The Dark Side of Glory
By Mark Hull

Every four years my sleep patterns get messed up for a fortnight as I allow the Summer Olympics to invade my everyday world. This past week I’ve relived the stories with friends who won medals and friends who were denied opportunity (1980 boycott). One story being written before our eyes is that of Michael Phelps.

Starting after 2008 Olympics, but spiraling out of control after the 2012 Olympics, Michael was on a self-destructive path that took him to a very dark place.

I was a train wreck. I was like a time bomb, waiting to go off. I had no self-esteem, no self-worth. There were times where I didn’t want to be here. It was not good. I felt lost,” Phelps revealed. According to Phelps, at that time he was thinking, “This is the end of my life… How many times will I mess up? Maybe the world would be better without me.”

It seems hard to believe that the most decorated athlete in Olympic history had no self-esteem and felt no self-worth. I am reminded of the words of former soccer star and sports agent Kyle Rote Jr. who said, “Sports are a great activity but it makes for a lousy god. It will demand more and more while delivering less and less.”

Because we are all limited beings, there is often a hidden cost to greatness. There is a dark side of glory. When we use our limited time and resources toward becoming the best, we are by definition out of balance. Unless we are in a community that doesn’t laud us merely for performance, but instead grounds us in purpose and relationships, greatness can demand a price that will not accept medals for a payment. It will take our soul. This is a third dimension issue. It is the story of goals vs. purpose. Goals narrow our focus. Purpose broadens our horizons. Goals mark progress in time. Purpose transcends time. Goals measure us. Purpose moves us.


Five days after his second DUI arrest in 2014, at the urging of others (including his friend Ray Lewis) Phelps entered rehab. He entered carrying a book Lewis gave him titled “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. After reading it for a couple days at rehab, Phelps called Lewis.

Man this book is crazy! The thing that’s going on…oh my gosh…my brain, I can’t thank you freaking enough, man. You saved my life!”

In a recent interview with ESPN Magazine, Phelps explained that the Christian book “turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”

When you start getting your life right you start getting your relationships right. Or just maybe, you start getting your life right when you start getting relationships right. Michael knew that he needed to reach out to his estranged father who walked out on the family when he was nine. When Phelps and his father saw each other for the first time in years, they embraced in a big hug.

I didn’t want to have that ‘what if.’ I didn’t want to go through life without having the chance to share emotions I wanted to share with him. That’s what I missed as a kid,” Phelps said.

It seems as though a renewed sense of purpose brightened up Michael Phelps’ outlook after a very dark time in his life. Just like Phelps, every athlete and every coach needs a “purpose for me on this planet” to give meaning to their goals. We at 3Dimensional Coaching want to help you use your privileged and powerful position as a coach to help athletes understand their purpose and the value of relationships. We want to help you develop strategies in all three dimensions to fulfill your transformational purpose.

One thought on “The Dark Side of Glory

  1. I saw this same interview where he mentioned his downward spiral and too were shocked at where he was going during this time in his life. Just by coincidence, thereafter, I saw the YouTube video of him and his fiancée seeing his Under Armour Olympic video for the first time. Seeing the emotion and words he shared in the clip, I clearly understood things were very dark for him, which the video articulated very well. Now as an Olympic fan, I can appreciate even more his historic performances we are sharing in, but more importantly his journey and ability to bounce back to being a better person.

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