I watched Rock Center with Brian Williams last Thursday night with great anticipation. Their piece on what happens to Olympic athletes after the games had special interest for me as I was curious to see how they would handle the topic.
Would it be all about the glamor and glitz (and money) awaiting athletes like Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Hope Solo, Gabby Douglas, and others whose sports seem more sensationalized by the media, or would they bring into the mix the reality of the majority? You know, those athletes who make all the same sacrifices, put in all the same efforts, yet come away medal-less or participate in less media-friendly sports, thus, making it nearly impossible to pull down the mega-dollar endorsements their counterparts do.
Rock Center did not disappoint as they covered not only Phelps, Lochte, Solo, and Douglas and what awaited them on their return, but also, and in more detail, John Orozco’s experience, and the pressures of possible stardom that went along with his unfortunate mishap.
As a former competitive athlete, gymnast no less, it was obvious to me that there was something outside of gymnastics affecting Orozco (actually the whole men’s team). Something mentally that took away from the necessary pinpoint focus a gymnast must have at the upper levels of the sport in order to compete successfully under such pressure.
And Orozco, at least from his own personal perspective, made strong inference that the possibility of how a financial windfall, and the chance to change his and his family’s lives forever, created added pressure for him. The kind of pressure that does not bode well for that “necessary pinpoint focus” I mentioned above.
You have to ask yourself whether the men’s gymnastics team, in general (and as a team), had their minds on something other than the “task at hand.” In fact, it is a question we might ask about any athlete in any sport when they are unable to compete to expectations on such a big stage. Especially with the amount of time, effort, and repetition they put in to ensure consistent high levels of performance, something that is second nature for upper level gymnasts.
Now don’t get me wrong, athletes do and will make mistakes in performance, it is inevitable and is actually an important part of becoming a champion athlete in any sport. Champions don’t become such just by winning, as any win only represents where they are at that moment in time, and any loss (failure) simply represents their “next step” in order for them to reach their ultimate potential.
The bottom line is this. To be a champion athlete, to outperform your competition on some of the biggest athletic stages there are (state, National, Olympic, professional), you must be laser focused on whatever the task is at hand. And to do this consistently, and to ever have a chance at reaching your ultimate potential as an athlete (and as a person), it is imperative that you keep it all in the proper perspective.
What is that perspective?
That the glamor, glitz, fame, and fortune are simply possible outcomes of the effort, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, passion, heart, etc. that one puts in when on a quest to become the very best that one can be—to reach one’s full potential. Those aforementioned outcomes are extrinsic in nature and are outside of one’s direct control. When those extrinsic outcomes become the focus of why one is competing, trouble usually follows.
And time will tell if Phelps, Lochte, Douglas, Solo, and a handful of others, will be able to keep everything in perspective as they return home to a “hero’s” welcome, bringing with it fame and financial opportunities others only dream of. There are oh so many that don’t seem to get this perception thing as they fall prey to this loss of perspective I speak of and, many times, to a winning at all costs attitude so commonly seen in our sports and youth sports culture.
Yet, this piece would not be complete without mentioning one other focus from that Rock Center show last Thursday night—Missy Franklin’s decision to stay amateur and swim in college. Whether you agree with her decision or not, it seems obvious that this young champion does know how to keep things “in perspective.”
She has decided, at this point, that those extrinsic outcomes (for her) are best kept at a distance for now. That the maturing and personal growth that ultimately come along with a college education and being able to compete for a college team has more “worth” to her at this time in her life. It is the kind of intrinsic worth (value) that no amount of money or fame can buy.
Oh how refreshing that is to see.