What makes a winner?

02/08/2012  -  10.59am

Professor Andy Lane

Team GB won its first gold medals of London 2012 yesterday, with an impressive first Olympic title for the women’s pair Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the rowing and cyclist Bradley Wiggins winning the time trial in some style to add to his Tour de France victory.

Winners are often distinguished from losers by the finest of margins; by the width of a vest, or the tip of a fingernail, or a few seconds in a race lasting several hours.

With Olympic athletes I could argue that they are all winners as to get to the Games themselves each athlete is a winner in her or his country; I won't because what is wanted is some insight into why someone wins.

Here are some of the findings from science:

a) Winners possess resilient self-confidence; its when they are down that the depths of self-confidence is tested. Winners hold their self-belief; it might be blind optimism, a sense of hope, but winners maintain 100% effort throughout.

b) The ability to manage unwanted emotions; everyone experiences anxiety when they don’t want to but winners tend to see anxiety as a necessary part of performance; just like running a marathon will make you tired, performing in the Olympic final will make you nervous.

If you accept these states are part of the process, you learn to cope with them.

If you want to find out more about yourself, whether your psychological skill can be tuned up, have a go at new project “Can you compete under pressure?”, a project done with the BBC, fronted by Olympian, Michael Johnson.