Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Kerri Pottharst. Kerri is a triple Olympian, bronze medalist at the 1996 Olympic Games, Olympic Champion, 2000, and a Volleyball Hall of Famer. Welcome, Kerri.
Kerri: I’m good. I’m doing great, thank you. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
Christian: It’s my pleasure.
Why she was always wearing her cap the other way around
Christian: Kerri, we both live to the eighties and I saw you were always wearing your cap the other way around. Is it an over-the-top thing that got you into the right mood to compete?
Kerri: It started because I cut my hair so short one time that I couldn’t actually put it back in a ponytail and there was no way I could keep it out of my face. I just put my cap on and I didn’t normally wear a cap.
I used to just have a ponytail, but I put my cap on, and then I realized that it was stopping my vision. I’d have to really put my neck back a long way. It was completely different having to look up and not see anything and so having to put my head right back and I didn’t like the feeling of that.
I just turned the cap around. It kept my hair off my face and it was good to wipe your hands on when your hands got really sweaty. In the end, it was so much a part of my uniform, like my swimsuit that I just had to have it. It was just a part of the game.
Her darkest moment
Christian: In your athletic life, what was your darkest moment?
Kerri: At the end of my indoor volleyball career, I’d played professionally in Italy for one season. I really enjoyed it. I was going to go back again and I came back to Australia in between and was playing in the National Championship.
I was in the final with my city, my state, South Australia and we’d played so well. I was just coming off the back of a professional season in Italy. I’d been representing Australia for 10 years at indoor volleyball.
I will never forget the jump. I was on the right-hand side of the court. I went up to hit a ball across my body, across the court from the right-hand side, and at the last moment I changed my mind and instead of hitting it across, I decided to hit it hard, straight down the line.
It got blocked out and as that ball’s rebounding next to me, I was landing and it was landing and I thought that I would get it myself. As I landed, I twisted, but my foot stayed facing one way and my whole body twisted the other way.
I completely ruptured my cruciate ligament, I ruptured my medial ligament and I wrecked my meniscus and my cartilage all in one jump. I completely destroyed my right knee.
It was my darkest moment, but it was because of that, that a year and a half later, I found myself on the beach and went on to vying in three Olympics and winning two medals. So it’s just incredible when something really bad happens to you that something great can come out of it.
In one jump I completely destroyed my right knee. But it was because of that, that a year and a half later, I found myself on the beach and went on to vying in three Olympics and winning two medals. It’s just incredible when something really bad happens to you that something great can come out of it.
Christian: Yes, it’s interesting. I’ve spoken to a few people here and it seems like for a few, the darkest moment has always been before the best moments.
Kerri: Absolutely. And they really test you and they test your purpose, your why, the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. If that reason, if that purpose is not strong enough, then you won’t go back to doing what you were doing before. Therefore, that reason has to be really, really strong.
If your purpose is not strong enough, then you won’t go back to doing what you were doing before.
For me, I just love the sport of volleyball. I love the community. I love the challenge of playing volleyball and even more so beach volleyball.
When I had the opportunity to give beach volleyball a try, I literally jumped at it and realized that it was so much easier on my knees and it gave me another 10 years of representing Australia. So I can really proudly say that I played for Australia for over 20 years.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment?
Kerri: It was interesting. The first three months I had three surgeries to try and fix the damage. I had a lot of problems with scar tissue and the scar tissue adhering, and not enabling me to move my joint very much.
The surgeon had to go back in and remove more of the scar tissue. Eventually, I was able to start moving it, but by this time I’d lost about 10 kilos. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know what the future held at that point.
It was only because a boyfriend that I had at the time gave me a brand new white volleyball. He told me that he wanted me to write a goal on every panel of the ball. He then asked me to put a date on the goal and then bit by bit, get back to playing, follow what I had written, and to get back to where I wanted to be.
At that point, I thought I was playing indoor volleyball for Australia again, so I filled the ball out. It was just a part of the household. It was thrown around and we played with it in the house. People would come over, they’d look at it and ask me what was my goal for that month.
I would just tell them that it was getting on a bike and riding the bike, or it was just standing and passing and then it became setting and moving. Eventually, I got to the point where it said “playing for Australia again”.
But of course, I never really got there because there was one blank panel on the ball, right at the end when I finished everything. I wondered what I was going to put on there. I just wrote beach volleyball on there.
I’d never really played it seriously. I played it for fun in between seasons of indoor. I wrote beach volleyball just as an afterthought. I knew that beach volleyball would be an Olympic sport for the first time in the Atlanta 1996 Games and I was filling this ball in 1993. Therefore, when I filled it in, it was a three-year away thing.
I never really played it seriously, Beach Volleyball was just as an afterthought.
But I just wrote there, “Atlanta, United States, 1996”. It was almost like I wrote it as a joke in the beginning because I couldn’t possibly even see myself playing at that point. I just thought that that is what I would do after I had played indoors.
Of course, after a year I realized that the floorboards were just going to be too hard on my knee. So I tried beach volleyball and realized that it was going to be so much more forgiving on my joints and it obviously gave me another avenue.
The concept of being a good loser and a bad loser
Christian: I heard you talk about the concept of being a good loser and a bad loser. Could you explain what the difference is?
Kerri: I was probably what you’d call a bad loser in my younger days. I hated losing. I remember when I was about 10 years old and we played this game at my birthday party and I lost the game and I was crying at my own birthday party because I lost.
I didn’t know how to deal with losing when I was young. The fact that I didn’t like losing, it really drove me to find a way to be better over and over and over again. I don’t think you can ever really get good at losing. I don’t want to get good at losing. Who wants to get good at losing?
