"When I look back at the world championships, I know there’s a lot of room for improvement, I'm always up for a challenge. The Olympics, they don't define me, I've had some good and some bad. But it's all about the Olympic experience".
Michelle Kwan, talking about preparing for and competing in the upcoming 2006 Olympics. NY Times, 5/27
Michelle reflects the attitude and perspective of a true winner in her comments. She understands some things that are absolutely critical for every serious athlete to grasp. First, you are NOT your performances. Successes and failures over the course of your career do not and should NEVER define who you are as a person. Winning a championship or a gold medal does not make you a better person than if you lost or came in fourth. Unfortunately, coaches, the sports media and most everyone around you may define you in this way. Do NOT accept other people’s narrow definition of yourself. If you buy into their very limited and constricted way of looking at your, then you will be setting yourself up for a lot of heartache. See yourself as your performance and you will find yourself always competing with your ego on the line, with a lot to lose. When your self-worth and identity are at stake whenever you compete, then you will tie yourself into knots and always perform way below your potential. Much of the overwhelming pre-performance stress and nervousness that brings athletes to their knees is generated by this “I am my performance and if I lose I am a lesser person” head-set.
Second, Michelle’s perspective on the Olympics reflects the only healthy way for you to view your athletic experience. Do you dance to get from one side of the floor to the other? Do you sing, to get from the beginning to the end of a song as fast as possible? Well, if you compete just to win, then your answer to these two absurd questions is a resounding “yes!” The meaningful time that you spend on the court, course or field is rarely captured by a won-loss outcome. What makes winning a county or conference championship so great is actually NOT the winning itself, it’s the total experience that you shared with your teammates, coaches and even opponents over the course of your season. It’s the relationships that you create on the team, the fun that you had and the special moments that you shared together with these individuals that give your sport its’ true meaning. Looking at your sport and competition as simply a win-lose phenomenon is shallow and reflects a near-sightedness that completely misses the boat. If all you worry about is your win-loss record, then your sports experience will be pretty empty. Instead, keep the bigger picture in mind. Enjoy the experience, every aspect of it. Let yourself get into the dance. Lose yourself in the process of your singing and stop worrying about how fast you’re going or whether you’re better than the other guy dancing or singing next to you.