I’ve found that defining goals is more difficult than achieving them. Once you define your goal, you just need to imagine the path to your goal and then place one foot in front of the other. Then do it again. And again, ’til you reach your goal.
In the 1980s, I heard John Naber speak to a small audience of maybe thirty swimmers at our high school’s outdoor swimming pool. John is a famous swimmer who won four gold medals in world record times at the 1976 Olympic Games.
John began his talk by describing how impressed he was as a college student while watching East German backstroke Olympic champ Roland Matthes win Gold at the 1972 Olympic Games. John mused, “That looks like fun! Could I do that? Nah.” That night John looked at himself in the mirror and asked again, “Am I an Olympic champion? Nah . . . Mathes is a legend, and I’m just a decent collegiate swimmer.”
An impossible dream
A little voice in John’s head kept asking, “Could I do that? Well, let’s see, Mathes’ time for the 200 meter backstroke is 2:02.82, and my best time for the same event is (let’s say) 2:11.00. In four years time Mathes might knock a second or two off his 1972 time, so to beat him in 1976’s Olympics I would need to get my time below two minutes. That’s impossible!”
Then John made the great leap. “Let’s see, to beat Mathes in 1976, I’ll need to drop my best time for the 200 meter backstroke by twelve seconds, to something under two minutes (2:00.00). That means I’ll need to swim three seconds faster each year for the next four years. If I train twice a day, I might swim twelve workouts each week. That’s 624 workouts each year. To drop three seconds a year, I need to drop about .005 (five thousandths) of a second each workout. I’m sure that I can do that!”
Baby steps. 2496 of them.
John plotted a path with thousands of tiny steps to his goal: to win the gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke event at the 1976 Olympic Games. Then he worked hard for four years.
Dreams can come true.
At the ’76 Olympics, on the last lap of the 200 meter backstroke event, as John touched the edge of the pool, he looked up and saw the clock: 1:59.19 — a new world record, and exactly what he had set as his goal four years earlier.
John concluded his talk by speculating that most champions achieve great things not by chance. They set goals, plan paths, and then work hard to reach their goals. What looks incredible to us, is the result of careful planning followed by hard work.
This modest presentation, outside on a pool deck on a clear warm evening, was the best motivational speech I’ve ever heard.
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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695