I don’t think you can ever really get good at losing. Who wants to get good at losing?
But I think you can become a better loser by not losing your temper, not blaming people. It is really taking more responsibility for yourself and looking back and asking how you can do it better.
That’s what I learned between the two Olympics in 1996 and 2000. I really learned that the team and I needed to just take more responsibility for our own journey. We did a lot of things in that period that helped us win the gold medal.
Her best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Kerri: Obviously, you can’t go past winning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I didn’t live in Sydney at the time, but I always knew that I’d come back to Sydney. I just lived in Sydney for a month here and a month there before, but I knew I would settle down in Sydney.
Having a home crowd was frightening in the beginning, but in the end, incredible to win a gold medal in front of our home crowd with my family or my friends, and then all the people that had been part of my indoor volleyball journey to that point. If they weren’t already in Sydney watching the games, as soon as we made the final, they came.
You can’t go past winning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Having a home crowd was frightening in the beginning, but in the end, incredible to win a gold medal in front of our home crowd with my family and my friends.
They got in their cars and they drove, however many hours it would take to get to Sydney to make sure that they were at the final. Yes, the moment that the ball landed and we realized that we had won, is just the most unbelievable moment because to get to that point, I was so focused.
It was almost like it was a kind of silence. I could hear the crowd, but I wasn’t listening to them. I knew that my family was there, but I didn’t know where they were in the crowd. I was so focused. I was so in the zone and when the ball landed out and all of a sudden you realize that you have done it, it was just like all these people just went [poof] right on top of me.
I was almost too scared to look up and see all these people just cheering and screaming and being so happy for us. It was a really weird feeling in the beginning, but then over time and still 20 years later, it’s a feeling that I’ll never forget.
Check out this short video, which encapsulates well the atmosphere of Kerri Pottharst’s and Natalie Cook’s gold medal moment
Christian: I believe that.
Her “Why” of becoming Olympic champion
Christian: Interestingly, I heard one of your “whys” to become Olympic champion was to inspire others and lift others up. Why was that?
Kerri: Part of our journey was to really understand why we wanted to win a gold medal. Our coach asked us one day why we wanted to win a gold medal. A lot of athletes are not sure whether anyone ever asks them that.
Part of our journey was to really understand why we wanted to win a gold medal.
Of course, we said it would be great because we would have a gold medal and we would be able to say we’re gold medalists and then make a lot of money. Most people think that when you win a gold medal, all this money is going to just come to you. It’s going to fall out of the sky and that’s absolutely not true.
But you think all these great things are going to happen and then he just kept digging and digging. Over and over, he kept asking us why that would be good. We had a whole list of reasons, but one of the reasons was that both Natalie and I loved helping other people.
I wanted to become a teacher before I started playing volleyball. I never got around to doing finishing or even going to university because I went straight into playing volleyball professionally. So I like to teach people and both Natalie and I have done a great job at using the vehicle of winning the gold medal to inspire people and to help other people with different areas within the sport and in the corporate world.
Now, something I’m doing is helping athletes to share their stories with their networks as well. So it’s just an ongoing thing that we realized that both of us wanted to do that and that by winning the gold medal, that would be our vehicle to be able to help other people and inspire other people.
Her work with a success coach
Christian: On your journey to becoming an Olympic champion, you had a success coach. What is a success coach and how does a success coach work?
Kerri: You can call him a success coach, you can call him a performance coach, a mindset coach. There are different words that can be used for a person, like the coach we had. His name is Kurek Ashley and we found him a year and a half before the Sydney Games.
We realized there was one thing that we really probably didn’t have a hundred percent of, and that was the belief that we could actually do it. We’d come second and third many times. I’ve got 20 other world tour medals, but none of them at that point were gold.
We realized there was one thing that we really probably didn’t have a hundred percent of, and that was the belief that we could actually do it. We’d come second and third many times. I’ve got 20 other world tour medals, but none of them at that point were gold.
They were all silver and bronze. We’d have fifths and ninths and we’d had 17th and 25th as well, but we knew we had a chance. We just didn’t quite have that last bit of belief.
When we met Kurek just talking to him, he comes from the Anthony Robbins style of coaching. It was a lot about the thoughts that you keep and the attitude that you have, and being able to steer those thoughts in the right direction. That takes a lot of skill and planning.
You need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing as we did. That was part of the process that he took us through. However, you also need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and being comfortable with growing every single day and being okay with if I’m growing.
Things might not be so great at that time, but growing and learning a new skill or breaking down a skill to be better at it. There were so many things that he helped us with along the way. He really helped us design our plan towards the Sydney Games, which was called our “gold medal excellence plan”.
That was all about becoming an Olympic gold medalist in everything we did before the Olympics. So from 18 months leading into the Olympics, we acted like we were gold medalists, which just meant we trained as a gold medalist would train. We ate like a gold medalist would eat, nutrition was like a gold medalist would use.
The way we just looked after our bodies in recovery and the way we worked out in the gym. We’d look at it in the way of what a gold medalist would do in the situation and that’s how we lived our lives for those 18 months.
We also wondered about the sort of characteristics that successful people have. We looked at sportspeople, but we also looked at people in business that were really successful and thought about the characteristics that would make somebody really successful.
From 18 months leading into the Olympics, we acted like we were gold medalists.
We came up with a list of characteristics that, for us, they suited our personality and we were comfortable with them. We lived into those characteristics. We always made sure that that was who we were being because all those things together would create the thoughts that we would keep and then those thoughts would create the actions that we had and then of course those actions would create the results.
