Sporting success provides a model for career success

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 awards were screened last night, and after the absolutely exceptional sporting year we have had in Great Britain, it was sure to be a close contest. In the event, it was won by Bradley Wiggins, followed by Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray – but the final result (decided by a public telephone vote) seemed largely academic in comparison to their sporting achievements earlier in the year.BradleyWiggins_SPOTY2012[Photo courtesy of BBC]

I couldn’t help but notice the parallel with career success, particularly with students (graduates and school-leavers) who are taking the first steps in their working lives.

A common theme emerged when listening to the sportsmen & women talking about their individual successes. When asked about the secrets of their success, all of the award nominees said that it wasn’t just exceptional talent, hard work and determination – they also needed the support of other talented people. Physios, performance coaches, fitness coaches, nutritionists, sporting psychologists, equipment specialists and massage therapists, are all part of the much wider team which ultimately delivers the success.

Unsung heroes also play a part, and this year it was Sue & Jim Houghton who won the award for their 25-year dedication to sport in their local community, helping hundreds of people every week take part in sports which might otherwise be out of their reach. Generous people such as Sue & Jim spot talent and nurture it during the early years, igniting a passion which when appropriately kindled, can go on to deliver great things. Nathan Kemp, voted Teacher of the Year in the 2012 Teaching Awards had a similar effect on his school pupils.

Lord Coe, accepting the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledged both of these things – “I am indebted to teachers at every level who have worked with me throughout my career. I am also indebted to the people I have worked alongside on this incredible journey. Nobody could have done this alone“.

Given that so many separate elements contribute to ultimate success, it is crucially important that the sportsman or woman recognise the contribution which each of those elements plays, and to improve it appropriately. Understanding one’s weaknesses and knowing how to improve them is the key. Any worthy competitor will find and ruthlessly exploit your weaknesses, so it pays to do the work yourself and to improve in those areas beforehand.

Athletes after a race or sporting event often say things like “I really wanted it badly, and I knew I had to dig deep, to keep going“. They make it sound easy, as though it’s just a matter of showing ruthless determination to keeping going during the race. But the race, or event itself, is just the final test; it is the culmination of years of hard training, putting in the miles, the hours, the dedication. The greatest athletes are the ones which “really wanted it badly” during those dark, cold, lonely days when nobody was watching; nobody was cheering; and when self-belief was the only witness.

Many of us have role models and inspiring teachers who ignited a passion in us, and started us on our career paths. These are mostly unsung heroes, who often can’t possibly know the effect they have had on the lives of others.

To be good at what we do every day in our working lives takes effort, drive, enthusiasm and commitment. To be truly exceptional requires more – the help of a wider team of dedicated mentors, coaches, friends, leaders and team members. It takes an acceptance of our weaknesses, a resolve to improve in those areas, and a willingness to seek guidance from others.

I sometimes meet recent graduates who are the very embodiment of great athletes. They recognise their weaknesses, and seek expert help to overcome them – in the form of a mentor, coach, tutor or honest friend. They stand out from their peers by acknowledging that success is not the result of being good at something, but the result of being good at a range of related things, and they understand the contribution which each of those elements makes. They don’t rest on their laurels, but instead concentrate on improving their weakest areas. They put in the miles and the hours, knowing that success depends on it. It is refreshing to see that there are generous people who are prepared to support these graduates, especially during their early years when personal development plays such a crucial role in their ultimate success.

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Feel free to comment on this post – I’d be interested to hear your views.
Inixiti – Improving graduate employability. Click here to visit the website.

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