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What does it take to be an Olympian?

Image Source: Getty / OLI SCARFF

Representing your country at the biggest sporting event on earth that happens once every 4 years is one of the toughest things to do for anyone, but these approximately 10,000 athletes who participate at the Summer Olympics from across the world have a lot in common than we think. Being an Olympian is not at all easy but is actually fairly simple.

I have had the privilege of closely witnessing the journeys of many Indian Olympians over the last few years. Through my experience with them, I have learned that each one of these athletes have followed some very simple rules to reach the pinnacle of their sport. But the caveat is that these rules that seem simple are extremely difficult to follow.

Even though each Olympian’s journey is unique, one aspect in their journey is common across all of them. It’s that every athlete who participates at the Olympics has experienced tons of highs and lows in their life and has still persisted in their journey of achieving excellence.

Similar to the above aspect, there a few more simple lessons that you can master if you want to become an Olympian someday:

P.S - this is not an exhaustive list but includes only a few common attributes that every Olympian I have worked with has mastered. You can add more lessons to this list that are unique for your journey.

1. Learn to accept failure -

This, in my opinion, is the most difficult skill to learn and is the most important one. In sports, as in life, going through a lot of failures is the only way to succeed. Every athlete goes through failures almost on a daily basis but the successful ones don't dwell on their failures; they learn from them and move on. They use their failures as stepping stones and never forget to analyze and learn from their mistakes.

2. Don’t forget to have fun –

The origin of all sports is through play and the purpose of play is to enjoy yourself. All top athletes that I have known absolutely love to play their sport. They love getting up in the morning, play that sport day in and day out, and have the constant urge to get better at it. They genuinely have fun playing it which makes it easier for them to endure all the sacrifices they have to make in the process.

3. Discipline should be your superpower –

Every athlete who wants to reach the top has to understand this simple mathematical formula –

(1.01)^365 = 37.8

(1.00)^365 = 1.00

(0.99)^365 = 0.03

What it means is that just improving slightly every day and consistently can compound to give you exponential results. The best athletes in the world are the ones who don’t just depend on talent but are masters of discipline. Their days are extremely monotonous and they repeat almost the same routine without fail. They focus on the 1% improvement every day that yields them extraordinary results.

4. Focus on the journey and not the destination –

The journey of any successful athlete is never linear. There are a few good days and a lot of bad days. But they never lose their sense of direction because they understand the importance of the process. If you follow the process diligently, success is almost inevitable. But many athletes are too focused on their destination (to participate at the Olympics, to become world no. 1, etc.) which makes them put undue pressure on themselves. If you are enjoying the journey and are mature enough to understand that the path you are on is helping you improve regularly, then the destination does not matter much.

5. Be ready to do whatever it takes –

Every single athlete across the world faces a ton of challenges in their personal and/or professional life. They all sacrifice family commitments, friendships, relationships, and so much more to try and achieve what they have set out to. Even their families have to give up on many expectations just so that the athletes can focus on competing.

Also, sometimes the real battles are fought outside of the rings, fields, and courts. How an athlete deals with them defines her character inside the sporting arena. But an athlete who has the right attitude to go to any lengths to achieve their goals end up becoming champions of their sport.

6. Know yourself -

Similar to all great artists, great athletes are extremely self-aware. They have an innate talent to understand their strengths as well as weaknesses both in the sporting arena and outside of it. They also know their limits and are masters of leveraging their capabilities at the right time. One of the best ways to monitor your actions and reflect upon them is to inculcate the habit of journaling. Most elite athletes have the habit of writing their thoughts down every night, analyzing them, and building game plans based on the learnings, which is a great way to improve incrementally.

7. Understand the value of luck –

Lastly, one can do everything right but luck can still play a huge part in one’s journey. To understand the value, one first needs to understand the true meaning of luck.

Being lucky is actually being prepared for the opportunity that is being presented. All of us are constantly given opportunities to succeed in our lives and the athletes who are always prepared for it are the ones who capitalize on it. Ironically, they are deemed as ‘being lucky’ but they have worked extremely hard to be at the right place at the right time. There are not overnight successes, especially in sports, and you can create your own luck by truly understanding how successful athletes use their luck.

As you can see, the rules of what it takes to be an Olympian are not very complex. Even a young athlete who has her eyes set on the Olympics can understand them. But the true magic lies in how you keep following each one of the above (and many more) consistently. Or, as Michael Jordan once said - “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

About the author Yatin Shriwardhankar was the high-performance consultant to 6 Indian Olympians at Tokyo 2020 including table tennis legend Sharath Kamal and boxer Pooja Rani. He has recently started his own sports consulting firm – The Gold Standard, through which he aims to help Indian athletes maximize their potential. Previously, he was the General Manager of Lakshya Sports where he worked closely with multiple young and elite athletes from ages 12 to 40 across 8 individual Olympic sports. He has also served as the Manager, Partnerships, and Communication at GoSports Foundation.

About Simply Sport Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based in India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development, and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.

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