There are many things that we need to pay attention to if we want to succeed, but we often forget that mental strength is one of them. Truly, we need a mindset transformation if we are going to leverage our skills. In this episode, Catherine Kontos sits down with Olympian and 10-time Swiss swimming champion David Karasek to talk about mindset and growth. David discusses how and why mindset and mental strength are the true factors for success, not just for athletes but for everyone. We also hear how to build and transform your mindset for success. Tune in and be inspired to be the best you with David’s tips for success.
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Former Olympian Coaching Mindset Transformation With David Karasek
We have David Karasek, who is a former Olympic swimmer for Switzerland. He now helps professional athletes and their coaches stop overthinking and prepare the grounds for intense peak performance experiences. He is also the Founder of the Tribe of Athletes, a sports community dedicated to mastering the journey to inner greatness. Welcome to the show, David.
Thanks for having me on. It’s great to be here.
You have this great energy. You’re positive and enthusiastic when you speak. It’s great to be around you from the little time that I’ve gotten to know you. I don’t know if you get that often.
I can give that compliment back. I would want to add, it’s not always been like that. It’s good to hear and I can give that right back.
It’s not often that I get to speak to a former Olympic athlete. I find what athletes do, especially when they get to that point in their life, they have this way of being able to zoom in. That’s when their peak performance happens, when they’re mindful and there’s zooming into what they’re doing. Nothing else exists at that point. How did you do it? How do you train your clients to do that? What’s the trick because I find when there’s transformation, that’s where you need to get people at. You have to get them into that zone and often. What is the trick that you use to help yourself and others when needing that?
I’m afraid there is no trick that does the job. If you want to master something, you got to understand. It’s easy to come to that conclusion is when you look at your life, I’ll look at mine and readers looks at his or hers. It’s everything that you’ve mastered in life, you have mastered through repetition. We learn through experience. What you’re describing is that we need to be in a flow state in the present moment to be fluid, agile, relaxed yet focused like zoned in at the same time. The lion doesn’t think before he jumps out of the bush and attacks the prey, but he’s relaxed and focused at the same time.
What you see often is that athletes, only a few are able to perform at their best when it counts. They’re outspoken about this is that they say that their mental game, their inner skills are what separates them from the rest. It’s not their physical skills, like Djokovic is saying, for example. Everybody is physically fit. A lot of people have a good backhand.
A lot of good people have a good serve. Tennis is a mental game and it’s not just tennis. You hear Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. Everybody is saying it. I’m afraid there’s no trick. There are steps that we can take and we can get results fast. With mindset, would you agree that improvement in mindset is like, “It’s such a fast way to get results, it’s rewarding?”
We learn through experience. Everything that you’ve mastered in life, you have mastered through repetition.
I find that athletes that don’t practice that are the ones that are losing out. I don’t know if there are athletes that don’t practice it anywhere because it’s known that you have to be in that frame of mind. That mindset, meditation, business executives, athletes, everybody’s doing it, especially when you double it with practice.
Let’s say you’ve been practicing whatever, then you couple that with mindfulness. Everything slows down. For example, a baseball player, as that ball is coming down, you almost slow it down mentally so you can hit in the right place. It doesn’t slow down, but because you’re mindful and focused, you see it and feel it when it’s happening. You eliminate all the other noise.
You could even say you’re connected and present that you have intuitive insight on where that ball is going to be. That’s what it is. Even soccer players when they’re at the right time at the right place. Some of them are always at the right time at the right place, but that’s not a coincidence. It’s because they are present in following their natural instincts, intuition because you can’t possibly think fast. The thinking pleases the ego and that’s the problem with it. It’s also what I see a lot of overconsumption of books like podcasts and YouTube. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to consume content, but I know many people and I’ve done that for years.
It’s like I read a book that a friend recommends, I buy it the same day I start reading. I was like, “This author is amazing.” He is and I’m thinking this information is going to change my life. There’s the end of the chapter, the author says in caps, “STOP HERE AND DO THESE EXERCISE.” I tell myself, “I already know this and I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it another time. I feel attracted to keep reading.” I do that and the book lands on the shelf. I have implemented none of it. I understand everything because I know the principles and all that but it doesn’t work for me, then I’m confused, “Why doesn’t it work for me?”
People don’t realize like an athlete has to practice every day physically to be ready for whatever he’s going to compete in or she is going to compete and they have to do the same thing mentally.
Lucky me, a lot of athletes get that if they’re into the mindset thing. I tell them, “What happens if you go to the gym once a month?” They’ll tell me. “What happens if you go once a week?” They’ll tell me. “What if you go every day?” They’ll tell me and then the bridge is, “Your mental skills are exactly the same.” Most of them get it. They know you need a coach and that’s the coolest thing with athletes. They intuitively know if they are into the mindset thing. If they’re not, then I don’t want to have the conversation because I don’t want to convince people.
