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Focused or Foolish? An Olympic Lesson

Focused or Foolish? An Olympic Lesson

As you may have heard, the world’s most famous snowboarder, Shaun White, announced that he was withdrawing from the first ever Slopestyle competition. He’d made his decision after jamming up his wrist during a practice run, and watching numerous other athletes wipe out during their practice runs.

“With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said in a statement.

The reaction from the media and even other Olympic athletes has been less than understanding. Canadian rider Sebastian Toutant, who has apparently forgotten his nation’s reputation for good manners, Tweeted: “Mr. White… It’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win.”


Was Shaun’s decision foolish…or was it an example of a world class athlete’s superior focus?

I have to admit to being on Team Focus. Athletes and business owners have one trait in common: we’re incredibly competitive. We want to win at everything we do. However, experience – something Shaun, as the defending two-time Olympic Gold medalist in half-pipe, has plenty of – teaches us that we have to know ourselves better than anyone else knows us.

It’s our own personal understanding of our capacity and skills that can let us accurately determine if we can actually do everything we want to do to the highest caliber – or if taking on every opportunity means we’ll only be able to turn in an average performance. Personally, I think it’s better to do one thing exceptionally than many things poorly.

Priorities are important.

If Shaun was injured during the Slopestyle competition, there’s a good chance that would negatively impact his odds of winning a third half pipe gold. Had the Olympic schedule been different, and he’d been able to secure the gold before taking on the Slopestyle course again, we might not even be having this conversation. But it wasn’t, and Shaun needed to keep his focus on his more important goal.

In much the same way, business owners have to prioritize what they’re going to take on as they try to grow their companies. Good decisions aren’t always popular decisions. A leader – or an athlete – needs a certain amount of strength to make the right choice, especially in the face of intense pressure.

Our ability to focus grows with our experience. The longer you do something, the more adept you become at figuring out what it’s going to do to you. Shaun White’s been snowboarding for decades. The Sochi marks his third Olympic games. If he feels uneasy about taking on a particular course, there’s a reason. While some things might be worth the risk – and I’m very sure that being part of a historic, first-time ever Olympic event could qualify – it’s experience that makes one sit back and think through the consequences. An injury on the Slopestyle track could do more than put Shaun out of the running for a half-pipe medal; it could potentially end his career.

As a business leader, you’re going to have opportunities that look very enticing in the short term. Sometimes these opportunities could make you a ton of money if everything goes exactly right. But you have to be secure enough in yourself to think things through. What happens to you, and to your company, and to your company’s future, if things don’t work as promised?


In the Olympics, there are no medals for “I tried real hard.” It’s just like business. Only the winners go home with the gold. That means focus, making hard choices, and sometimes facing a world that doesn’t agree with what you’re doing. It’s not easy, but greatness never is.

Go Shaun!

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