Jonathan Edwards, Winter Olympian 1994 remembers the moment, when he didn’t make his first Olympic team, and describes that he never ever cried so hard in his life. The same moment that made him cry, he considers as his biggest springboard to success in his further life of an athlete, but as well as a business person.
Furthermore, we discuss
- What is Luge
- His darkest moment
- His best moment
- His experience with Georg Hackl
- His advice to a younger Jonathan Edwards
- His success habits
- His transition into business life
- How he chooses the right people for his business
- His morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- How to overcome setbacks
- His role model
- The best advice he has received
- A typical training day in the life of an Olympic luger
- His interview nomination
- Why he struggled to make a transition from athlete life to business life
- Where can people find Jonathan Edwards
Part 2 of the interview
Christian: Today I’m joined by Jonathan Edward, Jonathan is Olympian 1994, in luge, where he ended up with a fourth place finish in the men’s event and the team event.
Jonathan has won multiple medals at the World Cup and has now made a transition into business life.
Jonathan: Christian, good to be here.
What is Luge
Christian: Jonathan, can you explain in a few words, what is the sport, luge all about?
Jonathan: Luge is the often-misunderstood winter Olympic events, but everybody watches it when the Winter Olympics are on. It’s in the first four days. The athlete goes on their back feet first, dressed in tight clothing and races at 125 up to 140 kilometers an hour.
We do it in singles and in doubles and there’s also a team event and it’s one of the fastest Olympic sports. A lot of people know bobsled and skeleton, and luge is the third of these sports. But luge is the fastest and probably the most dangerous of the three.
A lot of people know bobsled and skeleton, and luge is the third of these sports. But luge is the fastest and probably the most dangerous of the three.
Like every American boy I grew up wanting to do the sport of luge. I am completely kidding and being very sarcastic there. No, I fell into the sport at the ages of about 14 and a half. I like to tell people that luge is one of the most complicated sports.
Unlike a sport like skiing, where there are manufacturers making skis, the sleds in luge are all really handcrafted by just a handful of people worldwide. There’s very much an art and a science, a velocity and danger, and it’s got all the great things we love about sport all rolled into one.
Christian: I will get back to that later for sure.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Jonathan: The first Olympic team I didn’t make. I was from Boston in Massachusetts and I was paired with another athlete from Michigan. We got very good, very quickly, even though we had a late start to the sport.
We were both athletes in other sports before. He played American football and I played soccer, hockey, ice hockey and field lacrosse. But we did very well, very quickly. We finished third in Junior World Championships, in our second season and we were quickly put on the senior national team and we were the best in the United States.
We were starting to finish consistently in about the top eight in the World’s after only four years in the sport of luge. We were the fastest US team on the Olympic track in Albertville and we were hoping for a top six finish.
Our Olympic trials at the time was set up so we had to go back to Lake Placid, New York and compete there. The track there in Lake Placid was unlike any of the tracks we saw in Europe. We had been very fast in Europe on a different style of track.
Unfortunately, our home track was unusually technical, let’s put it that way. In our Olympic trials race, we finished third. Three sleds were eight hundredths apart. Everybody told us not to worry, because there will be a coach’s pick.
The winning team automatically made the Olympics, and that was fine. They were the second fastest team in the United States. But we finished third and due to maybe a little unfortunate choice, the other doubles team also had a single slider on it, who could compete in the men’s race. So, they picked them instead of us.
I haven’t cried so hard in my life. As a 20-year old athlete that was the worst because we were the fastest. Everybody was saying there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be picked. But there was this little wrinkle that no one really considered and we didn’t go. Athletically, that was probably my darkest hour. But it was also the biggest springboard as well.
Athletically, that was probably my darkest hour. But it was also the biggest springboard as well.
Christian: How did you recover from that and what did you learn?
Jonathan: One thing, that I learned is that every athlete when they have a loss, they grieve just like if someone died. We tend to gloss over when an athlete loses and we try to quickly get them back on track. But you have to go through the grieving process, just like you would if someone in your family passed away.
You have to go through the grieving process
When we got through that, we decided that for the next Olympic team, we were going to be so good that they have to pick us. Actually, because of that experience in our Olympic trials, in another sport in the United States, I believe it was cross country skiing or maybe speed skating, they had a similar situation where an athlete who was by far one of the best in the world from the US, got left off the Olympic team as well.
So, the USOC helped to initiate some change. The next Olympic trials, we had the opportunity to qualify for the team based on our World Cup results. Our goal was to have the fastest starts the in the world.
We were going to get our sled in order. We decided that we were going to be so good that there would be no question that we don’t make the Olympic team. And that’s what we did.
We decided that we were going to be so good that there would be no question that we don’t make the Olympic team. And that’s what we did.
From that low point, we actually took that and just flipped it. Instead of blaming everybody else, we really took it on us. I think the athletes who can really look hard at themselves and realize this is all under my control.
As an athlete, I have to do everything, that I can to control it. After that the chips will fall where they may. That’s what we did. We ultimately qualified for that Olympic team.
It wasn’t pretty, but we did. Actually the following year, we went back to the Olympic track in France with a full Olympic field. We won our first World Cup medal, which was a silver medal.
Unfortunately, when that happens, you’re wondering what would have happened if you had done this in the Olympics. But that’s neither here nor there. That was a really good moment for us because we went back with a full Olympic field and took a silver medal. We were pretty proud of that.
Christian: I really liked the point of grief and the necessity to go through grief. I think very often with our athletes and also with our kids, we tried to take that away from them, because we don’t want to see them suffer.
But in the end, also what I see here in the interviews coming back from athletes who have succeeded is that they have always gone through a very difficult period and they have come out stronger than before.
Jonathan: You have to. I think, as I now work with athletes and I know as you work with athletes, the athletes who go through some sort of struggle like that and then continue, are much more resilient. I tend to worry about the athletes who come through easily.
I tend to worry about the athletes who come through easily. The athletes who struggle and continue, who embrace that challenge have the best chance of being successful long-term.
I like to use this example. If you took a helicopter to the top of a mountain and then a wind storm came and blew you down, you have to decide if you’re going to go back up to the top. Now you have to learn how to climb again.
You have to learn how to fight and strategize. I think the athletes who go through some challenges when they’re young, are more apt to stick. They’re more apt to stay long-term.
I also think from an organizational standpoint, when you invest in athletes, you don’t want to just take your athlete through and then have them retire and then never be involved in your program anymore. You really want to recycle that information back in.
This is something that I have seen for sure. The athletes who struggle and continue and embrace that challenge and know that more will come, they have the best chance I think of being successful long-term, for sure.
Christian: Yes, I agree with that.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Jonathan: When we had that second-place finish, our first World Cup medal, it gave us belief. Because up until that point, there were teams that we were competing against, who had been competing for as long as we were old. There was an Italian team who had been competing for 20 plus years.
They had been an eight-time overall World Cup champions, Olympic medalists and World Champions. It was ridiculous. And we were now beating them. We were close to them.
There were teams that we were competing against, who had been competing for as long as we were old, and we were now beating them.
I think that was a catalyst. Every athlete was looking for reasons to continue. I think what I noticed with a lot of today’s generation of athletes is they are quick to give up and are not as resilient to fight longer to get that results.
I think they want instant gratification. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just what it is today. Everybody can go on YouTube and see kids succeeding, and so everybody wants that quickly.
But that gave us the gas to keep going. It was like a carrot to say that we were doing all right and that there’s more to come. That was really important for us, for sure.
Christian: What did you learn from that moment?
Jonathan: Well, the cool thing was we beat one of those teams that were the silver medalist at the Olympics. We beat them by, I think six thousandths of a second. So, second and third was separated by six thousandths of a second.
That was awesome because we had lost races like that. Luge at the time was the only Olympic sport timed to a thousandth of a second. And it was kind of a mark and a proud moment for luge to be the only sport timed to a thousand.
