Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lessons From Harvey

From my email:

Lessons from the Olympics

I just returned from witnessing 17 days of competition at my ninth Summer Olympics. To say it was memorable is an understatement. I watched Michael Phelps win his record eight gold medals, cheered on the "Redeem Team" to basketball gold, shared the excitement of the electrifying upset win by the men's volleyball team, and witnessed the best opening and closing ceremonies in history.

What struck me throughout is what goes into making an Olympic champion—or for that matter a gold-medal winning entrepreneur or manager. Here's my short list:

  • Heart. I recently wrote a column on how heart trumps just about all the other senses when it comes to accomplishing the new and the unknown. There's no denying the heart of a champion. I witnessed the miracle of Rebecca Soni, who came back from heart surgery one year ago to qualify as an alternate for the U.S. women's swim team. When the opportunity arose for her to compete, she proceeded to win a gold medal in the 200-meter breast stroke in world-record time.
  • Determination. An athlete can have the perfect body for a competition or the best coach, but if they don't have a deep-down burning desire to achieve something, they won't accomplish it. Sometimes desire is more important than talent. Determination can turn the ordinary into extraordinary.
  • Dedication. The Summer Olympics happen only every four years, so for the little attention an athlete receives over 17 days of competition, there are many hundreds more days of grinding solitary workouts. There are no shortcuts in the world of sports and life.
  • Goals. Athletes must stay focused on their goals above all else. Truly dedicated individuals won't let anything interfere with attaining their goals. That's why so few people become champions.
  • Preparation. It takes a lot of sweat, sacrifice and discipline to become an Olympic champion. If it were easy to become the best, everyone would do it. No one can do it for them. Perfect practice makes perfect.
  • Confidence. Athletes have to believe that they can win ... that they have done everything in their power to compete at the highest level. There can be no fear of failure. Confidence enables them to perform to the absolute best of their abilities.
  • Concentration/Focus. I love to watch and study athletes as they are getting ready to compete. You can see them running through their races or routines in their heads. Nothing can distract them. (The lone exception was Dara Torres before one of her races when she made everyone wait because a competing swimmer had a torn suit. I guess we could add sportsmanship to the list.)
  • Competition. The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it's competition. It is healthy. It keeps athletes sharp, makes them better and improves quality. Athletes should not only welcome stiff competition, they should actively seek it. They'll never realize their full potential in business or sports unless they're challenged.
  • Mental Toughness. There are many things that can go wrong in life, so athletes must be mentally prepared for whatever happens. Sometimes they have to perform at their best when they're feeling their worst. Champions block out the pain and do what's necessary to win or get the job done.
  • Vision. I learned long ago that projecting oneself into a successful situation is the most powerful means there is of attaining personal goals. Vision doesn't do the planning and it doesn't anticipate the obstacles. It gives a real idea of what is possible, if only they want it badly enough.
  • Life is not always fair. Sometimes things happen that are out of one's control. Judging can be uneven, conditions may not be perfect and equipment can fail. Champions know how to deal with it.
  • Don't let age be a deterrent. Look at 41-year-old Dara Torres, who proved to be the second fastest woman swimmer in the world and lost by 1/100th of a second. Or how about Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who at age 38 won the women's marathon. And don't forget John Dane III, who at age 58, made the U.S. Olympic sailing team for the first time after trying to qualify for 40 years.
  • Fun. Above all, athletes have to love what they are doing to achieve gold-medal performances. It should be fun. One thing I will take away from the Beijing Olympics is the smile of Shawn Johnson from the women's gymnastics team. She showed unbridled joy, in both winning and losing.

Mackay's Moral: Go for the gold in whatever you do!

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