Dr. Ann Quinn, performance expert with 30+ years of experience working with high-performing athletes including Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash, two-time Grand Slam Champion Pat Rafter the Australian cricket team members and many more, shares in this interview how she developed a passion for coaching and helping people early in her career.
Ann outlines how she left her home country to learn more and gain valuable experience in the field of strength & conditioning, and sports science.
She believes, that you should never stop learning, and keep asking questions.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How she got all the work done and what kept her going all these years
- Her view as a performance psychologist on the topic ‘does the body follow the mind, or does the mind follow the body’
- The difference in the Wimbledon preparation of Pat Cash between 1986 and 1987
- Her darkest moment
- Her best moment
- Her advice to a younger Ann Quinn
- Her advice to young aspiring performance experts
- Her coaching philosophy
- Her view on the role of technology
- The person that has influenced her most
- The commonalities between two of the most successful Australian tennis players
- How to manage expectations and influence change
- A typical day in the life of a performance expert
- How to implement performance services
- Her interview nomination
- What’s going on in Ann Quinn’s life at this moment in time
- Where can you find Ann Quinn
Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by performance expert Dr. Ann Quinn.
So where do we start? Ann has a long list of achievements and has been involved in multiple successful athletes’ campaigns, including Wimbledon Champion, Pat Cash, two-time Grand Slam Champion, Pat Rafter, two-time Paralympic Champion, Shingo Kunieda, the Australian cricket team, the Aussie rules football national team, World Champions in Boxing and Kickboxing.
Ann holds multiple academic degrees, including a Ph.D. in Psychology, a Masters in Exercise Physiology, a Bachelor in Human Movement, a Dip. Ed [diploma of education].
Ann has received multiple awards including NSCA Strength & Conditioning Coach of the year, has authored multiple books and served in different sports science positions and leadership roles around the globe, including Director of Health and Fitness at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy [now IMG Academy], National Director of Coach Education for Tennis Australia, Head of Sports Science and Innovation at the British Tennis Association, and now she’s running her own company Quintessential Edge, helping elite athletes and executives achieving peak performance.
Ann: Thanks Chris and great to be here and thank you for the opportunity to talk to your audience.
How did she get all the work done and what kept her going all these years
Christian: Your credentials and experience are unparalleled. How did you get all that done and what kept you going all these years?
Ann: It’s been a long journey I’ve been going for like over 30 years now and I guess I didn’t know where I was heading. Back when I started in the early eighties, there was no sports science really and it certainly wasn’t a career.
It’s been a long journey and I didn’t know where I was heading when I started. There was no sports science really and it certainly wasn’t a career.
I did a human movement degree initially and what happened was in the first-year, first term and the first semester of a university degree, we had to do a 100 hours’ fieldwork experience. Everyone chose their favorite sport. Mine was tennis.
But what I did was I rang around 10 people. I asked who was the best coach in Victoria and 9 out of 10 people that I called said this name, Ian Barclay. So I rang him up and told him that I’m a young student wanting to come and get some fieldwork experience.
I asked him if I could come and he told me to come and join. That 100 hours is still a journey we share together over 30 years later, and that 100 hours turned into the next five years of my life working as his Assistant Coach.
Ian had all these really great kids. I told him that we’ve got to do more than just hit tennis balls with the kids and coaching them because he had 6 or 7 National Junior Champions. So being a keen student, I took them all out to the University and did all the fitness testing and everything on them. Every subject I would do my assignments on them.
So that started the journey in terms of what more to do besides actual coaching of the sport. It started the whole strength and conditioning journey for me, and then fast-forward five years I thought that I wanted to continue doing this.
I told him that we’ve got to do more than just hit tennis balls with the kids and that started the whole strength and conditioning journey for me.
But no one else was doing it in terms of the industry hadn’t grown and I think there was one gym in the whole of Melbourne at that stage.
This certainly wasn’t any sports science studies; you can continue on doing it, Master’s degree-level or anything like that. So I thought that I would explore what’s going on in the world. So back then, there was no internet and no computers and I typed 300 letters and I sent them out all over the world.
I wanted to find out what the best people were doing in health and fitness and tennis. I didn’t know where it was going to lead and I was prepared to work for nothing. I just wanted to get experience. I wanted to learn from the best people in the world.
So anyway, those 300 letters turned into 70 job offers and I was thought that this was really exciting. So as soon as I finished my five years because I did a Dip. Ed. as well, I was thinking, maybe I’ll go and finish up teaching Phys. Ed.
I wanted to find out what the best people were doing in health and fitness and tennis, so I typed 300 letters and I sent them out all over the world, there was no internet and no computers at that time. I didn’t know where it was going to lead and I was prepared to work for nothing. I just wanted to get experience. I wanted to learn from the best people in the world. Those 300 letters turned into 70 job offers and I was thought that this was really exciting.
But what happened, also during those five years, I taught Phys. Ed. back at my old school. I was asked to go back to my old school and teach. I’ve been an athletics captain there and so I knew everybody. But the coaching experience that I had made me quickly realize that I like coaching more than I love teaching.
You teach the kids at school and half of them didn’t like sport. They didn’t want to be there. They hated sport and so when you’d turn up at coaching, the kids would be running out to see you. They couldn’t wait to see you.