I think now short track speed skating and other sports are doing it as well. But it was great to know that the ball has bounced in your direction, and not feeling like that it always went the other way.
Because these were the Italians, the Europeans. Luge has much more of a culture in Germany and in northern Italy. As Americans to finally be kind of breaking that, we were very proud of that moment for sure.
His experience with Georg Hackl
Christian: I wanted to touch on that earlier, when you mentioned what luge is about and the challenges. Did you ever get a chance to meet Georg Hackl?
Jonathan: Oh sure. I actually had a great moment a couple of years ago. I’m from Boston, but I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I hadn’t seen George in a very long time and I’ve worked for television over the years.
In Vancouver in 2010, I was a spotter for the Olympic broadcast service, so I was the eyes between the sport and the camera. I was the one that when the camera shoots to the wife or the girlfriend in the stands, I would tell the camera to shoot the guy.
I’ve seen George over the years, but he’s literally an icon. To every American sports fan, who can think of their favorite sports, whether it’s American football or baseball or whatever, George is like that and more.
I hadn’t seen him in a long time and he came up to me like we were like long lost friends and I was honored because I still look up to him. When they named him the Flying Sausage back in 1992, I thought that was unfair.
But he was amazing. I wrote a book called An Athletes Guide To Winning In Sports And Life. When we launched it, it hit number two in Sports Psychology on Amazon. I was really proud of that.
One of the stories I share about George is, he competed much longer than anybody expected an athlete to compete. But what he did, was he reinvented himself. In his last Olympics in 1998, he had a horrific World Cup season and he had back injuries and everybody had written him off.
George competed much longer than anybody expected an athlete to compete, he reinvented himself.
I remember I went to Nagano to help an athlete from Venezuela. I remember hearing George go by on this new sled that he had. He had done some work with Porsche and his sled sounded different than every other sled on the track.
Sure enough, he came from having a horrific year to medaling at the Olympics. I encourage athletes based on that story. I tell them you have to have a physical ability, a technical ability and a tactical ability to compete.
It doesn’t matter what your sport is. You have to have those three things. We sometimes talk about belief or sports psychology as another pillar, like holding up a house. But I disagree. I think that belief is more like a glue that holds it all together.
He had the belief in himself enough to know that he could still do it. He knew he was still technically good on the sled, even though he may have been physically behind. But then he thought about how he could improve and win.
He had the belief in himself that he could still do it.
He reinvented the sled for himself and for others. He developed a suspension system and all sorts of things. At the time it was ridiculous because people were saying that he should just retire and just be done.
He decided that he would not do that. He changed the vision in that sport. And I commend him 100% for that because other athletes around him just retired and gave up long before they probably needed to.
He also had the resources, and that’s another thing that athletes need to have. They need resources. He applied those resources. He had to design a new sled and be able to compete.
Some athletes don’t have that, but also some athletes give up and they say that they don’t have the resources or the money. But really then you’ve just shut yourself down. They do not ask themselves how they could find the resources to continue or to win. So that’s the most important thing there for sure. Yes, he’s amazing. I love George.
Christian: I just know him from documentaries I’ve seen when I was younger. He was pretty much like Michael Schumacher, the 7-time Formula One champion. They both looked at the connection of the vehicle and the human. I think that’s also what you just outlined. He looked at his sled and wondered how he could improve that and other things.
Jonathan: I know you work with athletes who have, whether it’s a sled or a bike or a car. I think the best athletes look at these as an extension of themselves and I love that. When they don’t, there’s a level of extra effort that needs to happen.
But when you embrace it, when you’re almost morphed, you become a part of it. Those are the athletes we see that transcend and do amazing things. I always tell this to the younger athletes that I work with.
The best athletes look at sled, bike or car, as an extension of themselves. Those are the athletes that do amazing things.
I work with an athlete, who’s a rhythmic gymnast. She’s young and she’s almost 16, so she’s on the younger age. She struggles with her apparatus, whether it’s the ball or the baton or things like that.
I shared this idea with her just this last week that the judges look for this natural connection and they judge higher when they see that it’s effortless. If you feel like you’re fighting this thing all the time, you’re never going to get there.
But when you embrace it as part of you and as an extension of you, then great things can happen. I think the best athletes do that. So, it’s fun to watch for sure.
Christian: That’s a really interesting point.
His advice to a younger Jonathan Edwards
Christian: If you could go back in time, 15 or 20 years, what advice would you give your younger you?
Jonathan: I love this question, because this is so unfair, like hindsight is 20/20. This may surprise people, but the advice I would give to myself is to maintain joint integrity.
So, that might seem really weird, but what most athletes do is, that we have a very mechanistic view of the body, I think, in traditional medicine and then that carries over into physical therapy, and into strength and conditioning, we have a very mechanistic view of the body.
Like we’re interchanging parts on a car. There’s this anticipation that your parts will wear out at some point. But we’ve all run into athletes who have good joint mechanics. They have good ranges of motion, and when you have that, you can express yourself in your sport.
When that goes away, that becomes a problem. Then we start to compensate and try to put band aids on things to just continue. But now, with what I know now about the body, and also the competitive aspect of an elite athlete, we tend to think that we’ll figure out the body later.
We think that we can just give our body to the sport now and then do it as long as possible. They’re holding onto the next World Championships or the next Olympics or whatever. We think that we just have to get through that.
We hear those stories and the TV tells us how amazing it is. We hear of athletes running with injured hamstring. But I would take more of a holistic approach to my body. I would do everything I can to maintain joint integrity.
We think that we can just give our body to the sport now and then do it as long as possible. We hear those stories and the TV tells us how amazing it is, that athletes run with injured hamstrings and we think that we just have to get through that.
The strength coaches that I worked with when I was young thought that luge was a very lopsided sport. They said that it’s very internally rotated. It’s things like that. We were basically folding ourselves in half at the start.
We experienced a thousand car wrecks in our lifetime. And that’s why my neck is still 18 inches. I would maintain joint integrity and I would encourage every athlete I work with to do that.
I learned this from a gentleman named Steve Maxwell. He said, as a competitive athlete, we rarely shift from performance to preservation. We are always in performance mode. And I think part of what makes elite athletes elite is because we sacrifice so much and we can shut off our pain or the feelings that we have of pain. We can fight through injury and things like that.
But now through medicine, we’re going to have the potential to live, who knows how long. And I think the discussion then comes later. For those athletes that are in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, I think all of them will tell you they wish they had their body.
They wished they had less pain to enjoy their kids and the rest of their life almost in exchange for the medals that they had when they were athletes. It’s a tough one because as a dad now, I look at my kids and I don’t want them to have the pain that I have now.
I had both my hips resurfaced a year ago and the five years before that was brutal. But it’s a tough thing because I love everything I learned from sport. I love all the experiences. Even though now, the condition of my body is fine, but I wished that I did not have the pain.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful personal athlete?
Jonathan: I think the most important thing for an athlete is the environment in which you are in on a daily basis. I remember when I first learned about luge. I went back to my high school and I had tried it over the summer. Then I had gotten invited to try it in the winter on ice.
I was telling my friends that I was going to try luge. And people wanted to know what that was. I told them that it was a cool Olympic sport. They then questioned why I would want to do that sport.
And so, right away I learned that when I was at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, Olympians are a dime a dozen. It’s what we do. It’s part of the culture there. People wonder how we get up at six o’clock in the morning to go to physical therapy. That’s what we do.
Whereas at home it was very different. What I find happens is, that athletes have to struggle with this a little bit. Because if you don’t live in an Olympic training center and that’s your life every day, you have to somehow create that environment in your head.
When I was at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, people wonder how we get up at six o’clock in the morning to go to physical therapy. That’s what we do, It’s part of the culture there. Whereas at home it was very different.
And even when you’re in that Olympic training center, there is something that I teach my athletes. I tell them that unless their training partner is the best in the world or they are one or two in the world, the odds are that the best example that they need to follow right now is somewhere else.
