Telling Your Story: When Being a Great Athlete Isn’t Enough

“Help me, help you.” – Jerry Maguire

There are so many great lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, it’s embarrassing to use that one, but it’s the most fitting. Our staff has been asked by multiple sponsors (and media) for insight into USA Swimming National Team athletes. They are asking what each of these athletes is about. How do they stand out of the team photo?

2012 U.S. Olympic Swim Team

In other words, what’s their story?

They already have easy access in their bio to find their school, hometown, best times, medals and honors. They want to know the athlete’s “hook” or their “angle” or in marketing-speak, their “brand.”

What kind of person are they?

What are their interests?

What makes them different than every other athlete?

The worst thing I can say is “I don’t know.”

The reality is being a good, even great, swimmer isn’t enough to answer these questions.

Swimming fast is only the ante for corporate sponsors and media. National Team athletes are competing with other swimmers, track athletes, gymnasts, fencers, Paralympians and archers for media and corporate dollars. In this corporate competition the fastest person or the one with the most medals doesn’t always win.

Team USA White House Visit

I have seen a lot of bio forms that list reading, taking naps, hanging out with friends and going to movies as athlete hobbies. These might be activities all of us enjoy, but they aren’t capturing attention or separating the athletes from other great swimmers.

I think back to some famous Olympic swimmers in recent decades, and how they defined their story. Even if people don’t remember the number of medals these swimmers have won (which is plenty) they are just as likely to be remembered for something about who they are as people. For example:

  • Amanda Beard – the one who went from teen with a teddy bear to sex symbol to mom
  • Annette Salmeen – the Rhodes Scholar
  • Brendan Hansen – the hunting, fishing, outdoorsy guy
  • Garrett Weber-Gale – the “athletic foodie” into healthy eating and cooking
  • Natalie Coughlin – the culinary expert
  • Cullen Jones – survived a near-drowning incident as a child and one of the few African American medalists
  • Dara Torres – the one who defied aged and competed into her 40s
  • Matt Biondi and Tom Jager – the ones who fought for athlete rights
  • Ian Crocker – the guy who plays guitar
  • Tyler Clary – the guy who likes racing cars
  • Gary Hall, Jr. – the showman who wore the boxing robe
  • B.J. Bedford – the fun-loving one who dyed her hair red, white and blue
  • Brad Schumacher – the guy who did both water polo and swimming in the Olympics

Other swimmers may have earned more medals than these swimmers, but these swimmers left sponsors, media and fans with a short, clear and concise vision of who they are outside the pool.

Even by wearing a swim cap, goggles and having their face in the water and unseen for most of their careers, they were memorable, embraced media and told their story and still managed to swim fast.

I can’t wait to hear the great stories, so encourage any athlete in sports to get in touch with their governing body communications departments. It’s time to tell stories and break out of the pack.

Help us, help you.


Categories: Marketing, Olympics

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. As for me you’re right. Sometimes I can be that it is not enough just to be a good athlete. You have some special needs – good gym, modern equipment, opportunities to take part in international championships. For all these points you need money. And it can be that young team no money at all! That is why they definitely need a sponsor. I told this because I know this situation. At the championship in Germany I met an interesting person. That was Ievgen Skyrda, the coach of the Ukrainian sportsmen. We spent a few hours there and talked a lot. He said that he is so proud of his team but added that they can visit this championship only with the help of their sponsor – the Biotexcom clinic. This Ukrainian center for human reproduction supported the team and gave them a chance to show the whole world that the Ukrainian also know BJJ.

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