07 July 2016

Lessons in high performance: Usain Bolt "... forever cussing my mistakes"

Usain BoltI have just finished reading the autobiography of six-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt (Faster Than Lightning: My Story by Usain Bolt with Matt Allen, HarperSport, 2013). I doubt any readers need an introduction to the 29 year old, Jamaican sprinter however just in case you have been living under a rock these past eight years, let me list a few of his accomplishments:

  • The first man to hold both the 100 metre and 200 metre world records since fully automatic time measurements became mandatory in 1977.
  • He also is part of the Jamaican 4x100m relay team that currently holds the world record in that event.
  • The first man in the modern Olympics to win six gold medals in sprinting.
  • The first man to achieve the "double double" of winning 100m and 200m titles at consecutive Olympics.
  • By winning three gold medals at the 2015 World Championships, Bolt became the first athlete in the 32-year history of the IAAF athletics world championships to complete a "triple triple" making him the most successful athlete at the IAAF championships (11 World Championship titles in total).
  • Five-time IAAF World Athlete of the Year.
  • Three-time Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year.
  • The highest earning athlete in the history of Track and Field (upwards of USD$20 million p.a.)

I have read many, many sports autobiographies and biographies and Bolt's doesn't deviate from the standard formula. It starts with his upbringing in a Jamaican village and progresses through his experiences at school and junior sports before his move into the senior ranks and ultimately the ‘big breakthrough' (in Bolt's case; the 2008 Beijing Olympics).

Bolt details his tough training regime and gives plenty of credit to his coach, Glen Mills for the physical and emotional side of his development.

What is much, much harder to coach is attitude and in that regard Bolt reveals, in Chapter 14 of his book, exactly why he has accomplished more than any other sprinter in the history of Track and Field.

As you might imagine with the standard of sprinting in his home country, the Jamaican Olympic trials are incredibly competitive. In these trials, leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt was not performing at his best. Yohan Blake beat him in both the 100 metre final and the 200 metre final. Bolt was upset.

This is what he wrote in contemplation after the trials were complete:

"... at least I understood why it (the losses) had happened. I'd screwed up my training. I'd convinced myself there was enough power in my engine to win trials without gritting my teeth through The Moment (extreme pain), and the early season strength had gone. I was aware it had been my own fault and that I would be sharper for London, but that didn't make the sensation of finishing second to Blake any easier to swallow."

"I was angry with myself for days afterwards. I had always been a serious self-critic, and whenever I messed something up, whether it was a race or a football game, I'd call myself an idiot - or worse. I was forever cussing my mistakes ..."

This excerpt demonstrates the mindset of high performers that Geoff Colvin identifies in his excellent book (Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Portfolio, 2008, page 119)

‘Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside of their control: My opponent got lucky; the task was too hard; I just don't have any natural ability to do this.'

‘Top performers, by contrast, believe they are responsible for their errors.'
Usain Bolt takes complete responsibility when he does not perform at the level he expects. He does not seek to blame others, offer excuses or minimise the accomplishment of his opponents; he objectively and brutally looks in the mirror, identifies what needs to change and takes the necessary action.

Here's what happened at the 2012 London Olympics:

100m Men's Final
200m Men's Final
1st U Bolt (9.63 secs)
1st U Bolt (19.32 secs)
2nd Y Blake (9.75 secs)
2nd Y Blake (19.44 secs)

In both cases Bolt's margin of victory was the same: 0.12 of a second (about 1 metre).

How might your performance change if you had an attitude like Usain Bolt's?

Related blogs

Most recent blogs


4 comments:

  1. He's probably using drugs Ross.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's possible, Adam, but given he's probably the most tested athlete on the planet I expect he would have been caught by now if he was/is a drug cheat.

      Delete
    2. True Ross. But based on the track record of sport in general I am so sceptical these days when I see a performer so far ahead of the rest. It seems the competitors, and their entourage, have to be one step ahead of the testers in coming up with undetectable drugs or drugs that could be taken for something else, but also enhance performance.......Sharapova. I suppose the massive amounts of prize money, plus pressure from sponsors to perform, would mean that most have to win at all costs. Not having being caught can either mean you're clean, or you have a good team of chemists. Sorry for the negativity.

      Anyway, hope you're well and striving forward as per usual. I'm currently in Colombia in a wonderful town called Medellin. Learning Spanish and then going to live in Barcelona. Take care. Adam.

      Delete
  2. Well, after watching 4 Corners on Monday night about drug cheats I might be a little less adamant about my comment, Adam! Sounds like you are living the dream, well done; you deserve every minute of it.

    ReplyDelete