5 Steps To Achieving An Olympian Mindset

7 minutes

A total of 241 athletes from 14 different countries participated in 9 sports in the first edition of the Olympics in 1896. A hundred and twenty years later, there are 11,239 athletes, from 207 countries are participating in 28 different sports in the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio.

While that is close to a 4500% increase in participation, the total number of participants are still a very small fraction of the world’s population. What sets these people apart from the rest of the world? What has got them to represent their country at the grandest stage of them all?

We went through the lives of the greatest Olympians in the world, and startlingly, there were a few uncanny things that were common among all of them. Yes, they possessed god given talent, but if not for the insane amount of work they put in.

They have achieved an Olympic state of mind and here’s what you need to do to achieve it:

1. Learning from mistakes

Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal during BWF Super Series at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Dec.12, 2013. (Photo: Xinhua)

If there is one thing Olympians do well, it’s learning from mistakes. Legendary basketball player and Olympic gold medalist Michael Jordan is known for this quote –

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Perhaps the foremost important attribute to any kind of success is being able to impassionately self-reflect and see what went wrong. In most cases when athletes fail, they are the first to admit that they made a mistake and they focus on making sure that it never happens again. Be it Saina Nehwal, after her loss in the 2015 world championship finals or even as recent as Vinesh Poghat, who was thrown out for being overweight at the Rio Olympics qualifiers, only to come back and seal her berth a few months later.

According to professor of psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, one of the defining characteristics of Olympic winners is a growth mindset (as opposed to a static mindset), which allows athletes to constantly learn from mistakes.

You can read more about her theory here, but it’s most succinctly described in this infographic –

Image source - Linked
Image source – Linked

2. An incredible work ethic

This video about the 2016 NBA MVP Stephan Curry beautifully describes the need for a phenomenal work ethic for Olympic level capabilities –

Michael Phelps, who has won 18 Olympic gold medals and 22 Olympic medals in all (which is 4 less than what India has won across all the Olympic games), swims over 80,000 meters a week during peak training and has to consume 12,000 calories to sustain it. India’s Olympic gold medalist takes it to a whole new level,  as he tries to sleep amidst red ants to see how long he can hold on, to improve concentration!

We’ve all heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. For Olympians, it’s about putting in more effort than that. You can make an exception with Olympians that they are blessed with innate abilities that make them better than others at a sport.

But talent can only take you so far. The rest of the success is dependent on the hard work they put in.

3. Right Choices

work ethic

Sacrifice is a word that’s loosely thrown around. In their preparation for the biggest competition of them all, athletes sacrifice a lot more than what most would do in a lifetime. Be it following a strict regime or having no free time, right up to spending countless hours away from family, Olympic athletes put everything on the line to be the best at what they do.

Most athletes don’t look at this as a sacrifice.

In this chronicle of interviews with 18 of the greatest athletes in the world, most of them denied sacrificing anything – they only looked at it as a choice they had to make to get better at what they do. A choice to be disciplined. A choice to be excellent at what they do.

The only regret all of them have is not having enough time with friends and family.

Bart Conner, an Olympic gymnast, gold medalist and member of the winning team of the 1984 team puts it in the best way possible. He says –

The key issue is for me is that I never saw any of it as a sacrifice, just choices. So, I never felt that I was missing something, only that I chose something else.

4. They all have great coaches


In the preparation of the biggest sporting event in the world, the athlete’s sacrifice is shared. Be it the families who mold their lives for the convenience of the athlete, or the friends taking the time out to visit practice session, pushing them to do better.

But the success and failure of great athletes have been determined by their choice in coaches. Almost every athlete who has become an olympian will have the guidance and oversight of a coach.

In the case of an athlete, the best definition of a coach is – an instructor, assessor, friend, mentor, facilitator, chauffeur, demonstrator, adviser, supporter, fact finder, motivator, counselor, organizer, planner and the Fountain of all Knowledge. (line credit)

Alan Bronowicz a senior exec at Thomson Reuters puts in very well in his article “Why do professional athletes need a coach?”, where he speaks about the importance of having a coach.

There are 5 key things a coach does for you:

  • Setting a vision
  • Giving you new perspective
  • Challenging your limits
  • Maintaining objectivity
  • For encouragement and motivation

5. Passion


Perhaps the most important attribute of an olympian is an unquenchable passion for their sport. World record holding archer Dietmar Trillus, shares “..knowing what I know now, Yes, I would do it all over again. Not many people can make a living at something they truly love to do and I truly LOVE to shoot a bow!”

You will see top sportsmen from around the world, be it Sachin Tendulkar, who hated going back home at night because he couldn’t play any more cricket, or Cristiano Ronaldo, who is always the first guy in and the last guy out at every training session, to the Indian contingent on their way to the Rio Olympics – they love what they do.


Most life coaches will tell you these same 5 attributes to being successful and content in life. Employers rate sports experience in school and college highly as there’s a higher chance of these values and principles imbibed in those candidates.

I think French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s words are a poignant finish to this article –

Come to the edge

We can’t. We’re afraid

We can’t. We will fall. Come to the edge

And they came. And he pushed them

And they flew.

The olympian state of mind can be achieved by anyone. Speak to our qualified professionals at YourDOST to find the olympian in you!

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