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Mind the language, make the bed and win gold

British team director of elite performance Woodward poses for photographers during a visit to training venues in Macau
British team director of elite performance Woodward poses for photographers during a visit to training venues in Macau

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Athletes who avoid bad language, keep their bedrooms tidy and steer clear of controversy on Twitter will be sowing the seeds of Olympic success next year.

So believes Clive Woodward, England's 2003 rugby World Cup-winning coach and now the British Olympic Association (BOA)'s director of sport and Team GB deputy chef de mission.

He and team leaders have drawn up a 15-point plan, a set of 'bare minimum standards', that every member of Britain's 1,300-strong delegation - not just the 550 athletes - will be expected to adhere to as 'One Team GB'.

Woodward knows from his rugby experience that if you get the details right the rest will follow and that now, with one year to go to London 2012, is the time to start work on forging that essential team spirit.

Everything boils down to five key words: performance, responsibility, unity, pride and respect. Each, in turn, has three sub-definitions which add flesh on the bones of the structure.

For example, under 'responsibility' comes 'Accommodation; Keeping your accommodation clean and tidy'.

"These are the basic culture that we think we need to put in place for this one team to operate correctly. You may want to call them values," Woodward told reporters at a recent BOA briefing.

"This is no more than a handshake agreement. It's not a contract, I'm not asking anyone to sign this," he added, perhaps wary of being seen to have created Clive's Five Commandments.

"This to me is more powerful than a contract because it is an understanding that these are the bare minimum standards that we need to actually work on."

Woodward still winces at one memory from the 2008 Beijing Games, his first with the BOA, when he witnessed a wide variance between individual British teams in how they went about their daily business.

"There were a couple of competitors from within our team who every time we saw them in the restaurant were wearing Nike T-shirts," he recalled.

TEAM UNIFORM

"We are sponsored by Adidas and have got our own team kit. Adidas spend millions on looking after us and sponsoring us and all this. But they thought they could go to the restaurant like that.

"The two people involved were a million miles off winning a medal," he added with a smile.

All team members next year will be expected to wear team uniform at all times during the Games.

Woodward said it was a question of making sure athletes realized that everything they did had a consequence, however trivial the action might seem.

By donning their own clothes, they could upset others who took pride in wearing the uniform and that could in turn breed resentment which might cause a loss of focus with far more serious implications.

"These are the little distractions that all start (to add up) and in a pressurized environment do make a difference," he said.

"To me there is always a clear correlation between how sports operate off the field and how they operate on it.

"So I came away from that (Beijing) saying the biggest thing we can improve as a team is how we actually operate as a team and is it actually possible to operate as a team going into London when you are bringing in 26 sports that all operate very differently?"

The three areas listed under the heading 'Respect' are social media, language and noise - the last meaning no rowdy parties or anything that might annoy and antagonize fellow competitors and team mates.

"We know social media is going to be there, to me it's something we've got to embrace and encompass and encourage," said Woodward.

"But it's got to be handled responsibly and we need to do a lot of work about how the athletes are going to use social media during the Games."

That means thinking now about how athletes use Twitter, since anything could come back to bite them next year, including what they say about team mates.

HOME ADVANTAGE

One angry comment made in the heat of the moment could cause a media frenzy and mayhem.

"I can't think of anything worse than (that) post-Games you will be remembered as the person who caused these problems for this athlete when they were still competing or whatever," said Woodward.

"This is really powerful stuff, it does make a difference to performance. And you have the ability to affect not only your own performance but other people's if you get this part wrong."

Woodward said five videos would be created, each reinforcing one of the key words and featuring past and present athletes who would explain the importance of the message in their own words.

With around 70 percent of the British squad attending their first Games, Woodward said the guidelines would give the newcomers "huge comfort" about how to operate.

"Playing at home is a massive advantage and we don't want to have any disadvantages," he added. "Silly little things can just get in the way and cause aggravation.

"It's unashamedly trying to bring this whole team together," he emphasized. "What we are trying to do is take this (team spirit) to a new level.

"This is my personal background, how we ran the England rugby team, it's getting buy-in from the players."

To do that would involve dialogue, further discussion and months of preparation.

"You can't say (do) this, this, this. That just causes frictions," said Woodward. "You've got to present it to them, let them go away and discuss it and feed it back and explain why we are doing it and why it's important."

If all goes to plan, tidy beds should translate into a tidy medal haul for a nation that finished the last Games fourth overall and hopes to do at least as well next year.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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