Imagine being able to do a handstand. Imagine being able to do a handstand and hold it… steady. Imagine being able to do a handstand, and hold it steady in front of hundreds of spectators. Imagine being able to do a handstand, hold it steady in front of hundreds of spectators while hovering 10 meters above a pool. Then giving a flick of your legs followed by a dive like this. I know I can’t do a handstand on dry land with no one watching, unless my feet are leaning against a wall.
I am 100% confident that champion Canadian divers Meghan Benefeito and Roseline Filion won’t ever be going head to head with me for a medal. Competing in the synchronized 10-metre platform diving, indeed in any synchronized or team sport, you have the support of your teammates, and the added pressure of potentially letting them down. Kind of like a family. Filion, quoted in the National Post said, “I’m so pissed. I’m so mad at myself. This week, it was going so well. I had a bit of trouble in training (Monday) morning. But in competition you can never rely on practice. I was still hopeful I could do well.” Yet still, she carried on (and they won gold).
One of the most extraordinary stars of the game has been seventeen-year-old American gymnast Rachel Gowey. In her beam final, she fell off. Twice. She did not cry or scream. She did not blame her coach or run away in tears. She took a deep breath, refocused and got back on the apparatus. Twice. In that moment I imagine her parents’ hearts swelling with pride. According to Reuters, Gowey said, “I just hope I can come back and redeem myself on beam. I really want to show them what I can really do and show them that today was not my day and that I am not usually like this.”
Here’s what we can all take away from fabulous athletes like Benefeito, Filion, and Gowey:
1. If you want something badly enough, you will work for it. Perhaps not to the exclusion of all else, like these elite athletes, but you will show up day after day and develop the habit, or skill, or way of being. Without consistent effort, achieving our goals is unlikely.
2. Focus and clean up your self-talk. We know that a crucial part of any athlete’s success is their laser focus and mental preparations. In The Inside Edge, sports psychologist Dr Peter Jensen emphasizes the necessity of affirmations and imagery. Think about what you want. Visualize what you want. Create affirmations about what you want.
3. Be present and don’t compare. The ability to concentrate on the moment at hand is vital. If Rachel Gowey was peeking over her shoulder at what another athlete was doing on the bars or the vault, she would not be fully concentrating on her own routine. Comparison is a losing game. Observation of others is purely to learn from them and be inspired by them.
4. Take ownership and hit reset. We all screw up. We all have off days. There is a difference between beating ourselves up with shame or humiliation and assessing our mistakes. Sound bites from athletes often include statements like those from Filion and Gowey where they address their blunder with humility and then return to training. Take stock, take a breath, and return to your own training, whatever that may be.
5. Enjoy the journey. Many of these athletes have been training for years, some for decades. Early mornings (and late nights) in the gym or in the pool, on the track or on the slopes. Although their ultimate goal may be the Olympics, there are countless small victories along the way – finally nailing that skill that seemed so impossible; beating your own best time a little more each month. Celebrate the small victories and enjoy the process.
To the athletes competing at this year’s Pam Am and Para Pam Am games, I am humbled by your grit, your dedication, and your fierce determination. Best of luck.