So that’s what Kurek did for us. He really filled that last piece of the puzzle to create a full complement of the team that we had. We had a volleyball coach, we had a fitness coach and we had our success coach. Basically, we had three coaches dealing with our body, our mind, and our volleyball.
Her gold medal excellence plan to become Olympic champion
Christian: I’ve taken a note for that gold medal excellence plan for later, but now, since you started talking about it, there was an interesting story. It had four elements, and then there was a fifth element in the middle, and then you aligned it with the Olympic rings, right?
Kerri: It’s the Olympic rings and it’s the color of the rings. Our volleyball coach, actually very cleverly designed it to fit into those rings. It’s called “gold medal excellence.”
We had a little logo for our team because our coach said that every team needs a name and a logo. It’s just a big star with a volleyball. Our name was the “Dream Machine” because it was our dream to turn our bronze medal into a gold medal.
Our name was the “Dream Machine” because it was our dream to turn our bronze medal into a gold medal.
The five of us were a machine and without any one of the people in that group, our machine wouldn’t work properly. So that’s why we called ourselves the “Dream Machine.”
Then in the middle, we had our slogan, which was “how can we make it better?” That was where when you’re talking about being a good loser, instead of focusing on the loss or blaming other people, blaming the weather, the referees, or whatever conditions, we just said this is where we’re at and we are going to start looking forward, so how can we make it better?
That’s what we focused on. Then we all signed it and it traveled with us. It’s laminated and we stuck it on the wall everywhere and it traveled with us. Every time after a loss or a win, you’d go to the bathroom and you’d be brushing your teeth or whatever and it would be sitting on the wall or on the mirror in the bathroom and you’d just read it and agree with it.
So it had the core areas, the purpose. That was our, why. It had this area, which were our rules. We didn’t have rules like make your bed, sleep eight hours, or things like that. They were just general things.
We had rules around our partnership, like respect others and their opinions; use deeds rather than words; do whatever it takes; be responsible for empowering communication. They were all things around our partnership and our teamwork.
Then we had that green circle and that was all about volleyball. Those was all the things that we knew we had to do to beat every team in the world. We called that our winning way.
We had things like intimidate with a champions’ physiology, meaning go out there and look like you’re a gold medalist before you start the game. If you walk with your shoulders back and you’re acting like you’re confident, not arrogant, but confident, then that’s going to bring out the extra points and maybe even scare the opposition.
Play our strengths and use them to attack our opponent’s weaknesses; execute our game plan; limit our unforced errors to five per game; push in the beginning, hold in the middle, push at the end and challenge the passer with service pressure, so all volleyball things.
The fourth one was the characteristics. We called that our standard of champions and we had things in there such as be strong in emotion and spirit; be powerful, be passionate, committed, and trusting of the system and the process; be positive, supportive; be ready, be flexible. It had all sorts of different characteristics.
Basically, at the end of the day, we were able to do all this from those three circles because this one was our purpose. This circle was our motivation. Whenever things went wrong, we looked in here.
When things weren’t going well, we would ask ourselves some questions. Why were we doing this? Why were we waking up this early every single day? Why were we traveling the world and missing our family and friends? Why were we making these choices? Those reasons in there reminded us why and got us back on track.
We knew, if we followed the rules, did all the things to beat everyone in the world, and had lived into those characteristics, we would be the best we could be. That’s what it’s all about, being the best we could be because we knew that we were just that close from beating the best teams in the world. That was our plan.
We knew, if we followed the rules, did all the things to beat everyone in the world, and had lived into those characteristics, we would be the best we could be.
We made it to the peak of the mountain, to play the best team in the world at the time, which was Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar from Brazil. They’d won everything. We beat them one match about three months earlier in a world tour event. It was even not even in a final. It could have been in a quarterfinal we beat them.
Then the very next weekend, we played them again and they’d beat us back. It was a strength of mind. The belief that we had to have on that day was not about it. It couldn’t come from the fact that we’d beaten them before.
For them, they would have believed that they had beaten us 16 times out of 17 matches, so it would not be a problem. They thought the gold medal was theirs. Maybe that’s what they were thinking. But we were also doing the same thing.
We were thinking that this was our match. And that this was the one we were waiting for. The last 18 months had been all about playing them in the final. That’s what we did. The whole time we practiced playing to beat that team because we knew that if we could beat that team, we could beat any team.
They had beaten us 16 times out of 17 matches, so they thought the gold medal was theirs. For 18 months the whole time we practiced playing to beat that team because we knew that if we could beat that team, we could beat any team.
Christian: This gold medal excellence plan looks like a Simon Sinek, “why, how, and what”, but long before he did it, right?
Kerri: Yes, probably. We didn’t plan to do it like that and I’m not sure they plan to put it in the Olympic rings, but just like my volleyball, having all my goals on the volleyball and looking at it every day, it reminded me of what I wanted to do. Get back to playing volleyball again and just do all the little steps.
So having this in front of you, the important part is when you make a plan, it’s not about making the plan and then putting it in your diary or somewhere, or not taking it with you on tour. You’ve got to take these things with you. You’ve got to look at these things every single day.
In business, if you have a plan, it’s got to be up on the wall where everybody can see it. Everyone’s going to be part of creating that plan as well. If our coaches just gave us this one day and told us that this is the plan and we should just go with it, it wouldn’t have meant anything.
But we spent a whole weekend together putting all this together with a whole lot of other activities, but the five of us put our brains together and we came up with this as a collective. That’s why it was so powerful.
Her book “The Business of Being an Athlete”
Christian: Is that plan available in your book?
Kerri: Yes, it is. It’s available in my book. I wrote this book about 10 years ago now, but it’s still very, very current because obviously it’s all about mindset and it’s all about our journey. It has a lot of exercises in there that you can do yourself.
