Lessons from the crying games

August 25th, 2012

I was glued to the Olympics, (just one of the many advantages of being self-employed and working from home!). I have loved watching the fantastic sporting achievements but I have also been fascinated by the personal stories behind the athletes performances. It got me thinking about what lessons we can all take from the Olympics; these are my personal reflections.

Determination and self belief; often against all odds – I have to mention two examples here, Oscar Pistorious and Laura Trott. The former had not only overcome his disability in spectacular style but he has also successfully fought the system and become the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympics. His achievement was marked by Kirani James (who went on to win gold) swapping his name badge and number with Oscar after the heats and stating that “competing against Oscar is a huge honour”.

Laura Trott won two golds in the cycling. That is an amazing achievement in itself but when you learn that she was born with a collapsed lung, took up cycling when advised to keep fit and is sick after every race it is an even more outstanding achievement.

These and many other examples illustrate that anything is possible given enough self belief and determination.

Dedication – Again there are numerous examples of dedication over many years; indeed all the athletes who competed will have worked incredibly hard just to get there which is an amazing achievement in itself. One example of how hard work and dedication do eventually pay off was Katherine Grainger who had won silver three times previously and almost quit after Beijing four years ago. Oh, and by the way in her spare time she is completing a PhD.

Dealing with disappointment and failure – There were many of these, and many were heartbreaking. The stand out moment for me however was the way Victoria Pendleton dealt with the disqualification during the team sprint event. She was so stoical and gracious in the way she spoke it was inspirational. I cannot begin to imagine how such a disappointment must feel after years of hard work but this was a fantastic reminder that the way that we deal with failure is what marks people out as being great and that we learn so much more from our failures than from our successes.

Emotional – It never ceases to amaze me how I always blub at seeing individuals reactions to receiving their medals or achieving a great performance. One particular moment that got me this time around was Gemma Gibbon who achieved silver in the judo. On beating her opponent for silver she looked upwards crying and mouthed “thank you mum”. Her mother had died 8 years earlier and it had been Gemma’s dream to win an Olympic medal since the age of 8. This is just one example of many emotional moments for me and for those taking part (and all others watching perhaps?).

Seeing Steve Redgrave blub on a fairly regular basis was also moving and a reminder that showing our emotions and sometimes our vulnerability is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Support of others – Many of the athletes families have been interviewed and what is clear is how much the parents have dedicated themselves to support their children and how much their success means to them. Chad Le Clos’ father’s amazing reaction when his son beat Micheal Phelps is a case in point. We all need the support of others, whether it be friends, family, supporters or coaches; those who have belief in us and to help us through those moments when we doubt ourselves and help us to achieve our potential. Behind each personal achievement is a team of supporters and professionals with whom the successes are shared and whose contribution should be recognised.

Engagement – The role played by the 70,000 volunteers was inspired and amazing. I was privileged to go to see the sailing in Weymouth and their help and genuine enthusiasm was infectious. We were also helped to find our way out of Gatwick airport yesterday by the volunteers now working for the Paralympics; again they were absolutely fantastic. In my mind it goes to show what can be achieved when people are really engaged and passionate about what they do and that this has absolutely nothing to do with money or benefits. I do hope that employers can learn lessons from this by understanding the benefits that true engagement brings and that the time and effort necessary to achieve it is well worth it.

It’s never too late to have a go – Four years ago, Helen Glover had not even been in a boat. In 2008 she saw and answered an advertisement for tall people to come forward and four years later she has a Gold medal. Just goes to show what can happen if you grasp opportunities and go for it.

Creativity and celebrating differences – I was very sceptical at the start but ultimately the opening ceremony showed our British sense of humour and eccentricity brilliantly; my favourite bit being the part played by the Queen. The success of the ceremony demonstrated that creativity, doing something different, celebrating differences and having some fun is what can set you apart from others. This is something that we should all strive to achieve in what we do

Positive thinking – There are many more examples of stellar performances throughout the Olympics and this selection is not to diminish all those other achievements or the success of the whole event, of which we should be very proud. Perhaps the final lesson should be holding on to the feel good factor the games have generated and become more positive about our abilities rather than our traditional British habit of focusing on the negatives.

The only way I could cope with the gap left by the end of the Olympics was to go on holiday. Now that I am back I can look forward to the Paralympics; lets hope Team GB has great success here too. Whatever the results there will undoubtedly be many more inspiring stories and achievements to learn from and celebrate.

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