What we can ALL learn from Olympic champions

Celebrating the Olympics at the BBC in Manchester

Like millions of others all around the world, I’ve been captivated by the London 2012 Olympic Games. As a Briton, I was always looking forward to this year’s event more than all the others and it hasn’t failed to live up to expectations!

After the splendid spectacle of Danny Boyle’s wonderfully directed opening ceremony, it was soon time for the real action to start: the sport!

As I continue to watch the different events and the athletes who continually make me wonder in disbelief by their achievements, I’m also trying to learn what I can from the elite performers, trainers and coaching teams on show at the Games.

Although I’m not an elite sportsman, I’m trying to learn what I can from the world’s best athletes and gain some inspiration from what they do in order to reach the top of their game.

Plan for success

I’ve been really taken in by the achievements of the British cycling team. Ever since the Beijing Olympics four years ago, they’ve been going from strength to strength and despite rule changes to stifle their dominance they’ve been just as successful at this year’s Olympic Games.

In their 2009-2013 strategy, British Cycling states that in addition to improving British Cycling’s chances in the London 2012 Olympic Games and inspiring people to get on their bikes, they want to create a British winner of the Tour de France within five years. They achieved that goal within four.

The takeaway:

Without a clear plan, SMART objectives and a commitment to achieving those goals, success will be difficult to obtain. The route to success is paved with many obstacles so a solid vision and action plan is key to ensuring you reach the right destination.

Bradley Wiggins at the Road Cycling Time Trial by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Perfect practice makes perfect

When I was learning to play tennis as a youngster, I was taught that it isn’t practice that makes perfect – but perfect practice. And this is a philosophy all top athletes practice in order to gain an advantage over their rivals.

I have no doubt that every athlete at the Olympics has put in years and years of brutally hard work to get to where they are. But it’s important that they’ve been training in the right way to become as effective as possible at their chosen sports.

The takeaway:

Top Olympic athletes work with teams of professionals (trainers, psychologists, nutritionists) to ensure they practice and train as effectively as possible. And the same goes for any of us in our chosen professions. There’s no point working excessively long hours if we aren’t working on the right things, in the right way.

Commitment and determination

In order to train, practice and work at your craft to be the best, you have to want to do it. You have to really want to do it!

A genuine determination to be the best in the world, and the belief that goes with it, is something champions do in order to effectively commit to the work they need to do to reach the top.

In sport there are highs – but also many, many lows, especially during the long, cold winter months. During the tough times it’s important to remain focused on your goals and remember what the prize is for all the work: the chance for gold medal success!

The takeaway:

To get to the top you need to believe you can get there and have the right positive attitude to do the work to do it. Without that inner desire the work will seem harder and success always touching distance away.

Mental strength

When two equally skilled and physically equipped elite competitors face off against each other, what can possibly separate one from the other?

In addition to possessing the right physical strength and skills, Olympic champions must also have the right mental attitude and psychological approach to gain a competitive edge.

Great competitors often have a philosophical approach to their sport, too. They often talk about ‘moving on’ after a defeat and remembering that there is more to life than sport. This is allows them to really focus on what they do when it matters and then switch off afterwards, preventing burn-out whilst still maximising performance.
The takeaway:
It’s important to put everything in perspective. Whilst winning (or achieving ‘success’) is the goal, it’s not the ‘be all and end all’. Top athletes re-focus after failure and learn from their mistakes and we can do exactly the same when we miss our targets.

Canoe slalom by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

It’s all about doing the work – hard work

What underpins all the points mentioned above is hard work.

During nearly every post-race interview I’ve seen during the London 2012 Olympics, the winners – and losers – have talked about the hard work that they have put in prior to the competition. There’s no talk about innate talent or divine inspiration, just good old-fashioned hard work.

What separates the best from the rest is preparation, training and phenomenal hard work. And I believe the same is true for those outside of the sporting world. I know that if I want to be the best in my field of expertise, I have to put the time in to work at the things that matter most.

The takeaway:

Nothing in life worth having comes easy and it takes hard work and a whole lot of effort to get it.

Without putting in the work you will always fall short because one thing’s guaranteed, there will always be someone else working harder than you elsewhere!