Olympic Review Part Four: Your Competitive Edge
What is your competitive edge? How do you differentiate yourself from the rest? This is a question that all Olympic Athletes, Coaches, Sports Psychologists, Medical Practitioners, Officials and Teams ask themselves. Is it your natural talents, flair, work ethic, skills, planning and preparation, team, mindset, decision making under pressure, emotional regulation or something else? When it comes to the Olympics, and converting on your potential, you need to bring your full artillery.
In business, people commonly talk about the 1%ers - the little things you might do that can make a game changing difference. Often however, this kind of thinking excludes consideration and commitment to getting the first 95% right. In sport, athletes plan, prepare and train to ensure their basic fundamentals are steadfast and at a world class standard. Teams are ensuring that all core components to success are identified, refined and rehearsed. They practise the ’doing’ over and over under different conditions, and don’t just rely on ‘knowing’ or ‘hoping’. The best of the best differentiate themselves in advance by doing all the “less fancy, less showy things” excellently. This forms the solid foundations that will fuel their confidence under pressure, and will allow them to trust and shine when the greatest sporting moment of their life calls. This takes planning and discipline, to ensure your inner competitive mongrel is focused on the things that will really make the biggest difference.
I believe all high performers have a competitive mongrel within, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you should celebrate and embrace it - but you should also effectively manage it. You must control your want and desire, channelling it in an effective way. Uncontrolled want can present as desperation or an unstructured scattergun approach, which leads to inconsistent performances. To excel, you have to consistently work hard and smart to get your 95% world’s best.
A competitive mongrel doesn’t just let themselves go through the motions mindlessly. They train with deliberate focus and seek improvements in every opportunity. They have high standards and expectations and then put in the time, effort and energy required to progress against their goals. It takes consistent application over years and years. It requires training as you mean to compete - at the right intensity level - so when you’re under Olympic level pressure and your ‘normal’ transpires…. it will be good enough. It’s getting out of your comfort zone, and leaning into discomfort and vulnerability every day, to make emotional regulation and finding courage normal. This is how you grow, improve and become excellent.
To be higher, faster and stronger is to unlock what’s within you. To cultivate what works best for YOU. It does not mean mimicking what another high performer does, as their way is not going to get you ahead (maybe just equal). Rather, you have to stay focused on yourself, and what you can control. The best competitive mongrels reflect upon and learn everything about themselves, they lead with their strengths, and identify both what and who they need to perform at the best. They full-heartly believe that they have or can find and create everything they’ll need to achieve their goals. They understand that their uniqueness IS their competitive edge.
The Australian Winter Olympic Team in Beijing was full of competitive mongrels, and it was absolutely marvellous to watch. But you had to look for it, because it often presented as a quiet resolve, an attention to detail or simply excellence in motion. It wasn’t “showy” or arrogant, it was humble and disciplined.
Whether it was amplitude or experience, the fastest push, the most refined skills, the best take-off, a racing finesse, consistency, digging deeper, mental courage, sharing emotions or tactical superiority - our athletes were distinctly themselves. Off the field our coaches were managing energy and providing calm believing guidance, our sports psychs were “on game” reading and attending to needs, our nutritionists delivered quality food with homely love, our medical crew were proactive and easy going, and our officials created positive impact without fuss.
Every team member prepared their whole self for the full experience they knew was coming. We all understood what we needed to do and were ready to do our jobs. We were vulnerable, respectful and gave without any expectations of return. Individually and collectively, we used our competitive edge and delivered our very best. This team was the greatest team to represent our country at a Winter Olympic Games and we did it our way!
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