Born in The Dark

Performance Virtues in Action 

By Adrian Mclean

When we look at sport and the athletes who participate, we naturally focus on their performance and the character traits that are aligned with this. When we talk about performance virtues we are usually highlighting the traits you ‘see’ such as determination to qualify for the next round or win a challenge; demonstrating teamwork, sometimes sacrificing yourself for the benefit of the team; having the confidence to perform at your highest level in the most challenging circumstances. 

There are also those that you do not always see – motivation, resilience, ambition and drive. This is the character that is carved outside of the public eye. The submerged part of the iceberg if you like. The perseverance to consistently get up at 4am to train when your body is tired. The resilience to keep pushing yourself to master a skill/technique/routine that will be the difference between winning or being an ‘also ran’. This summer of sport has given so many examples of all of the above.

The England Women’s football team were amazing in bringing football home. They were motivated to do something that the men’s teams have been unable to do since 1966. This shared motivation, togetherness in achieving the mission and teamwork was exceptional! They had complete trust in each other with every member of the squad knowing what their role was, and executing every time they stepped on the field. Egos were put to the side for those not in the starting 11. A perfect example of this was the ‘dynamic super subs’ – Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly. When they came into the game, they had a swagger, a level of confidence that said to opponents ‘yeah, your’e good, BUT we are better. The audacity of Russo’s backheel goal gave that message loud and clear.

Adam Peaty undertook the challenge (unsuccessfully) of defending his 100m Breaststroke title despite breaking his foot 10 weeks before the games started. Many would have simply opted out and said ‘I haven’t recovered in time’ having had the foot immobilised for 6 weeks. I was fascinated to watch how he conducted himself in the aftermath of disappointment. He showed a level of resilience, determination and motivation to bounce back immediately and capture the 50m Breaststroke Gold; the only title that had eluded him in his phenomenal career.

Jessie Knight’s determination to hold on for the gold medal that never was in the 4x400m relay made for exciting viewing and was a fitting way for the Primary School teacher to demonstrate to her students the resilience to dig in and gut it out when times get hard. Unfortunately, the team were disqualified for two members of the team stepping out of their lane on a baton changeover. Going back to the ‘unseen’, I am intrigued to see how the team responds at the European Championships next week! 

What can we learn from these examples? 

Character virtues are ‘taught, caught and sought’. These athletes and people from all walks of life, ‘teach’ us through their performances, stories, experiences how they have applied them to their lives. We can ‘catch’ them from being around people and an environment where they are apparent (think of the euphoria when England won Euro 2022; when you identified with a winning athlete). This then facilitates us ‘seeking’ to develop our own character through chosen activities or experiences, and I hope the legacy of the games is a whole new generation of stars from Birmingham to follow in their idols footsteps. Delicious Orie, Super Heavyweight Commonwealth Champion, told us how seeing Anthony Joshua win Olympic Gold in 2012 inspired him. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the 2019 World Champion Heptathlete, showed her resilience in coming straight from a disappointing World Championships the week prior to the Commonwealth Games (she finished 8th) to retain her title from 2018. She admitted afterwards that her confidence was rock bottom following the World Championships, yet we saw it grow as the events passed by. Katrina even achieved a Personal Best in the Javelin, one of her weaker events. Motivation (to prove her doubters wrong), determination (to show her true ability) and resilience (to recover from the disappointment of losing her title) were key in her bouncing back as a different person.

How can we apply in our everyday lives? 

When we watch great performers from any field, we marvel as they demonstrate performance virtues in abundance under the bright lights. However, we are not witness to the thousands of hours of perseverance, determination, motivation and resilience that drives them to greatness. This is born in the dark. Crafted out of the spotlight of the public, who never witness 99% of that struggle. These athletes do not finish their session early because no one is watching, or tell themselves ‘nobody will know if i just skip the last set’. They drive on and push through with belief that the journey will make them better down the road.

I can hear you thinking aloud – ‘This is great stuff but I’m not a SuperHuman. I’m not an athlete, how does this apply to me?’

When we peek behind the curtain, we are taught that these performance virtues do not just happen! We strengthen and develop them through adversity, challenge and being outside of our comfort zone. The challenge I pose to you all is what do you need to do in the dark to be able to shine spectacularly in the light? I can not give the answer to that question, however I can signpost you to the performance virtue(s) most pertinent to being able to achieve a higher level of performance in your lane.

Confidence – do you believe in your ability to perform in the target area?

Determination – do you want to achieve that goal or would it be a ‘nice to do’?

Motivation – do you REALLY know why you are undertaking this task? Perseverance – do you need to keep working to master a task/activity?

Resilience – do you need to bounce back after disappointment?

Teamwork – do you need to develop greater cooperation with others?

Part 2: Change Is Coming: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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