The World is less than a month away from the 2012 Olympic Games in London and my excitement is steadily growing. While I cannot rightfully call myself a sports fanatic, I always look forward to the Olympic Games. It’s hard to resist the glamor and spectacle of the Opening Ceremonies. The world’s elite athletes step forth into the Olympic Games with flags waving, beaming proudly in anticipation of representing their respective nations in competition. Then, of course, there are the sporting events, the opportunity to share in (at least, vicariously and from the comforts of our own living rooms) an athlete’s moment in time, the culmination of years of hard work, discipline and sacrifice for their sport. Needless to say, I find it all incredibly romantic and awe-inspiring.
In seeing these Olympians, or any great successful athlete, I try to imagine what it must be like to have the drive, the strength and the mastery to scale the heights of their sport. What does it take to become a world class athlete ?
Right now I’m juggling a few books on the subject of great athletes and the success they achieve. I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like into one book in particular, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed but I’m working on it. The author, himself a two-time Olympian and table-tennis champion, offers great insight into what it takes to achieve success and prestige in sports or any other field. Syed illustrates that one must apply “purposeful practice” to his or her craft in order to achieve excellence, with extensive research pointing to a minimum requirement of 10 years to gain mastery of one’s sport or field.
Additionally Syed proposes that natural ability and practice may not be enough to reach the Olympics but that “practically every man or woman who triumphs against the odds is, on closer inspection, a beneficiary of unusual circumstances”, some sort of opportunity or privilege that gives them the edge over their peers. In Syed’s case, for example, his excellence in table-tennis was the result of not only copious amounts of practice and his own propensity for the sport but also of having ready access to practice facilities—a tennis table in his own home and a table tennis club only a few miles from his home. These circumstances, plus having a teacher who was also a table tennis enthusiast and coach, all conspired to make Syed a champion, more so perhaps than his own talent.
While I’m still pouring over Bounce, I’ve since been drawn to another wonderful book on the life and times of one of America’s favorite athletes. For The Love of The Game: My Story is a gorgeous and well-written biography of Michael Jordan, basketball superstar and Olympian. Of all the details of Jordan’s career and various achievements, there was one particular passage which, to me, is very telling of how he rose to the top of his game. Jordan is not only a talented, disciplined and industrious athlete but also he is a visionary of his own success. “I have used visualization techniques for as long as I can remember,” Jordan writes. “It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized the technique is something most people have to learn. I had been practicing the principles naturally my entire life.”
Imagine a young Olympian envisioning her journey from a youth spent practicing her discipline to the moment she reaches the podium, medal draped around her neck and her nation’s anthem playing triumphantly. No matter how these athletes have reached Olympus, the world will be watching. I can’t wait!