Former Olympian Greg Whyte shares his sports motivation advice

This week we were lucky enough to secure a ticket for an audience with Sport Scientist and former Olympian, Prof. Greg Whyte, at Derby County Football Club.

Designed to inspire those taking part in the upcoming Derby 10K, the uplifting evening was organised by Derby County Community Trust and Derby 10K sponsors, Huub.

With a warm welcome from Huub’s Founder, Dean Jackson, it became clear how much the Derby 10K means to the city. Dean began by reminiscing about Derby sporting events of yesteryear, and followed up with his congratulations for the 10K team and highlighting the remarkable effort that takes place behind the scenes.

Finishing up his introduction with an appreciation for the inclusivity of the event and its open-armed attitude toward athletes of all abilities, Dean invited Greg Whyte to take to the stage, which was acknowledged with an excitable round of applause.

Introducing himself as a Modern Pentathlete, Greg immediately captured the crowd’s attention with a challenge to name all five pentathlon sports, which was of course responded to eagerly.

A presentation stacked with a combination of compelling video footage, thought-provoking phrasing and comical quips caught the imagination of the audience, and before we knew it a whole hour had flown by.

Greg comes across as a humble human being, considering himself extremely lucky to have worked with some of the greatest athletes on the planet. A self-proclaimed ‘yes-man’, he has a penchant for accepting most challenges that come his way. This trait is what led to him to sharing his first piece of advice: don’t be afraid of setting an audacious goal.

One part of Greg’s talk that resonated with me the most was hearing:

 

“We’re bound by what we think we can achieve, and critically, what other people think we can achieve.”

 

Having never heard these facts put in such simple words, it’s easy to see why many people don’t give themselves enough credit when considering their personal targets.

From this, Greg was able to share how eliminating barriers to success can lead to just about anything being possible. Thinking back to when he was asked to prepare comedian David Walliams for his swim across the Channel, he told us how the risk of encountering jellyfish in the deep, dark, open water was very real. Simply by creating an if/then plan (“If this happens, then…”) meant that David and his team felt much more prepared and optimistic for success.

The next three points all connect in one straightforward timeline.

First comes belief. When asked how he motivates people, Greg insists that he’s not directly responsible for motivation, but rather that it’s driven by an athlete’s own confidence in their ability.

 

“If you don’t believe you can, you have already been defeated by yourself.”

 

This moved the focus nicely on to the topic of commitment. Expecting to fail leaves you destined not to commit, and not allowing yourself to give up takes a huge amount of inner strength.

Greg likened this situation to when he supported Radio 1 presenter Greg James through his ‘Pedal to the Peaks’ challenge, and how his technique involved a constant vocal reminder that every pedal stroke was another one closer to bed and a cup of tea! With a strong foundation of belief and commitment, motivation then comes easily.

 

“Motivation works differently for all of us. There is always a reason for being out there.”

 

Miranda Hart’s Million Pound Bike Ride was the inspiration for Greg’s next tip. Starting with an affectionate recollection of Miranda falling off her bike before even getting on it properly, we were told of her enduring hill climb that resulted in Greg adopting an aggressive approach to shut down her negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Team understanding, and making sure your support network is aware of what motivates you, can make all the difference to your achievements. If you were lucky enough to see some of ‘John Bishop’s Week of Hell’ for Sport Relief, you might remember Freddie Flintoff’s four words of wisdom that saw John gain the mental strength to carry on during his 26-mile row across the Channel – “We’ll get you home”. Teamwork at its best!

Next, we were taught to ‘respect the challenge’. Greg explained how important it is to remember to never misjudge, overestimate, or make assumptions. Nothing good comes easy and without preparation and realistic training, you’re risking your success and your health.

An unexpected word came up after this, considering that the nature of the Derby 10K is mostly an individual sport. Leadership. But what Greg meant by this was that you should be a leader of yourself and responsible for your own actions. Not only that, but also to lead by example – an incredible way to help motivate others.

To finish off, we gratefully welcomed a collection of key phrases around behaviour change. Do the things you hate well. Change is not a chance event. It is all about the training – no short cuts. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. And finally, remember YOU are in charge.

 

Our thanks go to Derby County Community Trust, Huub and Greg Whyte for putting on this inspirational event!