It’s great fun to watch the Olympics. Seeing the athletes and sports men and women perform to such a high standard is often incredibly inspiring and exciting. Their dedication and commitment to excellence and achieving that elusive gold medal is quite remarkable. The vast majority do not reach that level of acclaim and greatness. Their lives can seem so far removed from ours. Yet there are principles on life we can glean from such champions.

olympic-ringsAnson Dorrance, who started the University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Program in 1979 and has been described as possibly the greatest college soccer coach ever and one of the most successful coaches in any sport has said:

The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.”

We watch the athletes in the stadium with millions of people around the world. They can make their expertise and skill appear almost effortless. What we forget is the huge amount of sacrifice, commitment and dedication that has taken place behind the scenes. It is all that work and dedication when no one else was watching that made the difference.

The Olympics is a reminder of how in leadership to rise and succeed it is necessary to give up in order to go up. John Maxwell explains this in his 18th law of Leadership – the Law of Sacrifice.

When we make a sacrifice we have to believe that the outcome in the long run will be far better than the short term pain or discomfort. Olympic athletes certainly believe that when they get up incredibly early to practice and train and make countless daily sacrifices to perform at their very best with no guarantee of eventual success. They often do that silently and when no one is watching or even caring.

But you and I are not (as far as I know) training to be Olympic athletes. However, if you are hungry to become the best you can be, then you are going to need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to reach your potential.

Here are 4 truths about leading oneself to success, according to John Maxwell. They apply to Olympic athletes and they likely apply to you in the challenges you may be facing in your life:

1. There is no success without sacrifice. Every person who has achieved success in life has made sacrifices to do so. Effective leaders sacrifice much that is good in order to dedicate themselves to what is best. The key it would seem is to keep focused on the prize more than on the sacrifice. For more on this see Snatching Victory From The Jaws Of Defeat.

2. Leaders are often asked to give up more than others. The heart of leadership is putting others ahead of yourself. It is looking at what is best for others, for the team or the organisation. (See Podcast #015 Why Your Leadership Matters). For that reason leaders have to give up their rights.  There is a cost to leadership and that cost involves being willing to give up more than the people you lead.

3. You must keep giving up to stay up. Leadership success requires continual change, constant       improvement and ongoing sacrifice. In the Olympics you may have been a gold medal winner in the past, but that holds no guarantees for the present. In life, overcoming one challenge or hurdle qualifies you for the next greater challenge or hurdle. (See Podcast #013 How To Grow In Resilience).

4. The higher the level of leadership, the greater the sacrifice. The higher you go the more it is going to cost you. And it does not matter what the area of leadership is, you will have to make on-going sacrifices to make the greater impact.

These are the reasons why leadership and gold medal winning is so tough. The rewards are great, but they come at an enormously high price.

It is unlikely (not impossible, but unlikely) that anyone reading this is going to be in an Olympic stadium being watched by millions of people around the world. But what if there is a race of life each of us is running, even though we may not be aware of it?

What if this life is a race to reach our full potential and break free of the restrictions, self-doubt, egoism and selfishness that holds each one of us back? This race is not competing against others or comparing myself to others. It is a race to live up to my God-given potential to be all I am called to be. Here is how the author Marianne Williamson puts it:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Powerful and inspiring as that is, I find some are sceptical and cynical about such comparisons. And yet the truth is each one of us has been gifted with the most complex object in the entire universe!

I find echoes of what Marianne Williamson is saying in a quote from the letter to the Hebrews written almost 2,000 years ago in around the year AD64. He writes about men and women of faith through the ages who have scarified and struggled to live to the potential God has called them to.

The amazing thing he then goes on to say is that having crossed over to the other side of death, they are watching our lives and cheering us on, much like those in an Olympic stadium do to the competing athletes! And the gold medal winner who takes the highest position? I leave you to see who He is (this is from chapter 12:1-3 in the New Living Translation of the original Greek):

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” 

What life lessons have you picked up from sport and the Olympics?