As the Olympics wrap up for 2016 and the sports mad nation of Australia contemplates our successes and misses in Rio I am reminded of one of our great athletes, Ian Thorpe.

As a 3x per week swimmer for 20 or so years, I know a little bit about the black line. About early mornings, and hours and hours that goes into becoming elite. About the team effort required by family, coaches, national support staff. The intensity, pressure, disappointment. That succeeding at the pinnacle on a world stage takes massive time, effort, people, years and certainly luck…for on that day everything needs to line up. Everything.

Saying no to late nights, bad food, drinking, and the usual temptations of 18 to 25 year olds. Every single day a choice. Every single day a focus.

Ian Thorpe kept his big races simple. He had one singular goal. He remained true to that goal under all circumstances. He allowed this goal only to define him. Not medals, not the colour of the medal.

His goal, when he was competing in events that mattered…Olympics, Worlds, selection trials, was to do a PB. (personal best)

That was it. To better, no matter by how many one hundredths of a second, his previous best.

That it was likely this also meant breaking a world record was irrelevant.

If in doing a PB he came last in his event, he could accept that. If it meant bronze, this too was OK.

So often we focus on the wrong things. Or we focus on too many things. This is not to forget the complexity that lives behind the single thing. The many people, the plan, the strategy, the logistics.

We do the work, we spend years refining our craft, we show up, we do our best. And next time, we show up, we do better than our previous best. And when we look at what we have done, we know in our bones that we have exceeded our previous best. And we look in the mirror and like who we are, for we left nothing aside in doing our best.

We might use data about what our ‘competitors’ are doing, not to diminish ourselves, simply to learn and move towards another PB.

And if one day, the desire to do this is no longer there, we step off that path, and perhaps consider a new path, a new apprenticeship, and we start again. One step, best, two steps, better still, three steps…another PB.

It’s the distraction that kills.

What is your singular focus?




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