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The 3 attributes of champions


What differentiates Olympic medallists from their 8th place finisher counterparts? Are they faster, stronger or maybe just physiologically ‘better’? Not according to Ben Hunt-Davis, Olympic Gold medallist, motivational speaker and co-author of the best-selling book ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’.

He contends that Olympic champions possess 3 key attributes. They each have the unique ability to:
1) Focus on the goal
2) Continuously strive to improve and challenge how they do things
3) Work with others

The head of British rowing used to measure the rower’s ability based on 8 physiological measures. For example, speed over 2000m, VO2max and explosive strength. The 4- boat in Sydney (the one where Steve Redgrave won his 5th Gold you know) each achieved the targets for all of the 8 criteria. The 2- each just about made all 8 targets. Ben’s boat, the 8+, achieved 8 targets too....between the whole crew!

So it was simple. They didn’t have the 8 best (physiologically speaking) rowers in the world, so they had to call upon something else. Fortunately for them, because they either possessed or developed the 3 key attributes above, that didn’t matter. They were still able to achieve their Crazy Goal.

Focus on the goal: being crystal clear on the goal, working out what was in it for them and aligning all of their efforts gave them the best chance of success. Their one central question was always ‘will it make the boat go faster?’. What’s more important, being right…or making the boat go faster? Everything came down to making the boat go faster, because that’s what they needed to do to achieve their Crazy Goal of Olympic Gold.

Continuous improvement and challenging how they did things: Ben’s crew developed a learning culture, a culture of testing and challenging all they set out to do. In 1998 in the World Cup Cologne Regatta they came 7th so they had a long way to go to move up the ranks and put themselves in contention to win that Gold in 2000. They constantly experimented and challenged how they did things, always questioning ‘is this the best way?’ and of course, ‘will it make the boat go faster?’. They didn’t just challenge how they did things though, but also actually what they did. For many years they were under the wrong assumption that they could row. Well of course they could row, they’d competed in the World Championships and the Olympics. But in 1998 they started off again and focused on the tiniest details to make sure they could row better. What could you improve? Changes can be hard and for Ben and the crew they were uncomfortable, but ultimately they made the boat go faster- so surely it was worth it?

Working with others: using the resources around them was essential to their development. If you know what you want to achieve, then ask the question: whose help do you need to achieve it? Every Olympian will agree, as was highlighted so many times on Sports Personality of the Year 2012, it’s not just about them, but the team they have around them, the support from family, friends as well as their coaches and sport science support. To reach your best, you need to work with those around you. In your team have you ever had the opportunity to help someone, but didn’t? Tried to prove someone else wrong? Most of us have, but is that really helpful? They are on your team, even if you don’t like them you still have to trust and respect them because if you want to win, they have to win too, and if they lose, of course…you will lose too! It’s that simple. So help your team out, it’s going to help you achieve your Crazy Goals too!

How do people achieve great things? Many do have a unique gift, but for most of us, we’ll only get so far without incredible focus, continuous improvement and the ability to work extremely well with others. Next time you set yourself a goal, maybe you could consider the 3 characteristics of Olympic Champions.

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Stephanie Dearing

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