The Canadian former world champion speed skater and Olympic silver medallist discusses how athletes can learn more from setbacks than from victories.

How do I cope with failure? When I was young, I would be upset and disappointed and then get over it. As I grew older and I felt more external pressure, I didn’t deal with it as easily because I would get reminded of my failures more often. 

I raced badly in the 500m at the Olympic Winter Games Turin 2006 and was really disappointed, but my focus that season wasn’t where it should have been.  

Focus on what’s important
Every day I was thinking too much about the Olympics instead of what was most important on that particular day. I was too focused on being perfect and trying to be at too high a level all the time, instead of taking it day by day and building up slowly.     

In my best seasons, I never thought about the competitions that were coming up later in the year. I would show up and do what I was supposed to do that day. 

If I could have remembered that, I think I would have been able to deal with some failures better and been able to prepare better to avoid other failures that I ended up having.

Beware the burnout
Reflecting on my career, I would say that Turin is my biggest regret. 

After those Olympics in 2006, I felt like I’d been doing the same thing for quite a few years. I was tired, and I think a lot of that fatigue stemmed from my mindset more than my body. If you’re not motivated or if you feel like it’s too tough to do what you’re doing every day, it’s hard to bring a lot of energy into it.  

I wanted to have a break after Turin and see if I still felt like training. I took a few months off and didn’t train at all. I then spent the summer and fall training with some bobsleigh sprinters and athletes from other short-sprint power sports so that I could do a different type of training, where the focus and mindset were different.   

Taking a breather
I did this for around six months in total, and felt a lot more ready to skate afterwards. The 2007/08 season turned out to be one of the best campaigns in my career. It seemed like the break definitely helped me.

It would be simplistic to say it was just from changing or just from resting. Everything has an effect, so it was a combination of things. Having more freedom that year to do things that I hadn’t done in a while was hugely helpful too.