The plan’s in there; I talk about the plan. It’s online now. I don’t sell hard copies. I’ve only got about five hard copies left, but you can buy it online and you can get a print on demand or you can buy an E-version.
Again, I wanted to pass on what I’d learned and I didn’t want to just write a biography and tell my story. I wanted to make it mean something and be able to leave a legacy of all of the lessons that I’ve learned.
One thing that Natalie and I were really passionate about was trying to make an income while we were still playing that wasn’t just prize money. We needed to find sponsorship to travel. We needed to get the media involved in what we were doing.
We learned a lot of skills around that area. I wanted to showcase that for people as well. I talk about all those things in the book, how we did it, and all the planning that went into it, including how to do a budget.
I try to put even more information in there. An athlete could pick this book up find many different topics to read about. It could be public speaking, hydration, nutrition, fears and doubts, attitudes, and at the front is sponsorship, generating other income, and time management. So there are so many things in here. I wanted to really make it comprehensive, which I did.
One thing that Natalie and I were really passionate about was trying to make an income while we were still playing that wasn’t just prize money. We learned a lot of skills around that area. I wanted to showcase that for people as well. An athlete could pick this book up find many different topics to read about. I wanted to really make it comprehensive.
I was actually advised to make three separate books, but I didn’t want to. I wanted it to be one book that an athlete could just grab and devour, but also go to any chapter as well. And then, of course, there are photographs and little stories about my own journey to enhance all the information.
Christian: And it’s called “The Business of Being an Athlete.”
Kerri: Yes. The “Business of Being an Athlete; How to Build a Winning Career in Sport.”
Christian: And it’s available on kerripottharst.com.
Kerri: You’re better off going through Amazon or I don’t even know, just Google it because like I said, I don’t have any hard copies now. I think you have to get them printed on demand.
It’s 10 years old. I don’t really promote it anymore, but I’ve thought about doing a rewrite of it and updating it, but that just takes time. I’ve got other things to do.
Christian: I checked it out. It’s on Amazon. It has only five-star reviews, so it has to be good.
Kerri: There you go.
How to create your own gold medal excellence plan
Christian: Coming back to that gold medal excellence plan, if you would advise any person to make a plan for their life or their goals, what would be the must-do items or must-have items on that plan?
Kerri: It’s centered around your purpose, your why. Ask yourself, why is it that I have this goal? Obviously, you’re putting a plan together because you want to achieve something, ask yourself why.
When you come up with an answer, ask yourself, why that answer? Why is that answer important? Then again, why is that important? And really start to peel the layers of the onion until you get right into the core of the reason why you want to do it.
It’s centered around your purpose, your why. Ask yourself, why is that important? And really start to peel the layers of the onion until you get right into the core of the reason why you want to do it.
That why could be a number of things like it was for us, or it could just be one thing. You might just want to leave a legacy for your family. It might be that you want to create an income from whatever your goal is that then allows you to save the world and save children or something like that.
Whatever your passion is, whatever your reason and your why is, that’s the most important part. Because without that, there is no way you can get back up when someone punches you and knocks you to the ground. There’s no way you’ll keep going when you’re injured or when you’ve lost or when you’ve just hit a roadblock.
You just won’t have the strength, but if you have a strong enough why and purpose, absolutely you’ll keep going. It’s worth writing it down. It’s worth doing the exercise. There’s an exercise in the book about why you’re doing what you want to do. It’s really worthwhile writing that down and just really getting into it and journaling it.
Her advice to a younger Kerri Pottharst
Christian: If you could travel back in time, 10, 20, 30, even 40 years, what advice would you give a younger you?
Kerri: I would tell myself the moment that I went to make that spike when I injured myself, I would say, “Don’t jump for that one. Just do a little soft shot.”
I wouldn’t have injured my knee and then I would switch to beach volleyball with no injuries, because one of the most difficult parts of my journey and still of my life right now, are the other problems that I’ve had with, not just that knee, but then the other knee as well.
Once you have one knee injury, and then you want to keep playing and you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, then the other knee takes the strain and then I tore the meniscus in the other knee, then when that knee was being rehabilitated, I tore more cartilage in the bad knee.
Then it was the other good knee, I tore a massive piece of cartilage off that knee, and I had to have drilled in my bone. I’ve had six knee surgeries. I’ve now also had stem cell therapy on my knees. I’m not really looking forward to old age. So yes, that’s the only thing I would say, be careful of your knees.
Her success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and person?
Kerri: You have to eat well, nutrition is really important because it’s the fuel that makes your body get up each day and do what you did the day before and do it even better. You have to have a good habit around recovery. I was not very good at that at all.
That’s probably why I kept on injuring my knees because I didn’t do my recovery as well as I could. These days, recovery is so much more advanced than it was when I was playing 10 or 20 years ago.
So recovery and nutrition and then just have a good habit around mindset as well and really always check back on yourself and check back at do on whether you have the right mindset at that time. What are my thoughts? Where am I thinking and where am I going?
Recovery, nutrition, and a good habit around mindset.
It is important to also cultivate a habit of always having that plan in place and asking and having a team around you. You have to make sure that you’re not doing things on your own.
The three keys to success for anything in life
Christian: You described the three keys to success for almost anything in life: passion, preparation, and belief.
Kerri: Yes, you could probably hear the passion in my voice when I talk about what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. I’m still passionate about sharing my story and that’s why I now want to help other athletes share their story. My passion is sharing stories to help other people; help, inspire, motivate, educate, entertain, whatever it is.