They may be in England, they may be in the US, they may be in India. Whatever your sport, the best in the world, is probably somewhere else. You have to create that mentally in your head every day.
I think what makes an athlete successful is when they can create that feeling of trying to attain an example that may not be in front of them at that moment. Now, the beauty of now with the Internet is we can get online and we can see examples.
I tell athletes, don’t look at the training of other athletes online. You don’t really know what they’re doing or how they got there, but look at their performance. Find the best examples of a great backhand down the line or a drop shot or a great evasive move on a field, whether it’s rugby or football.
Look for those examples and look to replicate that. Then backtrack and in your training every day, have that in your mind so that everything is leading to a result. Because I think a lot of athletes waste a lot of time because practice becomes a bit of a grind. You’re just in this mode every day, all the time.
But you’re not really bringing that to the example of what you’re trying to become. So, creating that environment in your head is probably the most important habit you can have daily, in order to make all of your training worthwhile and make you the athlete that you wish you were, that you want to be.
That’s the whole reason we spend all this time and energy and money to get our athletes there. What always surprises me and you know this, is that a lot of athletes will spend time, energy or money on things that they probably shouldn’t. You wish they just had a little bit more focus and focusing on that end result. Because when you have that end result in your head, everything happens a lot quicker.
His transition into business life
Christian: Something that interests me is you have made a transition into business life and you are also, I think, it’s a one-man business, right? So, you are your own business?
Jonathan: Well now, yes. Twenty years ago, I became a strength and conditioning coach and I worked with young athletes and the basement of my house was a gym. I helped other personal trainers with their business and I worked with some great strength coaches.
But then back in 2005, my wife and I bought, wait for it, a small bedding store. Our son was about to be born. My wife was working corporately and I had moved to Canada. We just wanted to buy a business so that we would have cash flow.
We started looking for businesses to buy. For 10 years we took this little tiny bedding store and grew it into a multi-million-dollar furniture and interior design company. That was so much fun to learn.
I think what came to me from my Olympic experience was this idea. When you’re an athlete and you go from venue to venue to venue, basically you’re accepting the challenge of that new venue. So, in luge, every week we would go to a new track in a new country. This was the same for skiing; new country, new track and new hill.
You’re basically thinking about what you need to do to overcome this challenge. You bring with you, skills that you had from the last thing you did. But my wife and I were open to this idea. We just felt we’re smart enough to figure this out and we had to pull together the resources to make it happen.
I think that’s one of the things that from my Olympic experience that I’ve taken everywhere else in my life. There are a few questions that I always ask. What challenge are we trying to overcome and what are the parts, pieces and the beliefs we have to have to pull it together?
One of the things that from my Olympic experience that I’ve taken everywhere else in my life. There are a few questions that I always ask. What challenge are we trying to overcome and what are the parts, pieces and the beliefs we have to have to pull it together?
In addition, I want to know what’s the physical, technical and tactical ability that we need to overcome this challenge? What skills do we need and what resources do we have to throw at it? This is the same thing you do with an athlete. You can take that to anything.
I’ve recently started working with people who weren’t necessarily athletes. They’re entrepreneurs, but they struggle with anxiety. They have depression because things aren’t really working well for them.
I take them through a process where I look at them like an athlete in this challenge called life. And then we take them through the same process that I use with a young athlete, a skier, a gymnast, a figure skater or a horseback rider.
It really comes down to those three key abilities and then what I call the layers. There’s the physical, technical and tactical. Those are your abilities and the layers are your belief, your life skills, and your resources. That’s what I brought from sport and it’s been fun.
How he choses the right people for his business
Christian: You said as an athlete, the environment is important. This is also true for your business. In your business, you have to have persons that work with you, your team. How do you choose the right people for your business?
Jonathan: So that’s a great question, Christian. So I’ve noticed that as athletes, we’re either really good or really bad at this, because a lot of athletes are very independent. And sometimes athletes are very successful but they don’t trust and they’re not good delegators.
But the best athletes that we see, they are a business. I wrote about this in my book. Every athlete really needs to think like a CEO. They are the center of this business where they are executing their best ability.
The best athletes that we see, they are a business. Every athlete really needs to think like a CEO.
Whether it’s tennis or BMX or skiing or hockey or it doesn’t matter. But there’s all this other stuff, like logistics that has to happen. So you have to find those people. I’m always amazed at the best athletes in the world, like a Mikaela Shiffrin or Lindsey Vonn.
Also, tennis is a great one, because you have to get yourself to the venue, you have to organize the hotel and the flights. You have to think about whether you need a private plane or not.
So that approach is the same approach I use. There are tasks that need to be done to move you forward. In the US, we say they are not in your wheelhouse. You’re good at them, but you don’t love them.
But you have this vision for your business, and you’re the one that needs to maintain the vision. And then you have to find people who can take work off your hands. But in business it’s all about revenue and money.
You have to have the revenue or the money with which to hire that person because they’re not going to work for you for free. You have to find a way to delegate your resources to get work done so you can spend more time doing the things that you do best.
The challenge is that, especially for people listening who are coaches, we love to coach. But to grow a coaching business, that’s marketing, that’s sales and not a lot of coaches like that stuff. They would much rather be head down with their athletes, in the weight room or on the field of play.
They’d much rather do that, instead of learn how to figure out an email auto-responder and stuff like that. So, you have to create a balance. I like to do that stuff, but I realized it’s a waste of my time, because I’m better suited talking to an athlete or a parent or coach and things like that.
So, how do I find those people to do that? There’s all sorts of resources to find people like that. How do I pick? I pick the first thing that I know that if I unload that, it’s going to give me more time to do the thing that I need to be doing.
How do I pick? I pick the first thing that I know that if I unload that, it’s going to give me more time to do the thing that I need to be doing.
After that it’s really just a process of knowing that I freed myself up a bit. When I have another client or two, then I have to hire somebody else. But then if the clients are done and I’ve moved them on and then the revenue goes down, I have to think if I still really want to pay for that person.
That’s always the balance. It’s an ebb and a flow. But I just believe, from my athlete background, that we have more ability than we know and we can overcome any challenge.
Success is just about putting yourself in the face of more difficult challenges. The people who are the most successful are the ones who can overcome the most or the largest challenges, typically.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Jonathan: When I read this question, Christian, I would like to have one. So here’s the thing. The biggest thing about morning routines that I find is that it’s all based on how much sleep you got the night before. We talk so much about morning routines, but we never talk about night routines.
The biggest thing about morning routines is, that it’s all based on how much sleep you got the night before. We talk so much about morning routines, but we never talk about night routines.
So, my morning routine starts with my night routine. I protect my last hour. So, if I say that I want to be asleep by 10 o’clock, that means at nine o’clock, I need to leave my desk. I make sure my kids are taken care of and start my sequence to get to sleep at 10 o’clock.
I’m somebody who needs a fair bit of sleep. I need about seven and a half hours, because if I go to bed at 10, then I can wake up at 5:30 and I can have a routine.
What I like to do in the morning, if I nail my routine, is I get up, I have a shower and I stretch. I really like to have about 30 minutes of just stretching and gymnastic type movements, to just activate my body and feel good. Most of my day is sitting in front of my computer or standing at my desk or being on a phone.
What’s crazy is that of all the athletic performances I had when I was young, I feel like sitting all day is more difficult on my body than any maximal squat or clean I ever did. But I’m really focused on staying healthy long-term.
My morning routine starts with my night routine. I protect my last hour.
Like I mentioned, I had a hip re-surfacing last year and it’s been a process to get my body back and it’s exciting, because now I can. So that morning routine is based on setting my body up for success for the rest of the day. And then I get my kids ready to take them to school and come back. So that’s my morning routine.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Jonathan: I didn’t do this as well as I wish I did when I was young. A lot of my focus with athletes now is preparing them for things, not just what they’re going to do on the field of play, but everything around it.
When I was learning how to do luge, we were taught, you have to visualize the perfect run and the perfect race. But what would happen is you would get into curve two and then you’d be offline by an inch and a half, and you’d know it was not going to go well. Now you’re fighting to get back on this perfect line.
