August 8, 2012 Leave a comment
If you’re like me, you’ve been watching a lot of Olympic coverage over the past few weeks. This year, over 10,000 athletes from 205 different countries have converged on London to compete in 300 events.
For many of the athletes, the Olympics is the end of a multi-year journey of training, dieting, more training, self-discipline, and (you guessed it) more training. Depending on what event the athlete competes in, they do all this training for just a few minutes (or just around 10 seconds if you’re Usain Bolt) of actual competition. Needless to say, the stakes are high.
When the Going Gets Tough…
That being said, one of the most depressing things to watch in the Olympics is an athlete who doesn’t finish well. This of course takes different forms: the runner or swimmer who gets off to a big lead right out of the blocks, but fades in the final stretch; a diver who does a back buster; a gymnast who falls off the balance beam; or a tennis player who gets dominated in the final match. The look of disappointment on the faces of athletes who get disqualified or perform poorly is a hard thing to look at.
Olympic athletes aren’t the only ones who have a problem with finishing well. Whether it’s at work, in a relationship with a friend or family member, our faith, or any number of other things, many of us have a problem maintaining the passion, intensity, and desire that allows us to perform at a high level from start to finish. Like sprinters, we shoot out of the starting blocks going full-speed, but then begin to get slower and slower — sometimes even stopping completely.
How to Finish Well
We’ve all been there right? How can a person overcome hurdles (pun intended) they face and finish well? Here some tips gleaned from watching the Olympians compete:
- Set goals
To know where to begin, you have to know where you’re going. Ask any Olympic athlete what their goal is and they will start listing off several things they hope to accomplish (besides the obvious “Win a gold medal!”). For a swimmer like Michael Phelps, goals include: winning gold in a certain event, improving previous time by .10 seconds, setting a new Olympic/World Record, and winning more medals than any other Olympian. With those goals set (probably right after the Beijing Olympics in 2008), Phelps and his coach can begin designing a training program with those in mind. Each day he hops into the pool, those goals are on his mind and drive him.
- Know your strengths
One of my favorite team sports in the Olympics is beach volleyball. Until this year, it didn’t dawn on me just how much strategy is involved. Players have to decide which player on the other team to serve it to, if they should spike it or cut it, and whether to go for the block or play conservative. The two teammates must know their own strengths as well as the strengths of their partner and how they compliment each other. For example, the US men’s team of Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers were playing a match the other day. Dalhausser was struggling, so the other team was picking on him. The team took a timeout to settle down and during it Rogers was coaching and encouraging his teammate. The rest of the set, Rogers worked hard to offset any struggles by Dalhausser and the team ended up winning. In the post-match interview, they both acknowledged their ability to use their unique strengths to succeed as a team.
- Pace yourself
Usain Bolt is so fast it’s dumb. He makes the other men he runs with look like mere children. When he exploded onto the scene in the 2008 Olympics, he set record after record in the 100m and 200m sprints with seeming ease. What’s his secret? He paces himself. Not only does he pace himself against the other racers, but also against his own abilities. This has made him incredibly consistent: he maintains a speed throughout the race, has the ability to add an extra burst of speed at the end if needed, and allows him to break the world record multiple times in a meet because he conserves speed and energy until the final race for the medal (plus I’m sure it helps him get more money from his sponsorship deals that have incentives for breaking records… why break it once, when you can break it multiple times and get paid more?).
- Don’t make excuses
One Olympian in particular caught my attention this summer: Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. If you haven’t heard his story, check him out on Wikipedia. Talk about a guy who didn’t let obstacles get in his way! Instead of using his condition as an excuse, he used it as a motivator to pursue his Olympic dreams. Even though he did not medal this year, he’s a perfect example of someone who didn’t let excuses keep him from finishing well.
One of my favorite quotes on perseverance come from the Apostle Paul who, near the end of his life, wrote this to his successor Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV) This comes from a guy who was hungry, thirsty, stressed, shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, scorned, stoned, and always on the run. He overcame those things to fulfill his mission, not grudgingly, but knowing he finished well.
Whatever event in life you are competing in, or about to begin, apply these principles. Whether you’re facing the 50-year marriage, starting a new company, moving to a new town, raising teenage daughters, working 9-to-5, completing school on time, or a myriad of other examples, persevere and finish well.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
[image credit: Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr]