By Steven Zunich
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan, 2-Time Olympic Gold Medalist and 6-Time NBA Champion
This week marks the scheduled start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The world watches the pageantry of the Olympic games with an anticipatory excitement unlike few other worldwide events. The athletes that compete in the Olympics inspire us on multiple levels. The compelling competition is often packed with drama and emotion, and we find ourselves cheering on the contestants for a variety of reasons. The most fascinating stories tend to involve a mishap or injury or just some twist of fate that determines the outcome. After all, only one competitor takes home the Gold.
Michael Jordan is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, who is even better known for his contributions in winning six NBA Championships for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Many think of Jordan as the ultimate champion in sports, an almost infallible legend (sans that baseball sidebar). What is not associated with him, though demonstrated in his quote above, is that he is someone clearly aware of his own failures.
The ability to fail, to learn from those failures and drive forward to success is a great part of what makes watching athletic competitions so fascinating. The Olympics capsulizes its participants’ life of grueling work and preparation, allowing the final round to be played out over two weeks. And victory or defeat is decided in an instant, in front of an international audience of over 3 billion people.
There are so many lessons we can learn from these Olympians. Parallels we can draw on in our own success and failures and are attributes found in many entrepreneurs.
The intense focus in practice, before the event and during the competition are all necessary in business, as well as athletics. Focus is required in good times and bad. It’s especially important when the naysayers are telling us we can’t do it.
Olympians practice for years (often for decades) in an effort to achieve their goals. With few exceptions, practice is required to succeed in your industry and necessary to both make it to the top, and to stay there.
3. Rehearse Your Victories
Visualization is an extremely effective tool when it comes to staying on path and creating future success. In several interviews, Michael Phelps, 23-time Swimming Gold Medalist, shared his “secret” of visualizing his victories before they happened. See your future, be your future.
As Michael Jordan pointed out, there will be many failures and they will likely outnumber the victories. These failures are also the gateway to future successes. It is important to press on, and to do so tenaciously. The road to victory involves grit, not quit.
5. It Takes a Team
No one can achieve success alone. Whether competing in a team sport or as an individual, no athlete succeeds in a vacuum. Coaches, trainers, parents, siblings and scores of others are involved in helping an athlete do what they need to do to earn the right to compete in the Olympics, let alone bring home a medal. Entrepreneurs need a team, too. And those who attempt to go it alone usually don’t achieve the desired success.
Even the not-so-interested sports spectator is drawn to the stories that unfold in the Olympics. But why? Nike founder and author of 2016’s best seller “Shoe Dog”, Phil Knight, encapsulates the allure of the Olympics in particular, and sports in general.
“…sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that mystics talk about.”
– Phil Knight
Knight is, in many ways, forever linked to Jordan, who was the face of Knight’s iconic Nike brand during its ascent to the top in the 1980s and 1990s. Knight perfectly states exactly why we identify with world class athletes and elite competition, even though most of us will never perform at these levels. Our spirits converge and transfer into a mystical oneness as athletes put themselves on the line on the worldwide stage. It’s an extreme version of the simpler day-to-day heroism we all engage in by running our businesses, doing well at our jobs, and raising our children.
Like Jordan, Knight documents his struggles to create Nike against all odds in his book “Shoe Dog”. Before the Nike domination in the sports marketing landscape with the famous “Air Jordan” and “Just Do It” ad campaigns, Nike’s beginnings were incredibly humble and filled with seemingly impossible challenges. Drawing similarities between business and sports, Knight offers these top 5 takeaways.
1. Assemble A Tremendous Team
Number 5 on the list of what businesspeople can learn from Olympic athletes is number one on this list. Shoe Dog recounts how Knight assembled a small group of passionate teammates to grow Nike. An avid runner, Knight brought in his track coach as an early partner and a friend with a neurotic drive to sell the shoes that Knight imported from Japan.
Knight repeatedly jumped into situations that he, and later his company, were not prepared for. Psychologists actually have a term for this behavioral pattern. It’s referred to as the “growth mindset”. Embracing challenges or failures, persisting through obstacles and learning through criticism are all needed to move forward toward your goals and dreams.
3. Maintain Focus on The Goal
The ability to focus forward will help you ignore the naysayers and the speed bumps that inevitably impede progress. Knight and his team were all athletes or, at least, avid sports fans with experience in keeping their collective eyes on the prize. Shoe Dog shows us how Knight and his team never lost focus, regardless of how often or how close they came to going under. This undeterred focus is credited as one of the main reasons the company found its way to the top.
4. Find and Follow Enthusiasts
Find positive people who believe in what you are doing and surround yourself with them. Knight grew his business in the beginning in great part because he was a runner and he found other runners who wore his shoes because they were better than what was available previously. Enthusiasm builds on enthusiasm.
5. Never Give Up!
Cash flow, lawsuits, and government regulation on both sides of the Pacific were all obstacles Knight encountered as he was trying to build his Nike business. His perseverance and willingness to fight back against all opposition kept his company afloat through the hard times and ultimately enabled Nike’s rise to the top.
Focus, teamwork and perseverance are the main attributes shared by successful world class Olympic athletes and entrepreneurial business owners.
As we head into the games of the 32nd Olympiad, more commonly referred to as the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, let’s look at the top five Olympic athletes who persevered over the course of multiple Olympic Games’ defeats before finally earning their Gold Medal podium moment. Grit, determination, focus, failure, practice and tenacity are all qualities that are required to triumph in athletics and in business. Seeing the joy expressed by these amazing athletes after finally accomplishing their goal makes it all worth it.
# 5 – Katinka Hosszu – Swimming – Hungary
First Olympics 2004, First Gold Medal 2016 (12 Years)
# 4 – Dan Jansen – Speed Skating – USA
First Olympics 1984, First Gold Medal 1994 (10 Years)
# 3 – Nick Skelton – Equestrian – Great Britain
First Olympics 1988, First Gold Medal 2012 (24 Years)
# 2 – Katerina Neumannova – Cross Country Skiing / Mountain Biking – CZE
First Olympics 1992, First Gold Medal 2006 (14 Years)
#1 – Oscar Figueroa – Weight Lifting – Columbia
First Olympics 2004, First Gold Medal 2016 (12 Years)