When I transitioned from competing in doubles to competing in singles, I watched the men’s race from the 1994 Olympics, and it was the closest race in Olympic history in the sport of luge. Georg Hackl beat Marcus Prock of Austria by 14 thousandth of the second over four runs. That’s not a lot.
And then Armin Zöggeler, the Italian, he finished third. He was very young. I think he was still a junior. But I watched them and I realized that each one of them came down differently.
I realized, then, success at the Olympics wasn’t about doing perfect, perfectly. It was about doing imperfect, perfectly. It wasn’t about trying to fight for the perfect run. It was about understanding that imperfections are coming and it’s how well are you going to deal with that.
We were taught, that we have to visualize the perfect run and the perfect race. When I watched the men’s race from the 1994 Olympics, I realized, then, success at the Olympics wasn’t about doing perfect, perfectly. It was about doing imperfect, perfectly.
And that’s one thing that I think, that’s a big injustice. For a lot of athletes, we tell them that we’re trying to get to a perfect little peak in order for performance. We have to be so careful about how we attain it.
But really, when you look at athletes, especially in sports, where everything is different, like, tennis or soccer or American football or ice hockey, that every game is different. So, telling them that you’re going to have the perfect game, it’s not true.
But then why do we tell skiers that you’re going to have the perfect run? We should tell them that they’re going to come over this knoll today. The sun’s going to be a little different and there’s going to be a little clump of snow. It’s going to catch their right edge and they’re going to have to recover. You then see how well they can you do that.
I do that now. When I’m working on something, I realize that stuff’s going to go wrong. I love the saying, “Man plans and God laughs.” I don’t care if you’re religious or not, but I like that saying because we do plan, and we do this in sport all the time.
I love the saying, “Man plans and God laughs.”
I love the Olympic preparation especially, because you will worry about how long the van is going to take to get from the village to the venue. You wonder what the traffic’s going to be like or whether it is going to be sunny or rainy or windy. We spend all this time, but then we tend to lose track of that.
So I think the more an athlete or more someone in life can understand what’s going on around their field of play, they’re going to realize that once they’re on it, it’s going to be imperfect. The more they’re ready for that and they’re psychologically flexible, the better chance they have for success.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Jonathan: I cry like a baby. I kick and scream. I think this kind of ties in a little bit there as well. Everybody has to go through some sort of grieving when they have a setback. The more mentally and psychologically flexible someone is though, the quicker they get through that.
The more mentally and psychologically flexible someone is, the quicker they get through setbacks.
What I realize now is that, one of the best tips I got when I was young, was that the highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low. We get into trouble when we make the highs really high and the lows really low. And when you look at everything, like it’s a challenge and you come at it with a challenge mindset, then you’re quick to understand and refocus.
- Check out the interview with double Olympic Champion Marianna Pajón, who also outlines, that she transforms setbacks into challenges, that are meant to overcome.
What happens I think is, when someone has a setback and they quit it’s like the worst experience. That would be the worst example. Their vision for what they wanted to happen wasn’t really that strong.
There’s a lot of talk in the United States, especially in North America about, youth sports. I think sometimes with long-term athlete development, when people understand that if their kid is not in that track exactly, they figure that it isn’t going to work.
Whereas we all know athletes who might not have fit in that long-term athlete development model, but they still made it. Those are the athletes you’re really rooting for. So, when athletes or someone overcomes a setback, they don’t make a team or they’re not on the A tier, if their vision of what they want to have happen, and who they want to become is really, really strong, they’ll stick through. They’ll refocus and keep going.
But if that vision wasn’t really strong, then that setback really throws them off. I think as coaches, we need to make sure our athletes are expecting setbacks. If my athlete isn’t having them, I might want to throw them in their way.
I have an athlete who struggled with when their coach wasn’t there. I was angry when I heard that because I was upset that the coach would put that athlete in that situation. A coach who puts an athlete in that situation is like they’re their umbilical cord. If they’re not there, it’s like you’re dying.
So, I had to work with this athlete and encourage them to understand that you have to throw things at yourself that’s more complicated than if your coach isn’t there that day. What other wrinkle can you throw into your training to make you prepared for little setbacks so that if when they come, you’re ready.
Because we don’t want our athletes to be stuck to us, reliant on us. We want our athletes to be independent. But I get it. Coaches have egos and sometimes they and their careers are so attached to their athletes. That’s not always the best dynamic because we want that athlete to be resilient in whatever situation comes their way.
The bus may break down on the way to the venue. They now have to decide what to do. They can run the last quarter mile to the venue to get to the start on time. Just have fun with it and know that you can overcome anything. Because that’s where athletes get their real power from is when they can overcome any setback.
If the athlete’s vision of what they want to have happen, and who they want to become is really, really strong, they’ll stick through, they’ll refocus and keep going. But if that vision wasn’t really strong, then that setback really throws them off.
Christian: Yes. I like the one when you say that essentially as coaches, we need to be able to make ourselves redundant, in the long run. I guess at younger ages, there needs to be a lot of connection with the athlete. But the older the athlete gets, the more you want to become their facilitator, so that the athletes can basically do it by themselves. It’s a balancing act.
Jonathan: It is. I feel for coaches that are in certain situations. There’s a lot of young coaches. I’ll use an example like in club sports where there’s a young coach with a young team or young athletes. That coach loves their sport and can’t think of doing anything else with their life. They worry that if they’re not doing this, they’re going to be flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
There’s this tension that coach has in them, and then they don’t want to share information with other coaches. They don’t want their athletes to leave them for another coach. But sometimes I think one of the most empowering things you can do as a coach is when you go to your athlete and let them know that you have gotten them to this point and they can move on to something else that you can’t give them.
One of the most empowering things you can do as a coach is when you go to your athlete and let them know that you have gotten them to this point and they can move on to something else that you can’t give them.
I believe that’s when a coach is in their most powerful moment. The athlete will see the coach as amazing. This doesn’t happen like this way, exactly, but what’s unspoken is the athlete will know that the coach has helped him to uncover a wrinkle that he couldn’t uncover as the athlete.
And that is, I think the most powerful relationship a coach and an athlete can have. But sometimes the environment doesn’t allow that to happen. But that’s a longer story.
Christian: Yes. If that situation happens, then actually the coach makes sure that it’s about the athlete. And you just said, too many coaches make the athlete about them and that’s where we go wrong. I mean it should be about the athlete, not about us.
Jonathan: Ideally, yes. When I first started doing luge and this is a long time ago. This is in the late eighties and I’m not that old, but come on. The Russian program was massive in the late eighties to early nineties, and I remember we were at Junior World Championships in Germany and we showed up with a Russian sled that the American program had.
We had taken this sled and we had fixed it up and we showed up to race on that. And our American coaches were good friends with the Russian coaches. And the same coach then was actually in the US luge program now.
But they had a thing in Russia, where as a coach, you started with an athlete, as a junior and you came up with them in the ranks. And if your athlete made the World Champ, the Junior National team, you were the Junior National team coach.
In that system, you don’t have that. You’re not going to have a coach that allows his athletes to go work with another coach. It worked for them because they had so many athletes. But it’s not a great environment. It’s not a very healthy environment. But organizationally, a system has to be very well set up to support that type of conversation.
Organizationally, a system has to be very well set up to support that type of conversation.
For young coaches that are just getting started coaching, this is all they want to be doing or think they should be doing. They’re going to be holding on to their athletes like they’re a bunch of fragile eggs, and not wanting to let go.
But that’s where one of the things I encourage my athletes and their parents is to recognize that. One thing I say is we need a physical ability, a technical ability and a tactical ability. But sometimes your coach is a technical coach and doesn’t understand the physical ability.
As a strength and conditioning coach, that’s why someone like you comes into play. But then, you have a coach and they might be more tactical in choreographed sports, in particular. You need good choreography. That’s a tactic.
