The Power of Negativity

The Power of Negativity
Published: 2021-05-02

In today’s sporting world a lot of emphasis is put on the power of positivity: making positive comments, creating a positive environment, and having positive thoughts – which together creates a positive experience and ultimately a positive outcome, and that makes sense. But often we overlook, ignore or are completely unaware of the power of negativity.

Now to be clear, I am not suggesting for a moment that coaches should start yelling at their athletes, making derogatory and demeaning comments and deliberately creating a negative environment. But what I am saying is it is important that coaches and athletes be aware of the power of negativity. They should not be afraid of it, they should recognize it, embrace it, and use it as fuel to fight, to push themselves harder to succeed.   

From the very start of my athletic career, I have been surrounded by “nay Sayers” telling me I could never make it as club athlete, a county athlete, or make it to the national level and laughed in my face at the idea I could ever become an elite international athlete, compete in the Olympic Games, and break World Records.  They gave me a long list of reasons behind their comments: I was too short, too slow, and because I had Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus my back was weak, I would not only not make it as an athlete but could end up in a wheelchair if I tried pursuing my preposterous dreams. As I rose through the ranks and accomplished each of my lofty goals rather than the negative comments stopping, people began telling me all the reasons why I would not last!  

Now in my 60th year on this planet, with over 30 World Records under my belt and having competed in 2 Olympic Games, being an alternate in 2 more, and making 8 Olympic Trials, I am still competing and still breaking World Records. I have used negativity throughout my life as gasoline to fuel me, to help me reach my goals and prove people wrong. And I am not alone.

Over the years I have taken part in numerous clinics, workshops, and discussion panels with other Olympians and elite athletes. It never ceases to amaze me how often these athletes talk about the effect people’s negative comments had on them as they grew up and how it motivated them to push themselves harder.  I participated in one panel discussion that stands out:  It was with a dozen or so fellow Olympic javelin throwers, including Olympic Champions, Olympic Medalists, and former World Record Holders. Completely unscripted we each responded to a question asked by one of the attendees about what the biggest motivating factor was in our drive to become top international javelin throwers. To my astonishment each athlete talked about being dismissed as not talented, told they lacked the physical or psychological fortitude or drive and determination to succeed!  I thought what connected us was our craft of chucking a spear, but it was not. What united us all on that panel is that we were all seen as underdogs in our youth!

While it is important to have a positive, motivating, nurturing environment for athletes to grow, develop and reach their full potential. It is just as important to embrace any negativity that comes your way. Do not ignore it, do not run from it, do not hide, and do not react to it – at least not directly. Use that negativity to anger you. Use it to motivate you to work harder and to prove to those agents of negativity that they are/ were wrong.

It is easy to be negative and fail, but if you can channel any negativity in your life, digest it, and turn it into a positive as so many top athletes do, it can fuel your success in your sport and in all your other life pursuits.