When I was a development aerial skiing athlete, there were four of us training together in the lead-up to the Nagano Olympics. By virtue of Australia holding the number one and two positions in the world, the national team were able to put forward a field of four athletes to compete in the world cup competitions. This gave us development athletes the chance to train with the full world cup field for a week. Then, the two who performed best would get to compete.
It was an incredible opportunity, and I desperately wanted to be picked. The night before the actual competition, a team meeting was held, and I was told that I would not be competing the next day – I hadn’t landed as many jumps as I should have. I was devastated. Following this news, I was asked to wait in the hallway while the remaining athletes were briefed. I remember sitting outside the door and bursting into tears. Meanwhile, our senior team athletes walked down the hall to join the meeting as I sobbed uncontrollably in front of them. In that moment, I swore that I’d never let that happen again.
This was a pivotal experience for me, one that changed the course of my life in sport. My error was twofold: First, trying to do jumps I wasn’t ready to land yet because I wanted to impress with degree of difficulty – rather than focusing on landings. I let ego get in the way of understanding what was the most important criteria for success. Second, I was overly desperate and let nerves get the better of my judgement and ability to perform. Even worse, when things didn’t start well I self-sabotaged further by letting anger enter the situation. As a result of that experience, I resolved that I would work so hard – mentally and physically – that I would never ever leave any doubt in the eyes of decision-makers that I was the most prepared person for the job – the most worthy of reward.
From that point on, I worked harder than anyone else on the development team. In the off-season, I read books on performance psychology and spent more time in the gym and putting in jump numbers than the other athletes – and my ranking lifted from last to first. By the time I made the national team, I could see that I really hadn’t been ready for the world cup prior to the Nagano Olympics.
Now I know, if you love learning and you recognise that mistakes are a core component of the process, then something like not getting picked for a team early in your career can be an absolute gift. It’s a common theme when athletes are reflecting on their careers, and it’s true for me, too. Fortunately, my desire to become my best self allowed me to gently identify my shortcomings and make a decision about where I wanted to go from there. That uncomfortable experience allowed me to discover what being prepared for success really looked like – which informs all elements of my life to this day.