Team GB was triumphant, but nothing succeeds like failure
I love the Olympics.
The skill, the speed, the strength of the athletes as they compete is exhilarating.
The emotions when they succeed are overwhelming.
And there’s no doubt this has been a hugely successful Olympics for Team GB – we’re witnessing our most successful away games of all time, having picked up a record 67 medals (including 27 Gold).
But what will its legacy be?
There’s much talk of how it will go on to inspire a future generation to get active, but perhaps a more hidden, but a no less important legacy could be cultivating a more resilient generation.
Many of us tell stories of our school days – being the last to be picked for the sports team, or not making the cut for the choir. I myself was always deployed to shot put. The logic being that we had good chances of victory in other events, but not in shot put, so they put me (4ft 7inches) into the shot, where my negative impact could be contained. Similarly, I made the rounders team only because I was so short I racked up half rounders from all the oppositions’ no balls.
Why is it that such moments from our childhood create these fierce imprints on us? Why do we re-tell them and re-live the trauma? It seems to me that these are actually coded ways of expressing our anxiety about failing. Ways of letting others know we have good reason to be afraid and that’s why we don’t sing, or run, or like maths.
And what we have to understand about these Olympians is how much failure they have had to deal with, how many tennis matches Andy Murray has lost, how many triple bogies Justin Rose has shot, how many videos of bungled dives (into a green pool – another mishap) have gone viral.
The biggest lesson from these Olympics is that training has taught these athletes to fail many times before they succeed.
Being afraid to fail is what prevents many of us from trying something new and so even if we don’t don those trainers and run around the park, buy a trampoline, or dust down that old badminton racket I hope as a result of these Olympics we can all take inspiration from people who have learnt the hard way to put themselves on the line, to give it all they’ve got before they give up, and even in the midst of going for gold, not be afraid to fail.
7 tips for making a success of failure
1. You are not alone: Even seemingly perfect people get things wrong. If they get things wrong, so can we.
2. Have a Goal: Most Olympians know they will never win a Gold, but they dedicate themselves to all the training nonetheless. Set realistic goals that ensure you are enjoying the ride and getting other things out of it too.
3. Success is a spectrum: The British cycling team famously have a principle of marginal gains – improve everything by 2%. This is a more positive way to approach progression than hitting or missing a win or lose target.
4. Take responsibility: The first step to gaining control over errors is admitting they exist.
5. Everyone can succeed, all together, at the same time: As the sage Lena Dunham said in her autobiography “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Look at how Adam Peaty’s Gold went on to inspire other swimmers to exceed their expectations. Winning might be at the expense of others, but success is infectious.
6. Admitting weakness is a sign of inner strength: We all choke, and the person who says they don’t is lying. Be secure in your human imperfection, it’s easier than cultivating an image that can't be maintained.
7. Be nice to yourself: My final and favourite one. During matches, Andy Murray reads notes to himself he’s written prior to the game. The media once spied one of these notes, which read ‘be nice to yourself.’ And for me, this is the key, beating yourself up about a miss-hit affects your performance, but if we forgive ourselves fast, we’ll be all the more brilliant.
- Article by Zoe Fenn