You’ve got to be passionate so you can get up each day and put in a good day of work. Preparation, it’s the hard work. It’s the strategies; it’s the work in the gym; it’s the work on the court or in the field; it’s the work at work if you’re in a corporate field. Preparation is just about the work and then belief. As I said earlier on, with our success coach, it’s that last piece of the puzzle that brings it all together.
You’ve got to be passionate so you can get up each day and put in a good day of work. Preparation, it’s the hard work. It’s the strategies. And belief is that last piece of the puzzle that brings it all together.
When you’ve done the work, it gives you greater belief, and then being comfortable with being uncomfortable and having that plan and the vision and putting it all together creates that belief.
With those three ingredients, you cannot go wrong. You will be the best that you can be. You might not be the best in the world. It just depends on who else is doing what you’re doing at the time, but you can most definitely be the best you can be.
Her mantra to become better and better
Christian: You talked about it before, you always had that mantra, how can we make this better? Can you quickly talk us through it, how you applied it?
Kerri: We learned this in Atlanta when we were the number six seed in our first Olympic games and we had a quarterfinal match. We played pretty well. In our first Olympics, we were still pretty nervous and raw.
We had to play the top American team of Holly McPeak and Nancy Reno. And they were favored to win a medal, if not a gold medal. We had a really strong game against them and we just beat them 15:13.
This is a massive upset because I’m not sure what they were seeded, possibly even the first seed. It was a massive upset and we were obviously pretty, pretty excited about that. Then it was our semifinal match. So we get into the finals, our semifinal matches against the Brazilian team, Mônica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel who we’d beaten before quite a few times.
It wasn’t a thing that we were worried that we were playing someone we’ve never beaten before. We’d beaten them before, but they were a solid team. Going into this game we really started to worry more about losing than think about winning. That just crippled us and we got absolutely thrashed.
Going into this game we really started to worry more about losing than think about winning. That just crippled us and we got absolutely thrashed.
Coming home from that match, I still remember we were so devastated because it was a big chance. Our goal was to win a medal in Atlanta. Unfortunately, now we only had a chance of maybe a bronze. We could have still come fourth.
A few things happened. We got inspired and motivated and we started to think more about how we can make things better. We thought about what we could do to change and turn around our attitude and everything that was going on in our mind because now it was a mind game.
It’s not a physical game. It’s a mind game. Who’s going to be strong enough to win the bronze medal? Overnight we had some great experiences of watching other Australian teams or other Australian athletes winning a gold medal in the swimming pool, where they were written off.
They came in with the worst time in lane eight and they won a gold medal. From that experience and watching that happen, just gave us the motivation to ask how we could make it better.
We got together and put a plan in place. The next day we went out and we had to play the second American team who was a little bit lower-seeded, but are still possibly seeded above us in America with everybody cheering for them, not for us.
We beat them in two really tough sets. From that, we really learned that it was about looking ahead and how can we make it better by asking ourselves that question.
Setting a gold medal intention
Christian: I’ve listened to podcasts, you were featured in, you already mentioned the name, Tony Robbins. In that podcast, you also said the goal at the 1996 Olympics was to get a medal, so you got it. Then the goal at the 2000 Olympics was to get the gold medal and you got it. Is it that where you put your mind to you can achieve it?
Kerri: Yes, absolutely. Actually, rather than really focusing on winning the gold medal, our goal was to just live our lives with gold medal excellence. By focusing on this and our goal being, let’s just be gold medalists, a year and a half beforehand, let’s just live our life like a gold medalist.
It was almost like we’d pick up the gold medal along the way. It wasn’t an endpoint. It wasn’t the be-all and end point. It was just keep going past it.
Our goal was to live our lives with gold medal excellence. By focusing on this it was almost like we’d pick up the gold medal along the way.
To that point, we even started thinking about the night before the gold medal match. We found out later, both of us were lying awake, trying not to keep the other one awake because we wanted to get some decent sleep.
However, neither of us really slept very well, but both of us were lying, awake, practicing, or thinking about what we would say in our victory speech. So we were already thinking past the gold medal. I knew at that point that by having those thoughts, my head was in the right place.
Her morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Kerri: Now it’s just making myself a cup of coffee, sit down and check my emails, make my son’s lunch for school and take him to school. Actually, believe it or not, I’m not very good at routine. I find it really difficult because I get distracted and I think about the things that I have to do. Every day is different because I have my own business. I don’t have the “nine to five” job. Every day is actually different.
The only thing really that is solid is that my son goes to school at a certain time. He comes home at a certain time and everything else can change during the day.
Sometimes I’ll go to the gym or I go for a walk. Sometimes I might do Pilates and it might be at nine o’clock or it might be at two o’clock. That’s just me and I do understand having more morning routine, for some people is really, really valuable though, especially if you don’t already have good habits.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?
Kerri: Now and even when I was playing, I always plan, making sure I knew exactly what that moment was going to be and what I needed to do and know about the moment. If I was playing a game of volleyball, I needed to know exactly what this team had done before.
I wrote notes about every single team we played, even if it was the lowest-ranked team in the world. I would write a note after we finished the match about the match. I could go back to every country.
It was in countries, so I had a little black book, and for every country and every team that we played, I’d go to that country. I’d find the team and sometimes the team split up.
I wrote notes about every single team we played, so I had a little black book and every country and every team that we played.
I would look at the players then and think about what happened when we played them last time. I would remember the conditions and what worked really well against them. I would think about what they did, whether they served me or Natalie. If they served me, they will always be blocking cross court.
Then I knew that that was coming and it would just give me a head start into what to expect and Sam goes now, if I’m going into a meeting or I’m about to do a new project, I need to prepare I need to know about it and I need to go into it knowing what’s about to happen.
