We’ve all watched the Olympic swimming rivalry play out between the USA’s Michael Phelps and South Africa’s Chad le Clos. The not-so-subtle jabs in the media between the two have spanned continents, from the London games all the way to Rio, and are credited with Phelps’s return to the sport from retirement.
For those of you who haven’t been salivating over this story, le Clos narrowly beat Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly race during the London games and giving Phelps his first international loss. Phelps announced his retirement shortly after, with this one blemish on his nearly spotless competitive record. He watched le Clos dominate in the 200 meter fly race in international competition and eventually announced his return to the event stating the other swimmers really “are not that fast,” clearly taking a jab at his rival. That statement has unleashed a slew of back-and-forth comments from both parties in the news and on social media.
And since arriving in Rio, le Clos has been trying to psyche Phelps out, most notably while shadowboxing in front of Phelps as they wait for a qualifying race, launching a thousand memes featuring Phelps’s hilarious scowl.
And finally, we learned how the rivalry would end, as Phelps bested le Clos in the finals. But what caught my attention throughout the race was le Clos constantly turning his head to get a glimpse of Phelps. I swam competitively (not well at all!) as a kid and remember our coaches telling us not to focus on the other racers, but to maintain proper form. Turning your head to check out your competition can slow you down. But here was le Clos, too concerned about Phelps to focus on 100% on the task at hand. Was it that decision that cost him a medal during the race? Perhaps.
Instead of focusing on how he could be the best racer he could be, he focused on someone else. I see this, time and time again, when working with fraternities and sororities- an obsession with being ‘the best’. But when I ask chapter members what that means, it is defined by comparison to another chapter or chapters on campus not defined by metrics unique to that chapter.
I challenge you, stop worrying about what the other chapters are doing. While our organizations are similar, they are not identical. We have different missions and purposes that allow us to be attractive to a variety of students on campus. Don’t think about how you can generalize the interfraternal experience by all becoming the same average version of one another, but rather think about how you can use your differences to excel. Be the best version of your organization’s values. How can your members most exemplify your chapter’s ritual? How can you best support your community through your mission and purpose? Because, when you’re comparing yourself to someone else, you only call attention to the fact that another group possesses something that intimidates or challenges you. You take your focus away from your goal, and swim only fast enough to try to beat your competition, instead of fast enough to become the organization you were supposed to be. Learn from le Clos’s mistake- losers focus on winners, winners focus on winning.