There is very little as a coach that I can say about motivation, goal setting and taking action that hasn’t been said many times by athletes and commentators since the London 2012 Olympics began. And said in such a heartfelt way too. And isn’t it captivating? Watching people achieve their dreams, seeing their reactions and hearing them describe what it means to them is a great spectator sport. I think I’ve probably had more adrenalin surges from sitting on my sofa in the last two weeks than I’ve had all year!
But I guess we’re not surprised by that (or maybe only a little – London 2012 does seem to have surpassed our, perhaps slightly too lowly set, expectations.) When you watch sport at top level you expect to see great things happening. For me though there have been a few overriding themes from the games:
When interviewed after their event, competitors thank the army of people that have helped to get them to where they are today – coaches, medical teams, nutritionists, psychologists, family, friends, the public, the lottery fund, the people of Birmingham. They also very often pay a huge tribute to their fellow competitors and biggest rivals, often saying that it is the competition and rivalry between them that has spurred them on to raise their game.
And although we are all fixated on medals, what has been a joy to see has been the sheer delight when competitors have exceeded their own expectations, however modest they may be in comparison to winning gold. “Just” getting through the first round, getting to the semi-final, getting even to the start line of the final or perhaps just competing at the Olympic Games at all – all of these are major achievements in their own right, and for some competitors that is above and beyond their wildest dreams.
But for me the one thing that I have been really struck by is what I haven’t seen, heard or read about. I have seen rowers distraught at coming second, I have seen long jumpers not make it through the qualifiers, I have seen swimmers come 4th, missing out on a medal by fractions of a second. I have heard people apologise for letting everyone down, I have seen grown men cry with disappointment, I have heard competitors say “I just wasn’t good enough on the day.” But the one sentiment I have not witnessed at all is “I’m a failure. I didn’t do as well as I should have done, so I’m giving up.”
Well of course not! These are sportspeople at the top of their game. Of course they don’t think they’re a failure! In their minds, against their expectations of themselves and the team of people around them, they might feel they have failed on that day, but that is different from thinking they are a failure full stop. Their unanimous response, is “I’ll go away and work on it. I’ll learn from this. I’ll be better next time.” Of course for some injury, age or life circumstances may mean that there won’t be a next time. But not one person has said, “That’s it. I was no good today, so I’m giving up.”
So why am I labouring this point? Because as I coach, I hear this all the time. So often clients will say “I tried that once, it didn’t work, so I gave up.” Or “that particular thing didn’t work out, so I’m a failure.” Or, even more heart breaking – “I daren’t try that incase I fail.”
I doubt there is a single medal winner in the Olympics who hasn’t had bad patches, terrible races and big disappointments. They put absolutely everything into achieving their goals – wanting above everything to win – but knowing that there is a chance they might not. They are aiming for glory, but know that there is a chance they might not quite make it, and will have to cope with the feelings of disappointment that come with it. For them, it’s a risk they’re prepared to take. They know that if they don’t make it this time, they’ll go back and try again and again, and they will always know they’ve given it their absolute all. They also know that if they didn’t do their training and put in the commitment because there was a chance that at the end of it they would fail, then they definitely would never win.
So, next time you start to think of yourself as a failure, or think about giving up on something because it’s not working out how you’d like it to, or are put off trying something incase it doesn’t work out, maybe you can learn a few lessons from the Olympians:
• Call on your own specific army of support.
• Identify the people you admire, respect, can learn from and who can help you to raise your game.
• Allow yourself to enjoy your successes, whatever level you have pitched them at.
• And if you think you’re failing, or are afraid of failure, pick your favourite Olympian, imagine you are them and picture yourself being interviewed on the TV. What are you saying into the microphone.? I bet it’s not “that didn’t go very well so I’m going to give up.”
Need more convincing? Then I highly recommend you read Bounce, by Matthew Syed. A reminder that the people that get to the very top of their game get there by having goals, by working hard, by getting help, by having self belief, and by failing again and again and again along the way…..