How to reset your vagus nerve
Christian: I was piqued by something you said in another interview. You learned from the army about the vagus nerve and that you can reset that nerve by hitting your chest. How do you do that?
Kerri: In the last couple of years, I’ve been involved with the Australian Institute of Sport and there’s a program called the Gold Medal Ready program. Some of the sports psychologists have teamed up with gold medalists, myself, and another 20 or 30 other gold medalists, from all different sports and from up to 24 years ago.
We’ve teamed up with the commandos, the Special Forces Unit because they are under a great deal of stress in what they do. They go many times overseas and they’re fighting in wars and they’ve been on missions.
I can’t even imagine; it’s just mind-blowing what they have to deal with – life and death situations – so they’re under a lot of stress. The point of the Gold Medal Ready program is about understanding the stress of trying to win a gold medal and the stress of going to an Olympics.
Now it doesn’t compare when you’re saying life or death, but what does compare are the strategies that the commandos use in order to deal with that stress. What we’ve done is come together and it’s really a lot of storytelling. We’ve come together and we offer our group to some of the sports or all the Olympic sports in Australia at this point.
It’s about getting the athletes in that sport who are preparing for an Olympic Games and putting them together with us. We have a structure and a learning platform. It’s about coming together and sharing stories about things that happened and the strategies that I used to deal with it.
The commandos do it from their point of view, from what’s happened to them and how they used to deal with things. This makes the athletes amazed that what they’re dealing with is nothing compared to what those guys dealt with.
Then they hear from the gold medalists about how gold medalists might’ve been vomiting before their finals, or was so scared that their knees were shaking or they had a strategy to deal with some distraction. The athletes can then relate that that is how they feel or they can now see that these persons are just like them.
There’s a lot of greatness that comes out of that inexperience to help the athletes prepare them for what they have to deal with, to go to the Olympics, and to win a gold medal. The vagus nerve, apparently it’s just the three thumps and I use it sometimes if I’m nervous, because I still get nervous sometimes if I’m speaking on stage or if I’m about to come on something really important. I just give myself three thumps with just a flat fist and it resets the nervous system.
I just give myself three thumps with just a flat fist and it resets the nervous system.
Now whether it works or whether it just makes you go “ahh”, I don’t know, but I do it. There’s a scientific reason behind it. I’ve tried it and it seems to work for me. Give it a try, look it up. It’s called the vagus nerve and it’s a reset. See how you go.
Christian: Really cool. I will certainly try it.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Kerri: Having a really strong mindset, is the biggest part of it. That mindset is built by focusing on the things that I’ve talked about, especially in our gold medal plans.
Knowing what your purpose is, having some rules around how you engage with your team, and understanding how to bounce back from losses. You have to be dealing with nerves and all those sorts of things that help in dealing with a setback. These days with the coronavirus, obviously the world has had a massive setback.
Having a really strong mindset is the biggest part of it. Knowing what your purpose is, having some rules around how you engage with your team, and understanding how to bounce back from losses.
All the strategies that the athletes have learned in their athletic careers will be helping them go one more year and practice for one more year. Definitely, those strategies have helped me in my life with other setbacks in my personal life.
Christian: Yes, and interestingly now it comes full circle with what you said about preparation, if you do the preparation about your why and your values, you overcome setbacks.
Why she and her partner split up and later reunited to win the Olympic crown
Christian: I tried to find information about you and Natalie, your partner you won the Olympics with. You played together, you split up, you reunited and you won the Olympics. What was the reason for splitting up and reuniting?
Kerri: After winning a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, we thought we were pretty good. We thought that we didn’t have to train as hard anymore. We did more media. We got distracted by all the shiny objects and we didn’t perform as well because we weren’t doing the same sort of work.
After winning a bronze medal, we thought we were pretty good. We thought that we didn’t have to train as hard anymore. We got distracted by all the shiny objects and we didn’t perform as well.
When we started to perform less, we started to blame each other. I started to look around and I asked myself if maybe there was someone else I could play with. There was a girl that had just come out of the indoor national team and she was starting to play on the beach and she had pretty good skills and she was the left-hander, I’m a right-hander, and she was six foot tall.
I just thought that maybe she and I would be a great team. We decided to split up and I picked up this partner. Natalie then picked up a young player who was coming through. She was a bit younger than her and less experienced.
My partner and I played really well. We were the number one team in Australia. We even got a couple of silver medals on the World Tour and had some great wins, but it was a really difficult partnership.
Personality-wise, as hard as we tried, we just didn’t get along. We just didn’t gel. It’s like being married to somebody completely opposite and wrong for you and then you have to make it work.
We tried and we tried and we tried for almost a year, but although our results on the court were great, our hearts were saying that it was too hard. She felt the same way about me. It wasn’t just one way.
I explained it, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work; pretty much as you can try it, it just doesn’t work. During that time, Natalie really went through a life-changing experience and met our mindset coach, Kurek Ashley.
He started changing and really working on her confidence and her mindset and I saw that happen. Then it came to a point where it was so difficult for me and my partnership. I was starting to think maybe Natalie and I could get back together.
It was because of another player’s injury that it gave us the opportunity. We were playing in Marsay in France and two of our Australian girls went down with knee injuries, both requiring surgery. They had to go home, which meant there was an opportunity to shuffle the partnerships around.
One of them was Natalie’s partner and one was from another team. Natalie was free and I told her that I wanted to play with her. We ran it by our coaches and it was okay with them. In the World Tour because of the injury ruling, they said we could do it.