You’re hitting brick walls every time and it’s hurting them more than anything. The question I have is, what do they do right before they need to show up? Do they meditate? What do they do to prepare mentally? I’m curious because I’ve always wondered that. Sometimes I see them jumping, focused, quiet most of the time, especially if I see them getting their body ready for it. They’re jumping around but you see they have a focused look in their eye as they’re doing that.
This question is individual. It depends on the sport. What I tell my athletes is in those sports where you are physically active, like MMA, boxing or something, before you walk out, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure. Even with swimming, there was a lot of pressure for me, but you could argue if things don’t go well, you swim a slow time. You’re in the water in your lane. It’s nothing life-threatening but imagine you’re going out for a boxing match, kickboxing, MMA, these kinds of things. It’s like the guy or the girl are going to try to knock your head off. That danger is real.
When that excitement comes up, the good thing if it’s too much excitement, it’s good to start to move, shadow boxing and let a little bit of that energy out. If you’re holding it in, it’s got to go somewhere, then it goes in your head and you start overthinking it, then you’re not present and it goes fast. It depends and it’s individual. There’s no wrong way. That’s why I like it much to work with them because what I do is explore what’s working for them and what’s been their experience. There’s no one size fits all. It’s about finding what works for that person because everybody has their own preferences and practices.
Let me give you a real life example. Somebody is about to go in to compete. Something happens that shocks them personally. Right before they go in, whatever the information gets to them, they need to perform now. It’s happened. I’ve seen it with athletes where you find out later their parent passed away or something major.
How do they go back into that frame of mind? Do you find that some people collapsed? Do other people get more focused, get through it and then deal with it? What do they have to do? What would you do as a coach? Looking at them, saying, “How am I going to deal with this with them now?” What would you do at that point for them to help them get back on track?
When something like this happens, I don’t want to be the guy that you bring in to fix an emergency, put a patch on it, because if somebody is well-prepared and something unfortunate like this happens, there were extra emotions that are here, the extra excitement. In the beginning, it’s all the same thing, it’s more excitement but then it could either go, let’s say, to the left where athletes have mastered and learned to use that extra excitement for more focus, strength, and cardio.
Sometimes you see that they’re fighting or they’re playing for somebody that has died. They have an incredible performance because it fuels them. It’s the same excitement, it’s coming up but they haven’t learned that. It goes to the right side. Instead of being more focused, they lose focus, they lose strength and then they fall to their level of training or even way below that.
That’s when it’s sad, frustrating and we question ourselves because you know you can do it. You’ve shown it before when it doesn’t count. That’s what it is. We got to learn it. Many athletes are at the end of their careers. They come and say, “David, I figured out how important mindset is.” I’m like, “You’re 38. You got ten years max to go.” That’s one of the biggest mistakes. It’s coming to them too late. You know how it is, we’ve been in the mindset thing and it’s always getting better and learning more.
How would you take this and convert it to everyday people? You bring all these athletes to a retreat, which is the same thing. The old mindset is, I don’t care what you’re doing. You’re saying you feel all these emotions, it’s anxiety, anger, whatever it is. The brain doesn’t know. It just knows what it feels than it’s what you transcribe it into, like, “How am I going to take this energy and convert it to work for me versus hurt me?”
You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
That’s a decision that they have to make. Also, it has to do a lot with innately like you said, who they are and what they do. Do they always go to the negative or are they a positive person? Will they say, “I’m going to take this energy, I’m going to fuel myself up, go out there, perform at my peak and then I’ll deal with whatever it is?” They cut off, block off and whatever. I don’t know what you’re like, but I’m like that.
If there’s something bad happening and I’m in a situation where I need to speak or perform whatever it is, I block it out and I’m completely focused on what I have to do, then afterward, I collapse with what I have to do. I’m like, “That took a lot out of me,” but I was able to perform no matter what. Do you feel like you’re the same way? Do you block it out? What do you do in that moment of urgency or whatever?
I haven’t had any of these moments that got to me in a way that I would collapse, because maybe I was fortunate and I’m grateful for that. Also, it’s maybe because, through spirituality, I’ve learned to how we speak about detachment and becoming the observer a bit more. I’ve felt how I’m getting more powerful as I’m able to do that because I’m not focused on the circumstances. In sports, we say, “You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.” If I can live that if something bad happens, that stresses me out that moment, if I can then detach and see the bigger picture of things, then I’m good at moving through that situation.
On the other hand, you had Simone Biles, the gymnastics girl from the team USA, Incredibly decorated. She had mental health stuff coming up at the Olympics in Tokyo. She said she was not going to compete. I’m a huge fan because she’s standing up for herself. F what anybody else is saying, and the reporters are writing from home. Everybody has an opinion these days but she competed at the absolute highest level. It can go both ways, whatever suits you.
