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Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Olympic Ideal

The Olympics are well under way, and medals have already been awarded.  Looks like these Games will be remembered favorably.

This would be a fine opportunity to remember the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC and of the modern Olympic Games.  He is quoted as saying:

"The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."

Given how advanced each athlete must be at their chosen event, it's obvious that every Olympic athlete would have had to earn several triumphs in order to compete to begin with.  Nevertheless, the Baron's philosophy still holds water. 

Too many people think that winning is all that matters, and nothing less is acceptable.  To adopt this as your reality means you have committed yourself to the self-fulfilling failure known as perfectionism, which is a complete fallacy.  Winning is obviously the goal of every game, sport, endeavor or venture that is undertaken.  But that doesn't mean that you can never lose, and it doesn't mean that losing is a failure in and of itself.

The Baron didn't say this directly, but since he was an educator, I think he may have been implying that to lose is to learn a lesson.  It is only from failures and setbacks that we learn about ourselves. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience must follow from bad judgment. Also, to know that you've given everything you could give towards your goal is already a victory, even without the prize being awarded.

Maybe he was also implying that even when you perform your best, your opponent might still know something you don't, may still be a little faster or stronger than you, or maybe just wants it a little bit more than you do.  Given that, there's a chance that your opponent might win and you might lose, but that doesn't mean you give up the ship so soon.  You still play as hard as you can, and go for a win anyway.  Even if you come away with the silver medal, even the winner gets all the "spoils," and even if the crowd forgets your name as soon as they leave the arena, you still know deep down that you've won anyway

The quote, "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" was incorrectly attributed to Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame football coach.  This was later found to be incorrect because Lombardi did not want his players to rely upon opponents' mistakes to coast their way to "ugly wins."  He actually told his players that nobody can achieve perfection, but "when we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."  This means that you prepare the best way you can, train as hard as you can, and envision yourself winning, even if you might not. 

Record books and historians are not kind to those who don't win, but you still can be.  Maybe there's a game that you've played recently that did not result in the victory you wanted.  Maybe there's a prize you wanted that went to someone else.  Or maybe there was something that you wanted so bad that you did everything to get it, and you still failed somehow.  Forget that result, and congratulate yourself on what you did to try to achieve it.  You did everything in your power to get it, and it simply wasn't meant to be. 

Don't post-mortem.  Don't second-guess.  And PLEASE do not beat yourself up no matter how bad you feel!  That was your opponent's job, and they've finished doing it.  They won a prize for it, but  you won't!  Why add to their work at your own expense?

So even though we all want Team USA to win gold in just about everything, they won't.  And even if some of our athletes are not on the highest rung of the medal stand, remember their efforts anyway.  The fact that they competed for our country to begin with already makes them winners.  And don't forget those athletes from other nations who complete against Team USA -- they might not all be NBA All-Stars, but they've made it their central goal to win anyway.  Respect that.

Enjoy the Games, peeps.  Comments welcome.