One of the things I teach as a coach, and lecture on as legacy ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust at sport colleges around the UK, is the importance failure plays in both sport and art.
It is a necessary “evil” for any athlete or artist to really grow, mature and reach their full potential. It is important to learn from your failures and mistakes. Often you learn just as much, if not more, from your failures as your successes.
Not to contradict one of Britain’s most famous historical figures, but Winston Churchill’s famous phrase “Failure is not an option” cannot be applied to athletes. For a large part of an athlete’s life is filled with failure and is actually a requirement – failure in competition is always an option. The key thing is that an athlete realizes that failure and failing is part of the learning process, part of the athletic experience and, for that matter, part of life.
In the weight room, an athlete pushes the weight to failure to get stronger. It is required. It is expected. It is science: it is called temporary momentary muscle failure.
High jump, pole vault and Olympic weightlifting competitions almost always end in failure when you win. And in gymnastic competitions the score is almost always less than perfect, less than 10. All you have to do is look back to the 1970’s when Nadia Comaneci’s scored the first perfect 10. It made history because it was unique. It was a first. It had not been done before and it has only been done a few times since.
Two weeks ago, I competed in the javelin throw at my eighth consecutive Olympic Trials when I competed in the 2012 UK Olympic Athletics Trials in Birmingham, aged 50. I smashed a 24-year-old world age group record by over seven metres with a throw of 72.78m and came second, becoming the oldest medalist since 1936! All in all a good day’s work at the office or was it?
While I achieved everything I had set out to do, I was beaten and did not get the A standard that is required to make the Olympic Team. Therefore, one could make the argument that I failed, as I did not win and did not make the team.
It is all a matter of perception and expectation. If the only purpose of competing is to win then most of us are going to be continually disappointed, so why bother even competing?
So while failure is an important component of an athlete’s journey, setting realistic goals and expectations is also key to becoming successful and reaching your full potential. Whether an athlete’s goal is to make the Olympic team, win a medal or just do their best on the day and take part. After all isn’t that what sport and especially the Olympics is ultimately all about: “the taking part”, “doing your best”? Isn’t that what Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, envisioned for the Games?
As I have aged my goals and expectations have changed and so has my motivation. I can’t do what I used to do and I can’t do all the things I want to do. So I adapt, modify my approach and make the necessary physical and mental changes. If I didn’t I would utterly and completely fail and that wouldn’t be good.
I have always been told people fall into two categories, you are either a positive or negative person – you see a glass of water as either half full or half empty. With the experience I have had being on this planet for half a century and competing for 40 years, I would have to disagree with this statement now. It is incomplete. I would say that there is another category, which is for the people who are happy there is a glass with some water in it. This last category is a group I would now put myself in. I am just happy to still be out there competing. Trust me, I savour every moment.
So as we watch the 2012 Olympics in the days ahead, I hope we enjoy and celebrate the athletic accomplishments that we see – and don’t see for that matter – and realise the athletes are giving it their all, doing their very best. They have had to overcome many failures along the way to get there. Don’t get too wrapped up in the medal count for that distorts the real Olympic experience, the human experience. There will be some great successes, but also some notable failures and disasters on the field of play and in the battle of competition and we should give all the athletes our full positive support. We, the spectators and fans, cannot fail to do this. That is our unwritten role. Don’t fall into the negative pessimistic role as individuals or as a collective.
The world’s biggest sporting event – the Olympics and Paralympics – are about to begin. Let’s enjoy and celebrate that. It is in Britain, on our home turf. We won the bid to host the games. We did not fail. Now let’s make sure we don’t fail to support our athletes, coaches and organizations to make this truly “the best games ever.”
Roald Bradstock represented Britain in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and in 1996 was an alternate for the United States Olympic team. Bradstock competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 United States Olympic Trials. He has now switched his allegiance back to Britain. In addition to being an Olympic athlete, Bradstock is also an Olympic artist dubbed “The Olympic Picasso” and was named the United States Sports Academy’s 2003 Sport Artist of the Year.
Insidethegames.biz is a blog of the London Games organizing committee. This article is reprinted here with permission of the editors. Readers can follow articles on the blog by going to http://insidethegames.biz.