But if your coach is mostly technical and can teach you how to spin and jump and whatever, you need to find someone who can help you with the choreography. But if your technical coach tells you your hamstrings are tight, that might be out of their wheelhouse. And we all know that there’s coaches who are that type of coach, but are trying to be the physical ability coach.
And so, what I do with my athletes is I try to help them look from a higher level and understand what the shortcomings of your coach are. Understand what the good aspects of your coach is or are. But know that you as the CEO, the athlete as a CEO, it’s your responsibility to pull all that together.
If you just leave it up to your coach, sometimes you can get yourself into trouble if you just rely on them one hundred percent. I like it to be a symbiotic relationship, where it’s a coach and athlete working together as a partnership, not as just a hierarchy. Because I think the real power comes, when it’s a partnership, for sure.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Jonathan: Now I have business role models. I look for people who have a life that I like to live. I’ll share this story with you. In one of my earliest seasons doing luge, Mark, my doubles partner and I, had our final race of the year.
We were in Austria, north of Innsbruck and it was the World Cup final and Hansjörg Raffl and Norbert Huber of Italy were competing against Stefan Krauße and Jan Behrendt from Germany. Raffl and Huber were coming down for their eighth overall World Cup title.
These guys were our idols. This is going to actually double up for our what’s the best advice that I ever got question as well. I think we were looking for a sixth place finish. We were going to be a six place result and that was going to be a good finish for us. I think we were still Juniors.
We came down off the second last curve and we had a great run going and we flipped off of curve thirteen. We went through the finish curve on our face and we went up the outrun and slid back to the bottom. They had to put a hold on the track while we did the walk of shame up to the finish and it just sucked.
We went through the finish curve on our face, they had to put a hold on the track, while we did the walk of shame up to the finish and it just sucked.
I still remember, because it was a beautiful day in Innsbruck. it was sunny and beautiful and the view was amazing. So we got into the finish hut and the race restarted, we could hear on the loudspeaker.
Raffl and Huber of Italy came down and they beat the Germans for their eighth title. We’re peeling off our clothes and we’re excited for them. They’re our idols. We really liked them. We didn’t communicate with them very much then, because we were just like the young Americans.
They come in the finish hut after they checked their sled and get weighed and they’re getting changed and Raffl looks at us and he asked how it went. We were shocked that he knew who we were. We told him that we crashed off of curve thirteen. He then told us that he had watched us all season.
He told us that we were very good. But then he said we had a problem. He told us that we would go home to Lake Placid or wherever would look to the other Americans. At that time there was two senior teams and we were the junior team and we were already beating them.
Raffl continued by telling us that the problems the Americans had was that we were just trying to beat each other. He said that we only look at each other. But he said that when we go home, we should look to them.
I get goosebumps now thinking about that. He said that we should look to them because when you look to them, eventually we will beat them. He also said that being the best in the United States will take care of itself. I hoped then that I would never forget that and I never have.
Twenty-five years later, I’m still talking about it because it was the best advice ever. I think the role models I have are always the best example of what you are trying to become. You’ve got to find that, and then you can change.
Find the best example of what you are trying to become.
One thing that I’ll add to this in terms of role models is, it is perfectly okay to have a role model who is good in one trait, but maybe not the other. I did a talk at a school and I had made reference to an athlete and I can’t remember who the athlete was now, but I admired this athlete for their athletic ability and their performance.
I think at the time that athlete had been arrested for drunk driving or something like that. What I tell athletes now is to find whatever role model you want for the thing that you admire them for and discard the rest. A lot of people, like mothers say they would never let their kid watch that athlete.
I tell them that they are missing the point, because their athlete may need that example, but they can discard the other stuff. Especially in the United States, we’re so quick now to just destroy people based on one bad experience or something that they’ve done and then we forget all the rest. I think that’s unfortunate. Your role models can change and you can pick what you want. It’s totally allowed.
Christian: So, you mold your own role model out of many people?
Jonathan: Yes. It’s like the Mr. Potato head doll. You remember those? You pick what you want and discard the rest because eventually that’s what you want to be. You want to be the best example.
I think the mistake people make is when they think they see an athlete who maybe has something bad going in their life. They therefore think that their athlete is going to have that same trait and that’s not true. I just think it’s okay to pick what you want to leave the rest.
Christian: Yes, you’re not the only one. That answer has come up that people look at one particular trait they admire in one person and then another trait that they admire in another person and they make their own role model out of that.
- Also check out the interview with 2012 Olympic Champion Aleksey Torokhtiy, who outlines, that he has a role model for every trade he wants to develop.
The best advice he has received
Christian: The best advice you received, you just named it. Second best advice then?
Jonathan: The second best was the highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low. I think the best advice now that I give to people is that you’re stronger than you know. I’m working on a book, another book called, You’ve Got This; Here’s How.
The highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low.
What do we tell people when they’re going through something tough? We tell them that they have got this. We might not even know what they’re fully going through, but as a nice gesture, we tell them that they have got this.
I got kind of fascinated with what that really meant and how it could be applied to everybody. My story as an Olympian, dressed in Spandex, going 140 kilometers an hour does not always relate. So, I like to know the parts and pieces.
I started researching, basically, this idea of overcoming any challenge. I got really fascinated by people who had spontaneous remissions for cancer and other diseases and things like that. Really what we’ve all done through sport, through simple games we played when we were young, it’s the same recipe for success, no matter what it is you pick.
I started to tell people that no matter what they’re going through, they have the ability to fix and to change it. In the US now especially, there’s a lot of talk about mental health. I actually did a podcast episode a couple of days ago on an article that was written about this.
I tell people that no matter what they’re going through, they have the ability to fix and to change it.
I think we’re doing athletes a disservice by painting them with a brush that if they have some depressive thoughts or if they’re struggling or something that they have an illness. I don’t believe that at all, especially in the United States, where the pharmaceutical industry’s so crazy and I know all my European friends agree that it is crazy.
It is crazy because this article came out saying that 50% of all youth athletes struggle with depression. I thought about it and they probably just need a nap. They probably need a break.
They probably need to balance what it is they’re doing with something else. No one’s taught them how to recognize that and how to manage that. They don’t have an illness and therefore need medication. That’s what an illness means.
Once you have an illness, you go to the pharmacy to get something to take to fix it. I think we’re doing a disservice like that. So, I want people to know that with athletes, in particular, when I learned how to do luge, you don’t jump right to the top of the mountain and go 140 k from the start.
You start like halfway down the track and you get the swing of it and then you move up a little bit as you’re comfortable with the speed and the demands. If you’re not comfortable with the speed and the demands, well you either quit or you have to back off. You have to back off a little bit and then come back at it.
That’s what every athlete I know does. In tennis, we start with the orange ball and then the green ball, and then we finally get to the yellow ball. But in life we tend to think that we have gotten to here and we’re struggling. We then say that we have depression.
You’ve got to back off a little bit and then come back at it. I want people to know that they’re more powerful than what they know. They’ve got more tools at their disposal than they think they do.
If they want that thing bad enough, then they can find the way to make it happen. Most likely, Christian, you know this, that somebody, somewhere who’s worse off has made it. We do long term athlete development models and things like that.
Novak Djokovic learnt how to play tennis in an empty pool somewhere. Right now in golf, for anybody out there who’s a golfer, we all saw Tiger Woods win the Masters. But a lot of people don’t know that Tony Finau who finished second, started playing golf in his basement with 75 cent golf clubs.
His Dad was from Tonga and didn’t know much about golf. He did a little bit, but he had a mattress in their basement and Tony Finau and his brother hit balls with these like 75 cent golf clubs. Then when they finally got out of the house, they realized they could actually hit pretty well.
I love those stories. We tend to focus so much on role models. We have the role models, but the role models can also steer you in the wrong direction. They can give you the wrong idea of what it takes to be successful.
Because as much as I want people to look for good role models, I also want people to find the role model of somebody who’s made it, who has it worse off than them. Because that’s really where we learned the best lessons. That’s where you realize that if he did or she did it, you can do it.
