After the first round of the women’s 400m Hurdles, first-time Olympian Sydney McLaughlin competed in the first heat, finishing 5th, and was clearly disappointed. Her comments to the track-side reporter afterward showed her frustration and where her head was during her race - that her focus clearly was not on the race at hand – it was on the things that she could not control:

“It’s really hard to compete here with the crowd being so loud and the weather being like this. And also I have been sick, so that hasn’t helped either. I hope I move on, but I don’t know.”

Look, I feel bad for her. I wish that she could have ran the race that she wanted in the conditions that she wanted to. Unfortunately, there are very few things during a race that you can control. What makes the difference between an average athlete and a great athlete is their ability to focus on they can control and adapt to the surroundings that they have been given [we blogged about this yesterday, if you missed 4 Insights into the Mental Game of an Olympianclick here].

But what I really feel bad about is the fact that she had not one person talk to her about this before she got on the line. If I would have been able to chat with her [and I hope I can sometime – she’s a hell of an athlete and potentially the future of USA Hurdling], this is what I would tell her:

FirstYou have no control over the weather, the size of the crowd, or how much noise they make. What other people do, including mother nature, cannot be controlled. In fact, by focusing on them, you actually put the race in their [and natures] hands by moving your attention on them instead of yourself. They did not get you to the Olympics. You and the people that support you got you here. You owe to them and yourself to focus on the race and your effort – now what someone or something else is or may be doing.

SecondIf you are sick, then it’s just another obstacle that you will overcome. Being sick is just another part of the journey. It does not mean that the race ends or you can’t put in a quality effort. Even if you don’t make the next round, what would you rather do: put in the best effort that you possibly can and not make it, or put in ½ of an effort because you were sick and wonder for years what you could have done if you would have pushed yourself? No journeys are without obstacles. But it is what we overcome that makes us who we are.

Third There is one thing that you can control: YOUR EFFORT [meaning YOUR effort in your start, YOUR effort in your hurdling mechanics, YOUR effort in how hard you compete]. The late Pat Summit used this quote about effort with her teams frequently and I could not agree with this more. No one can control your effort. It’s just up to you to make the decision to put in the effort that you want. But the only person who can do that is you.

Focusing on what you can control will not only block out unnecessary noise, but will help you relax, which is really at the heart of what we are trying to get at here. There is no reason to be nervous if focus on what you can't control. Your effort is yours and yours alone. Only you can control it. And that’s a powerful thing to know and implement when you are competing on not just a big stage, but any stage.  

Luckily, Sydney was able to qualify for the semi-finals - with the very last qualifying spot. So she will get another chance to focus on herself. I will be routing for her, I hope you will be too.

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