They were so excited and I thought that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to be with people that really love to do it. Then the experience of working with Ian and the kids that he had who were really good, made me realize that I want to work with people who want to be the best. It’s lovely and it’s great for coaching young kids and helping and teaching them.
I realized that I want to work with people who want to be the best.
But I learned early on that my passion was working with kids that want to be the best thing they can be. So that led me to explore what’s going on around the world. So I thought that I would go away for 12 months and give it a go.
That 1 year turned into 5 years overseas. Most of that time spent in America, but also throughout Europe on a few trips as well. Then, as a result of all those experiences, I finished up as Health and Fitness Director at Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which today is called the IMG Academy.
That was just the most amazing experience. It’s a brilliant setup. If anyone hasn’t been there, I’d strongly recommend a visit. It’s just probably one of the best setups in the world.
That was just fantastic because suddenly I had, probably 5 of the top ten tennis players in the world that I was having the opportunity to work with. I thought that this was like my dream job. But I also realized that there was so much more for me to learn and I wanted to be the best I could be and help them be their best.
So that actually led me on to go and do a Master’s degree. I did my Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology at the University of Illinois. But again, I searched all over the States to find out who’s the best person I could work with.
The person, I chose was Jack Groppel, who was at the time working with Chris Evert and John McEnroe. I thought this was great and I became his little lackey and finished up, actually writing a book with Jack Groppel and Jim Loehr who today, are still two of my mentors.
For those of you who don’t know, they set up the Human Performance Institute in Florida. It’s just the most amazing facility that’s definitely worth visiting if you haven’t been there. So that was part of my journey as well and then I finished up, continuing on that journey and here I am today.
What happened as a result of my Master’s degree, just as I was finishing, Pat Cash who was one of the young kids at the time that was with Ian rang me up. He told me that he was 463 in the world. He couldn’t walk and he was about to have treatment on his back along with surgery. He said he was going to have to start from scratch and asked if I could help him.
Pat Cash rang me up and told me that he was 463 in the world, he couldn’t walk and he was about to have treatment on his back along with surgery. He said he was going to have to start from scratch and asked if I could help him.
I was, at the time, living in the States and I told him that and that I was finishing my Master’s first. He told me that that was fine and he would come over there. Ian, his coach, had become like another father to me. I thought that I would be happy to help him out and get Pat back on the road.
I knew he could do something and any way that journey was the start. I thought it was going to be like a month-long, helping him to just get back to getting fit again. But that 1 month turned into the next 10 years of my life. So that was the beginning of a great journey.
So, as a result of all that, I continued on the journey and traveled on the tour and as a result of Pat’s success, I had the first 6 months with him by myself because he couldn’t afford to take Ian or anyone else with him.
But after 6 months of being with him day in and day out, traveling on the road and he couldn’t qualify for any tournaments because, at 463, it’s very hard to get into things. But anyway he quickly shot up the rankings and next thing within twelve months he won the Davis Cup for Australia. He came runner-up in the Australian Open 1987.
I came back to Australia with him and suddenly I’m getting all these offers to come and help out the Australian cricket team. The national Aussie rules football team and all different athletes and different sports also approached me. So that’s really how my career began and it’s been a wonderful and exciting journey ever since then.
Her view as a performance psychologist on the topic ‘does the body follow the mind, or does the mind follow the body’
Christian: Interesting and you started out, let’s say in strength and conditioning, but then later you moved into performance psychology. I’ve written down a question for you. Very often we hear the discussion that if you get the mental side right, the body follows.
But also, some people say it works the other way around. So if the body gets right then the mental side will follow. What’s your take on that?
Ann: You’ve got to have everything. You can’t just leave one stone unturned. You’ve got to look at not only the mental and physical side but technically, tactically, physically, mentally, nutrition, recovery, environment, having fun, their health and well-being.
You’ve got to have everything. You can’t just leave one stone unturned.
You’ve got to look at every aspect. So certainly, if you’re super fit and that’s how this whole journey began for me. I was getting these athletes super fit, ready to go, though great athletes are in the top ten in the world like Pat Cash and Pat Rafter, for example.
But on any given day, they didn’t necessarily perform to their best. It frustrated me because it’s like you knew they were ready to do something and you knew that they were in their peak physical condition.
But they weren’t performing up to their capabilities and so that’s what led me on exploring that path and I was very lucky at The University of Illinois. I had a great mentor in Dr. Dan Gould, who at the time was the US Olympic psychologist and we just had to do another subject in another discipline and I thought that Sports Psychology would be interesting.
He’s been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He was brilliant and so that sparked my whole interest. So when I was doing the fitness training sessions, I’d do every run with everyone, if it was a sprint. It’s like you’d go through the pain and you’d go through everything with them.
It was at those times you’re on your long runs or interval training sessions and you’re doing your walk back recoveries and lots of little things would come out about what was going on in their life. They had their trials and challenges and some of the tough times because often it’s not just the performance.
It’s actually what’s going on with their personal life or their family life that is even a bigger challenge. So you really got to know them so very well and so I was naturally helping them, but I wasn’t officially qualified to do that. So I’d seek out other people to help them but that sparked me on that interest.
So I think if you’re super-fit it increases your confidence. You feel really good. You know that you can last five sets. You know you can go the distance, whatever it takes and certainly the other way around. If you’re incredibly mentally strong, it’s like nothing’s going to stop you.
