Resilience - What can the world of work learn from an Olympic Athlete?

Resilience - What can the world of work learn from an Olympic Athlete?

 2nd August 2021

Resilience is so important as it gives people the strength they need to process and overcome challenge and difficulties

The Olympics is in full swing and Team GB have had the best start to their Olympic games ever, China are in the lead with the USA and Japan close behind but what does it take to be an Olympic Athlete? What attributes are needed to be the best at your sport and how can they translate into the world of work?


Why is resilience so important?

Resilience is so important as it gives people the strength they need to process and overcome challenge and difficulties. Our Resilience can change over time and we can learn to develop greater resilience through experience.

The goal for an athlete is to get to the Olympic Games, and this last year their preparations were hampered during the pandemic with movement restrictions, cancelled competitions, closure of sporting facilities as well as being isolated from teammates and coaches. Faced with these unprecedented challenges, Athletes needed resilience to be able to adapt and move forward, just like all of us.


Attributes of an Athlete

In March 2020 Olympic teams all over the world heard that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were to be postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic which was sweeping across the globe; never has this happened in the history of the Olympics. Due to local and national lockdowns it also meant that the athletes had to find new ways to train, keep fit, keep connected and keep to their training plan for the Tokyo Olympics.

In July 2020 David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar from Loughborough University, interviewed 12 Olympic gold medallists to explore the relationship between psychological resilience and optimal performance. They found that athletes are protected by 5 psychological factors (5 resilience factors of Olympic Champions):

  • Positive Personality – This helps the athletes identify and act on opportunities and challenges rather than avoiding them. They stated that it’s not important how other people view you, it’s how you view yourself.
  • Motivation – What drives you? Why are doing this? What are you achieving? Having these questions in mind helps to motivate the athletes and ignites their passion, builds their confidence, and help them be the best that they can be.
  • Confidence – This has been cited in the research as a crucial factor to being resilient. Confidence comes from experience, self-awareness, visualisation, coaches and teammates. Self-believe is key to succeeding and accepting when things may not go the way you want them to.
  • Focus – This can be achieved by setting goals, being disciplined, and knowing exactly what you want from yourself and from your next competition.
  • Perceived social support – Having a good support system around you is key, they help you focus, relax, remember what’s important and help you though the tough times.


These findings link very closely with Flint-Taylor and Coopers 4 characteristics of resilience which are confidence, seeking social support, adaptability, and purposefulness, so perhaps we are all like Olympians in our way!

We must not forget that despite all these positive attributes, being an Olympian can place stress and pressure on individuals and this has been seen in the Tokyo Olympics, when Simone Biles pulled out of her remaining Gymnastic finals due to mental health issues. Other athletes have also started to speak up more about their mental health issues, to help the world understand and help future athletes cope with the pressures. Being resilient also means that you know when you need to take a step back to reassess yourself and figure out how you can bounce back and move forward; this can be seen in the case of Simone Biles. After help from her team and support system she has now decided to take her place in the Balance Beam Final as she feels confident to do so.

Resilience has been described as “positive adaption despite the presence of risk” and it is key to maintaining productivity, wellbeing, and social connections. It is the attribute that helps us get back up again and keeps us going “Your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you” Stephen Covey. Looking to the future of working how can we be resilient and bounce back? How can we be confident, focused, and positive in our organisations and lead our teams to become the best that they can be?

Here are some tips to get you started:


  • Surround yourself with uplifting and positive people and avoid negative conversations
  • Pay-it-forward and doing something nice for someone else each day
  • Smile even if you don’t want to


  • Remind yourself of why you want to be motivated in the first place
  • Break large goals down into smaller achievable ones and celebrate when you reach them
  • Plot your progress so you can see your progress


  • Get out of your comfort Zone and do something that scares you
  • Make a mental shift to stop seeing others as better than you or more deserving
  • Question your inner critic, ask why you feel a certain way and figure out if it is justified.


  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Set small daily goals so you have a structure to your day
  • Take regular breaks to avoid burnout

Social Support

  • Reach out to or find a mentor who you can learn from
  • Be honest with you support network
  • Have meaningful conversations with them to form close bonds


Leading Well can help to integrate all these attributes into your organisation with our experienced Workplace Resilience and Wellbeing Practitioners as well as our Lumina Learning Practitioners. Using workplace assessments, our Practitioners can design a programme of support specifically for your organisation to help your organisation, your teams and the individuals that make up your company truly thrive.

We also have Mental Health first Aid training for both Adults and Young People which will help your organisation be more aware of your employees’ states of mind and give them the reassurance that you take their mental wellbeing seriously.

If your organisation is just starting out on their wellbeing journey, contact us to complete one of our Wellbeing or Future of Work surveys, or we can do a deep dive into your company with a bespoke wellbeing diagnostic.

We can emulate the attributes of Olympic athletes we just might need some help to get there, contact us today to start your journey to better wellbeing.

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