I don’t know about you, but I feel like most things don’t surprise me anymore. Feels like as you age you seem to have seen everything before. But one thing that continues to amaze me is the mental strength of those in sports. At seemingly the most difficult times, they rise not only to the occasion but beyond anything we feel like is reasonable to expect.
We saw it this past weekend with the sportsmanship and grace of Coach Gene Auriemma when UConn finally lost after winning 100 bazillion straight games (I may be slightly off there). His grace in a very bad moment, one that he hadn’t had practice with in a few years, was impressive.
We saw it when Lexi Thompson received the worst (and it seems in this case the most ridiculous) news a golfer can get on the back nine of Sunday at a major – the safe lead she had was gone due to a four stroke penalty. Then after fighting back tears, she goes and birdies the next hole! And gets into a playoff, though she lost in the playoff.
I don’t know the people involved, just like I don’t know Phil Mickelson who I follow and have written about in both victory and defeat. Or the many college basketball players who I marvel at when they lose and two nights later have to be back on the court and competitive.
In all of these cases, the most amazing thing to me is the speed of processing the event and “recovery” to be able to perform. There are lots and lots of reasons why I was never going to be a professional athlete (though I was awfully good at bowling…), but the one that stands out to me as I’ve lived my life is that I seem to take longer to process “defeat” than high performing athletes and coaches. I have worked on this and am better than I used to be, and I find that it doesn’t hamper my professional existence like I believe it did earlier in my career. But I do not believe I could give a rationale press conference after losing such an important game. And I definitely am not making birdie on the next hole after getting “screwed” by the rules officials.
And I’ve now written enough to finally get to the point, which is the title of this article. I believe one of the “secrets” these high performing people have is their support system. The impact of those around them is almost incalculable – but it is never more important than in “defeat” or in times of stress. I suppose the easiest scenario is the golfer and their caddy. In the case of Mickelson, his relationship with his caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay is well documented and when you read or see them talk about each other, you know how much the caddy is helping the player. Through the good and the bad. And often to the good from the bad. Phil is very analytical, so he might try to say Bones benefits him a half stroke per round; but the reality is there are rounds and rounds where the relationship is not leveraged, and then there is the 18th at Winged Foot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6d-10pjcEE
And while I am still processing what happened to Lexi Thompson, and haven’t even watched the complete replay of the round or know anything about her relationship with her caddy, I am predicting he was a big part of the following minutes and helping her birdie that next hole. (From a logic perspective, no one else is allowed inside the ropes, so it was either herself, her playing partners or her caddie (and she was crying and they were likely doing the old “I wouldn’t go near her right now” thing…).
I have had several instances in my life in the last few years where my “support system” has really come in to play. A sudden divorce, a change in career/role, the loss of my dad. When I mentioned that the regular, “to be expected” defeats in life don’t paralyze me as much and I’m able to control my reactions better, much of that is due to the visible presence my support system has been in times of larger issues. I am able to “connect the dots” and realize that if I can get through those other things – using tools like reflection, breathing, grieving, commiserating with others, or just plain hugs – then I can get through these other issues. Or for you normal folks out there, I realize now that what I do at work (or on the golf course, or with my gym schedule) is not curing cancer and don’t worry about it so much.
Which is all nice and makes me happier as a human and certainly makes it easier to be around me. But I still marvel that the athletes and coaches I admire take much bigger losses and are able to apply the same thinking. I have never had to give a press conference after losing a big game, or had to recover from a big loss and quickly get back in the game. But I know now that as I continue to grow as a person, my growth is fueled by the support of others. You never know when you may need it, but for it to really play a part you must care for it and feed it so it can grow. Let’s all do this a bit over the next week or two, so we can all face life’s “little” defeats and come out stronger.