That took a lot of courage. Think about it, you’re in that wheel. Everybody’s expecting, you’re in it. You’re like, “I need to stop. How do I stop here?” Not only is she going to hurt herself, but she’s going to hurt her team. I found that courageous to stand up for herself and say, “I can’t.” I know what it’s like to be in that wheel of expectation and that wheel of image, especially in the Olympics. You would know better, you’re in there.
How do you see that topic? Are you more of like pushing through?
Yes, and I deal with it right after. This is the example I gave before. Right before I feel like I have to finish what I started, that’s me. If this happened, nobody could replace me or whatever now. It’s on me. I took this responsibility. I’m going to finish it and then I’ll deal with it. That’s how I deal with it. If it was more long-term, few days or whatever, then maybe it would change, I don’t know but it has happened to me right before having to perform.
Something has happened to me and I’m like, “Block it out. Do it.” I would do whatever I needed to do. It’s only a few minutes of my life. I deal with what I need to deal with. I didn’t feel it would make a difference if I stopped. If I knew I could do it, I’ll do it. That’s what I mean by collapse, release everything, breathe. If I need to do something, I’ll do something if I need to cry to let out that energy, let it out and then do what I need to do with that emergency that happened.
It’s authentic and real. People appreciate that. That’s why I love being on podcasts. I don’t have my own but I love it because there are many good podcasts out there. You don’t have to be the biggest podcaster with millions or billions of views, but if you hear these stories of people that are maybe a couple of weeks ahead in the journey, maybe a couple of years, maybe a day and you hear it how others are handling this, it’s powerful.
Sometimes all you need is one person that believes in you or that talks, speak the right words at the right time. They’re like, “This is it.” You change. You make a different choice. It’s like a train track and you go left or right and you can end up on different continents depending on that one choice. It’s good when you can share it out when you can be like, “After that, I do collapse and that’s what it is.”
What would you do if you had ten athletes, seven days, 24/7, at a retreat? This is a retreat show. We try to find different experts. Your expertise is the mindset. It is number one at a retreat. This is why you’re there. Even to cook a dish perfectly or to bring athletes to a different level or transformation in some other form. You have ten athletes, seven days, 24/7, what difference would that make versus your regular routine of seeing them? What would you be able to do in those seven days?
Let’s explore this together because you’re the expert. For me, for the athletes, it’s not important at what level they are now. What I’m interested in is how they changed, the level of change, the level of their learning, their rate of their improvement because we can say, “That athlete is not the best in the world, but he wants to be. There’s a lot he has to learn or she has to learn.” The faster you can learn, the quicker you’re going to be there. It’s about creating an accelerated learning environment.
For that, retreats are phenomenal. You told me you can put everything in place. What I would start with is that I would make their retreats fun. Depending on what the athletes, but there’s going to be physical activities and games involved because I’ve read many times that the brain is learning 5,000 times faster, the neuron connections of 5,000 times thicker when you’re loving what you do and having fun as opposed to when you’re hating it.
That would be my first step, is to make sure that they’re having a lot of fun. Good food, enough sleep, overall fun and physical activity, all these good things that we know that science knows. I would do two mindset sessions a day and do little theory, giving them a few concepts and then practice that stuff. Do the group exercises that we do.
We do intuition readings on each other, things like that. They come up with information all of a sudden that their intuition has given them that they would never believe, then they have that this, “Wow.” They become self-motivated. If we can do that on day one, then you have their full commitment for the ten days and then the flexibility.
Thinking pleases the ego, and that’s the problem with it.
It’s not only what you’re going to be teaching them. It’s also the energy between all of them that happens and they’re going to learn from each other. You’re even going to learn something out of it. You come out of it transformed as a leader. It’s all this combined together that creates this crazy transformation if you do it right.
A lot of people because they were going on a retreat, but it’s a vacation with a group of people, which is great. It’s fun. It can transform you in certain ways, but it’s not that deep transformation that lasts, not for the 7 or 10 days. It’ll be lasting because it will change something in the core of these people that they won’t have the same perspective anymore.
Their perspective, their view of life, whatever they’re doing, in your case is their sport, will change because something switched and they’re not the same anymore. That’s the difference because of all those things that are in place. The activities you choose, the message you’re giving, the other athletes that are in there, it’s intense because you have their attention for whatever amount of time it is. Even if it’s three days, it’s still three days where you’re spending morning to night with them and with each other. It’s like putting it on steroids. It’s jump-started and it stays like that for all the days that you’re with them.
