Carlos Dinares Tip #353: ROWING EXCELLENCE

Think And Live Like A Gold Medalist
An interview with two-time Olympian Adam Kreek.
Published on January 3, 2012 by Jim Afremow, Ph.D., LPC in Trust the Talent

Canadian rower Adam Kreek is an outstanding athlete with a heart and passion for excellence. Adam won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in the men’s eights. He also won the gold medal at the 2002, 2003 and 2007 world championships for Canada’s men’s eights team. A graduate of Stanford University in geotechnical engineering and hydrology, he currently is a leading inspirational keynote speaker. Adam facilitates workshops on reaching higher performance in sports, business and life.
In addition to his athletic achievements, Adam is also a world-class entrepreneur, working diligently to create positive change in scores of companies and communities by sharing lessons learned and practical guidance based on his Olympic experiences.

In this exclusive interview with Adam, you will gain unique, valuable insights into the mind and soul of a remarkable champion. Specifically, you will learn his mental and psychological approaches to practice and competition, his views on powerfully effective teamwork, and much more. Here’s my interview with Adam:

JIM: Can you describe your mental and psychological approach to practice?

ADAM: I believe that conscious presence in each moment is the golden key to effective practice. Practice is not about going through the motions with our body while our mind and spirit resides elsewhere. Rather, practice is about focused effort with our entire being. This engrains habit and skill into our unconscious self. The goal of “being in the now” during practice is to create an unconscious competence within our mind-body-spirit.

A great tool I use for bringing back presence is to imagine a teacher, a coach or a monk who is standing over my shoulder. When I start thinking about or connecting with anything other than the task at hand, my guide shouts at me “BE HERE NOW!” Then I get back to the task at hand with my full being.

Ben Rutledge, a former teammate and current coach of the University of British Columbia loves to say, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Presence will consistently unlock a perfect practice session.

JIM: Can you describe your mental and psychological approach to competition?

ADAM: The obvious goal of athletic competition is to win. However, I find that focusing too hard on attaining the win weakens our ability to perform. It is comparable to finding the perfect man or woman, or filling your bank account with cash. If you only focus on the result, you stay single and poor. Instead, we must focus on the higher goal: uncovering our authentic, best self.

Competition exposes the core of our emotional, spiritual and psychological being. Rivals act as an extreme, external motivation that helps us go deeper to find our best and worst qualities. In competition and challenge, we find our inner truth. How hard are you willing to work on competition day? How skilled are you? How well did you prepare for the day? What stops you from displaying your best self? What does it feel like when your best self shows up?

Be mindful of your reactions in, before and after competition, but do not judge them. Observe your behaviours and take note. Noting your reactions to outside inputs will give you the important questions needed for improvement. Then ask your coach, sports psychologist or spiritual mentor. Exploring these questions will give you more strength for practice, your next competition, and life after sport.

If you search for your authentic, best self during competition, you will find it. Victory often comes along for the ride as a pleasurable side effect.

JIM: What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your sport, and how did you overcome?

ADAM: Six months before the Olympics, I experienced herniated and bulged discs in the L4-L5, L5-S1 region of my back. The physical pain was unbearable, but the psychological challenges compounded the pain exponentially. At first, I was relieved because I could take a couple days off training. However, relief turned to panic and hopelessness. I hit my lowest point about two weeks after injury. One of my doctors told me that my injury would not allow me to compete again. This hopeless future combined with my inability to train fueled a painful depression.

Injury is the most challenging psychological obstacle to athletes because our paradigm changes. My sports Psychologist, Bruce Pinel, gave me a good coping strategy. “The goal remains,” he said, “The path has just changed.” I changed my path and kept the same goal. Instead of training for 6 hours a day, I committed to actively healing for at least 6 hours every day.

The best advice to lift my depression, however, came from my father. “There are two types of people you can talk to: Solvers and Sympathizers. Talk to each group in a different way. Talk about the depths of your pain with solvers and talk about the solutions you are taking to solve your pain with your Sympathizers.” Our Solvers can be the chiropractor, psychologist, doctor and physiotherapist, while our Sympathizers can be our teammates, coach and romantic partners.

These strategies worked. For an injury that normally takes a year and a half to heal, I was back into full training after eight weeks of active healing.

When you accept that your path changes and learn how to talk about your challenges, you will heal faster from injury.

JIM: From your experience, what is one key ingredient for effective teamwork?

ADAM: There are many arrows in the quiver of an effective team. However, there is one ingredient that is always missing from teams that fail: Buy-in. All team members must fully commit their spirits to the goals of the team.

Time after time I see over-confidence and personal pride destroy the potential of a team. Your ideas are only valuable if they are good enough to be adopted by your coach and teammates. If your opinions are rejected, let them go.

A mantra all teams should adopt is this: “If you wanna win you gotta buy-in.” This is an active choice, and can be difficult. Buy-in makes you vulnerable. It requires you diminish your ego. You lose some control. You need to let go of ideas from previous teams and outsiders.

The athlete must say to herself, “I choose to commit 100% to the philosophy, goals, and outcome of my team. I commit to my role on this team.” This means listening to the coach and trusting him, as well as listening to your teammates and trusting them. You must distance yourself from the opinions of people outside your team. The media, parents, friends and armchair quarterbacks all have opinions that can disrupt Buy-in.

If your team has strong Buy-in, your quiver will have a sharp and true arrow to fire.

JIM: How did the Olympics compare to your initial expectations?

ADAM: Initially, I expected the Olympics to be bigger than life and my nerves to be super-sized. Instead the Games were surprisingly near-normal. They felt like just other races. Initially, my familiarity and comfort was weird; then it scared me. To cope, I needed to remove judgment of my reaction and trust that my body has a wisdom that is greater than the intelligence of my analytical brain.

A ritual that I have developed throughout my competitive career helped me keep my sanity the day of my Olympic race. This is a ritual that helps me get to the right level of nerves. Having no nerves is bad. You need nerves to perform at your best. When nerves fuel negative thoughts and fear, nerves are also bad.

The day of any big race, competition or test I continually tell myself, “Today is a very special day. A day like any other day, but a little more special. Today is Race Day!” Race days, and specifically my Olympic Race days, were just that: Special.

By labeling our competition days as “Special” we can take unexpected psychological reactions in stride. The unexpected reaction is expected on Special days.

JIM: What is the best advice you received that helped you excel in your sport?

ADAM: The best advice I received was a question from my Olympic coach, Mike Spracklen: “Do you want to win Adam? Do you?”

It was not just the question, but the timing of the question. He would ask this question to me when my actions did not align with my goals. I would hear this when I was late for practice, not recovering properly, performing poorly or being lazy.

Think And Live Like A Gold Medalist
An interview with two-time Olympian Adam Kreek.
Published on January 3, 2012 by Jim Afremow, Ph.D., LPC in Trust the Talent

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