I saw an article years ago. Everybody talks about the top hundred soccer players in the world. They compare themselves to these persons. They say that they all played Futsal and they came from South America or whatever.
But I saw this article saying that it’s really unfair to compare yourself to an outlier. In the world of football where a billion people play, looking at the top hundred, may be unfair. It is unfair for the 13-year old kid who started playing when he was 11 or that 17-year old kid who started playing later. I like to help those athletes.
We tend to focus so much on role models, but the role models can also steer you in the `wrong direction. They can give you the wrong idea of what it takes to be successful, it’s really unfair to compare yourself to an outlier.
I like to really encourage those athletes who have a belief, who have been gifted with this idea that they should be an Olympian in the sport or another sport. That’s fallen on you for a reason and it’s your job to figure out how to make that happen. I think more kids, more athletes give up way sooner than they probably should, because they just feel like they fall outside of some sort of box.
Christian: I really like that, especially the one comparing yourself to an outlier. The people we see, you mentioned that before, technical, tactical, physical and so on, they most likely, have a higher capacity in one or many of these areas and they are special. For the normal gifted people, then yes, it’s unfair to compare yourself to an outlier.
Actually just one of the last interviews that I published with, triple Olympian Theo Bos, one of the most successful trek cyclists, when I asked him what he thinks made him successful, he said he has good genes, he is explosive and he has good stamina. Then he said that he loved sports and training and other things. But he acknowledged the fact that he is also genetically gifted.
Jonathan: I believe that a hundred percent. I’m curious, if he mentioned what he felt when he was younger? He wasn’t learning how to cycle and saying he has good genes. He was just driven.
So I think what happens is that the driven part allows you to express those genes. Because for every World Champion, there’s, depending on the sport, hundreds, thousands, millions of other athletes who are decent. Because every team needs to have the good, the middle and the bad.
What I fight for is the athlete and the family who has an athlete who has this dream and they’re trying to find way to make that work. But then they see that guy with the good genes and they think that they can never compete with that.
If you then give up, you’re never going to compete with that. But you also may find out, that those genes in you, are actually not triggered right now. It’s like looking at Michael Phelps and people are saying that his feet are big, his arms are this long and they are not like that.
There’s still 6,000 swimmers at our local swim meet here in Calgary, and this is important, because I think you can really derail an athlete with the gene idea. But as scientists and things, that’s what science does. They just want to fit their athletes into this little box.
We want them to know like when they’re 14 and a half years old and their arms are this long, they’re going to be okay. Yes, we can do that as much as we want, especially when there’s money tied to it, when countries are throwing money at it and then we have that science.
They will go to the coach and ask why they believe in an athlete who does not fit that box. People will think that they’re too short or too fat or anything else. But what does the coach have to do at that point?
He has to say that he is either going to trust his instinct or he’s going to believe in these numbers. And that’s where we lose the art of coaching. That’s where we lose belief. I hope desperately that we don’t lose that too much or else we’ll just be little robots playing on the fields.
What science does, they just want to fit their athletes into this little box. And that’s where we lose the art of coaching.
Christian: I wanted to come back on the numbers and the idea of big data. I recently attended a conference and one of the data scientists said, the only purpose of collecting data is to support an informed decision. It’s not the decision in itself, it’s to support an informed decision.
Jonathan: I would hug that man. I was part of Luge Canada, and I was on their board in 2006, before the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. They had the ‘Own the podium’ and the government was going to throw all this money at sports, and they were going to figure out and so every sport basically had to say why they need money.
They had all these different criteria. Your mind immediately goes to the athlete who’s on the bubble, who you believe in and you believe in their drive. And I think every coach would rather coach the kid who has drive, than the kid who is naturally gifted and has no drive.
I think every coach would agree with that because every coach hopes to God that the kid who has the gift gets the drive. Because with the kid who has the drive, you’re patiently waiting for the gift to come. They’re going to create it.
Every coach would rather coach the kid who has drive, than the kid who is naturally gifted and has no drive. Because with the kid who has the drive, you’re patiently waiting for the gift to come. They’re going to create it.
It’s a tough balance. But I believe in the underdog. We all love those stories. I believe that those underdog athletes that make it come back to sport and make sport better and help us get the lessons we want out of sport.
We want athletes to learn resiliency, hard work, goal setting and overcome any challenge. We want that. That’s why I think it’s crazy when we start blaming sport on the fact that our kids are depressed. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
A typical training day in the life of an Olympic Luger
Christian: Back in the days what did a typical training day look like?
Jonathan: I moved to Lake Placid, New York, when I was on the national team, we could live in the training center, but sometimes living in the training center wasn’t all that great.
So, a lot of us got an apartment. I’d wake up in the morning and I would take a dip in the lake if I could, to get some cold on my body. I didn’t know at the time that was really good for me. But we would then go have a little breakfast and then go to the ice house to train our starts.
We would be working on our most sports specific thing in the off season. We would do that for about an hour and a half, and then we’d go to the training center and have breakfast and we’d be able to ride our bike to all these things. It was that close. But it was not like Netherlands biking, this is like American athlete biking, which means it was really close.
We’d have breakfast and then we’d hit the weight room. Then we’d come back and we’d have lunch and then we’d probably take a nap.
I was a big napper, I love naps, I am a big fan of naps. I think for some athletes they could really benefit from having that down cycle after lunch in the middle of the day and getting some sleep. In the afternoon we would have either another game of soccer or something strength and conditioning wise. It was also kind of multi-directional.
Then the afternoon was mostly spent on sled technique and prepping our sleds. You’re getting them ready to be painted, all the stuff that needed to happen in the off season. Then we’d have dinner and we’d be done. But like most athletes, when you’re young, you party and probably drink too much.
In Lake Placid, there was a bar called The Laughing Loon. I always wanted you to know this, Christian, this is a critical part of our training. Every Tuesday, they would have what was called Tankard Tuesday. You could bring your own mug and they would fill it for, I think it was like a quarter.
We would have chicken wings and beer and we would party and we’d have a good time. We wouldn’t sleep enough and we get up in the morning and we’d do it all again. That was a typical training day; not the beer and wings thing every night though.
But I look back on that and I wish that the one thing, I had done better was understood more about my body and the gift that you’re given when you’re young. Your ability to recover, your ability to compete on not a lot of sleep. I wish I had more of an understanding and this is what I teach now.
I wish that the one thing, I had done better was understood more about my body and the gift that you’re given when you’re young. Your ability to recover, your ability to compete on not a lot of sleep. I wish I had more of an understanding and this is what I teach now.
But I wish I had more of an understanding of what my body was doing, the feelings I was having. That feeling of, we used to call them butterflies, but nervous, that light anxiety, even that heavy anxiety, and how to manage that. Because I think a lot of athletes waste that a lot.
If you took that energy that you’re wasting on digestion and stress, you could channel that more into your training. I think most athletes are just hurting themselves in so many ways. But if we were just depending on the culture of the sport you’re in, I think that shifts that a lot.
If you’re in a team environment all the time, well now you have that social aspect that if you’re not part of it, you are antisocial. Then that comes with a whole lot of stigma. So, there’s still hazing in some ways. We call it hazing in the US.
There’s just that social part of the team that you’re supposed to be part of. But I think as a whole, it can wear everybody down. So, that was a typical training day.
Once we competed, when we’re going through Europe, it’s like you’re getting up in the morning, you’re going to the track and you’re taking three training runs.
Then you’re coming back home, you’re getting undressed, you’re having lunch, you’re getting dressed, you’re going back out to the track and another three runs. You’re coming back again, get undressed, then getting dressed and stuff to go to the gym. You’re doing some weight sessions or some gym sessions, getting undressed and going back home again.
Then you’re getting dressed again to go have some dinner, getting undressed, getting ready for sled work and video prep and doing it all over again. I think one day in luge, we got dressed and undressed 18 times in a day. It’s ridiculous.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Jonathan: Yes. Josh Perry. Just because I think in the world of sport, we now have this discussion of brain injury and brain health. There’s a gentleman, I can’t connect you with him because I’m trying to get him too. I would love to hear him talk. His name is Dr. Daniel Amen and he’s is a brain expert here in the US.
But back to Josh Perry, just because he was an elite BMX rider, stunt tricks and things like that. He was gifted. He’s from Massachusetts and one of the best in the world, but was developing some symptoms.
One of the things that happens to a lot of athletes is, that when we go to a doctor for any case, they immediately think that you’re healthy. You’re physically fit. They think that nothing could be wrong with you.
Josh eventually got diagnosed with a massive brain tumor and then actually went back to compete again. He basically, not cured himself, but through the use of ketogenic diets, he can talk about that. I think that’s a fascinating discussion in the world of sport now.
I grew up in the generation where it was like carbo load, carbo load, carbo load, even though we were power athletes. Now, because of the Internet and science and technology, we’re learning so much and I think Josh would be a great interview. He’s a great guy. I can give you an email for him for sure. Yes, I would start there. But there’s a thousand others, Christian, I could recommend to you.
Christian: I wouldn’t mind speaking to Georg Hackl, though.
Jonathan: I’ll see what I can do.
Christian: Does he speak English?
Jonathan: He does. It’s pretty good. It’s functional.
Christian: It’s easier for me to understand than the Bavarian German.
Jonathan: Yes. Exactly. When you hear those guys speaking- getting in their tongues, you marvel. I tried to learn German, I learned a fair bit, so that I could converse and get around, but, man, when those guys are sitting around a table at the end of a race and they’re just chatting, and the Italians too, holy smokes.
His struggle transitioning into business life after his Olympic career
Christian: I believe that. Today I listened to one of your podcasts speaker. Amongst many things from that podcast, I remember, you said you struggled to make a transition from athlete life to business life. Take us through that struggle and then also let me know what are you doing business wise at this moment in time?
Jonathan: I can only speak for North American athletes. A lot of the European athletes that I knew from luge, like the Italians and the Germans, were policemen or they were Forest Rangers. It was like all the Italian guys were part of the Forest Air, I can’t remember exactly what they call it anyway.
In North America, we have this struggle, when you become a competitive athlete, because the American education system is pervasive. Where I grew up, in Boston, it’s the largest concentration of universities in the world.
There’s this struggle between when we were going to grow up and when we would get a real job. If you’re not competing in a sport that’s collegiate based, like if you’re a swimmer, you can get your education and you can compete for university. With luge, I had to leave school.
I completed high school and because of my lacrosse experience as a division one recruit, I was going to go to the University of Notre Dame to play. But I decided not to go back. But growing up in New England, all I really knew about the world and earning money was you had to get a degree in something and then go on in that career.
Growing up in New England, all I really knew about the world and earning money was you had to get a degree in something and then go on in that career.
Now, I was interested in athletic training. I was interested in physical therapy. I didn’t feel like I was smart enough to become a doctor. I didn’t have that affinity for schooling. You know people like this who are good in the school environment and then there’s others that just need more practical doing of the thing.
When I first left sport in 1996, I wasn’t sure what to do, really. I got a job in sales. I was working for a company that helps high school football teams raise money. It was a high school fundraising company. I did that for a year, but sport was still so in my blood. I felt this pressure that I needed to go out and do something else.
There’s some athletes that go on and they become coaches and I’m a great coach. I’m a very good coach. I coach in a lot of things. I would say when it comes to coaching, I’m above average. But I just felt like I should be leaving sport to go do something else, because I didn’t feel like I could necessarily create a career that I wanted to grow.
I struggled with that. But then I got back into sport and I got around some strength and conditioning coaches who were not in the US Olympic Committee who had businesses. They had their own facilities. They had books and seminars and products to sell.
I thought that this was interesting. So, I moved to Las Vegas to train with one of these coaches and I remember a conversation we had. I had moved from Boston. I was living on my savings, which wasn’t much, and this coach told me that I looked like a smart kid. He asked if I could help him to grow his business.
At the time he was writing for these fitness magazines and he was making, I don’t know, maybe six figures a year, He had this online presence. So, I learned about the world of marketing and specifically information marketing.
I was always fascinated about people who wrote books and did that. It’s funny, but I have several shelves with books now. I became fascinated in the world of people who had knowledge and they could then package their knowledge and sell it.
But that also exposed me to the world of business. One of the things, that I wish that I could tell every athlete who listen, is that their experience in their sport is going to give them tools to overcome challenges, if they are aware of what’s happening. That’s the big difference.
You have to be aware of what it is you’re learning while you’re competing. You are learning a certain set of skills, but more importantly you’re learning principles that you can apply anywhere. I wasn’t taught that.
One of the things, that I wish that I could tell every athlete who listen, is that their experience in their sport is going to give them tools to overcome challenges. You are learning a certain set of skills, but more importantly you’re learning principles that you can apply anywhere.
When I retired, the US Olympic Committee provided a service to retiring Olympians. They had this massive company called Drake Beam Morin, which is a multinational corporation. They go into big companies when they lay off thousands of people.
I did a personality profile, which I had never done before. I came out of that and the guy told me that I was actually introverted. I thought I was really extroverted but he told me I was not and he explained it.
I told him that I wished I knew that 15 years ago. I do this with my athletes now. I put them through a personality assessment because if they struggle with certain things in their sport, this will tell me why. When I learned about that and I teach them, now they’re free. It’s crazy.
- Also check out the interviews with triple Olympian Patricia Hy-Boulais and Olympic Coach Bas de Bever, who use a personality profiling with their athletes.
But when I came out of that experience with a Drake Beam Morin, when I was retiring, I met with a career counselor and he told me I should go sell rings. It was just ridiculous. I won’t even get into it, but I’ll tell you this. It was horrible. I wondered what I was supposed to do.
I had a very limited knowledge of what you can do with your life and how you can make money and how people make money. Now, I know there’s a million ways to make money. Money pays for food and rent and kids and wives and things like that. I shouldn’t say wives, plural, just wife.
I struggled with that for about 10 years or so. But when I understood, when I started learning marketing, I started learning about business in those ways, it just opened up this whole world to me. So, I encouraged athletes to create a business, that helps fund their lifestyle of sport. A lot of athletes will quit sport, because they feel they need to go make money.
I encouraged athletes to create a business, that helps fund their lifestyle of sport. A lot of athletes will quit sport, because they feel they need to go make money.
Or maybe they’re not funded. I stopped doing luge, not because I was bad at it. I got myself back to a point where I was beating guys who were top 15 in the world, but I ran out of money. I got tired of feeling like I was just kind of fighting all the time.
But there’s so many avenues from the world of sport. Athletes can become strength conditioning coaches. They can go on and have a career, maybe outside of their national team and have that life because the life of travel and this life, that’s hard.
It’s not conducive to a family. But now with the Internet, it’s more possible for athletes to understand, to expose themselves to more possibility that I didn’t have back then. When I talk to my athletes now, I tell them to use the sport and invest themselves in it a hundred percent.
Because when you leave, when you finally decide that you’re not going to compete anymore, you have to be comfortable with your decision and know that you’re done. Because if you leave and then you think you still can go back and you’re still connected, that is not good. I think one of the worst things is when an athlete stops competing and then becomes a coach right away.
They’re just on the sidelines of their sport telling their athlete that they are better than them. They may also tell them that they are horrible and it is they that should be out there. You want to just disconnect. I hope that helps because it’s not easy.
I think there’s that saying that the man who chases two rabbits loses both. But in the terms of athletes, what happens is that the tension in the athlete’s head. They think that if they keep going as an athlete and they’re not going to be a Chris Hoy or an elite and retire with money then they’re going to be 25 or 30 years old and be starting from scratch.
