Written by Coach Chris White -
The definition of resilience is, "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” It is a skill or attribute that is now very much recognised as valuable in workplaces, schools and sports settings all around Australia. Developing resilience is a key part of the development of any team or individual athlete. Whether that includes the resilience to handle pressure, the resilience to come back from injury or the resilience to dig deep and carry on when things aren’t going your way.
The Olympic games in Tokyo highlighted so many stories of resilience, whether it was to get to the games in the first place or within the competition itself. Particularly with the delay of the games by one year and the context of a global pandemic raging at the same time as the games taking place, would require an extra degree of resilience. The added layers of stress and complexity that have been mixed into an already highly stressful situation meant that only the most resilient would make it and flourish at the games. Almost every athlete who competed at these Olympics will have a story of how they overcame odds to be there. It has certainly been fascinating to see which athletes have come up with excuses for poor performances and which athletes have accepted that everyone has been disadvantaged and got on with the job at hand.
Here’s three great examples of resilience at these games:
- Weightlifting: The innovative attitude of Hidilyn Diaz, the Filipina weight lifter who was stranded in Malaysia due to COVID lockdowns, and had no access to her usual training equipment was impressive resilience. She had to train her lifting using duffel bags filled with the water jugs that were then balanced on bamboo sticks. Just shows that it’s not necessarily having all the gear that makes the athlete!
- Rowing: The quick recovery and resilience of Canadian rower Kasia Gruchalla Wesierski was perhaps even more impressive to hear. Less than two months before the games, she broke her collarbone in a bike crash. She was replaced for team training but when it came to Tokyo, she was on the start line with the rest of the Canadian women’s eight and helped them win gold!
- Swimming: In 2012, Brent Hayden won a bronze medal in his third Olympic Games in London. He retired with that impressive result in the bag, but having lost his love of swimming in the process. Seven years and a fresh perspective on his swimming later, he competed in Canada’s Olympic Swimming Trials, winning the men’s 50m freestyle with his second-fastest time ever. In Tokyo, he helped the mens 4x100m freestyle relay achieve an impressive 4th place overall. To go through Olympic preparations 4 times is tough, but to do it after an extended time out of the sport and to still be competitive is extremely impressive and demonstrates an ability to overcome so many mental and physical difficulties.
Aside from watching the Olympics, I have been reading ‘The Resilience Project’ by Hugh Van Cuylenberg over the last couple of weeks. It’s an interesting insight into not only the tools and techniques that elite sports people, like our examples above use to develop resilience, but also the elements that can be applied to us mere mortals. What is exciting to me is that resilience is now also being taught in schools, reflecting Hugh’s past as a school teacher. It also means that some of our Junior Athletes are already consciously working on developing their own resilience and can apply that to their sporting endeavours as well.
Wherever you look at the moment, there are stories of resilience, whether its the Olympic Games or the impact of coronavirus on our training and racing. At MEC, we have age group athletes who have trained to race and their races have been cancelled, not once, not twice, but three or four times. Their capacity to recover quickly from those difficulties has been admirable and is a skill that is being developed through these unfortunate circumstances. As coaches, we feel that this resilience will continue to serve them well in future and can’t wait to see what challenges they will now be able to overcome as a result.