To finish first, you have to first finish.
– Barry Sheene, British former World Champion Grand Prix Motorcycle road racer
What is it about sports and competition that fires up our passions and teaches us so much about ourselves? Perhaps it’s the fact that we are watching individuals who are gifted, passionate and, as Sheene points out, driven to see the race through to the end, no matter what.
Sheene competed in the seventies but his passion lives on through other racers. Today, the Grand Prix is dominated by an Italian racer, Valentino Rossi. He has won eight Grand Prix championships (four of them back-to-back), making him the most successful and celebrated motorcycle racer of all time. And this year, he is in line to win his ninth. Certainly his success is about more than eating Wheaties. So what does go into a breakfast of champions?
STRATEGY. Like all competitors, Rossi wants to win and he can be ruthless. But a winner isn’t always first out of the gate nor is he or she always out in front the entire race. For Rossi, the time spent in third place helps him establish his rythmn or assess the patterns of the other riders before he passes them. Because no matter how much training we have, we are never the same on any given day and neither are the conditions which we work or live.
KNOWLEDGE.When he’s interviewed after each race, Rossi can give a detail accounting of what happened and why at every turn during the 20-plus laps. It’s no surprise his nickname is “The Doctor.” How many of us can look back at just one week in our lives and analyze it with such precision that we are constantly learning? If we could, that knowledge could be like building blocks, allowing us to improve ourselves and our performance every day.
HARD WORK.In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell cited a study for elite performers that reveals they had studied or practiced their craft for 10,000 hours or more by the time they were in their twenties. “The research suggests that once a musician had enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard her or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, people at the top don’t work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”
JOY.The one trait that comes shining through Rossi, even at his most challenged, is that he loves what he does. He loves the competition, the speed, the process. It’s a joy to watch him. Truly, if it wasn’t for Rossi, I don’t think I’d watch motorcycle racing or see these analogies as I do. There are other great riders on the same field as Rossi, but there are also many others who seem to go through the motions. Rossi makes going neck in neck with another motorcycle at speeds that can break those necks look easy and fun; he’s a leader who inspires others through his own joy.
While we all don’t need to take a corner at 140 mph, it is good to know exactly what we can do — to test our limits and our strengths. The only way to know this is to push ourselves each day. And yes, some days it’s about simply running the race; just being there in the pack, learning, assessing, improving. But those are the days that prepare us for what’s next. Anything can happen at any turn but if we want to finish first, we have to first finish the race.
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