Running a Gold-Medal Business: Tips from the U.S. Olympic Curling Team

Team USA’s curling captains share how to run your small business like a championship team.
Nina Roth, captain of the U.S. Olympic Curling Team, suggests creating a game plan — or a business plan — with small, achievable objectives along the way. (Photo: Rich Harmer/USA Curling)

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games open Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and countries worldwide are revving up to support their teams.

Just like an Olympic coach or team captain, small business owners are responsible for making sure their company and team of employees are properly equipped to go for gold.

To find out what lessons small business owners can learn from Olympians, NCR Silver spoke with the captains, or “skips,” of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Curling Team, John Shuster and Nina Roth.

The role of the ‘skip’ in curling

In curling, a team of four members work together to slide a 44-pound stone down a sheet of ice towards a target, called the “house.” The “shooter” aims and releases the shot, while two “sweepers” use special brushes to reduce friction along the stone’s path to ensure the stone reaches its target. Sweeping can increase a rock’s slide as much as 15 feet.

The fourth player is the skip, an on-ice strategist who indicates “reads” ice conditions and calls the shots to ensure a team victory.

“As a skip, I’m in charge of watching the ice and calling the game,” explained Roth, the women’s skip. “I’m looking at ice conditions to see how much the ice is clean; trying to catch certain spots where it might be different. I’m also thinking about the strategy. So calling the game, deciding when we’re going to be offensive and really go for our points, or when we’re going to be more more reserved and defensive.”


“We do a lot of goal setting as a team. Before our games we have one individual goal we are trying to achieve and then amongst our team we set team goals.” -John Shuster (Photo: Rich Harmer/USA Curling)

Create a game plan

According to Shuster, one of the top things small business owners can learn from Olympic athletes is goal setting.

“Definitely, I would say to set goals — S.M.A.R.T. goals,” he said. “We do a lot of goal setting as a team. Before our games we have one individual goal we are trying to achieve and then amongst our team we set team goals.”

Roth agreed and suggested business owners set small, specific objectives, rather than lofty, big-picture goals.

“We like to set little goals that help us achieve our big goals,” she said. “Running strategy, I’m going to watch so much game tape this week. I’ll work out in the gym this many times. I’m going to increase my speed. So I’m setting little goals in every aspect that we’re working on and focusing on those.”

Stay flexible


According to U.S. Olympic curler, John Shuster, the ability to adapt to your surroundings is crucial in both curling and business ownership. (Photo: Rich Harmer/USA Curling)

While you need to have a solid business plan in place for your small business, it’s also important to remain flexible so you can adapt when things change unexpectedly, said Shuster.

“At the beginning of the game, we’re trying to come up with the game plan to maximize our chances of being successful. So a lot of times you may start a game with a particular plan, and that may change depending on conditions on the ice or the situation. And that means adjusting whatever needs to be adjusted.”

Prioritize communication

Roth, who is a registered nurse and works as a floor supervisor, said communication with your team is critical — both in the business world and on the ice.

“Communications is, of course, No. 1. There’s only four of us on the team so we need to be able to get along on and off the ice and communicate what we’re seeing, areas that we need to work on or what we’re doing really well,” she said.


“Everyone has to trust each other to do what’s best for the team as a whole.” -Nina Roth (Photo: Rich Harmer/USA Curling)

As a leader, you must learn how to adapt your communication and management style to fit the needs of each individual team member.

“Kind of like a chameleon in that way,” she laughed. “Some people really want you to take the reins and be direct about what you want, and others may want to do things more their way. So setting guidelines and letting them make decisions when they can is huge.”

Build trust

In a team-oriented sport like curling, trust is key — just as it is when running a small business.

“Everyone has to trust each other to do what’s best for the team as a whole,” said Roth. “We need to know that everyone is dedicated to the same goals and are on the same path.”

Remember, trust goes both ways. Just like a curling team trusts its skip to lead them to victory on the ice, your employees must believe you will treat them fairly and give them the tools they need to be successful. Likewise, you must trust the feedback you get from your staff as accurate for making wise strategic decisions.

Celebrate your victories

Finally, be intentional about giving praise where praise is due and celebrate both individual victories and larger milestones to which the entire team contributed.

“At the end of a tournament, we celebrate that tournament. Even if it’s a small one, we enjoy it together as a team,” said Roth.

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