Leon Taylor: inside a winner’s mind

“Ever the runner up, never a medalist” seemed to sum up Leon Taylor’s career – but a positive attitude and an ability to learn from his failures helped spur him on to Olympic glory

Leon Taylor: inside a winner’s mind

Olympic medallist Leon Taylor believes that winners are made, not simply born. And asserting that athletes and entrepreneurs have a lot in common, he maintains there are certain characteristics from the sporting world that can equally be applied in the boardroom. Speaking to delegates at Elite Business Live, Taylor shared some of the qualities he’s honed throughout his sporting career.

Channel frustration and failure

Many people associate Taylor with the silverware he picked up in Athens in 2008 but it’s perhaps all the times he came in fourth place – missing a place on the winners’ podium by a hair’s breadth – that have formed his character. “When you fall on your face, it changes your outlook,” he says. The athlete told the Elite Business Live audience that winners expect challenges and it’s been all the frustrations and “spectacular failures” that have motivated him to get back on track to pursue his goals all the more passionately.

In one instance, it even sparked innovation. Frustrated by what he perceived as unfair rules that favoured divers in other countries, Taylor channeled all his energy into inventing the world’s most complex diving formation – a two-and-a-half somersault, two-and-a-half twist dive in pike – in a bid to wow the judges and change their perceptions of British diving.

Learn to handle criticism well

Criticism is sometimes worth heeding, while in other cases tuning out the negative chatter is what’s required. After a a 17-year-old Taylor declared to his teammates his intention to be an Olympic diver, the head coach of British diving responded by telling him “you’re not good enough.” But instead of giving up, his coach’s words lit a fire under him, spurring him on to strive to achieve his goals.

Find the right balance

There are times when Taylor has chosen to streamline his life, forgoing all distractions and any hint of a social life, particularly when he was trying to row back from a shoulder injury. “I started to squeeze my life and cut out anything that was inconsequential to my focus,” Taylor said. But while he admitted that keeping your eye on the prize is important, you shouldn’t let it go too far and lose sight of why you started pursuing your chosen career in the first place. “Those five months were the worst of my entire life,” he revealed.

Understand the power of visualisation

By the time Taylor had stepped onto the diving board in Athens, with the crowds cheering so loudly he couldn’t hear his name being announced, he’d done it thousands of times already in his mind. “The most powerful ability we have as human beings is our ability to imagine,” he said. Taylor explained that because the mind controls the body, visualising something can essentially trick your body into thinking it’s really happening.

To ensure he was in the right frame of mind during those crucial seconds in the competition, he would visualise standing on the board getting ready to dive while staying calm and collected. This meant that whenever he was up on the board for real, he could tap into those feelings. 

Maria Barr
Maria Barr

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