Tuesday, August 7, 2012


They say if you want to be successful look at what the majority of people are doing and then do the opposite.

In any field of endeavor a minority enjoy disproportionate benefits compared to their numbers because they are willing to do what the majority are unwilling to do, in terms of putting in the planning and effort to achieve their goals.

Every four years the Olympics rolls around and serves as useful demonstration of how effort and dedication can lead to feats of superhuman of achievements.

Last week two athletes stood out for me Chinese teenage swimmer Ye Shiwen and North Korean weight lifter Om Yun Chol.

Shiwen who in breaking the record and winning the gold medal in the 400 meters individual medley race, kicked up a storm with some accusing her of doping. Breaking the record was not the issue, it was that she improved her personal best time by seven seconds, and in addition swam a faster final lap than the male winner in the same event just hours before. And the kagirl is just 16.

Chol on the hand not only broke the record in the clean and jerk for his weight category but Chol who is 56kg, joined an exclusive club of weight lifters who had ever lifted three times their weight.

When we watch them perform and like me have our jaws drop to the floor in awe we are seeing but a small part of the whole process of achievement.

Time magazine had a 71 page special on the Olympics and in it they gave a sneak peek into the Chinese training system, which is becoming the gold standard of how podium performances can be engineered.

They of course have taken sports science to a whole new level but there is no getting away from the volume of work, done with hellacious intensity the top Chinese swimmers, divers, gymnasts and weightlifters endure to perform at the highest level.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reported on research which showed that the common denominator among world class performers was the amount of time they put into practicing their craft. The research showed that at least 10,000 hours have to be logged if one is to have a realistic chance of being world class in sports, music or any endevour of significance.

Ten thousand hours is the equivalent of practicing your craft systematically, three hours a day, fifty two weeks a year for ten years.

So for the 16 year old Shewin who started swimming at six, virtually all her swimming life has been dedicated to her current performance, no splashing around in the local pool on hot Saturday afternoons for her, but systematic, lung bursting, limb cramping laps day after day after day.

And those who cannot or will not or dare not log the mileage how do they account for the success of their rivals? Talent!

The beauty of that excuse is that it suggests an intangible, god given gift relieving one of the responsibility of failure to perform at the highest level.

Ok they may be some physical characteristics – Shewin was identified by her kindergarten teacher because of her large hands and feet, but there hundreds of other girls with big feet and hands, many of whom have been performing at the London Olympics, but only one of them has come through with stunning results.

In watching the Olympians one has to keep in mind we are witnessing the finished product. To go out tomorrow or next week or next year or even in five year’s time and expect to do Shewin’s time at Speke Resort Munyonyo – the only Olympic size pool in Uganda, is an exercise in futility or worse.

Which is why Uganda’s society fixation on the overnight success cannot be discouraged enough. They say when you wake up to find your friend an overnight success be sure he has not been asleep.

Overnight success is good for the romantic novels but does not play well in real life. Our search for the one big deal has warped our sense of morality and destroyed our work ethic (we used to have one).

That is why many of us, report to office or rather our jackets do, while we hustle for an extra buck on the side, return home at the end of the day to cook the books rather than advance our education and on weekend we dispossess rural folk of their land by force or trickery instead of saving up to buy our own.

As they say its only in the dictionary where success comes before work.

The challenge is of course that as a society we have too many of the wrong role models and that needs to be addressed.

For starters I would suggest you all watch the Olympics – any sport, and the google the effort the athletes put into their sport.

As for Ugandan athletes? I ask, show me your 10,000 hours!

1 comment:

  1. First off..good article...I agree with you that what we see is the finished product..secondly, Munyonyo is not Olympic size it comes short by inches and even then it is not a competition pool it is a recreational pool and is built as such, the lucky competitive swimmers who can access it have to be able to afford it. Third, what do you think the answer to your last question is going to be? I will help you, they cannot show you those hours because they don't exist! How does Uganda as a country expect good results when they don't invest in sports? Facilities are non-existent, equipment is almost non-existent, corruption in sports is high, the athletes get the short end of the stick. How will an athlete log 10K hours when he/she has to work 8-9hrs, go to school, take care of family AND train? China has invested heavily just like Britain just like USA and the results are evident, many of their athletes esp those in China do nothing but dedicate themselves to their sport with the support of many. So till Uganda realizes that investing in sports will change things it will remain to who much is given much is received