As you know, Michael Phelps is the most medaled Olympian in history. He hit his goals and has been awarded 22 medals over the course of four Olympics! 18 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze—and he’s 27 years old.
No swimmer had ever won a gold medal in the same event in three consecutive Olympics. Phelps did it twice in London, going back-to-back-to-back in the 200 IM and 100 fly. He set eight world records in Olympic competition and 39 overall in his career.
But…if you’ve followed this year’s swimming events, you saw Phelps struggle early on—placing fourth in the 400 I.M., being out touched in the 200 butterfly, and dropping one swim from his scheduled events. Michael clearly was frustrated. His early interviews showed a tense athlete who was not excited by being on camera after “losing”. Phelps obviously wanted to get the interviews overwith. His eye contact was poor; he kept turning away slightly from the reporter.
Later, I watched a poolside interview of Michael Phelps after he won his 19th career medal at the London Olympics. Different attitude, different athlete. He was happy, smiling, enjoying the moment as his swimming career wound down. When asked what changed, he told the reporter that at the beginning of the swimming week, he didn’t feel good in the water, and he wasn’t smiling much.
I thought that was an interesting comment: “I wasn’t smiling.”
Obviously he equated smiling with enjoyment and enjoyment led to winning. Once he adjusted his attitude, then his natural competitiveness flourished again. He relaxed and could trust his training.
After all his events concluded, Phelps repeated the value of attitude and having fun. With Bob Costas, he shared: “For me, I’m having fun…being able to be in my fourth Olympics…I’m enjoying it. I had a smile on my face! Sure, it didn’t start off very good the first day, but we were able to get over it and move past it.” Watch the interview here.
This isn’t a sports blog, but I think you can see the parallels to sales. When we’re uptight, when our focus is off, when our attitude is in the tank—when we’re not smiling, we struggle. In order for Phelps to snap out of his performance funk and swim at gold-medal levels, he didn’t have to change his stroke or adjust his race plans. He just needed to change his mental focus—he needed to be enjoy what he was doing.
So let’s do a bit of self-evaluation. How’s your attitude? Are you enjoying what you do? If you’re production has dropped off, you may not be doing anything wrong technically. You may just need to relax and smile more.
What has been your experience? How do you recover from tension and frustration? Feel free to comment.