10 lessons we can all learn from Olympians

Olympic series: Top 10 lessons we can all learn from Olympians

Everyday we learn a new lesson in life.  Whether its learning a new way to teach our kids to do their homework or a solution to dealing with your friends problems, each day lends itself to a new challenge, a new opportunity and a new lesson.  Check out this great article by Garth Rowan, a United Way Communications Committee volunteer, who writes about ten “lessons” or areas we can all learn from Olympians.     Do you have any lessons you’ve learned that you want to share? 

Lessons for us mortals from the London Games

Calgary Herald
9 Aug 2012

Wouldn’t it be great if we could tap into the mindset of Olympians and work their secrets into our own daily lives? On the face of it, similarities between the world of the top athlete and the rest of us may seem obscure. Take a closer peek, however, and you’ll see the connection is high stakes performance.

Any one who has ever had to sell a great idea, make a crucial presentation, or been asked to rise to a big occasion, will see the link. It’s that drum roll when everyone stops and looks at you: Now go ahead, be great!

I’ve had the privilege of working with many of our summer Olympians on their communications skills in preparation for the London Games. They’re in the world spotlight, a cauldron of emotion holding 10,500 athletes and 21,000 media, plus the national expectations. All that on young shoulders. There’s no better time to observe what makes them tick. The knowledge exchange works both ways; I then get the chance to translate those observations into the world of business when communications there turns critical.

Here are 10 areas where we can all learn from Olympians.

Confidence: That elusive factor that everyone strives for, but few can conjure up at will. The fallacy is thinking that someone else can give it to us. Far from it, not even the best coach can hand us that secret. It comes from within, it’s about getting the small things going well and building from there.  Imagine soccer star Christine Sinclair taking a free kick: the worst thing she could do would be to focus on what people will say about her if she misses. Much better to concentrate on the elements that lead to a great shot. Who doesn’t want more confidence? If we can get the small things going well, we’ll see the big picture improve in every aspect of life.

A support network: An Olympian entourage includes trainers, psychologists, nutritionists, masseuses, skills coaches and strength coaches. The rest of us need a support team; who’s on yours to help you achieve your goals?

Chimp management: Yes, that’s what some sports psychologists have called that emotional and irrational side of your brain that gets you into all sorts of trouble. Top athletes learn that the chimp side of our nature needs careful handling. Do we all occasionally lose it? Who let the chimp out?

The road map: The big picture is nice, but how we get there is much more important. The best performers set mini goals and break the huge tasks into bite-sized chunks. There’s a big difference between, “I wouldn’t mind getting fitter” and “where will I run this lunchtime?”

Stay in the “now”: Few people try to do this and fewer succeed. Our lives are so wrapped up in thoughts (often fears) about the future, or replaying the past, that we miss out on this moment. Imagine if we were rowing in the Canadian eight boat and we started wondering how winning a medal might change our life — while we’re in the middle of the race! Our focus would drift and we’d be heading back home minus those brilliant silver medals. If the rest of us worked on this skill, it might make a drive on the Deerfoot a bit safer.

Grab the best behaviour: Top performers learn from each other all the time. Who’s the best and why? What are they doing differently? What behaviours make them great? How do they manage it? There’s no reason the rest of us couldn’t work that principle into our daily routine.

Self-assessment: Top athletes are brutally honest about their own performance. They then take the ruthless feedback and develop a plan to do something about what’s not working. “No excuses” would take us all further.

Mental toughness: When things go wrong, highly developed coping strategies are essential. Some top performers say they deal with around 20,000 failures in a career. They learn resilience early on. This is a must have. How many times have we all given up early?

Preparation routine: Olympians have to enter the “zone” on command. Imagining themselves in perfect action before they start helps greatly. It’s as if they have an HDTV in their head and are loving the perfection they are seeing. Of course they are nervous, but the nerves work for them. For the rest of us, something simple like a few deep breaths can do wonders.

Purposeful practice: There’s practice and then there’s practice. Most of us kid ourselves that we are practising, but Olympians take it to new heights. First, they practise their skills way longer than the rest of us. Tennis player Andy Murray doesn’t go on to the court every day and play a couple of sets, then have a beer. He’ll hit the same shot thousands of times until it is ingrained. Practice needs goals.

So next time you want to make a better connection with your audience in a speech, or you don’t know why people aren’t buying into your ideas, think back to what Olympic athletes have in their bag of tricks and copy from the best.

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