14 Powerful Life Lessons We Can Learn From Olympic Athletes

By Reniel


Last Updated: August 10, 2021

The Olympic games are more than just sports. They portray what can perhaps be called the core and essence of humanity. It represents our struggles, hopes, dreams, and victories. 

At the Olympics, we see our fellow humans stretched to their limits – emotionally, physically, psychologically – and we relate and connect with this deeply. 

So, it is doubtless that there is a lot to be learned from the wonderful athletes who make the Olympic games what it is.

Below are the 14 lessons we can learn from Olympic Athletes, and apply to our daily lives.


1. Know yourself.

Perhaps the first duty of any athlete is to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Though a lot of people would tell you that you can be “whatever you want in life”, it is not true, and Olympic athletes know this all too well. 

Not everyone can swim, nor can everyone lift weights. Some are better built for gymnastics, whilst others are perfect for running. 

One of the most important decisions an individual can make in the course of self-actualization is treading the path towards self-awareness. Knowing what you can do and deciding on what you can do is very important and gives you a better chance of flourishing.

Some of the best self-assessment personality tests are available online, although some you will need to pay for if you want to go in depth.. 

Keep in mind, these are not definitive, but can at least give you a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. 

Physical strength assessments will require some help from experts, a great resource on how to get started is at Exercise.com. 


2. Set goals.

If you know the why, you can live any how. - Friedrich Nietzsche

“Aim for the stars,” is now cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. You must decide what it is you want, without worrying about the how. 

Think about your most ambitious goals, write them down, tell people about them and start paving the way to reach them without deciding how you are going to hit them first. 


3. Embrace routine.

Olympic athletes first become great before they achieve greatness. 

Before the big game, each athlete sets small goals that they must achieve – mini-goals that they believe would help them achieve the ultimate goal. This could be training for X hours daily, weekly, or monthly. 

American swimmer Katie Ledecky spends 4-6 hours in the pool. Every day. 

Michael Phelps’ coach said the swimmer didn’t miss a day of practice from when he was 11 to when he was 16 years old.

Every single athlete at the Olympic games will talk about routine - what they eat and drink, how long they sleep, what muscle groups they work on, when they rest. Not having a routine means you can fall behind your goals and competition - fast. 

In your personal life, you must set daily goals – practice, and execute relentlessly. You don't have to go crazy and train for 1825 days in a row, but sticking to a routine will get you places you never thought you could reach. 


4. Eat properly. 

Still behind the curtains, successful athletes watch what they eat. They fuel their bodies right – with wholesome and balanced diets. 

I eat what I feel good with and try not to overeat or stuff myself because I'm always at the gym. - Simone Biles, USA, Gymnastics  

Some Olympians don’t track their calories down to the decimal point, but they are hyper-aware that they use food as fuel for the machines they have made their bodies into. They listen to their bodies, and nourish themselves as needed to get the work done. 


5. Sleep well.

Many athletes swear by getting 8 -10 hours of sleep per night.

They essentially sleep like babies, giving their bodies enough time to rest and rejuvenate. It is seldom about how long you work, but how productive you are during those waking hours. Sleep is very important - we all know how rough we feel when we get too little. 

When I get a good night of sleep, I wake up with really good energy and a positive outlook. It gets me excited to show up at training and I’m able to focus well. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I feel it in the morning and little things can start to bug me. - US Olympic Cross Country skiier, Kikkan Randall 


6. Seek help. 

All athletes have coaches. Even world-renowned athletes still have coaches who they trust and train under. 

A coach plays a key role in an athletes’ entourage. The quality of the relationship between a coach and the athlete has a crucial effect on the athlete's satisfaction, motivation and performance. - Olympics.com 

Hiring a coach, or seeking mentorship isn’t a sign of weakness, it is wisdom. Coaches provide support and keep you accountable. Imagine having a cheerleader/teacher completely dedicated to you achieving your goals...why not make it easier to succeed? 


7. Visualize and focus.

Almost like practice, a winner usually visualizes their success beforehand. 

