The power of collective clapping

As Jessica Ennis prepared for the long jump in the 2012 Olympics, the crowd urged her toward success. The familiar clapping began. Starting slowly and gradually speeding up as she was about to take off. This kind of support is to be expected in Athletics finals. Especially when there is a Gold Medal to be won! Last week I was in the crowd. But not at an athletics final, in my local gym on a Saturday afternoon.


At the end of my session I walked past a trainer who was preparing someone to push their personal training boundaries. Tasha was attempting a 100cm vertical jump from standing (known as a box jump, as you jump onto a box). Her previous best was 80cm. I could see she was nervous and didn’t think she’d be able to do it. As I knew her, I stopped to show my support. “I can’t do this, it’s too high”. She walked up to it and stopped. She shook her head and then reaffirmed that she couldn’t do it. “Yes you can” I said. “You used do long jump and high jump, you definitely can”. Her trainer Mitch was confident as he’d spent the last hour preparing her for it. We looked at each other as if to say ‘we are not going anywhere until you do it’. Then jokingly I said “we can clap if you like?” and demonstrated with a couple of supportive claps, but then stopped as I didn’t want to intimidate her too much. But all of a sudden the clapping took off. Mitch, the trainer committed to it and someone else joined in. Before I knew it there were 5 people all watching and clapping in support. What began as her personal challenge turned into a specticle for the whole gym. The sound of 5 people clapping was enough to make everyone else stop what they were doing.

But as more people turned to support, the fear of failing also increased. As Tasha got more embarrassed, more people started to clap. Instead of quietly failing on your own, you have witnesses. More people to see you fail. You will be remembered as the person who jumped and fell. You will be humiliated. Walking away defeated. What if I don’t make it? What if I fall? This was what was going through her mind as we looked on to support her.

There was no escape, now 20 people had stopped their training and joined in. A gym first for people to stop their isolated self focused workouts and turn to support someone else. I was very excited and loving it. “Okay I’ll do it”. A few deep breaths and a small walk up. I felt like I had the best seats ever for an Olympic event. What began as an individual effort, became a collective moment of inspired support. For me personal the gym is normally a place where people are solely focused on themselves and it’s a relatively serious atmosphere. What a difference clapping can make!

She did it! 100cm box jump complete and a new personal best. High fives all round and everybody felt amazing. When I began clapping I didn’t for one minute expect the atmosphere to turn so quickly. I felt like Matilda when she started cheering for Bruce Bogtrotter as he tackled a whole chocolate cake (You can do it Bruce!!). I just felt the urge to do it and followed my instinct to clap. Not only was this a super fun five minutes, it showed how quickly people can come together to give their support. And when they do, how much the energy can help people succeed.


Next time someone you know, or even someone you don’t, is about to do something they are afraid of – show your support! It might be clapping, it might be a text message, it might be a high five. Whatever it is, the energy you share can go a long way to helping them succeed. And if it’s you, with fears in your mind and doubts in your feet, take a minute to find people that can help you. Don’t let fear paralyse you and let you take the easy way out. Don’t let fear stop you achieving more. And don’t let your potential be hidden away. It’s time to jump!

Thanks to Tasha and Mitch for this welcome reminder!

Categories: Leadership, Living

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