If you’re super-fit it increases your confidence, you know you can go the distance, whatever it takes. If you’re incredibly mentally strong, it’s like nothing’s going to stop you.
So I don’t know that one should proceed with the other. Everything’s got to be done together and it’s no use having those things in peak state unless you’ve done everything technically and tactically and taking care of your recovery.
You can be great for one match, but you’ve got to recover again and play in maybe four or five hours. We just had the 43 degrees Celsius a few days here, a few weeks ago at the Australian Open. You’ve got to be ready up to be able to play in those conditions and back it up 48 hours later.
So it’s got to be all done together. Certainly, if you can just start developing those skills at a young age, even young athletes can really grow so mentally tough and strong, which is a great way to teach them.
The difference in the Wimbledon preparation of Pat Cash between 1986 and 1987
Christian: I’ve written down a question for later, but it fits perfectly here because you already mentioned Pat Cash. You started working with him in 1986, and in 1986 he came to the quarter-finals in Wimbledon and in 1987, he won. What was different in the approach in these two years?
Ann: In 1986 I only just started the working thing where he was coming back and he was getting in great shape, but then what happened, 17 days before Wimbledon, he was working with me in Illinois in the States. Then he flew home and he said he’d come over in another week or so when I was just finishing up exams.
He rang me and told me that he’d just gone and had an appendix attack and was about to be operated on. I was taken aback and had to make a decision. I asked him if I should come over because it was unlikely that he was going to be playing Wimbledon.
He said that I should come over and have a holiday. I told him that there’s plenty I could do and I didn’t want to be in the way.
Anyway, what happened was quite incredible, but back then they didn’t do an arthroscope to do your appendix; they actually cut you. So we’re on the phone to the doctors and we’re telling him that whatever he does, he should not cut the muscles, but to cut around it.
So he had his appendix out and then he starts ringing me up every day. He told me that he could not move his upper body or his upper trunk, but wanted to know what he could do to maintain his fitness.
So we had a bike brought into the hospital and he started cycling. We started doing visualization because he couldn’t actually, obviously play tennis. So every day for those 17 days he kept getting stronger and stronger.
He’d won Junior Wimbledon several years before, so he asked for a wild-card because he was coming back. He asked because he didn’t have a ranking at this stage to get into Wimbledon. He wanted to know if it was possible to get a wild-card to get in. They had given him the wild-card and so he said that he was going to play.
The doctors were saying he could play the US Open, but he was to forget Wimbledon. He was so determined and committed, he would do everything. So that preparation was unlike any preparation, you’d ever do. He actually rewrote medical history back then in being able to play in professional sport 17 days after an appendicitis operation.
He was so determined and committed, he would do everything. He rewrote medical history in being able to play in professional sport 17 days after an appendicitis operation.
So to fast-forward, it was a very different preparation. There were no expectations. He just went out there like he had got nothing to lose and just played. He was super fit before that happened, so that really probably put him in great stead to get through those 17 days.
But then fast forward another 12 months, we had done everything. We’d set detailed goals of everything. So it wasn’t just forehands and backhands. It was backhand slice, backhand approach, backhand topspin, and every single stroke.
It was not just speed and agility, but planned agility, reactive agility, acceleration-deceleration, every aspect of every part of his performance. We did that technically, tactically, physically and mentally. He was so committed to his food that if his mum cooked dinner, I’d have to go to their house and check the ingredients to make sure they’re okay. That’s how detailed he was.
So look, it’s such a pleasure to work with someone that was so committed and dedicated. We never talked about winning Wimbledon. But obviously, I knew that was his goal, but we focused on the process. Let’s make sure that there’s no stone left unturned and do absolutely everything.
Then, when you do that, your winning will take care of itself. It was certainly a fantastic achievement to be there with him, having gone through the operation and starting something from scratch; starting from not being able to even walk to come back to win the pinnacle tournament of his sport.
We never talked about winning Wimbledon, I knew that was his goal, but we focused on the process and made sure that there’s no stone left unturned. When you do that, your winning will take care of itself.
It was a brilliant achievement, so it was great to share that special moment. Check out the 1987 Wimbledon highlights
He was the first one to ever climb up in the stands, to break all protocols of Wimbledon, and so I was like, “Oh my! What are you doing?” It was a very special moment in sport.
Check out the first ever ‘Champions Climb’
Her darkest moment
Christian: In your journey as a performance expert, what was your darkest moment?
Ann: So fast-forward another 10 or 15 years, I was the National Director of Coach Education of Tennis Australia and suddenly overnight my father had a stroke. I actually got thrown in the deep end and I had to take over running his furniture manufacturing company.
Look, obviously family always comes first and that’s most important than anything else. So I lovingly did it, but at the underneath I was really hurting. It was a tough position to be put in.
To have to give up doing everything you love and working in sport and having had these successes I’ve had with so many athletes and to be taken out of that environment into managing 70 factory workers and managing an office and it just wasn’t my passion.
I lovingly did it, but at the underneath I was really hurting. It was a tough position to be put in, to have to give up doing everything you love.
I’d be looking at my watch wondering how many hours I’ve got left to go. I thought I’d never actually count the hours down in a day and I just dreaded going to work. It wasn’t me and I thought that I had to do this for my dad.
I kept wondering how long it would be. There was no end date and so I actually became quite depressed as I just wasn’t happy. I guess what kept me going during that time was because it was a factory setting. I’d leave at 5 o’clock, so I was able to start coaching at 6 o’clock and I was able to coach on weekends.
So that was what kept me going through that time and I knew that wasn’t going to be forever. It was just a matter of working through that situation until my dad and I worked out a solution, which was eventually to sell the business.
So I thought that’s not where I want to spend the rest of my life. It makes you appreciate how lucky you are to do something that you love and to be traveling the world doing what you love and helping and inspiring and making a difference to other people. I thought that’s a much more exciting life to live.
It makes you appreciate how lucky you are to do something that you love and making a difference to other people.
Christian: Yes, and very often you just realize it when it’s taken away isn’t it?
Ann: Yes, absolutely. It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses and the challenges of your daily lifestyle of working with these athletes. But then when you’re taken out of it, you appreciate absolutely everything and the wonderful opportunities that it brings with it as well.
Her best moment
Christian: What’s your best moment in all these years?
Ann: It has to be when Pat won Wimbledon coming from the journey that we went on and being with him full time, that was certainly a highlight. But there’s been so many highlights. For example, just a few weeks ago Shingo Kuneido who I’ve worked with since 2006, won his 10th Australian Open and 44th Grand Slam title.
So that’s been a great journey to have shared with him over all those years. Sometimes in your life, you get thrown things to do or opportunities or you don’t necessarily see them as opportunities, but you get asked to do things that are outside your comfort zone.
For example, I was in Tokyo doing some coach education work and they asked me to look at their wheelchair tennis players. I told them that I don’t know anything about wheelchair tennis. It was not my area of expertise, but I was happy to have a look. So that was the beginning of the journey with Shingo back in 2006.
But I guess as I say to people in one of my recommendations to young people just starting out or people in Sports Science or if you’re studying or whatever it is, take up opportunities whenever they come.
Sometimes in your life, you get thrown things to do that are outside your comfort zone. My recommendation is to take up opportunities whenever they come.
I was asked to work with a boxer and a kickboxer as a result of the successes I was having with my athletes. I told them that I don’t know a thing about boxing or kickboxing. I was not sure about what they were going to do from a strength and conditioning perspective. They just pleaded with me so I told them I would give it a go.
But what I did was I actually decided that I was going to have to really get to know and understand their sport. So I went and had boxing and kickboxing lessons. I went to their coach and told him that he needed to teach me so I could better understand and write the programs for the athletes.
They became great teachers for me and working with athletes in all different sports, I just learned so much. For example, boxing became a great training tool for all my other athletes in different sports because it’s quick hands and feet, it’s reaction and response time. It’s so much power.
So it was a fantastic training buddy for all my other athletes because often, people in one sport don’t like training with each other. If you’re a tennis player, for example, they don’t like training with other tennis players because they might have to compete against them, whereas training with a World Champion in another sport, both our boxers and kickboxers became World Champions.
It was a great journey with them; traveling the world with them to World Championship fights and see how other sports are conducted and how other people train and different methods they use and there was so much to learn. I always say my athletes have been my greatest teachers and I’m so grateful to have had those opportunities to learn from them too.
My athletes have been my greatest teachers and I’m so grateful to have had those opportunities to learn from them.
Christian: I can relate to that.
Her advice to a younger Ann Quinn
Christian: What advice would you give a younger Ann if you could travel back in time?
Ann: I was thinking about that because I listened to some of your other interviews in preparation for this and you’d ask that and I wondered what advice I would give myself. I don’t know that I would have done anything differently.
- Also check out the interview ‘Focus on one way!’ with 2012 Olympic Champion Aleksey Torokhtiy, who also outlines precisely why he wouldn’t change anything, even if he would have the chance to do it.
I’ve always had an incredible desire to learn and that was writing those 300 letters. When I think back to that, I thought that it was pretty brave not knowing where I was going into the big wide world out there.
I’ve always had an incredible desire to learn and when I think back to that, I thought that it was pretty brave not knowing where I was going into the big wide world out there.
Today we could look on the internet and see what facilities look like. Back then, it was $2 a minute to make a phone call internationally. You wait for three or four weeks to get a communicative response back from your letter and you go to the letterbox to hear back from people.
So I guess, yes, I don’t know that I’d changed things. But I’d say, never stop learning and go out and explore the world and get out of your comfort zone. I got out of my comfort zone so many times to do things in other sports because it’s easy to be a specialist in one sport.
However, being challenged to go and take on a football team, I remember saying, “Oh my God!” I was the first female working in Australian rules football here in Australia, so that was a bit daunting. But you get out of your comfort zone and you can learn so much and it forces you to keep learning and to look and to learn from others.
I went off to Russia and to Bulgaria to train, to see what the strongest athletes of the world back then were doing. Never ever stop learning. I guess I’ve done that all my life and yes, I’ll just say, follow your heart, follow your passion. Do what you love and give it a go.
Never stop learning, go out and explore the world and get out of your comfort zone. Follow your heart, follow your passion, do what you love and give it a go.
Christian: Really nice.
Ann: Because every time you do something different, you continue to learn. Every time you don’t do something so well, it’s an opportunity to continue to learn again and grow from it.
Her advice to young aspiring performance experts
Christian: You’ve partly answered that question, but what advice would you give to young aspiring students you want to go into the field of strength and conditioning, performance psychology, sports science or whatever it might be?
Ann: First of all, you got to do what you love. As I said, the experience of having to do something I didn’t really enjoy. It’s fine what you love, but to try a lot of different experiences to find out or discover what you love.
Try a lot of different experiences to find out or discover what you love.
For example, me doing the teaching versus coaching, I soon learned that I loved coaching. And then I loved coaching elite versus just coaching. People might like coaching young junior aspiring athletes because of their wanting to be the best, to learn or whatever, their passion.
But continue to educate yourself and back then we didn’t have the Internet and there’s such a wealth of information out there through books and videos and just podcast everything. There are so many different ways to learn today, which is great. So just following your passion, continue to get educated and to learn, but also get experience.
I’ve been on interview panels of lots of different performance teams and things and it’s like people you look at their CV and it’s impressive. You think that this person is great and you have to look at what they’ve done, but actually you’ve got to get experience. That might be the best credentials in the world.
You’ve got to get experience. That might be the best credentials in the world.
You’ve got to get in there and get that experience and learn how to do and work with an athlete and what works, what doesn’t work, when to do something and when to hold back.
I will always do detailed plans every day with every session of my athlete. But most times those plans have changed because they’ve had a bad night’s sleep or they’ve had a tough training session on the court or with their coach. You’d have to always be adjusting and you can’t read about that in the book. It’s like you’ve got to go and experience it.
- Also, check out the interview ‘I see myself as an employee of the athlete, my job is to get the athlete better.’ with Olympic Strength & Conditioning Jorden Bres who outlines, that the best education you can get is on the work floor.
It’s like me going into the boxing ring and having boxing lessons. You’ve got to learn and get seek out mentors. I’ve been lucky to have lots of fantastic mentors throughout my life to inspire me and working with Jack Groppel and Dan Gould that I met. Ian Barclay was also an amazing tennis coach. It’s working with great people and asking questions. Never stop asking questions if you don’t understand something.
Never stop asking questions if you don’t understand something.
I remember working with some coaches and they would give advice to an athlete and I’d ask them later on when I was with them privately. “Can you explain to me why you said that? What made you say that? What led to that?”
It’s understanding what motivates and drives people and what coaches are doing and why they’re doing it. So again, just have that desire to learn that passion and travel. See what other people are doing. Get experiences, go and watch other sports.
Watching different teams or different athletes and all different sports train, that’s a great learning experience in itself. You can never stop learning; there are so many different ways to learn, especially with the internet these days. So to all the new young sports scientists out there, just have that thirst for knowledge.
I think that’s really important and talk to great coaches. Whenever I traveled, I’d always seek out great coaches and go and talk to them. Just ask questions. It’s that thirst for learning and that passion.
Follow what you love and what you enjoy doing will come through anyway. You can never stop getting experience. You never stop learning and through experience and having those great lessons.
Her coaching philosophy
Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?
Ann: My philosophy is really to help people be extraordinary. It’s like the little differences that make a big difference. It’s the difference between ordinary and extraordinary; it’s that little extra. For me, it’s the challenge to find out what’s the difference that’s really going to make a big difference?
It’s the challenge to find out what’s going to make a big difference, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.
It’s analyzing everything and leaving no stone unturned. So looking at technically, tactically, physically, mentally, recovery, nutrition, health, well-being; looking at their environment, looking at what can we do to help them be their best.
That involves a lot of testing. It involves talking to the athlete, getting to know the athlete, getting to know the people around them; their coaches, the support team members and getting feedback. It’s just being with the athlete, being with them when you’re on the road and going to every training session and what they’re doing.
It’s the little gems if you can make a difference with or be in the middle of a session that they’re having and it’s something totally unrelated, but it’s a perfect moment to slot something in. Always be creative and innovative to find out what to do to bring out that best in that person.
Be creative and innovative to find out what to do to bring out that best in that person.
It’s what’s the one percent that’s going to make a big difference and it. We had Dave Brailsford in England, for example, with British Cycling. He had this philosophy of marginal gains and it’s a similar type thing. It’s one of the little differences that’ll make a big difference.
It’s right down to what should you wash your hands with, in terms of what should the seat be like, what about the tires; like every aspect of performance is so important and it’s those little differences that make a big difference. That’s what I’m about, trying to help others be extraordinary.
Her view on the role of technology
Christian: As a performance expert, I have a question. In recent years we have seen technology evolving and a good chunk of the work can now be outsourced to technology. How do you see the role of technology, where can it help and where do we still need humans to do the work?
Ann: Technology is amazing and especially like it continues to evolve and it continues to get better and better. It’s like just at the Australian Open and ATP Cup a few weeks ago you’re given the latest technology, you can see where every ball is hit, the angle, the speed, the spin, how much they’re running, how much they’re accelerating-decelerating.
It’s so much information and I guess the great coach is going to know what to look for and that’s experience, but it’s also knowing what’s the right thing to use, when to use it and how to use it. I don’t think you can ever substitute humans for bringing that experience.
It’s knowing what’s the right thing to use, when to use it and how to use it. I don’t think you can ever substitute humans for bringing that experience.
I guess when you’re around different teams and you see some of the older coaches that are there, you can’t replace 20 or 30 years of wisdom and coaching experience. You’ll see they’ll ask the right questions to get the right answers.
So there’s, in fact, so much technical information you can get and it’s working out the one little thing that will make the big difference for my athlete. Again, it’s how to best use that and maybe talking with the athlete and finding out what they need.
Because it’s one thing to have access to all this, but it’s actually what do they really want? What’s going to make the biggest difference to them? Sometimes it’s the simplest little thing and sometimes less is more. It’s like listening to them and what they feel they need.
You can have the best things planned using the greatest and latest equipment and things. But it’s going back to basics sometimes and using the simple things that you know are absolutely working and trusting.
To me, our greatest tool is our own intuition. Trust your own intuition; what feels right for what that athlete needs. Often you’ll get your best answers from within.
Our greatest tool is our own intuition. Trust your own intuition, often you’ll get your best answers from within.
But certainly, we can gain so much today and learn so much more from everything that’s happening with the advances in technology.
The person that has influenced her most
Christian: Which person has influenced you most and why?
Ann: There’s been a lot of people. It’s hard to say one. I guess I’m going to have to start saying that my dad was the greatest influence in my life. He first believed in me more than I believed in myself and I remember being given challenges.
My dad was the greatest influence in my life, he believed in me more than I believed in myself.
For example, being offered to the national football team. I wondered how I was going to look after the strength and conditioning of 50 or 60 guys. He just told me that I can do it. It’s like in having that gentle push to be able to go and do things that no female has done. Having that someone as your rock and support was certainly a great influence.
But I’ve been blessed to work alongside Ian Barclay for many years. He was such a great coach in so much detail. You’d use video back then, which in the early 80s wasn’t so prevalent.
But we’d go back to his home and we’d have to download the video and we’d actually go through and slow it down. It’d be hard to slow it down.
Technology’s improved so much now. You’d have the big, thick cameras and you’d go through and you analyze every little detail so you really learned. Then I’ve had mentioned Jack Groppel and Jim Loehr; as well as Dan Gould was another one at the University of Illinois.
So, I’ve been blessed to have so many great mentors along the journey. I think it’s not just one person. It’s the experiences and the inspiration and the wisdom of all those people I’m just forever grateful for.
The commonalities between two of the most successful Australian tennis players
Christian: You’ve worked with two of Australia’s best tennis players in their era; Pat Cash and Pat Rafter. What would you say would be the commonalities between the two and where were they different?
Ann: Interesting because they were both serve-and-volley players, but they were both very different individuals. For example, with Pat Cash, you’d have to say no all the time. He was so determined, and always wanted to train more. We had an expression I used, “Save it for the bank.”
Pat Cash, you’d have to say no all the time. He was so determined, and always wanted to train more.
He would want to go out. He’d knock on your hotel room at 11 o’clock at night, and he goes, “Will you come and do a few more serves with me? I just want to get it right.” When he won Wimbledon, I went home, he stayed behind and did press for a few days.
Anyway, he arrived home at 6 o’clock in the morning. At 7 o’clock in the morning, there’s a knock on my door saying, “Come on, we’re going to go and get ready. We’ve got a Davis Cup match next weekend, we got US Open to get ready for.”
I told him that he’d just won Wimbledon and he should go and celebrate and have fun. I told him that I don’t want to see you for a couple of days. He was to go and enjoy and just celebrate and appreciate the moment with his family, his mates and his friends.
Whereas with Pat Rafter, for example, it was like when you’re with him, he would absolutely do everything. He’d give 110% of himself, but on the road, he would just go and play the tournaments. So when he’d come home, in between you’d have to start again.
With Pat Rafter, when you’re with him, he would absolutely do everything. He’d give 110% of himself, but on the road, he would just go and play the tournaments.
He lost 10% or so of his fitness because he just plays tennis when he was on the road. So you’d always have to push him to go a little bit harder. Again, this is learning what’s the best way to bring out something with an athlete because what works with one athlete is not going to work with another athlete.
So, to start off with you’re just traveling with a group of players and I told Pat Rafter’s parents that I believed in him. He had a great future, but they were going to have to get a full-time coach. He was one of nine kids, so the finances weren’t great.
I told them that they were going to have to get an individual coach to bring out the best in him because he’d come from Mount Isa in Northern Queensland. When he was learning tennis, they taught his brothers before him who are older and he was number seven in line.
So they got more because he’d get 10 minutes at the end of the lesson. That was his coaching and he was still kind of raw, so to speak, and so he needed a lot more. He needed to learn a lot more. He also realized that he needed to have mates with him to be able to continue to work hard.
So it’s working out what’s going to bring out the best in that person. One of the things I suggested to his family is he needs to have one of his brothers or sisters or he needs to have a mate with him to do the work on the road as well. So he was totally the opposite in many ways, but again, it’s working out what it was going to take to bring out the best in that person.
That’s getting to know and understand the person and the way they like to work. Some people love swimming, while other people hate going in the water. It’s like one of the ways they like to train. How can you bring out the best in them?
How to manage expectations and influence change
Christian: As a performance expert and also in your past roles, you have led teams and often you have to manage expectations. Sometimes the expectations of certain individuals can differ. How do you influence change?
Ann: Again, getting to know every person and what their roles are, how they influence the athlete, and what they need to do. It’s also the number one central person in any team is going to be the athlete. If you look at the athlete as the center or the core of that team.
We’re all about the same goal of helping that athlete to be the best. Some people think they should do this and some people think they should do that. It’s like, let’s gather everything together and work out as a team, but with the athlete at the center of that and what’s going to help them.
The number one central person in any team is going to be the athlete. We’re all about the same goal of helping that athlete to be the best.
For example, sometimes you’ve had injuries of an athlete and they’ve got a few expert opinions which have differed. This has happened on quite a few occasions. You wonder what you should do.
Again, in those situations, what we’ve done is to seek out experts. So we’ve sent MRIs off through the connections with ATP and WTA. You can find out who’s the best knee expert or shoulder expert or whatever it might be, that we can send this MRI to and get different opinions.
Again, it’s seeking out expert help when it’s needed and listening to the members of the team and the athlete on what’s going to be the best solution. So it’s hearing people out, listening to them and why they’re doing it, so they can explain why they’re doing it and why they think that’s the best way forward and then putting all those opinions together.
It’s hearing people out, listening to them, so they can explain why they’re doing it and why they think that’s the best way forward
I’ve always recommended that an athlete should have a Medical Director of their team as well so that you can have someone that oversees. So I had Peter Bruckner, who’s been like a mentor to me as well. He was the Australian Olympic medical doctor and so we would take everything to him.
- Also check out the interview ‘If you are there for your athlete in the good times, as well as in the bad times, that builds trust and appreciation, because they know, that you will be there for the long haul.’ – Dr. Gill Myburgh who talks about the concept and importance of a case manager in a support team
He would know experts around the world as well and so we then come to a decision as to what’s the best way forward. The athlete would feel really comfortable in that decision because of all the advice that we got. It’s also like if they have to have surgery. For example, I remember going to Tokyo after Shingo had elbow surgery.
We actually get in the video of the surgery and we’d understand from the surgeon’s perspective and sit down with him. It’s like actually what’s happened? What can we do to visualize the healing of this? What needs to happen? How can we speed up the recovery process or what can we do to help that healing?
Then you’d come up with visualizations appropriate to help that healing process. So there’s always many different modalities and ways of doing things and again, it’s having the athlete involve so they can get excited about where they’re at and what the next step is and feel totally confident in the decision being made, knowing that your team and the people around you have done everything as well.
A typical day in the life of a performance expert
Christian: How does a day in the life of a performance expert look like?
Ann: There’s no typical day, which I guess is part of the excitement of it because there’s so much variety. For me, living in Australia, it’s always a long way from everywhere, so last year I did eight overseas trips. Some of those trips are helping athletes, so it’s like Wimbledon and the US Open, for example.
I have a mentoring role in the ITF [International Tennis Federation] with the top eight girls and boys in the world. So it’s going to China for that role. Some of them are speaking engagements, so it’s preparing speeches. Some of them are on professional development panels and boards. So there’s never a typical day.
I’ve also started doing a lot of executive coaching as well, which I really enjoy. Because you’re taking all the peak performance strategies that you use with athletes, totally apply to CEOs and people who are trying to be their best. They’ve got teams of hundreds and thousands of people under them.
I’ve started doing a lot of executive coaching, which I really enjoy. Because you’re taking all the peak performance strategies that you use with athletes, totally apply to CEOs and people who are trying to be their best.
So that’s been a great transition as well and I love helping those people as they’re doing wonderful things in the world. So, yes, there is no typical day, whether it’s coaching athletes, whether it’s coaching executives, it’s planning, it’s preparing, it’s doing a lot of travel.
But that’s the variety. Variety is the spice of life and that’s why I’m so grateful to be able to do all those different things and bring your experiences from working with great people all over the world to share and to inspire and to motivate others.
How to implement performance services
Christian: Whether it’s an athlete or an executive, how do you implement your performance services? What would be steps one, two or three? Give us an outline.
Ann: First of all, it’s talking to, whether it’s the athlete or the executive, and finding out what they really want, what’s most important to them and what’s worked for them in the past or what’s led them to where they’ve got to. So it’s understanding where they’re coming from and their background.
Some people you start with them and they’ve already had a lot of success. What’s led you to your success? What was the strategy you had in place that really helped you achieve? So it’s understanding them and what’s worked for them in the past.
It’s getting to know the support team around them and if that was an executive, for example, it’d be getting to know the families, getting to know their executive team, how they work for the athletes; their support team. It’s their partner, it’s their family, whatever it might be.
Getting to know everyone around them and gathering information from all those people. Then obviously, there’s a lot of tests you can do, so you find out where are their strengths, where are their weaknesses and what do we need to do. Then it’s actually coming up with a plan. Rome was not built in a day; it’s something that has to be built up over time.
So it’s actually deciding this is what we’re going to do. It’s not going to happen overnight, but let’s pick out what’s the most important thing that’s going to make the biggest difference right now as we progress on this journey. Sometimes we tell them that they’re going to need a block where they can have several weeks of working on these particular things.
