(So technically this isn’t just a sports article but a lot of it is inspired by sports because if you’ve read my older posts you’ll already know that sports is pretty much all I know)
You ever wonder why Alex Ferguson won all those titles? Why that guy in your hostel who manages to focus himself on the last day before an exam absolutely smashes it every single time? The secret lies in finishing strong.
No matter how they started the season, you knew that come March and Fergie’s devils were going to be unstoppable. That guy in your hostel – he probably plays Dota all day during term but when the exams loom over he gets his act together and, again, the results are in plain sight.
It’s easy to get off to a good start. It’s harder to maintain the pace throughout. I recently took up running and, understandably, I’m still pretty green. But even I can see the change in results depending on the finish. If you’re dead in the last kilometre, you dawdle so long that the entire average comes down. Whereas if you keep something in the tank and maintain your pace and break into a sprint for the last 100m – you feel great! The average km rating is way down.
Often when you choose to take up a project or accomplish a task, initially the motivation is strong and keeps you going. Gradually as time progresses it’s harder and harder to maintain that rocket pace, especially when the motivation dies out.
As an Arsenal fan I know all about going to pieces in the last third. Just take the recent drubbing by Bayern Munich. Consider the first hour of both games – Arsenal up 2-1 on aggregate. But counting just the last thirty minutes, it’s a shambolic 8-0 slaughter in favour of the Bavarians.
And not just within a game, consider the season as a whole. For the best part of the 2013-14 season, fuelled by Mesut Ozil’s creativity, Arsenal were well clear on top of the league table. But after we were brought down to Earth by Liverpool at Anfield it all came crashing down. Stamford Bridge followed then Goodison Park. We just couldn’t bring it home. Fourth in the league yet again, all to blame the finish.
But take a look at Ferguson’s teams over the years. Be it Fergie time at the end of each game that inevitably led to goals or absolutely hammering teams in the second half of the season, you had to admit it, they knew how to close out a game.
There are countless other examples from the realm of sport. For instance, all Indians remember the name Joginder Sharma. But why? A medium pacer with just 8 India caps to his name and a solid if slightly unspectacular domestic career. But in the T20 World Cup final against Pakistan, he was the man who held his nerve and brought the cup home. My sister, who has probably watched about as much cricket entirely as a single day of test cricket, will probably attest to how his line and length in the last over denied Misbah and brought India it’s first major honour in over a decade.
But there’s a better example to illustrate this. Case in point – Jason Lezak.
Let’s go back to the year 2008 when Michael Phelps was not the greatest Olympian of all time but he was a top athlete who was well on course to become the greatest Olympian of all time 😛
That summer in Beijing, on the first night of swimming events at the Water Cube it was shaping up to be an old fashioned battle royale between the sport’s biggest heavyweights.
The French, led by Alain Bernard, world record in the individual 100m freestyle at the time, had been boasting in the lead up to the Olympics that they would “smash” the Americans.
A tense silence fell over the crowd as the finalists mounted the blocks.
It was a blistering start by the Aussies with the Americans and French hot in pursuit. But after three legs of the four, the French were pulling ahead with Bernard himself to finish.
At this point, the race could have been over.
It should have been over.
But Lezak was a veteran of the game and knew to play to his strengths. For the first 50m he made perfect use of the technique known as drafting or brushing up against the lane-line of a fellow competitor and hitch a ride on the swell that the leading swimmer is providing. He emerged at the hip of Bernard at the turn. (see 4:37 of the video link)
Nobody could have predicted what happened next.
With 25m to go, Bernard began to tighten up, and Lezak was starting to cover some ground… But the commentators had already called it saying that the Americans could comfortably settle for silver (see 4:50)
Stroke-by-stroke, breath by breath…
Until the two swimmers were nearly even coming in under the flags.
With Phelps and teammate Garrett Weber-Gale on the blocks screaming Lezak on, the 32 year old barreled into the finish, just barely surging past the hulking Frenchman to win gold, triggering massive celebrations behind the US blocks.
I doubt I can play up the importance of finishing strong any more than this. Truly champion qualities. Seriously… if you ignored that link, you should really give it a watch.
And it doesn’t apply just to sport. Anything you do, finishing strong is the most important. I have a friend who is super lazy and basically piles everything to study for the last day. But if you see how methodical and thorough she is on the final day you’ll see why she’s in the top 5 every time. It’s all about the finish.
Think about the projects you’ve undertaken. Many times at the start you’re super enthusiastic but when you have to face some hurdles you tend to do a shoddy job. All it needs is that little push late on and, who knows, you can achieve something truly special.
It extends to almost anything I can think of. When you’re in the final third, give it your all. Think of Jason Lezak and shoot for the stars