The Olympics in many ways, are their own class room. From event to event, you can learn lessons on leadership, teamwork, you name it. But I don’t know if there was a better teacher during these games than Matthew Centrowitz, 1500m Gold Medalist from the United States, [I still can’t believe I am typing that] on what it takes to be mentally tough. Let me explain:
Lesson 1 – Focus On What You Can Control
I think that we can all say without a doubt, that there is not a stage in sport that is bigger than the Olympic Games. From the media attention to the crowds in the stands, to over a billion people watching on television – there is pressure wherever you turn. And for Centrowitz, after finishing 4th in the 2012 games, his training partners [Rupp & Farah] both having already won medals, and never having won ‘the big meet,’ he could have easily increased the pressure on himself by thinking about those things. However, he didn’t worry about what people said or what others did. He focused on the one thing we all have control over – your effort. Not just your effort in the races themselves, but in the preparation and effort in focusing on right was in front of him. And when you focus on what you can control rather than the comments, thoughts, and actions of others, THEN you have the opportunity of being your best when you need to.
Lesson 2 – Follow Your Plan, Even If It Changes
Once you are in the front of a pack, you either do two things: back of the pace and have someone else lead because that is was not a part of your original plan or take control of the race because you planned to do it right from the start. It was clear to anyone watching that once Centrowitz went to the lead, pretty much from the start of the race, he did not plan on giving that up. If it was his plan, he stuck to it – if it was not, he made it an adjustment and moved on. Great athletes understand that a part of preparation is getting ready for any scenario that could happen, and making it your new plan. They know that the difference between a podium spot and a gold is your ability to adjust to situations as they happen, just like Centrowitz did.
Lesson 3 – Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
Matthew Centrowitz went right to the front of the race and lead nearly wire to wire. Also in the race was two former Olympic Gold Medalists each with more Championship experience and faster times over 800m than he. However, Centro took a risk to lead right from the start and run the race at a very slow pace. When the pace increased, he stayed in the lead. When the race progressed and someone took the lead from him, he elbowed the runner on the outside of him and reclaimed his spot. And with 500m to go, he never let go of the lead. He took a risk right from the start: although there are people in this race with faster 800m times, I’m going to slow it down and trust in MY speed. Taking a risk sometimes is the only way that people can be successful. If playing it safe has not worked in the past, then throwing some caution at the wind may be the difference that you are looking for.
Lesson 4 – Be Yourself
People who don’t have a problem with what others say about them know exactly who they are. And as we spoke about earlier, Centrowitz has had criticism from the media about not winning the ‘big race,’ finishing 4th in the 2012 London Games, and not being as fast or as strong as his foreign competition. Through all this, he never faltered from who he was. If fact, he knew himself well enough and was honest enough with himself to work on the things he needed to get better at. He continued his training, running at one point, 8x400, with 7 of them in 51 seconds, and the last in 49 [a personal best]; he continued to work on his race tactics; he continued to work on being his best self and competing to the MAXIMUM of his ability when he had his opportunity. He didn’t have to be a runner from Algeria or Kenya or Ethiopia to win the Gold Medal – he just had to be Matthew Centrowitz
We can all benefit from the lessons taught by Centrowitz during his journey to the Gold Medal. None of us may stand on the Olympic podium, but learning how to focus on what you can control, following your plan [even if things change], don’t be afraid to take risks, and being yourself is are things that we can all benefit from.
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