Olympians want to win. But doing their best matters most.
We all know that Olympic athletes eat, breathe and sleep their sport from early childhood. In fact, it’s not uncommon for athletes to spend their formative years living and studying with their fellow teammates and coaches far from home. Going for the gold is an obsession. But when the Olympics come and a medal isn’t won, desperation doesn’t follow. Because great athletes know they’ve done their absolute best. To learn that there’s someone better out there may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s just a fact of life.
It’s a good lesson for all of us: acknowledge your own personal best. Every step and
every event in your life, regardless of importance, is a lesson you can use to do better next time. If you aren’t happy with where you are, then celebrate how far you’ve come, and use your progress as motivation to persevere. Like an Olympian.
Olympians know when to switch off. And when to switch on.
To be an Olympic athlete means having to exert maximum effort. Olympians also know their greatest enemy is physical and emotional burnout. That’s why they go to great lengths to guard against exhaustion. Great athletes have an innate ability to alternate between switching on and switching off, and they know when to implement a cycle of recovery.
In our daily lives we’re consumed with both personal and professional stressors. We all want to “perform” at our best; whether as a professional or as a parent, a business owner or a student. And to perform at our best we need… rest! Yet many of us often deny ourselves this respite, reasoning that switching off is somehow “wasting time”. We recognize the importance of rest for an Olympian but feel guilty if we take breaks ourselves. We need to prioritize the benefits of switching off.
Success is important. But so are meaning and a sense of belonging.
The Olympic Games are based on three core values: Excellence, Friendship, and Respect. After the Rio Games, countries around the world greeted their Olympic medalists with joy and acclaim. In Singapore, Joseph Schooling, the city-state’s first-ever gold medal winner, has become a national hero; in the USA, the gravity-defying gymnast Simone Biles, with four gold medals, has become the freshest face of the Games. Yet amid all these laurels, it is important to remember the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part.”
Nowhere was this spirit more evident than when New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino were awarded the International Fair Play Committee Award by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for epitomizing the Olympic values of fair play and sportsmanship. During the 5000 meter race, the two women tripped and fell; they helped each other to the finish line, winning no gold, silver, or bronze. Instead, they won a prize that’s only been awarded 17 times in the history of the Games – a prize far more precious than any other medal.
For athletes – and for all of us – it is vital to find meaning and a sense of belonging in what we do. A strong sense of solidarity contributes to improved physical and mental health. It brings people together, creates a sense of community, and makes us believe that others are there for us. This belief gives us a profound feeling of security and improves our overall well-being.