Now, I can tell you, having had success and failure in business, that can happen to you at any point in your life. We had to close our company in 2015, when oil went to 25 bucks a barrel, so, I had to start from scratch again.
That idea that you’re going to start from scratch, it can happen whenever. But I think if your eyes are opened and you understand, that you’re meeting people within your sport, you’re learning things, you’re learning just this idea of how to take a challenge and overcome it, that if you understand that, then you can make good transitions.
But if you are just an athlete and you have blinders on, then you’re going to feel lost when you’re done. It’s going to become such a part of you, that you’re only going to feel like you, if you have your sport, and if you don’t have your sport, you’re not you.
It’s going to become such a part of you, that you’re only going to feel like you, if you have your sport, and if you don’t have your sport, you’re not you.
That’s when people get into trouble mentally. So, that’s one of my bits of advice for athletes in general. It’s a tough balance, but there’s more possibility than you think you have when you are done.
Christian: In your current business, what other services you offering?
Jonathan: I’ve coached all the time. I’ve worked with athletes for years. I started a website called athletespacific.com [all links below]. One of the things that I find is, that I talk to athletes very differently than their main technical coach would talk to them.
I find, that I talk to athletes very differently than their main technical coach would talk to them.
We touched on it a little bit here that a lot of athletes don’t have somebody in their corner who’s helping them manage their physical training, their relationship with their technical coach and the direction that they’re taking as an athlete within their sport. Maybe they’re feeling pressure that they have to go join another team or another club.
We have this a lot in the United States. If you’re a good athlete, there’s a ton of places that want you. Then if you’re going like collegiately, you want to know what’s a good experience for you. You want to know how to balance the mental aspect of your game. It is important to know how you are marrying what you’re learning from your competitive experience with your practice experience.
So, I wrote a book about this. It’s called An Athlete’s Guide To Winning In Sports and Life: For athlete’s with big dreams and the parents and coaches who support them. It is a huge chunk of what I know as a coach. I believe every coach should write a book, because what you really want to do is you want to go to your athletes and tell them to read your book and then come back to you.
You want them to read it so you can be on the same page and then you move forward. So I started coaching and consulting with families and their athletes and helping athletes understand everything it takes to be successful as an athlete.
As you know, when you are focusing on the technical aspects of your sport, that’s where most athletes migrate to. It’s the doing of your thing. Whether you’re juggling a soccer ball, riding a bike, swinging a tennis racket, athletes like to do that.
But the thing is they believe more of that is the plan. That’s not true. You have to look at them physically tell them that they need a strength conditioning coach. For example, you tell them that they have no mobility in their hips. So, while they may be super talented, this is going to catch up to them.
Athletes tend to work in silos, and what I do is help an athlete marry that all together, and we work on the mental and the mindset side of things. This will help them to have more confidence and they eliminate their anxiety along those ways.
I realized there’s not really someone who serves that role for an athlete. They’re either going to go find someone like you or they’re going to go find a sports psychologist and try to wonder and figure out why they’re not thinking right. I come in the role as sports psychology, but I’m not a sports psychologist.
I’m more just self-made and hand-taught, that sort of thing, but helping them understand where their shortcomings are. Families usually bring me in when they’ve invested a lot of money in their athlete. Their athlete has a big dream and they’re doing all this stuff, but it’s all in silos and it’s just not coming together.
They bring me on and then we bring it all together. The athletes usually come out of it a hundred percent better because now they have an understanding. They now understand why they don’t feel confident on race day because physically, they’re not up to speed.
Or they may come to the realization that their coach wants them to execute this particular skill, but the coach doesn’t understand that physically, they’re not capable of doing that. So we steer them in the right direction there.
I work with athletes for about eight to 10 weeks. We get on the phone once a week. I have video modules in a membership site that they have access to. Over 10 weeks we take an athlete from typically not very confident and full of anxiety or things like that and getting them to an area where they are confident, and then it all comes together.
Then, usually their coaches will end up contacting and asking what I did to their athlete. They often say they are a completely different kid. I usually just ask if they have anyone else for me to work with.
Because that’s the unfortunate thing about sport is that we tend to work in silos. You get the athlete for a little while, you’re working on strength, but you’re working on their conditioning. You’re working on their physical mobility, but we don’t always make the connection between that and them executing a skill.
Now, you should be able to reach that level. So, that’s where I come into play. I do that. I’ve got a Facebook group, if people go to athletespacific.com, in the upper menu bar, there’s a webinar if people want to learn more about the program, they can watch the webinar.
But there’s also a link. It’s this private group and that’ll take you to our Facebook group. That’s a small group that’s growing. But yes, all day, every day I talk to athletes and talk to people like you because we’re just trying to make athletes better because we do believe.
I think, Christian, at our core, we believe that the benefits of sport of being part of it and not just having a successful experience, but dealing with the negative and the setbacks, we all believe that the experience in sport should make an athlete more resilient in the rest of their life. We want that to happen.
We want them to go through as far as they can go so that when they leave say that they gave it their best and they’re happy and transitioning. That’s where our love of all this comes from. We want that underdog to win. We want those kids to win. We want to grow the sport in general because the benefits should outweigh all of the negatives, if it’s done correctly. That’s my belief.
Where can you find Jonathan Edwards
Christian: Pretty cool. So, where can people find you?
Jonathan: Yes, athletespacific.com is my main website and then, for the purpose of this audience, that’s probably the best place to find me. What I would suggest is go to the webinar. I created a little download for athletes about how to deal with negative thoughts.
One of the things that I’ve uncovered is that there’s a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t have a negative thought. But what happens to an athlete when they’re in the starting line, or they’re ready to take a field, it’s like a negative, some sort of self- doubt pops in. They then pause because they don’t necessarily know how to deal with that.
The PDF that I put together is just some tricks on how to deal with some of those negative thoughts because the important thing is to know that they are going to come. But you have a choice with what you do with that thought. It’s not you; it’s just the thought.
One of the things that I’ve uncovered is, that there’s a lot of talk about how you shouldn’t have a negative thought. But what happens to an athlete when they’re in the starting line, or they’re ready to take a field, some sort of self- doubt pops in. They then pause because they don’t necessarily know how to deal with that. But you have a choice with what you do with that thought. It’s not you; it’s just the thought.
But most athletes take it and worry that they are thinking negatively. Then they just get all derailed. It’s the A and T download, again, on the upper menu bar at athletespacific.com. Then, the book is on Amazon, An Athlete’s Guide To Winning In Sports And Life. Super proud of it. It’s a real book. It’s durable. It can sit in your gym bag.
But it can be read in parts. It can be read in pieces so that if an athlete’s struggling with one certain thing, they can go in the book and they can read that as well. And then, if anybody wants to email, they can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. So happy to hear from anybody. I hear from people all over the world, which is exciting. It’s good fun.
Jonathan Edwards Social Profiles
Christian: It’s truly exciting. Jonathan, thanks a lot for your time and the insights.
Jonathan Edwards: It was a pleasure, Christian. I appreciate it. And I hope people who are listening can benefit and keep subscribing to your podcast, because you’ve got a lot of great people on there.
It doesn’t matter what level an athlete is at, they should be listening to these types of conversations, not waiting. So, it was a pleasure speaking with you and your English is amazing. Way better than my Dutch, so it’s all good.
Christian: I’m originally German, and I’m working in the Netherlands.
Jonathan: Oh my Goodness, it’s just a wrinkle after another. So then, you should be fine with the German and talking to Hackl. You’ll be all right.
Christian: That is true. But most of the conversations are in English, and it would have to be translated then.
There are a few exceptions like former tennis player, Olympian 1992 and Spanish Davis Cup Captain Jordi Arrese, and gymnast Ruben Lopez, Olympian 2012, where I have done the interview in Spanish, but then on my website, the text is translated into English.
Jonathan: That’s awesome. That always floors me in North America, where we only speak English. We try to speak other languages, but it’s always a struggle, whereas everybody, everywhere else speaks their native tongue and English and usually something else. So just a pleasure.