I have to admit, I was surprised Tokyo decided to go ahead with the Olympics, as well as sceptical that they would be as magical as usual given all the restrictions. With empty stadia and athlete’s families stuck back home, Tokyo 2021 was never going to be the same as the Olympics we’re used to.
However, having been equally hooked to watching as in previous years, dare I say they actually felt more intense, more emotional than usual, certainly special. I know I found them every bit as inspiring.
What was particularly striking about the Tokyo Olympics, was that without exception, all the athletes shared stories of extreme resilience.
With pent up emotions not only for the Olympians, but also their families and teams. As well as the spectators. We all needed to believe, hope and dream again and I think they helped us do exactly that.
The learnings are in the journey, not the destination.
– author unknown
It’s a bit of a joke in our family that I like the interviews in TV sport as much as the events themselves! As in life, the process is invariably where most learnings occur. The medals are simply the outcome of days, weeks, months and years of doing certain things in certain ways.
So, having listened closely to the journeys behind these incredible human performances, here are 8 learnings that many of us could take away and apply to our own aspirations and projects.
8 life lessons from Tokyo 2021 Olympians
1. Love what you do.
If we could put passion in a bottle, I reckon it would look like 13-year-old bronze medalist skater Sky Brown. Her love of the sport beams through her contagious smile. Skateboarding has become even cooler than it was before (and definitely includes girls.)
2. Hold the vision.
I love hearing how speechless medal winners are when their dream comes true. “I’ve seen this for years,” exclaimed BMX cyclist Charlotte Worthington, as she added that she has “Gold at Tokyo” written on her fridge.
3. Surround yourself with a great team.
All the athletes, without fail, thanked their team. These were fellow athletes for some, friends and family for others. Most mentioned their great, experienced coach (who are usually the ones jumping up and down on the sidelines and the first person the athlete hugs!) They couldn’t do it without the team being behind them. They likely wouldn’t see their blind spots or full potential. They wouldn’t believe in themselves. Wouldn’t put it all together in time. But with their coach and team, it all becomes possible.
4. Have ways to handle and optimise pressure and stress.
The pressure will at times be intense. New parent and swimming medalist Adam Peaty, explained it’s all a balancing act. As a father, he actually finds it easier to ‘switch off’ because he has someone else’s needs to focus on periodically. Gymnast Simone Biles, bravely found that her way was to actually not perform in some of her major events.
5. Have bucket loads of perseverance and determination.
There will inevitably be challenges. Every interview involved setbacks and moments that seemed like failures. Sky Brown fell in her first 2 runs before pulling off her winning round.
6. Remember your why.
Most Olympians start their chosen sport for pure joy and passion. They simply love the way it makes them feel. Gradually, this often evolves to inspiration too. They not only want to be their best, they desire to inspire others. The parents amongst the competitors hope to inspire their kids to know they can do anything they put their mind to.
7. Mindset matters, enormously.
Everyone had a far less than ideal preparation phase for these Olympics. All had to adapt their training. Veteran Olympian Linford Christie spoke about the mind games that Olympians have to master: “I wasn’t the fastest man on the track, I just made everyone else believe I was,” he shared on the BBC.
8. Be brave, courageous and vulnerable.
I credit vulnerability expert Brené Brown for explaining how these 3 attributes come together. Once you know that, it’s easy to spot. It’s courageous to put yourself on the world stage, it’s also brave and vulnerable. Full credit to Simone Biles, who was incredibly brave, courageous and vulnerable to come back for her final performance, having withdrawn from her earlier events with the ‘twisties.’ I think we all appreciated this so much more given her vulnerability about the mental block she was experiencing.
We might not all have Olympic aspirations, but most of us want to show up as our ‘best self’ in life, at work, in our recreational sport or as parents. These Olympians have taught us skills to do this and so much more.
We must never underestimate the power of sport. It brings so much more than physical excellence.
Whilst it’s easy to focus on the medal charts, the real value of the Olympics to those they inspire and particularly our next generation, is priceless. Boxing Olympian Nicola Adams, shared how boxing had completely changed the trajectory of her entire life. Countless others describe how the discipline of sport saved them heading down the wrong path.
These Olympic legends have reminded us about how incredible human beings are. How beautifully our bodies move. How strong we can be both physically and mentally. Our potential. What we’re capable of achieving with self-belief, determination and training.
Thank you Tokyo 2021 and to all the amazing athletes worldwide, who rose to the challenge and did all they needed to do to get there. We all needed this. I’m already excited about Paris, aren’t you?
Sally Dibden is a Physiotherapist, Health and Performance coach and creator of HER™ — an online coaching programme designed specifically to support driven women to optimise their energy, hormones and minds.To receive Sally’s free quick state shifter PDF guide & workshop, do register HERE.