Every two years I get to take a three week break from my daily role as CEO of Integrate to enjoy something near and dear in my heart. The Olympics. This is my sixth, two competing for the USA as a World Champion Skier and the last four working for NBC as the Athlete Village Correspondent. I was raised by two parents who both have a healthy disregard for the impossible and was taught at a young age not to use words like "can't."
With Rio 2016 well underway, I have found it fascinating to observe the correlation between entrepreneurial grit and the mindset of athletes in the Olympic Village. Since the Beijing Games in 2008, researchers within the genre of the psychology of success have been analyzing the positive daily language patterns of Olympians, Paralympians, Special Olympians, World Championships and National Football Teams. I was curious to understand more about the universal themes uncovered. It’s a given that extreme performers of any kind, whether in the arenas of Brazil or Board Rooms across the United States have highly tweaked mental attitudes.
Nowadays, sporting speech patterns are heavily monitored. Plus, the collective eyes of the nation are focused on over 11,000 athletes from 205 countries here at the Olympics. The competitors all have similar unifying speech factors, regardless of what language they speak.
Here are the five words that Olympians have learned to eliminate from their vocabularies:
This has significant meaning, especially in the wake of the very public clamp down on doping and the repercussions unleashed on Team Russia. Since 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA has issued what can only be described as an athlete type bible where the prohibited substances list is updated annually. The index applies whether competitors are in or out of competition. Failure is, quite literally, not an option.
It is a word that is stripped from athletes terminology very early on by parents and coaches. It’s natural for athletes to feel heightened levels of anxiety and trepidation and that can prove to be a good thing. But professional athletes must learn how to use fear in constructive ways through mental conditioning.
Once the starting gun is fired, any agitation disappears and unconscious competence honed from years of dedicated and meticulous preparation kicks in. Many athletes describe seeing their many years of preparation flash before their eyes as the intensity of live competition takes over. An army of emotions is calmed as the body and mind surrender to the task at hand that they have tirelessly prepared for. Olympians don’t have a defeatist attitude despite ensuring years of what the rest of the world may describe as the unimaginable pain of perfection in the pursuit of one of three pieces of metal attached to the Rio Olympic ribbons.
Olympic athletes learn early on that during defeat, you only lose if you fail to learn. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team three times but never lost his passion to become the best basketball player in history. In 1923, Babe Ruth broke the record for most home runs in a season. That same year he also struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball. Swinging for the fences means learning how to constructively deal with the inevitable strikeouts while using those moments of adversity to refine the compass that guides us towards our ultimate goal.
Olympians always have more in the tank to give and drive them forward. No matter how difficult or excruciating a toll will be taken on the bodies of athletes in the coming weeks, this collective unit will not give up. Quitting is simply not in their DNA. You will see athletes of the Rio Games outperform and under preform expectations but what you won't see is an athlete quit.
There have been global concerns over the Zika virus coupled with the massive cost of staging the games and the inevitable high number of empty seats that will be seen on camera between now and the Closing Ceremony on August 22nd. Costing $4.58 billion to stage, Rio 2016 came in at 51 percent over budget. In spite of every challenge, this month we have an opportunity to perk up our ears and really listen to what Olympians are saying and use what we learn in our everyday interactions in the world of business