Lessons from the Floods

The entire world has been seeing some amazing images and hearing heart-wrenching stories coming from Queensland in the last few days.  It is likely that the tragic statistics will increase but it also very likely that the amazing and heroic stories will continue to be written.

When the waters finally recede there will be a lot to learn from these floods as there was from the infamous 1974 floods.  But for the moment let’s focus on what we have learned about the mental strength, the resilience, and the toughness of human beings from what we have already seen.
In sport we talk about toughness, about bouncing back, and about self-belief as being critical for success and achievement of goals.

Being glued to the TV coverage and subsequently helping friends in the midst of this madness, three things strike me as interesting about the mental strength of human beings and I think they are important lessons that we can all use in our daily lives and certainly that athletes can use in their careers.

The three things I have seen in people time and time again throughout this crisis and that I think are important lessons are:
1. Helping each other out;
2. Getting on with the job; and
3. Seeing no other option but success.

Helping each other out during a flood crisis just seems to be the Australian way.  People don’t even have to be asked to help.  They are out looking for ways to help others.  It’s so easy in the professional era for athletes to get caught up in their own affairs.  But what we see time and time again in sport (and as we have seen during the floods) is that when people are working together they are far more effective. Looking for ways to work with others even in individual sports can help your training and your performance to go to the next level.  Working with others can push you harder, help to understand your strengths and weaknesses more, and can help to keep the enjoyment in your sport.

Getting on with the job has been what so many thousands of people have been doing in the past few days.  Whether it has been moving possessions, sandbagging businesses, or ferrying people to safety people have been jumping in and getting the job done.  In sport we often to see people who are going to do things.  The athletes who talk less and do more are more often the successful ones long-term. Australia is filled with talented athletes who never made it because they never really just got on with the job.  Planning is important but at the end of the day there is no replacement for doing the work.

“No other option” is very true for all of the survivors of the floods.  They face months if not years of struggle to rebuild their lives.  The one thing that will get them through this period and out to the other side is that in their minds there is no other option but to get through it.  It’s a simple idea but a powerful one.  Many athletes would do well to set up their own goals and plans for achieving them with this attitude in mind.  This “no other option but success” approach breeds resilience and a never-say-die attitude which are essential for any athlete to be truly successful in their sport.  It’s hard to get up at 4am every morning to go to training before school or work.  How do you do something that is so tough?  Simple, there is no other option if I want to be the best.  It is near impossible to stay focused for a 12 month-plus recovery from some injuries.  How do you do it?  Simple, there is no other option.

The reason this last concept is so powerful is because we see so many examples in our history of people who have had no option and as a result have had to find a way through.  And the way through is found in the looking.  Our Australian soldiers who fight overseas do such a good job because in their minds, there is no other option.  People recover from natural disasters like the 1974 Queensland floods, the Christmas day bushfires in Victoria and the most recent 2011 Queensland floods because there is no other option.

It is quite amazing what people can achieve when they work together, get on with the job and believe that there is no other option but success. These are some important lessons that I think we can take from these very early days of the floods and use them in all of our lives and in sport.

Matt Ahlberg | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS