4 Keys to Simone Biles’ Success

Simone Biles has officially captured the hearts of worldwide gymnastic and Olympic fans. Her performance in Rio has been dominant, winning four gold medals along with a bronze. She is so talented that her teammates reportedly joke about competing for first place in the “non-Simone division.” In watching Simone compete and reading the press accounts of her, I’m struck by four lessons we can learn in our own pursuit of excellence.Simone Biles

Defeating Adversity

I use the word defeat here very purposefully. Simone didn’t merely overcome adversity. She refused to be defined by the adversity she experienced or use it as an excuse. Her childhood has been well documented in the press. She was one of eight children born to a mother who struggled with addiction. Simone was placed in foster care and then raised by her maternal grandparents, who ultimately adopted Simone and her sister Adria. Thus, Simone and her sister identify with their grandparents as “Mom and Dad.”

Remember the last time you heard a co-worker or teammate complain they weren’t being treated fairly or that someone else benefitted from favorable treatment in their climb to success? By blaming circumstances and focusing on factors they could not control, they created barriers to their own achievement. These reactions are performance killers. Imagine how Simone could have let herself be haunted by her early childhood. Instead, she focused relentlessly on gymnastics after she was introduced to the sport at age six.

She refused:

  • To let her background define her future
  • To focus on the difficulty of her life circumstances
  • To compare herself to others who had easier circumstances


Ron & Nellie Biles provided a loving, stable and structured household for Simone and her sister. Even as Simone’s prodigious gymnastic talent emerged, the parents assigned both sisters chores to complete and taught them to be humble. They fed their dogs, did the dishes and cleaned their rooms. In a recent Washington Post Interview, Simone’s brother Adam describes the result of this environment: “The most remarkable thing about my sister is how normal she is. Actually, that’s probably the most remarkable thing about our family. We don’t know what famous people are supposed to do, act like or what we are expected to be.” While it’s true that Simone did not let her past define her future, she also needed her parents to be role models for the behavior, discipline and perspective to overcome her difficult circumstances. The lesson here: Regardless of how talented or ambitious you are, you will need mentors to guide your journey to excellence. Seek them, rely on them, value them and ultimately become a mentor to someone else.


Last fall Simone won her third straight title as the best all-around female gymnast in the world. The pressure mounted as she was the clear favorite to win gold in the Olympics. In response to questions about handling the pressure and her emotions should she win in the Olympics, John Powers of the Globe reported Simone said, “Well, I have to make the team first. Well, I have to qualify for the all-around first.” Simone understands a key aspect of sustainable excellence. You must focus on the next step of the journey and not become distracted by the ultimate prize. Yes, the ultimate goal is to win an Olympic gold medal but that’s hard to do if you don’t qualify for the team! As one of my executive coaching clients once wisely counseled a very ambitious young professional he was mentoring, “Focus on this job and not the next one.”

Another example of how well Simone stays focused is her goal setting. She sets yearly goals with her mother. This year her goals stopped with making the Olympic team. When her mom asked why she had not made any further Olympic goals, Chros McDougall reported she replied, “Yeah mom, and that’s where I’m going to leave it. And if I happen to make the Olympic team then I can make some new goals. I just don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.” Incredible wisdom for a 19 year-old young woman.


Simone’s attitude is another key component to her success. It’s hard to imagine a more pressure-packed environment than Olympic gymnastics, where medals are won or lost based on tenths of scoring points. Yet when you see Simone competing she is actually smiling and having fun. In our pursuit of excellence we encounter lots of pressure-packed moments and situations. Yet you have to enjoy the moment, challenge and journey. If not, what’s the point? Many people become so focused on their pursuit of success that they ruin their health, relationships and at times even lives along the way. Work hard but remember that fun is part of the success recipe as well. As brother Adam also said about Simone, “So when you see Simone out there competing on the floor, and she’s happy and smiling and making little colorful comments and remarks, that’s genuinely her.”

We can’t all be Olympic champions but we can certainly learn from them. Take these elements from Simone’s success to shape your own: Defeat adversity, find mentors, stay focused and enjoy the journey!

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