Olympic lesson in goal achievement

No doubt there will be many inspirational stories to come out of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.  But last week I was struck by that of Peter Wilson, who won a gold medal in the men’s double trap (shooting) event.  Wilson’s story shows how developing resilience and interpersonal support can contribute to goal achievement.


Wilson could be described as having the character strength, ‘Bounceback’, which the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology explain as “People strong in Bounceback use setbacks as springboards to go on and achieve even more.”  Wilson’s major setback was serious nerve damage to his shoulder in a snowboarding accident that meant he was unable to pursue his main interests, squash and cricket.  But he also encountered another when his funding was withdrawn after the Beijing Olympics. 

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to be naturally high in such resiliency in order to deal with adversity and attain success.  As the work of Fred Luthans and colleagues reveals, we can all improve our skills for rebounding.  The key to it, is to learn to accurately assess the realistic impact of a setback, determine what’s within our control, what’s out of our control, and identify the options for taking action.

Interpersonal support

After Wilson’s funding ended he was fortunate to meet Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Hasher Al Maktoum.  The Sheikh, a member of Dubai’s ruling family, and also Olympic gold medallist in the men’s double trap in Athens 2004, saw something in Wilson and agreed to coach him for free.

We may not all have such an accomplished and wealthy benefactor, but we can benefit from interpersonal support.  Teresa Amabile’s study of what makes people happy, motivated, productive, and creative at work found that when managers are supportive (i.e. show respect and recognition, are encouraging, provide emotional support, are affiliative and demonstrate camaraderie), they help workers progress in the things they care about.


To find out more about how you can help your workforce progress, bounce back from adversity, and support others to achieve their goals, contact gill@unisonmedia.co.uk



Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011).  The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at WorkBoston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press.

BBC (August 2012) 100 Team GB contenders for London 2012: Peter Wilson  accessed on 03/08/12 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/14220182 

Lewis, A. (August 2, 2012). Olympics shooting: Peter Wilson’s win triggers emotional scenes.  BBC online.  Accessed on 03/08/12 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19104576

Linley, A., Willars, J., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The strengths bookCoventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Luthans, F., Avey, J.B., Avolio, B.J., Norman, S.M., & Combs, G.M. (2006). Psychological capital development: toward a micro-intervention.   Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 27, 387-393.

White, J. (August 2, 2012).  London 2012 Olympics: Shotgun Sheikh shares secrets of success with double trap shooting champion Peter Wilson.   The Telegraph.  Accessed on 03/08/12 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/shooting/9448296/London-2012-Olympics-Shotgun-Sheikh-shares-secrets-of-success-with-double-trap-shooting-champion-Peter-Wilson.html


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