That’s not going to be able to happen when you’re on the road and traveling and competing. It is for them to recognize the importance of sometimes stepping back in order to excel forwards or taking a little retreat or time out to work on many mental aspects and have deep discussions with them. Again, I guess it’s talking to the athlete.
It’s going to be step one and getting to know other people around them and then to be doing all the testing and then working out, let’s decide the best plan of attack. Having gathered all the information, what’s the number one thing that the team or the athlete wants to do together with the team.
Then you start putting the plan in progress and you show them and you can – if you can measure your success along the way so they can see their improvement, that really is apart from you motivating them, they’re being motivated by seeing the results too.
It’s getting to know the athlete, getting to know the other people around them, doing all the testing and then decide the best plan of attack. Then you start putting the plan in progress and if you can measure your success along the way you show them, so they can see their improvement.
Christian: What do you do if the results go backward?
Ann: Then you’ve got to start looking at yourself and wondering what’s happening and what’s causing this. For example, I had an athlete one time who was really struggling with sleep. He went down, it’s like this is really going to impact your performance if even particular things not going so well.
So he went and had a sleep study done and as a result, the sleep study worked out that he actually slept along on his back and when he slept in that position, his tongue was in the wrong position. So he wasn’t breathing as effectively and so, therefore, he wasn’t getting his recovery.
There’s always going to be a reason if you’re doing things and you’re measuring things you’ve got to look at yourself. What can I do to make things better? What’s actually happening? What’s the load? What’s the performance load? What are they going through?
There’s always going to be a reason if you’re doing things and you’re measuring things you’ve got to look at yourself. What can I do to make things better?
This is where you’ve got to work as a team to work out if someone else is doing such a heavy load on the tennis court or on the track or whatever they’re doing and also in the gym. It’s working out what everyone’s doing and measuring the loads along the way and there’s sufficient recovery in here.
What do we need to do to help the athlete recover more? So again, it’s through the testing, through understanding and listening to the athletes. If an athlete tells me that they’re exhausted, I tell them to put it off till tomorrow. I tell them to go and get a good night’s sleep, recover, chill, hang out, just relax and then we’d talk again the following day.
Because it’s better to get a much better quality, shorter session. Listen to them and learn from them because it’s how they feel. Sometimes their perception is not their reality. It’s working out what’s the truth, what’s going on here and that’s where you measure and analyze things and you learn from it.
So again, never stop learning because your athletes are your greatest teachers and what’s the right load for one athlete will be very different for another athlete. It could be the stress of studying, it could be the stress of traveling and family situations that are going on. There’s just a host of factors and so it’s learning why has this happened and then you can correct it.
Her interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Ann: Absolutely. There’s plenty of people. I have been talking to Steve Kotze, Speedo as we know him, just a few weeks ago here at the Australian Open who traveling with Dan Evans and worked with Andy Murray. It was interesting, we were reflecting on philosophies of the last 10 or 15 years and how he’s grown and changed.
I think that would be a good one. Loris Bertolacci is a guy that I worked with, a strength and conditioning coach back in Essendon [Football Club] in the eighties. He has done a lot of work with elite athletes and all different sports and I think now is based in China helping a lot of Chinese athletes.
I think I mentioned before Dave Brailsford, who’s in British Cycling. He’s not in British Cycling now but been in the British Cycling, as a performance director, I love his old philosophy of marginal gains. It’s like there are always little things to change and little improvements to make.
So look, there are heaps of people. Who’s another one that springs to mind would be Yutaka Nakamura who is headed up IMG and has headed up IMG Academy for quite some time. He has worked with Maria Sharapova for several years and a host of other elite athletes He has been traveling on the road and has got a wealth of experience too. So there are a few suggestions for you.
Christian: Really cool.
What’s going on in Ann Quinn’s life at this moment in time
Christian: What’s going on in Ann Quinn’s life at this moment in time?
Ann: I’ve just finished 30 days on the road, so I am trying to get back into normality or into my own routines. I was supposed to take off on Friday for a board meeting of a company that I consult to, but it was in Thailand. It was a speaking engagement as well, but because of the coronavirus, it’d actually just got canceled.
But it’s a great opportunity for me just to get on with serving all my clients and as I said, because of the thing on the road for 30 days before this, it’s getting my executives going to the next couple of months and touching base with all the athletes I haven’t seen. So I’m enjoying very much doing that and seeing them all in. So it’s very much looking forward to it.
Where can you find Ann Quinn
Christian: Where can people find you?
Ann: Probably the easiest is through my website, which is www.annquinn.com; Q-U-I-N-N. or they can just email me at email@example.com. I use social media a little bit. I’m on Instagram under Dr. Ann Quinn, and likewise with twitter at Dr. Ann Quinn but I don’t post that often.
Ann Quinn’s social profiles
I try to just use inspirational messages when I do post, but I guess I like to protect my athletes as well, so I don’t really. I don’t worry too much about them. I’ve used things as inspirational messages to help others and inspire others and helping people to be extraordinary.
Christian: Awesome. Ann, thanks for your time. I enjoyed the chat.
Ann: Thank you, Christian, and thank you for the opportunity to speak and congratulations too on everything that you’re doing to inspire a host of thousands of people out there that want to be in the strength and conditioning roles and sports science and I think it’s just wonderful what you’re doing. So congratulations to you too.
Christian: Thank you, Ann.