answers were quite easy to translate and therefore I started enjoying this incredible experience of being on the floor after winning a European Cup. I felt like I was useful to such a top level athlete soon after winning an international gold medal.... I felt like I could share her experience and excitement. Well, I must say that I will never forget these minutes and I was disappointed when the last question came and the interview was over. A video of the interview can be seen here.

With Antonella Palmisano soon after her winning the 2017 European Race Cup. Photo by Colombo/Fidal

Of course there were also difficult situations to handle during the competition. Not all the athletes were happy of their performance and some of them were disqualified for imperfect walking. I know that finding the words to stimulate a person to profit from negative experiences is one of the most challenging task for a (team) leader. In this case it was even more challenging for me because I was dealing with top athletes whom I do not know well. I am sure that I was not successful in conveying my feeling that negative experiences may be definitely more productive for our personal enrichment than positive ones. What counts is to do one's best, this is really what matters for building a person. However, this is hard to say to an individual that just failed to get to target, whatever the reason is. Well, I hope to profit from my experience and to be better next time.

To conclude, I found it interesting to see that after this experience I could see the everyday problems related to my job under a different and more interesting light. It is indeed true that one should better concentrate his/her attention and efforts on more than one focus and interest. My friend Demetris Koutsoyiannis once told me that we should better stand on four legs, namely, four different and complementary interests that catalyze our efforts, ideas and creativity. With four legs we can safely keep equilibrium even if one of them fails. This is indeed true.

Well, thanks athletics and thanks national team!!