It is September. I spent great chunks of August watching the Olympics and am now gorging on the running, jumping, swimming, throwing and rowing in the Paralympics. One of the things that has really struck me this year is the way the athletes’ first thought after the final is to thank all those that have helped them and either to introduce it with “I am so thrilled to have done this for my mum/nan/children” or heartbreakingly to say “I have let people down”. How can a Silver medal at the Olympics possibly let anyone down?
Except perhaps yourself.
Attitude is all important and it is such an odd and fragile thing. We become what we want to be.
Two of my Godsons were professional sportsmen, both of them in team sports. This is not romantic. It is not easy to watch every calorie that is consumed, to make sure it is the right calorie, to analyse every aspect of technique and to manage one’s body as if it were a machine to be kept in prime condition. Training on a dark, wet, cold winter’s morning is no joy but it has to be done. To miss family birthdays or Christmas because they do not fit into the training schedule is miserable. To be away in a training camp for three weeks of intense high altitude work is no holiday even if in a lovely place. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and want to turn raw talent into skill; and then to see how good they can be; and then to get into the GB squad and qualify on the world stage. Then they are constantly testing what they can do and are hungry for medals as recognition of achievement. They go back to basics and learn all over again to build an improved technique. They go through the pain barrier time and again. They hurt; they are injured. Why? Because these are talented, competitive people who want to be the best they can be. They have passion and desire.
However, I have also learnt that this is only possible if they have the right people around them fanning the passion. And as they get better there are lots of people, all of whom believe in them. People who get up early every day to get them on the track, on the river or to the swimming pool; people who teach them technique and then analyse performance live and via endless video hours to see where it can be improved; people who push them; plus, the physios, sports psychologists, nutritionists and more. There are equipment gurus (have you seen Hannah Cockroft’s amazing racing wheelchair?). The better they get the more people there are who work with the athlete towards excellence in body, mind and spirit. Some are people interested in the sport and so want to help those with talent. Some are family and friends who love them but never expected them to be talented; you soon become committed to helping them be the best they can be. It becomes a virtuous circle – the more belief and support, the better they get.
You can see where this is going. All of these lessons apply equally in business but without a tried and tested sports development programme you have to devise your own. Let’s just think how you can apply these ideas to your life:
- You bring the passion – if you do not have it, do not do it.
- There is no one successful route to a gold medal in running your own business but asking people you admire and who inspire you what they did and what they think is important, can be very instructive.
- Create and craft a detailed development plan for yourself. It will identify your raw talent and skills but then look at all you need to become the best in your chosen field. It will cover body (physical skills), mind (knowledge, intellectual skills, professional skills) and spirit (commitment, attitude).
- Work out who you need on your team: to believe in you (all the time); to encourage you (some days); to tell you the truth especially about the successes and failures (some days); to help you decide what to focus on; to tell you when you are not focusing on the right things (some days); to tell you the naked truth (all the time but especially when you cannot see it yourself) to tell you when you are not doing enough (hopefully not very often); to help you develop all your skills.
- Find those people and whatever other skills they bring make sure they personally motivate, stimulate and inspire you. It may not be easy but persevere – think of Andy Murray’s journey to finding the right coach and the difference Lendl has made.
- Test yourself and work on what the results tell you.
- Plan everything because every experience is an opportunity. Nicola Adams has the management adage “Failure to plan is planning to fail” on the wall in her boxing gym – possibly the gold medals hang underneath!
- Visualise a superlative performance. Think of Mo Farah falling over; that was not in his game plan so without even thinking he just got up and got on. His internal plan saw him winning not dropping out.
- Value your family and friends; they will always be there, quietly routing for you and to pick you up or celebrate. Forgive them if they do not know as much about stuff as you do.
- Put in place the support team you need – it will be different for all of us but might include cleaners, dog walkers, handy people. Pay them for what they are good at that will free your time to do what you are good at.
- Take this stuff seriously but enjoy what you do!
Doing all these things will bring you a happy, satisfying, successful career doing the thing you love and are good at to the best of your ability. Every day will be exciting, work will feel like play and you will be doing what you do well. And that is what is possible for each of us – to be the very best we can be.
None of this is original. It has not even scratched the surface of how we get the best from ourselves but the Olympics and Paralympics show us fascinating successes based on this approach. People who proved they were amongst the best in the world just to be selected for Rio. We might not get to Rio, might not be on the podium but with hard work and the right support we can be great at what we do in our world and enjoy every moment.
If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.