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No second chance!

A lesson from the Olympics – the athlete from France lines up with seven other competitors to run the semi-final race of the Women’s 100m Hurdles event. You see them preparing mentally for the event; just one or two wave and smile when their names are announced on the P.A. System, most are concentrating hard on the task ahead and there is one reciting a prayer or maybe saying some lines that are meant to charge her up.

The Starter gives the order: On your mark!

They adjust themselves on the block to blast off … in the next 12 seconds or so they would know who goes through to the finals of the event.

Imagine the effort taken by each one of them to get to that moment. For some the long journey began when as a kid they had watched one of their childhood heroes race to a win at the Olympics and for some others it was their interest in athletics that grew into a big dream.

The awestruck fan and the budding athlete decided to run a race at the school athletics meet and it felt good – the pictures seen on TV kept playing in the head as they progressed from contesting at local events to the regional and national arena.

Seeing this interest and enthusiasm the people around promoted their talent – in some cases it was the parents who gave up their own career to support this special individual and in other cases the Sports Authority or a Corporate took interest and funded the program. Whichever the route, it took the effort of many to groom and develop the athlete for the challenges that lay ahead.

Countless practice routines, innumerable sacrifices, thousands of dollars later the talented individual lines up, shutting out everything else from the head, and waits for Starter’s Orders.

And then for some unknown reason, in the heat of the moment, something gives and the athlete takes off before the gun cracks. The official calls it a false start and steps in front of the hapless & confused athlete to show a Red Card – head hung low or with unseeing eyes the medal hopeful is marched off the track. The Olympics Dream is over for this athlete!

French Hurdler makes False Start – picture courtesy Associated Press

Usain Bolt made a false start at the World Championship in 2011 and was disqualified; he said – “Looking for a tear? No way. I am fine.”

But others may not take it so lightly; in many cases the dream ends with that event. There wouldn’t be another chance.

Let us relate this to our own reality – we work hard, make every effort to understand the requirements, prepare for all the possible eventualities and at the last moment let it all fritter away with poor execution.

I remember making a presentation to a very senior official of the company I worked for – the presentation had been put together meticulously and our Business Head had made us rehearse before the session. I had run all the details through my head and was pretty sure about what I had to say. But, during the presentation the visiting official asked me a question I stuttered and stammered unable to make the response and when I did speak it was something vague. My boss had to step in and cover up for me; in the heat of the moment I had lost a huge opportunity to shine – all on account of nerves.

The French athlete has to live with that moment of failure for the rest of her life; some of us may experience failures that can debilitate us permanently and inhibit further attempts. She was overeager and wanted to get going; your nerves or state of excitement can cause such errors. Probably she mentally calculated the time between the “On your Marks” call and the gunshot and launched herself to get the best advantage only to lose it all at the next instant.

How do we stop that from happening?

–  Be aware of the rules that need to be followed to get the task done.

– Be motivated, but not clouded by your excitement.

– Focus on the task, not the result; also focus without getting zoned out.

– Control your aggression, don’t get ahead of yourself.

– Don’t rush, take a deep breath & relax – your preparation shouldn’t go waste.

Don’t jump the gun; you may not get a second chance!

Categories: Ideas
  1. Ahmar Farooqui
    August 8, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    “…..Don’t get ahead of yourself.” is so tough to do in such times. When we are so prepared even mentally, its like some third preparation needs to be done to get the desires going. Even the people with lots of achievements all through there life can go through such a scene still.. Besides all those fine remedies, I do think ‘hand of God’ is everywhere – especially in sports…!!!

    • JayadevM
      August 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Ahmar

      I’ve also heard the God helps those who help themselves.

      Yes, mental preparation is hugely important; as much or maybe more than the physical prep.

      Haven’t we seen so many good teams and individuals fail to make a mark only on account of their inability to handle pressure or the circumstance?

  2. Jamy
    August 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    Good one Jay; easier said than done but possible and the one who do it consistently are the over achievers who get it right 9 times out of 10.

    • JayadevM
      August 9, 2012 at 3:12 am

      Hi, Jamy.

      Yes, doing it right every time isn’t as easy as it should be.

  3. August 9, 2012 at 4:42 am

    It breaks my heart to see these things happen. The much-too-early-start sort of thing.

    My problem has been what happened to you at your meeting.
    Did not speak up at the right times. Happened more when I was a pup and had not grown comfortable in my own skin.

    Good suggestions, JD.

    • JayadevM
      August 9, 2012 at 4:53 am

      That’s right, Shoba.

      It’s about being comfortable and sure of oneself. I would have benefited by knowing it back then.

      But it sure was a lesson learnt.

      Good value-add to the article. Thanks.

      P.S – However, from the Olympics perspective I think the false start rule should be reviewed – this no-second-chance rule is too harsh on the athlete.

  4. Kailash
    August 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

    You took out a good point J,

    Sometimes is pure luck or bad luck, just imagine if the gun would have cracked soon after her takeoff and if she would have won then story would have been different. But apart of confidence, preparations, Aggression etc. once must also possess & Practice calmness.

    our aggression should be channelized one.

    • JayadevM
      August 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

      Hey Kailash

      It wouldn’t change anything; she can take off only after the gun fires and it is a dangerous ploy to anticipate that.

      If she has put in sufficient practice she can catch up and beat the competition – Usain Bolt for example if a slow starter; that false start I mentioned was a rare slip. He has so much talent and enough energy in store to recover from a slow start – by the end of the race he is ahead and coasting to victory.

      Your last sentence says it all – channelize aggression and do it calmly.

  5. August 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I loved the description of the moment when the athletes stood at the mark. Beautiful.

    • JayadevM
      August 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      Hi Umashankar,

      Thank you for noting that.

  6. August 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Lots of lessons to take back from that Olympics event Jayadev…Keeping a calm and composed mind is so imperative in all walks of life….Sales,Sports, Personal things etc….As you said there may not always be a second chance

    • JayadevM
      August 10, 2012 at 4:14 am

      That’s right.

      Thank you for the support & appreciation, Jayashree.

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