Keep On Chugging (Don’t Get Derailed by Defeat)


The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi can teach us all kinds of lessons.

It’s hard to comprehend that some very capable athletes will fall down, fall behind, and fall out of the running for a medal.  Maybe it’s nerves.  Or Mother Nature wreaking havoc on the slopes. Or the team’s choice of inferior performance clothing.  Maybe it’s something completely out of their control. Or maybe it comes down to the harsh reality that someone else is faster, stronger or more skilled.

If Olympic athletes, who possess exceptionally high standards for training and reaching their goals, must face setbacks and failures, then maybe it’s worth noting how they deal with it.   Teenagers, who are trying to fit in, discover their strengths, and not embarrass themselves while doing so, may benefit the most from knowing that Olympic athletes and professionals must pick themselves up and deal with setbacks.

Here are a few similarities between Sochi and life:

Not everyone who works their hardest will make the team.

The U.S. Women’s hockey coach had the difficult job of telling three highly  qualified players that they wouldn’t be making the trip to Sochi with the  team.  (The spaces were all filled).   In high school, not making a sports team is always a painful reality. There are only so many spots on a team, even taking into account substitutes.  (In high school, if no cuts are made, the result is inevitably reduced playing time or no playing time for some players).

No matter how well prepared you might  be, you can’t control the weather, a brewing  infection or individuals who  inadvertently trip you up).

It’s true that everyone is competing under the exact same outdoor conditions, but when the weather changes from hour to hour, affecting visibility and surface conditions, succeeding at skiing and snowboarding comes down to quickly adapting to variations in conditions, especially if those conditions are vastly different from the ones where training took place.  (This is similar to being knowledgeable enough to make a presentation even when the PowerPoint projector won’t turn on).

Cross-country skier Gary di Silvestri (representing the island of Dominica) contracted a bacterial infection from contaminated water in his temporary apartment. di Silvestri became so weak from the infection, he couldn’t finish his race.  Even sports reporter Bob Costas couldn’t have predicted a severe eye infection would prevent him from covering the Olympic games for a few days. (Unlike di Silvestri, Costas had a replacement).  Things happen.  A highly contagious  stomach bug brought down half of our high school’s  hockey team one year, weakening the team’s overall game.

It seems unfair that one athlete’s fall could become the obstacle that brings down another athlete but this is the nature of events such as the snowboard cross competition.  In an instant, a spill can result in a loss for two men and third place for an athlete who was trailing behind.  In men’s cross-country skiing, Noah Hoffman tripped and fell on a turn and while trying to recover got elbowed in the face.  He lost his goggles as well as crucial time in the race.

Even smart, well-prepared people make silly  mistakes.

Cross Country Skier Jessie Diggins, anchor on the U.S. women’s relay team, sprinted onto the track and into the wrong lane of the last leg of her race.  She had to stop and turn around before proceeding.  Although the U.S. women were already farther behind than they hoped to be, Diggins wanted at least to finish strong for her team.  How did she react to her error?  She said, “I’m really proud of how I skied. I pushed myself really hard. We pushed ourselves as hard as we could, and we believed in each other, and that’s what matters. I’m just really proud of the team effort.”

Not all judges will recognize and appreciate a job well done.

People may forever question how Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova walked away with the gold medal in figure skating in Sochi, upsetting defending champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea.  Unquestionably talented, Sotnikova’s final winning score  increased noticeably from her previous best arousing suspicion.  Although strict criteria need to be met to earn points, scores are still being entered by humans and subject to interpretation.

Maybe no one was more surprised by her scores than U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner.  Waiting to view her scores, her exhilaration and confidence changed abruptly to shock and frustration when she viewed the disappointing results.  “Bull***t!” was her outburst caught on camera.

Sometimes highly skilled, highly  prepared people just fall short.

This happened to Shani Davis, who was hoping to earn medals with his fellow U.S.  speed skaters in Sochi.  Davis and his teammates headed into the 1500 meter race without having earned any medals at that point and instead of putting this reality behind them they wasted time wondering if the suits they wore could have slowed them down.  Instead of gearing up to increase their speed in the 1500 meter race, they went into it still feeling defeated and disappointed in themselves and it showed in their lackluster performance.

* * * *

All teens want to succeed.  With sufficient preparation and interest, teens that have the desire and courage to do well – at a college interview, job interview, driving test, presentation, tryout for a sports team/musical/ band/ leadership role or any activity they deem important to them – should first and foremost feel proud that they took a risk to even try. (Some teens let fear of failure or embarrassment prevent them from trying at all).

When things don’t go as hoped, disappointment is normal.  But instead of dwelling on what went wrong and letting the disappointment prevail (as Shani Davis and his teammates did), a better reaction would be to state the following with conviction:   I did my absolute best under the circumstances (much like Jessie Diggins).  Again, the courage it takes to prepare and try one’s best should be reason to celebrate and permission to move forward with a new plan.  As Kelly Clarkson says, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Finally, no matter how disappointing or unfair the outcome of a task may feel, lashing out verbally or physically is not a classy way to react to disappointment, especially if television cameras are recording it for the world to see.  (It’s hard to forget the behavior of people like John McEnroe and Tanya Harding).  A smarter reaction to disappointment?   Stay calm and know without a doubt that you did your very best.

2 responses »

  1. Awesome! Your post was filled with such great lessons for all of us! You highlighted several important points that our kids especially need to remember as they travel through these teen years. Thanks for the encouragement.

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