They go over their tasks multiple times in their minds. They see themselves doing it even before it is time to do the work. They don’t worry, but rather focus on the possibility of success. 

Every night I visualize myself winning the Olympics. - Kayla Harrison, US Olympic Gold Medallist in Judo. 

Vision boards can help keep you on track, and motivate you at the same time. Find out more with: Manifest an Amazing Life: Top Online Sources to Create a Vision Board. 


8. Don’t give up. 

Grit and persistence in the face of weathering failure is a sign of mental toughness which all the bests possess. They endure the brutal pain…the blood, sweat, and tears are never allowed to get in the way. They stay committed even when the going gets tough.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule,” which, simply put, was that for anyone to expect to master something, be it a trade, a sport, a game, that they need to put in at least 10,000 hours to achieve greatness at it. 

This has since been debunked, but the idea remains the same. If you want to be good at something, you have to work at it. 


9. Challenge yourself.

Olympians seldom go against others (even if it may appear so on camera), but against themselves. 

I don’t think limits. - Usain Bolt

It is the reason athletes like these don’t just keep winning gold medals but keep smashing their personal best records. 

They consistently try to be better than they were before – and this leads to all forms of external success too.


10. Practice Mindfulness.

Olympic athletes have a stoic approach to their duties. 

For example, Joannie Rochette (Canada, 1 Olympic Bronze medal, Figure Skating) was able to perform in front of millions in the 2010 Olympics despite losing her mother to an unexpected heart attack four days before. 

She won the bronze medal, which she then dedicated to her late mother.  


11. Empathy over Trophies.

In the 1988 Olympics, Lawrence Lemieux (Canada, Pierre Coubertin medal, Sailing), in a most sportsmanlike way, showed that some things are more important than winning. 

He denied himself a comfortable victory in order to save two injured sailors whose boats had capsized due to turbulent winds. 

He placed the lives of his supposed rivals over the medal, and as a recompense, he was awarded an honorary medal for his heroic act.


12. Patience is a Virtue.

Victories take time. For example, Hidilyn Diaz (Philippines, Weightlifting), who won the first ever Olympic gold medal for her country at the Tokyo 202 Olympic Games. 

She had to compete four times in the Olympics before winning a gold medal in Weightlifting this year. Seeing her cry tears of joy as she realizes she had won before she even dropped what she was carrying brought tears to everyone’s eyes. 

Another example is Dan Jansen (USA, Speed Skating) who had to wait for more than eight years before winning a gold medal as a speed skater. 

He went through a lot, even racing the afternoon after his sister died in 1988, and hit a lot of brick walls. But he didn’t give up on his dreams. He remained patient and soon reaped the reward of his labors.


13. Try.

If there is one more extraordinary lesson we learn from Olympic athletes, it is to always try. 

One notable athlete at the Sydney 2000 Olympics was Eric Moussambani (Equatorial Guinea, Swimming), who took the challenge to compete in the Olympics, even though he had taken up swimming only a few months beforehand. 

As expected, he lost miserably. But what struck the spectators was his absolute resolve to try. 

It’s not about winning at the Olympic Games. It’s about trying to win. The motto is faster, higher, stronger, not fastest, highest, strongest. Sometimes it’s the trying that matters. - Bronte Barratt, Australian swimmer and 2008 gold medalist


14. Take a break.

7 time Olympic medalist Simone Biles (the most accomplished gymnast of all time as of this writing) and Cricketer Ben Stokes withdrew and took a break this year to focus on their mental health. 

What we can learn from them is that it’s okay to slow down, take a break and protect our health at all costs.  

Photo by Payam Tahery on Unsplash      


5 comments on “14 Powerful Life Lessons We Can Learn From Olympic Athletes”

  1. This should be part of your life long dreams. A lot of practice, hard work, and persistance that you have to go thru and years of dedicated practice to be one of the best to compete which a lot of people don't realize that it take discipline it takes and dedication to reach and accomplish your goal.

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