The other two ended up pairing up and they made it to the Olympics and finished fifth. It was a great opportunity for the other two as well. They found it and they clicked really well. They enjoyed playing together.
Within the first two tournaments, Natalie and I were back together. That very tournament, we came second. And then the week after we came second, again, only losing to the best team in the world. We knew we were in the right place.
Her role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Kerri: I don’t have one in a particular role model. I look at a lot of people depending on what I need to do at that point in my life. It’s just weird to think of one person.
I remember being at the beach and we were doing some setting training where you set up your attacker. I just said that I felt like one of the Australian men’s players, Julian. That was kind of the feeling that I wanted to get of remembering how he would handle the ball.
That was just one tiny, tiny thing that I remember. We’d had different coaches over the period that we were playing together and I’d take a little bit from everybody. Then I’d see something happen in a game and I’d comment that I really love the way that person does something.
It may be that I love the way that person is on the court, or their persona or their personality, or just their friendliness. There’s not one person. I take what I need at the time from other people looking around.
How to create your own role model
Christian: And that is also what you described in your book with the modeling process that you used, right?
Kerri: Yes, exactly, and I still do it today. If I want to write a book, I’ll look at somebody who’s written a lot of books and been successful at writing a book. I won’t go to somebody who’s had no success. That’s a real clue right there.
If you’re looking to do something, don’t take advice from just about anyone. If you want to make money, don’t take advice from broke people. If you want to play volleyball really well, don’t take advice from someone who’s not done it or been there or has coached somebody that’s been there and has played at the top level or coach to the top level.
Don’t take your number one advice from anybody less than that. Go to the top, if you want to be at the top. I do that in every area of my life. Right now I want to teach other athletes how to share their stories.
I went and did some work with one of the top speaking training coaches that I know, and that I respected as well. I worked with her for a little bit. I understood what she was doing and I start to model myself and then I tell myself that I know what to do there. I then take a look at what different persons are doing and take a little bit from everybody to make the best for me.
If you’re looking to do something, don’t take advice from just about anyone. Don’t take your number one advice from anybody less than that. Go to the top, if you want to be at the top.
Christian: We can’t go into great detail here, but can you give us a glimpse into the steps of that modeling process how you describe it?
Kerri: Just pretty much what I did then. I decide what I want to do and then I find people who are doing it really well. Then I copy a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I copy the way they do a skill or I love the way they express themselves on stage and I’ll copy it but in my way. It’s just taking a little bit.
Sometimes I overwhelm myself because I’ve got too much information and then I have to decide how do I decipher all the information because you can’t do everything at once. If you want to learn how to spike the ball and you’re trying to learn how to do the footwork, the arm swing, looking and doing all the different things and you’re trying to do it in the wind and the rain and the quiet conditions like you can’t try and do everything at once.
You have to pick a little piece of it at a time. I think that’s probably my biggest weakness is that I try and get all this information together at once and I become overwhelmed for a period of time and then nothing happens. Then all of a sudden, bit by bit, I pick a little bit of it and I use that and then I pick a little bit more and use that.
This is not some perfect process. It’s just what I do. Sometimes it takes a long time and sometimes it’s a lot quicker. I just have to get that push to get going and then I’m on the roll; in momentum.
The best advice she has received
Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Kerri: There’s not one thing that I remember. All the great advice that I’ve received has been from my volleyball coaches. First of all, my indoor volleyball coach, Sue Dancy, she was always about winning. It was always about hustle; it was all about grinding; just work, work, work, and just be aggressive.
Then from Steve Anderson, our volleyball coach for the Olympics in Atlanta and in Sydney, anything that came out of his mouth was inspirational. It is probably repetition but one thing that I do go with a lot when I’m coaching volleyball is about repetition. He used this from somebody else as well, but repetition is the mother of all skills.
Let’s rep it and he used to just always say, stop thinking about it too much. “Let’s just rep it. Let’s just rep it. Make a little change and now, rep it. No, don’t talk about it again. Just rep it, rep it, rep it.” So he was good.
Then obviously, our mindset coach Kurek Ashley, who helped us put all this together. Again, one piece of advice he gave me after one of my relationships off the court, my boyfriend and I broke up and it was really affecting my whole being because obviously, I didn’t want it to happen.
He just basically told me one day that there’s no way I could move on to another relationship if I was still the way I was then. He said that persons do not want to be with somebody who’s like I was at that time.
That was really weird. Then one of my sponsors told me that it was a long time to be in a pine box. Actually, that’s probably the best piece of advice. You can relate it to anything.
“It’s a long time in a pine box.” That means pine box being a coffin. We’re going to be dead for a long time. We’re only alive for a small period of small speck in the ocean. Make the most of the time we have while we’re here.
“It’s a long time in a pine box.” We’re only alive for a small period of small speck in the ocean. Make the most of the time we have while we’re here.
Christian: That is absolutely cool.
A typical training day in the life of a Beach Volleyball player
Christian: Back in the days, how did a typical training day look like?
Kerri: Two or three hours on the sand and then another hour in the gym or in the pool or doing some sort of conditioning work. Sometimes it was some recovery massage, cold baths, or whatever the recovery was. I wasn’t very good at it, remember.
Then there were some planning team meetings. We used to actually go three days on and one day off physically because by day three, my knees had had enough and I needed that one-day rest. Whereas a lot of our athletes now go five days on, two days off or five/six days on, one day off.
There’s no way I could have gone five days as hard as I did, so to get the best out of my knees, I’d have to go hard, like medium-hard, medium, have a day off; medium-hard, medium, so I could really kind of warm-up into it and then give my knees a chance to rest.
