“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better
than a hundred teaching it.”~Knute Rockne
I was not an athlete growing up. I longed to be an athlete. My father had won awards for his athletic prowess, following his brothers in all manner of sporting events. But I had team spirit. I cheered my team along. I was hoarse after every sporting event. There was the year when my ‘house’ (which was how we competed in school, we were assigned into houses upon entry into high school) did not have enough volunteers for sports day. To make sure that we were represented, I volunteered and trained for the 100 yard dash. Or the 100 meters, I can’t remember if we were metric at the time. Evening after evening I trained in the hot sun, stretching and sweating and putting out all of my effort for Harvey House. On the day, I lined up and set off with the rest. For the first 60 yards I was neck and neck with the rest of the pack. Then, legend has it, I began to back pedal, seeming to go into reverse as the rest of the pack continued to the finish line ahead of me. Over forty years later there are still ‘friends’ who delight in reminding me of that day!
There are those who tell us that effort and determination are crucial to success. Genius is one part inspiration and ninety-nine parts perspiration (or so said Thomas Edison, who was given credit for inventing the light bulb, but perhaps that was more of a team effort than we have been told!). Success definitely requires more than flashes of inspiration, or moments of excellence. We rarely think about the discipline and pain that go into the training of an athlete. And although some are very well compensated, there are many who do not make a living at their sport, and have to work a regular job while training in their free time.
We have been well entertained by these latest Olympic Games. They have given us much to talk about, and to feel proud of, as we watch the ten seconds of performance in a sprint, or the heart stopping tension of the gymnasts. It is amazing to think of the degree of perfection that is demanded in some of the sports. Imagine being judged at your ability to match your every move exactly to your partner’s dive. Imagine leaping off a balance beam and performing a gravity defying twirl in the air and then landing perfectly back on that beam. Imaging being on the Olympic stage, stumbling and causing another racer to fall, and then both of you helping each other to make it to the end of the race.
Some of the Olympic adventures have provoked a whole line of comedy all by themselves. There are endless photos with amusing captions for those less than successful. Or those who won the race, but in a less than perfect way. We saw jokes about sprinters who thought they were in a diving competition. Or the sprinter who tried to get gold by diving, but leading with her head, not her chest. Who knows what it feels like, to have to perform at your physical and mental peak in this way? Certainly not most of us, who can have an off day at work without the whole world knowing it and replaying it and making it go viral.
What does it take to put yourself on the line, time and time again? A few years ago I heard a study which showed that successful athletes (in the study they were swimmers) had the ability to tell themselves, and to believe, lies. They were able to believe that they were the best, they could beat everyone else in the race. Of course, they had to train and work and do all of the rest of the boring stuff that goes into maintaining yourself in the best condition. But above all else they had to believe that they could do it.
One of the early criticisms of Bolt was that he didn’t act like other athletes at the start of the race. He didn’t appear to be focused, to be blocking out all of the outside distractions while preparing for his race. Instead, we have seen him clowning around with the crowd, being joyful and appearing loose. He believes he is going to win, so he does not have to spend those last minutes convincing himself.
As I watched the sprint/dive this week, and learned about the ‘torso’ rule (I have to admit that I am not a diehard sports fan. Like those ‘one day Christians’, I tend to watch only the big events), I thought about what lies inside. In order to be truly successful, these athletes need to ‘get out of their head’, as those self-doubts and distractions can be just as much of an impediment as any physical shortcomings. You can see that the playful Bolt runs from the heart. He loves what he does, and it shows. I am sure that there is plenty of mindwork that has to go on as well; that he has to calculate and measure and intellectually attack his goals. But he demonstrates that if you love what you do, good things will flow to you.
This Friday morning, as we approach the end of another fortnight of Olympic excellence, I hope that you can reflect on what your passion is, what you are prepared to train and sweat and possibly bleed for. I hope that amid the entertainment of these events you have also observed examples of inspiration and brilliance, even if the gold medal was not the prize won. For all of those who put themselves on the line, training in pain, risking all manner of injuries, I hope they feel proud of their efforts. I know I could never have done any of it (I even had a leg cramp in bed this morning!).
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!