Right now, we would be wrapping up the Summer Olympics, and the eyes of the world would be on Tokyo. The Games of the XXXII Olympiad would have consumed us. We would have new heroes to admire, and would be watching the most exceptional athletes in the world pushing the boundaries of human physical achievement. Unfortunately, the coronavirus changed all that, and the organizers had no choice but to postpone the Olympics by a year. As a result, over 11,000 athletes from around the world had their dreams evaporate.
Olympic athletes aren’t alone in having their aspirations suspended. The world of sport (with a few exceptions) has come to a grinding halt. College, high school, and even kids’ sports are nonexistent. Even outside of the sporting world, dreams have been put on hold. Millions of people, including musicians, entrepreneurs, students, and others from every walk of life, have put their dreams on hold for a year or more. In the midst of all this, how can you maintain your peak? How do you emerge exceptional when things return to “normal.”
Athletes who have been preparing for this year’s event are struggling emotionally. Primarily because what they face is the lack of closure. They will never get to test on a world stage how good they were, and how well prepared they were. Would they have medaled or not is a question that will never get answered? One thing we know for sure is that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will crown a different set of medalists next year.
What’s a finely tuned athlete supposed to do? Peak again for next year? It’s not that easy because every single variable that has gone into excelling for the Olympics has changed. For some athletes, things have changed for the better, but for others, things have taken a negative turn.
For many athletes, this was their last shot; they will not be competitive a year later. Some older athletes have already announced their retirement, while others haven’t announced it as yet, but know in their heart this was their final shot. Each sport has its age-window for excellence. Gymnasts, divers, and swimmers are among the youngest participants, whereas athletes participating in equestrian events, shooting, sailing, and biking are at the older end of the spectrum. Every athlete knows you can’t win against time.
Becoming an Olympic athlete is not a one-year affair; it is a decade’s long endeavor. But despite every other element of performance being in flux, the one thing that every athlete could count on was that the Olympics would happen every four years; and they would need to show up in peak form. This is the one constant that keeps the most elite athletes on track.
When this fundamental bedrock changes, you can’t adjust on the fly; you need to reset and start from the beginning. When the postponement was announced, most athletes stated that they are planning on giving their bodies a well-deserved break, and then resume preparations with 2021 in mind. But this approach of resting, and resuming may not be enough. Here are four things that every athlete, and anyone whose aspirations are put on hold, should consider:
Develop a New Plan, don’t just modify your old plan
You have to start with a clean sheet and build out a new one-year plan that takes you from today to next year. Write down your new goals (which may be the same as your old goals), but more importantly, write down what you are willing to do over the next twelve months to prepare for next year’s Olympics. How badly do you still want it? Are you ready to endure the same sacrifices you have made so far?
Ask yourself if you benefit from the extra training time? The one-year postponement appears to favor the youth, the ones who are still capable of getting better. Are you one of them, or are you on the other side of the hill? This will inform your one-year preparation plan. Knowing what we know about the human body, you can very likely maintain your level of excellence for another year? But you need to be honest with yourself because how you prepare over the next year may be different from how you have come this far.
Build a positive environment
It’s not just your body and your training regimen that will change. Everything else around you will have changed as well. Your coaches are as impacted by the pandemic as you are, and their world-view, including how they approach your training, will change. There will be a new set of entrants in your sport, and they will raise the bar to a new level. Your access to training facilities may change; your expectations from yourself and your motivation may become impacted. When everything around you changes, you need to learn to adapt.
You may need a complete makeover of your attitude, your goals, your commitment, the people you surround yourself with, and everything else you take for granted to create the positive environment you need to push you forward. If you are in the wrong physical or mental setting, the difficult task of sustaining your excellence for another year will become a lot harder.
Believe you can do it
Just as important as having the necessary physical skills, you need to have the belief in yourself that you can perform at the desired level. Your abilities and self-belief are linked by reciprocal causation, which means the functioning of one depends on the functioning of the other.
You have come this far because you believed in yourself and your abilities. This is the one constant that should not change. Check-in with yourself and determine if you genuinely and sincerely believe you can achieve your goals next year. If you think you can, your skill set will stretch to match your expectation. And if you don’t, you will fail. The famous quote, attributed to Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right,” summarizes this sentiment well.
Eliminate Plan B
It isn’t easy to stay committed for another year, especially when, at the back of your mind, you believe that there is a chance that next year’s Olympics may also be canceled. But the only way to be prepared for next year is to have a full commitment toward a single goal, the 2021 Olympics. To achieve something genuinely extraordinary, you need to have a total and unwavering dedication. You have to go all-in to pursue your dreams without a backup plan. This single-minded focus is a critical component of becoming exceptional in any area, let alone one as demanding as the Olympics.
When you are wholly committed to a goal and have an unwavering focus on achieving it, good things will happen that will help you realize the goal. As the adage goes, when you want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. You will see ideas and solutions everywhere, even where you least expect them. Total commitment primes you for reaching your goal, and everything you see around you is a catalyst that gets you closer to that end.
Apply These Principles to Any Field
While you may not be preparing for the Olympics, the factors we just discussed can help you become exceptional in your field, whatever it may be. These are conditions that are common for extreme success, and while Olympic athletes understand them, applying these factors to your life can make you exceptional and among the best in the world in your activity or profession.