Ah sport! There are so many powerful lessons to be distilled from the trials and tribulations of elite sports stars in any discipline. It’s why the majority are fascinated and interested in the goings on. Guts, grit, defiance, devotion, discipline, are some of the reasons elite sports can be fantastically hypnotic. But let’s look a little closer at some of the big lessons so far from the world of elite sports performers.

Here are my top 6:

Lesson 1: Don’t forget who you are.

The Open, Royal Birkdale. I have to start with the British Open and after a dreadful start Rory McIlroy was suffering until his caddy –JP- issued this comment “You are Rory McIlroy –what the f*** are you doing?” After this critique Rory rallied up the field and ended up finishing 4th overall.

The lesson: Sometimes we forget what we are good at. Isn’t it true? We don’t focus on our strengths and our mental games and confidence seem to decrease in their impact and power. We forget that we have got where we are by being true to “ourselves”. So be epic – remind yourself that you are capable of exceptional – be like Rory and turn on that legendary “you”.

Lesson 2: Never Give up.

Superbowl, USA. My second lesson from sport this year is from the Superbowl. The grand showcase of the $9BN industry that is American Football or NFL – this year saw the Atlanta Falcons lead for 59 minutes. For 45 minutes they dominated a fantastic New England Patriots side. Leading 28-9 into the final quarter. The Falcons lost to a Patriots team that never gave up and the Patriots went onto win 34-28. Tom Brady, quarterback supremo for the patriots, set a Superbowl record for passing yards and sealed his legacy as an all-time great. Oh and there was extra time for the first time in Superbowl history. A great grit story.

The lesson: Never give up, even when you think the conclusion looks certain… Don’t fold. You never know how much extra time will be added. Be plucky and brave. Keep on keeping on…

Lesson 3: Have a hunger for Humility. Act like a champion always.

Wimbledon, London. Yes that nostalgic time of the year that reminds us of when we were kids mowing lawns and making nets, and challenging anyone with a racket to a game on the fresh cut grass- only for the game to be stopped– (due to rain- the only curse of an Irish childhood!). This year didn’t disappoint with Federer again proving that 36 year-old elite athletes still have a lot to offer. GOAT (Greatest of all time?), perhaps. But the real lesson was with Venus Williams and Garbiñe Muguruza. Securing only her second Grand Slam singles title, Muguruza beat Williams well 7-5, 6-0. This did not stop the 5 time- yes 5 time- Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams being so humble in defeat. As another legend, Billie-Jean King said: “A champion is afraid of losing, everyone else is afraid of winning.” Williams, however showed being a winner is more important when things don’t go your way. A true champion is a humble one.

The lesson: You can’t beat a touch of class -being humble when most would expect the opposite. Wish everyone who is successful best wishes and be happy for them- even if your hardest competitor just trounced you. Your time will come. Be humble always. And there is no expiry date on Karma.

Lesson 4: Sometimes your critics are wrong.

The British and Irish Lions, New Zealand. As the New Zealand media took unmerciful aim at one of their own –embarrassing head coach Warren Gatland at every turn and reminding the rest of us repeatedly of the un-matched prowess of the New Zealand rugby team – the rest of the rugby spectating world secretly hoped that the critics weren’t going to be proved right. But even the most ardent of supporters knew a 3-0 series win could be on the cards for the mighty rugby men from the ‘Land of long white cloud’.

Not so for the British and Irish Lions squad and management- to be fair a drawn series was a great result (even it was a bit odd to watch a shared cup ceremony) given the time to prepare and the status of New Zealand Rugby and the amount of criticism they received upon arrival. They delivered and nearly…yes nearly… won. (despite only leading for 8 minutes of the 240!)

The lesson: Sometimes in life, our critics are right and sometimes they are wrong. What we shouldn’t shy away from is the lesson we learn from being critiqued. It’s necessary to illicit a higher performance in anything we do. “If you have no critics, you have no success” so said Malcom X. Sometimes it can smash our belief and other times we can smash theirs by just going and proving them wrong…

Lesson 5: Hero to Zero. Always be learning.

Somewhere in Leicester, UK. After a 2016 that saw a fairy-tale season end with an unprecedented premiership title for Leicester. Their manager- Claudio Ranieri- won manager of the year and was heralded as a genius. Then in February 2017, somewhere in Leicester, Ranieri was spectacularly fired. Some influential ex-professionals rallied in Ranieri’s corner. They blamed the players. The fact is Ranieri probably dealt with the team the same way he had in 2016. But things had moved on, he needed to learn from the great year they all had and adapt. He didn’t and paid the price –rightly or wrongly. Best of luck to him in his new role coaching Nantes and fingers crossed he’ll reach the hero status again.

The lesson: Sometimes you will be top of the heap and next minute you won’t. Fact of life. However, if you always approach situations with a learning and positive mind-set, you’ll improve. Set your target on getting better every day at whatever it is you do. Don’t forget the power of emotional intelligence here also! Understanding your emotional impact on others and your own emotions is a first step to keeping relevant or top of that heap, king of the hill, A number 1… you get my point.

Lesson 6: Visualise how extraordinary you want to be. Believe in your-self.

The Open, Royal Birkdale. So there he is. Just 24 years old. Jordan Spieth. A three-shot lead, and then suddenly it all started to go horribly wrong. Just when it all seemed to be crashing in around him, his caddy- Michael Greller- reminded Spieth of a photo he had appeared in a few days previous. In the photo was Spieth, Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. Greller reminded Spieth “You belong in that group.” Spieth went onto eagle, birdie, birdie on the 15th, 16th, 17th to win by 3.

He said in the press conference after: (see further reading for full article)

“I think just a little bit of belief that you are, you know. Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps are the greatest to ever do what they did, and I’m not. But if you believe that you are, then you’re almost as good as being that. And it’s so hard in that situation to believe that, but just having just the slightest bit of belief in it makes you so confident.”

The lesson: As Jack Canfield would say “Act as if”. Believe in yourself, go be extraordinary and watch what happens. Simple really.

In this article I’ll leave the final word to the famous sport psychologist, Bob Rotella. He said

“Believe fully in yourself, so that you can play freely.”

Good advice.

Keep it real.


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