Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lessons I've Learned from Michael Phelps


He's done it. After all the dreaming and speculation, Saturday, Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal, breaking the unbelievable record of seven, set by Mark Spitz in 1972. And what a glowing example of a winner. After winning his record-breaking medal, he said, "I guess I kind of just want to see my mom." Ya gotta love the boy.

In honor of Michael's eight gold medals, here are eight lessons we can all learn from America's boy next door.


  • NEVER STOP DREAMING. At the end of his quest, Phelps said, "The biggest thing is that nothing is impossible. So many people said it couldn't be done. But all it takes is an imagination." Whether you're a writer or not, we can all glean from that statement.
  • BE A TEAM PLAYER. Phelps record-breaking gold medal came in a relay. He knew the value of his teammates. "I wouldn't have done it without the help of the team. We came together as a unit." You can't do it alone. We need those who help us along the way. Critique partners, mentors, encouragers. . .they all play a part in our success.
  • ENJOY THE JOURNEY. "From winning by 1/100th to doing a best time in every event, it's been nothing but an upwards roller coaster and nothing but fun for me."
  • DON'T GET COCKY. After his seven gold medals, Mark Spitz made a poster and wanted to try Hollywood. Michael Phelps just wanted to see his mom.
  • INSPIRE OTHERS. Jim Scherr, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee said, "Michael's record-breaking performance during these games will inspire millions of people around the world to reach for their goals and aspire to greatness." I know he certainly inspired me.
  • PACE YOURSELF. When Phelps swam qualifying rounds, his goal wasn't to win, it was to qualify. He saved his energy for the big races. In other words, don't sweat the small stuff. Invest your energy getting the story out of your head and onto the page, not laboring over one sentence, scene, or paragraph.
  • BE LIKABLE. Ft. Worth Star Telegram sports columnist Gil Lebreton says, "Though he's not an engaging speaker, his likability is disarming. Mark Spitz, the man whom Phelps was measured against, had groovy hair and a moustache--he looked like a TV detective. Phelps, on the other hand, has big ears. He looks like Opie, grown up." Bottom line? He made us care.
  • THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM TO GROW. In one of the many commentaries, I heard it said that when Phelps was eleven, his coach came to Michael's mother and told her that her son had what it took to be an Olympic contender. Yet for all the training, his coach never added a weight-training regimen until after the Athens games--when Phelps was 19. This seems almost foreign in our muscle-bound, steroid-induced world. But his coach knew that adding strength training too young could damage Michael's ability. Instead, he waited until such a time that the weight-training would enhance his ability. The same holds true in writing. Learn the basics, hone your skills, then take yourself to another level.

Did you cheer Michael Phelps in his quest for gold? Did he inspire you? For eight days, we heard a lot about this young man. What stood out to you?

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