An Olympian project
Like any other “life project,” achieving an Olympic goal has its milestones, scope, and cost management challenges.
by Louise Dunne
1998 IS A BANNER YEAR for women's athletics. Among other things, it is the first year in the history of the Olympics that Women's Hockey was included as an event. In keeping with the spirit of this change, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) decided that the referees and linesmen would also be women.
It takes more than just the appropriate skills and physical capability to make it as an official in the Olympics. The individual must be selected. In order to achieve this honor, the candidate must approach the process as a project. The initiation of the project begins with the setting of the goal: To represent her country in the 1998 Olympics as one of the first women officials for Women's Hockey in its debut year. The project would be complete once the candidate officiated games at the 1998 Olympics.
Marina Zenk's first major milestone in her path to the Olympics was to successfully officiate games on the national level. Here she is shown refereeing a National Championship game between New Brunswick and Alberta in March 1997.
An Olympic hockey player must compete and excel to earn the right to go; however, other dimensions exist for the official. Officials are not funded, therefore all expenses required in achieving the goal of selection must be borne by the individual. As a result, the candidate most likely also has a full-time career with which to contend—or I should say compete. This produces additional pressures and constraints on Quality, Time, Communications and Risk Management.
Marina Zenk, a dedicated and capable referee, made this her project. Its successful completion was in February 1998 when she officiated her last Women's Hockey game at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as one of only three Canadian women selected as referees. This was no small feat. I interviewed Marina to determine how she managed her project.
LD: What were the major milestones of your project?
MZ: In the fall of 1995, I first heard that Women's Hockey was to be an Olympic sport. At that point, I knew what I had to do to be a contender as an officiator. My project milestones, in order, were to be:
1. Recommended by the local branch for national or international assignments
2. Successful at a national assignment—this means refereeing a medal game and receiving a positive rating from the referee supervisors
3. Recommended/selected for an international event
4. Successful at the international assignment
5. Selected for the Olympics.
LD: Are the processes and procedures documentable and repeatable? Could some other candidate follow your project plan and achieve the same end?
MZ: I believe so. The rule book we follow is standardized and upgraded every two years. The material required to be an Olympic-level referee, or any level of referee, is standardized throughout the country and delivered in annual clinics that all referees must attend. The examinations are all standard as well. Although I believe the processes and procedures to be very well documented, I also believe that hard work, luck, a positive attitude, timing and talent all play a large part in one's success.
LD: How did the immovable end date affect your ability to meet your project milestones? What did you do to mitigate this fact?
MZ: I sacrificed everything! My project was my only priority. On and off the ice, everything revolved around my project. I didn't take any personal vacation. On my free time (away from work), I supervised referees, instructed refereeing clinics, served as the referee-in-chief for the local referee association, refereed (of course), trained, and played hockey to maintain optimum conditioning. I guess I worked as hard as the Year 2000 programmers are working now!
LD: What was the budget for your project?
MZ: Unlimited. I never put a price tag or limitations on pursuing my dream. Fortunately, my international assignment expenses were covered by Canadian Hockey. At National Championships, however, we had to pay our own airfare, meals, and sometimes hotel expenses. In the last three years, we have received assistance from our local associations for airfare, and the host committee now pays our hotel expenses. All other expenses are funded through my full-time job.
LD: What quality standards must be met for an Olympic-level referee, and how did you ensure you maintained them throughout your project?
MZ: Canadian Hockey has established guidelines for skill development to assist the individual in improving their ability. The individual is supervised, evaluated and ranked in several categories so that they may understand their strengths and areas needing improvement. These include attitude on and off the ice; judgment and consistency; feel for the game/penalty selection; skating ability; signals; procedures; appearance and presence; positioning; reaction under pressure; rule knowledge; fitness; rapport and communication.
To ensure that I received consistently high ratings in all categories, I practiced self-evaluation and also relied on supervision of my performance at the local levels and at national and international events.
LD: Some of the associations and individuals that influenced your chances of being recommended, selected and sent to Nagano included the IIHF, Ontario Women's Hockey Association, your employer and peers. How did you manage communications with them throughout the milestones of your project?
MZ: Surely, communication with my employer was key. I've worked at two different companies throughout my project, and both have been very supportive of my goals. I think consistently being aware of the importance of communication and the impact it has on your goal is important. I managed communication by consistently conducting myself professionally in all aspects of my project. In refereeing, we're dealing with a small group. Your best friend may be your competition. Indirectly, you're competing against them. You manage communications by earning respect. I think that says it all.
LD: Did you have any setbacks in your training plan? If so, were you prepared for them and how did you get back on track?
MZ: I did have a couple of setbacks. I suffered from knee problems in August 1997 and had a terrible flu at the Olympic pre-training session. In athletics, risk management is really preventative maintenance. I didn't ski, I ate well, took volumes of vitamins, got flu shots and dressed warmly for these cold Canadian winters. When all that doesn't work, the only strategy to be employed is to dig deeper and pull out everything you've got, regardless of your condition.
THE PROJECT CONCLUSION was by far the highlight of Marina's career: She was selected to referee the first Olympic Women's Hockey game, between Finland and Sweden, which means she goes down in history. In fact, her jersey will hang in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada.
Unbelievably, she also officiated the Gold Medal game between the United States and Canada. This was beyond any possible expectations, since referees never officiate for their home country. But the German referee who was selected for the Gold Medal game caught the flu and Marina was afforded the opportunity to step in. The U.S. team took the Gold, and Marina was applauded by the commentators for using good judgment in her penalty selection.
On her return to Canada, Marina was greeted at the Ottawa airport by family, peers and the media. She has truly lived her dream! ■
Louise Dunne is an account executive with EDS Canada. She has been in the technology field for 12 years and is currently pursuing PMP Certification.
PM Network • September 1998