Agile and Olympic Athletes

by Mike Sousa

Olympic Athletes are an elite of human-beings that look like super-heroes.
I will share with you what I have learned about how to become an Olympic Athlete in what you do!

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us!”
Wilma Rudolph, American sprinter and Olympic Athlete

Olympic Symbol

What is an Olympic Athlete made of?

Olympic Athletes are no different from us… we are all made of the same. But… If we are all made of the same, why aren't we all Olympic Athletes?
Literature and research show that the main characteristic of an Olympic Athlete is … their mindset.

Olympic Athletes Mindset

It is amazing when you see what an Olympic Athlete can do: They can go beyond limits that (supposedly) are not reachable, they keep breaking their own records, they break each other records, and they do it over and over again.

The mindset of an Olympic Athlete is the mindset of a winner.

“In the Olympic games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.”
Shannon Miller, U.S. gymnast and Olympic Athlete

We can learn from this Olympic Mindset and that way we can become Olympic Champions in our work and life.

The road to becoming Olympic

There is no easy road to become an Olympic in what you do. It is a long journey that requires dedication and hard work from you. In order to become an Olympic, you must create habits and shape your mind so that you can have the right mindset.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Will Durant in “The Story of Philosophy”[1]

Right now, you all may be thinking… Why are we only talking about Olympic Athletes? Aren't we supposed to be talking about Agile?

Well, that is because both mindsets are very similar, if not even identical… Let me show you why!

The finish line …
Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash


Olympic Athletes will train every day, in whatever conditions needed. They will feel pain from training so much and then they will train some more. They will go against all and everyone, facing, many times, financial and personal challenges, so that they can become what they dream of.

And Passion will drive them forward every second of their lives. Passion is the motivation that drives you towards success.

”Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
Oprah Winfrey

When you wake up in the morning, getting ready to go to work and filled with energy because you love what you do; that's passion. Or, when you explain your work to someone, and you feel proud about it; that's passion too.

One must have a power source that keeps delivering energy so that you can keep driving the road of success and high performance. That power source comes from the Passion you have in what you do. It will make you keep going when things do not go as expected and you have drawbacks. Passion makes you smile, all the time.

If you don't feel passion for what you do, it is, probably, time to change.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Randy Pausch, CMU, “The Last Lecture”

Embrace Change

Olympic Athletes will accept changes as part of all the work they have. They will face rule changes that will make them have to adjust what they already did well; new equipment that require an adaptation period; new techniques for training; new team mates and coaches that require them to adapt once more, there will be new challengers that want their titles, …

They will face these changes knowing they are just an opportunity for them to improve what they do. Change will happen. There is no way that life will always be the same.

You will have to continuously adapt to new needs and challenges. You will plan and then have to re-plan because life changed things once again: new job, new project, new family, new programming language, new framework, new town, new boss, new tools, new car, new gym, new sport, new …

Today, you need to engrave a new message in your DNA: “If I want to survive, I must learn how to deal with change. I need to embrace change!”. You need to embrace new ways, different ways, better ways and then use it to perform even better than before.

“If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got!”
Anthony Robbins, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Mark Twain, etc. [2]


Olympic Athletes will focus on their daily work, so they can do their best, and then they will focus on the competition to win it. They will focus in every detail of what they do, so they are aware of how to improve it. And when in the competition, they will focus on delivering everything they learned and practice during training.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Have you ever had the feeling that time is frozen, that the world is just you and that everything else vanished? The feeling of flow or being in the zone. That is Focus, and I can assure you this is an amazing feeling.

“I was in a tunnel, way beyond my conscious understanding.”
Ayrton Senna

When you are Focused on what you are doing, you can perform your best.

We are all different and not everyone is affected by the same distractions the same way: noise, team or family members, phone and desktop notifications, email, slack, you name it. Be sure to adapt your surroundings in the best way possible to maximize your “focused quality time”.

Be sure to find and practice how to get into this “focus mode” and then use it every time you can to improve what you do and get closer to become an Olympic person. Take the most out of your abilities, do not do things by half.

Goals and Motivation

Olympic Athletes define both long-term and short-term objectives and goals. They have season and championship objectives that drive them during practice periods. They keep their motivation levels up both during practice and competitions times, by keeping on their mind “the dream” they are going for.

The power of visualization is huge. Athletes will visualize the result they want to achieve, they will see (or dream) that moment happening.