Her recently hosted event “The Athletes Story”
Christian: You recently hosted “The Athletes Story”, bringing together legendary Australian athletes from over seven decades. What was the idea behind it and where can people find more about it?
Kerri: It was about February or March this year when they announced that the Olympics would be postponed. That’s when I said to myself, I’ve got to do something. There’s going to be this period where Australia and even the world, would have been glued to their television sets. Australians love sport so it would have happened.
We normally have multiple channels that you can flick through and watch all the different sports. It was going to be in Tokyo, which is almost the same time as us. It would have been during the daytime into the evening and it would have been just that period where everyone gets all this motivation.
Then because of the pandemic, it was a time where I thought this is what people need as well. We don’t want to just be thinking that the Olympics would have been on and now it is not. We’re stuck at home and we’re doing nothing and we’re depressed. So I wanted to bring some inspiration to Australians, but also to the athletes who are sitting at home as well.
This year when they announced that the Olympics would be postponed. I wanted to bring some inspiration to Australians, but also to the athletes who are sitting at home as well.
Looking back, at the time they could be watching their heroes that maybe inspired them to get into the sport. I connected with my network, which is obviously a lot of Olympians, and in particular, at least two gold medalists, and I asked if they would be interested in doing this for me?
I had over 30 Olympic gold medalists and World Champions. I also wanted to connect it with a charity and we have a charity called the Australian Sports Foundation who helps grassroots and community sport, which is still hurting a lot, financially, because there’s no events, no community sport, so there’s no money for clubs.
They do a lot of work to help raise money to help community sport and clubs. So I thought if we could raise some money from the series by just asking for donations – we didn’t raise a lot of money, but we raised them a bit of money, but we also just gave the Foundation some awareness, people who hadn’t been aware of the foundation before.
I just wanted to create something that was a win for everybody and the athletes get to share their stories. It was fun doing it. It was a big project because obviously, I needed to research all the athletes every night.
I had two athletes for 17 nights in a row and I just hosted them. I didn’t share my story until the very end. I was hosting the stories. Again, it goes to what I want to do now in the future because I’ve been telling my story and earning an income from it and just creating great opportunities through sharing my stories.
I became a commentator and was able to write my book because I knew what my stories were. I knew how to share them. This is something I now want to pass on to other people.
This was a great platform to just share stories from great athletes around the country and just get the name out there, “The Athletes Story”, which is now what I want to be doing in the future, and that’s going to be available for people online.
It can be a course that people can do anywhere in the world and also face-to-face workshops with me and some one-on-one coaching. At some point, it’s about drawing the story out of the athlete because some athletes don’t realize they have a story. Number one, you don’t need to be an Olympian and number two, you don’t need an Olympic gold medal to have an amazing story.
Everybody has an amazing story. It’s just about getting that story out, shaping it, making it entertaining, make it inspirational, perhaps if that’s what it is, and finding the lessons in there that you can then align to whatever group that you might be speaking to. It might be just doing an interview with you, being able to share a story in a way that inspires people.
Again, it’s about inspiring people. I want to be the ripple. I want to create a ripple effect from what we achieved and continue to help other people now create their own ripples of inspiration. It’s something the world will never be sick of.
Everybody has an amazing story. It’s about inspiring people. I want to be the ripple. I want to create a ripple effect from what we achieved and continue to help other people now create their own ripples of inspiration.
All of the interviews that I did with the Australian gold medalist, they’re all on YouTube. And the YouTube channel is called “The Athlete’s Story.” My courses, which I haven’t completely built yet because this is what I do.
I say, I’m going to do something and then I panic because now that I’m telling everybody, I have to actually do it. Once my course is ready, it’s not that far away from being finished, you can access that through my website, which is theathletesstory.com.au.
But just by looking up my name, you’ll eventually find it anyway. I’m on all the social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram. I don’t really use Twitter but also LinkedIn and it’s just my name.
Christian: I’ve seen most of the interviews you did, and it’s really cool stories. I would love to talk to a few of these people.
Her interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Kerri: There’s obviously so many, but I’m just thinking of somebody in the Netherlands or someone in Germany. So my background is German as well. So my parents both born in Germany, came over here with my brother and I was born here in Australia. So I have that connection. Have you interviewed Lara Ludwig?
Kerri: Interview Laura Ludwig. Tell her that I said she must do the interview.
Christian: Really cool. It’s funny. It seems like the Germans are a bit hesitant talking to me. Funnily the people who seem to be the most open are Australians and Canadians.
Kerri: Well, maybe they don’t know how to share their story. Maybe they’re not very good at it and they need some training.
What’s going on in the life of Kerri Pottharst at this moment
Christian: What’s going on in the life of Kerri at this moment?
Kerri: I’m building my new project, “The Athlete’s Story”, helping athletes share their story. I am still waiting for events to come back on so I can get back on the corporate stages and tell my story from there. I’m doing a few virtual presentations which are not as fun as being in person.
This is my studio. Yes, just coping with COVID, the pandemic, helping my friends out if they need help. I can’t wait to start traveling again and I just heard that we may not be able to leave Australia until June/July next year, which was pretty depressing.
I kept thinking that I wanted to go overseas. I want to come to Europe and visit all my friends. I have so many friends all over the world, so yes.
Where can you find Kerri Pottharst
Christian: Where can people find you?
Kerri: You can find me on social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, The Athlete’s Story, and my own website.
Kerri Pottharst’s social profiles
The Athlete’s Story
Christian: Kerri, you are the fourth Volleyball Hall of Famer I interview and one thing all of you have in common, you are very generous with your time. Thank you.
Kerri: My pleasure. Thank you for asking me to come on.