Motivation will come from internal and external sources (intrinsic or extrinsic), be sure to identify and use them. A motivated person will strive to continuously learn and be their best: becoming a better version of themselves. They will also be committed and aligned with their goals. Failures and setbacks will happen but that will not stop them from keep going, maybe they will adjust and re-adapt; always with their minds on keep driving forward and become better and better.

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
Albert Einstein

Be sure to define goals and objectives, they will help you understand where you should be heading. And it will help you to define priorities in your life. You can use techniques such as OKR's (Objectives and Key Results[3]) to help you define your goals and objectives.

One must be courageous to define objectives you know are hard to achieve, so be sure to aim high, believe in you and keep growing.

Fear and Fails

Olympic Athletes face their fears in the eyes, not running away from it, but with it. Fear makes them perform even better, the adrenaline pumping in their veins, making them do it even stronger than before.

And they use their fails to learn, grow, and improve their results. When they get 'injured' they don't give up, they get up and do it again.

Fear can make us feel uncomfortable and scared, even paralyzed. Fear exists to make us survive, fear will increase our capabilities and increase the accuracy of our senses. You can make use of fear to help you. Instead of allowing it to block you from acting, you can accept fear as a signal that what you are about to do requires you to be your best self. Ensure you are prepared for what is coming and take the opportunity to grow.

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.

Many of the main decisions I took in my life scared me: they were not easy decisions to make and I knew they would have a huge impact in my future life. I allow myself to feel fear, and I make sure that it does not stop me from acting and keep me moving forward.

“Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
Michael Jordan

Failing is also scary and can make us feel fear. Human evolution was based on trial and error. High-performance people use their failings to grow and learn. They are not afraid to try new things and take risks.

Do not be afraid to expose yourself to others' opinions, receiving feedback. Even when feedback is not positive and hurts, it is still good: both positive and negative feedback can be used to make us grow.

Get out of your comfort zone. Yes, I know it is scary, but it can also become an addiction. You will discover that it is out of your comfort zone that Magic happens and that you will create amazing things. The boundaries of your comfort zone will grow and then you will grow and be able to move again outside that (now bigger) comfort zone.

Thinking... differently!

Olympic Athletes dare to do things in different ways. They will find new ways to do it better than before and to break barriers, achieving what were only dreams yesterday. “It can't be done” does not exist on the dictionary of an Olympic Athlete.

Thinking differently...
Quino Al on Unsplash

Think outside-of-the-box, or inside-the-box if everyone else is outside.

The way you think impact your results. Being optimistic can bring you advantages. Research shows that the brain of an optimistic person works 31% smarter (due to some chemical processes). Perception will make you see different things and you can grab opportunities that you would miss any other way, for example, OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE [4].

The extra mile

For olympic athletes it's never enough to just win. They dare to go beyond their limits and deliver that extra that makes them the idols they are. They will challenge themselves over and over again, never quitting from becoming better versions.

Champions do not impose limits on themselves.

“Our limitations and success will be based, most often, on our own expectations for ourselves. What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon.”
Denis Waitley

Once you know how to do something very well, it is time to understand how to do it even better. It is time to move to the next level which can be scary, but… do not allow fear to block you (do you remember?) Practice will bring you knowledge and confidence to do it again, just be sure to do it even better every time you do it.

There is always room to learn something new. Never say or think “I already know this”. Keep an open mind and allow your brain to also be opened to new ways, better ways, improved ways to do what you already believe you know how to do.

Be sure to prepare yourself for the possible conditions you will face. Athletes practice in similar conditions to the ones they expect to find in the competitions, like, temperature, humidity, altitude, types of terrain, weather conditions, etc.

Whatever you are doing, be sure to stop from time to time and analyze the results you are getting. Think in ways you can improve it and then (re-)do it again: ”Plan, do, check, act, … repeat“.

(The) Mindsets

So, was I talking about Agile Mindsets or Olympic Athletes Mindsets?

I was talking about both or the same… because the mindsets are identical. Having such a mindset allows you to achieve high levels of performance in your life, personal and professional.

And now, are you ready to become an Olympic Agile Athlete?

  1. In some literature you can find this quote as being from Aristotle, but it is, in fact, from Will Durant. ↩︎

  2. There is no certainty on who said or wrote this quote. ↩︎

  3. For more information read the book 'Radical__Focus' by Christina Wodtke or see her talk on youtube: Christina Wodtke: The Executioner's Tale – Ideas are Cheap. Execution is Everything. ↩︎