Can I add one thing when you say intense? That’s a powerful word because when we have intense experiences, they bury themselves into our minds. You remember doing the bungee jump. Even if it’s a crazy night of partying and you remember the crazy experience in your life. I have a question because what you hear a lot with Tony Robbins seminars. I’ve never been. I hear from experience from people that went. It’s like, you go to the seminar and he’s doing a phenomenal job. People are dancing, they’re learning and he’s solving problems. If that seminar is five days or even longer, they go then back to their lives.
For a lot of them, they fall back into their old routine and all that magic from the seminar is disappearing. They need to go back to the next seminar and they become these seminar junkies. You said you got to change something in their mind that something clicked. Once you have that, then you’re good to go. You continue with the support right after that. You got to keep them engaged and helped.
There has to be a follow-up and something that happens continuously. It’s a practice. It’s not a one-moment thing. You’ve changed that perspective. How do we keep foraging it to stay there? Our innate nature of whatever it may be, we’ll always go back there easily. Like diets, people will diet for a little while, but if they’ve always had bad habits in the past, it’s easy to go to that bad habit again. The thing is, you did. This time you lost it for seven days, your diet. Next time maybe because you changed your perspective and your habits have changed, you’ll maybe mess up for two days and then after that, it’ll be for one day.
It’s the same thing. It’s the perspective changes, your view changes, you’ll continue going on, but there could be something in your life that’ll switch you back to that innate bad habit that you have. Because you’ve been doing it for long, it shouldn’t last that long. We’re human. We’re going to make mistakes and fall back. It doesn’t stay there as long. Instead of being a month, you’ll be a week, 2 or 1 days, whatever, there’ll be less. After a retreat, someone like you has to make sure that there is a follow-up to make sure that their practice is still going on. You might lose some in their habits. Hopefully, you don’t.
Let’s say out of the ten, if you could help most of them and a few get lost, what are you going to do? Hopefully, you’ll get them back again. I’m talking about their mind, not them physically, but their mind to be back in the right frame of mind. We’re humans. We’re dynamic. We change with things that happen in our lives. Maybe we’ll fall for a little while or a lot longer, but as long as we come back to what’s good for us.
I’ve been on a retreat in Ibiza where I was coaching executives. We had fun and we talked with each other. We got along and then had similar interests and topics. It forged a great bond. It was easy to now create the next one in Switzerland. The summer was in Spain. The winter’s going to be in Switzerland because they’re all coming back. It’s amazing when you meet new people. You create a community in 10 days or 7 days like that. It was amazing because it was intense.
It’s because they’re like-minded too. They’re there for the same reason. They have the same frame of mind. That’s why it also creates a community easily. I developed friendships through these interviews. It’s like a few minutes, whatever here and there and then you have the interview. Imagine a whole weekend or whole week, whatever it is, with the same people.
People are less stressed out. They don’t always have to be on the phone. Maybe they have a day where there’s no Instagram and Facebook. They’re more present also. You’re in a beautiful niche. That’s how I see it is with retreats is powerful.
I could talk to you for hours. I can see our conversations going on and I would love to always connect with you, get to know you more, get to know what you do more always because you have a great frame of mind. The way you do business is something that I don’t know because I don’t work with athletes, but mindset is my thing, as is yours. It’s nice to see it in that perspective and your perspective of how you deal with athletes. Where can people connect with you? Is there anything you want to offer my readers and where can they find you?
There’s free training, but it’s for athletes on DavidKarasek.com. Otherwise, I’m on social media. If you search for David Karasek, you’ll hopefully find me. I would love to connect. I love doing that because great people have great friends. Now the world is smaller with everything being online and the people that vibrate on similar frequencies find themselves and usually, good things happen. That be great.
David, thank you so much for being here and taking the time away from your work to speak with me. I do have athletes that do follow me as well. I’m hoping that you connect with them and it would be beneficial for them as well to connect with you. I’ll see you hopefully through social media and maybe one day we’ll meet. You never know.
Thanks for having me on. You’re a wonderful host. It’s a pleasure being here. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep spreading the empowering vibes.
Thank you, David. Take care.
- Tribe of Athletes
About David Karasek
David Karasek is a former Olympic swimmer for Switzerland. When his swimming career ended, David could not re-create the success that he had as a swimmer in the business world. Because he was so used to getting immediate and direct feedback from sports, he never fully developed a mechanism to cope with the more complex and indirect nature of the workforce.
After several years of feeling powerless, David began to give up his need for control and thereby created the space for his intuition to emerge. He now helps professional athletes and their coaches stop overthinking and prepare the grounds for intense peak performance experiences.
It’s become his personal mission and passion to reach out and help others perform better under pressure so they can give more to themselves, their teams, families, and everyone who supports them. David is also the founder of The Tribe Of Athletes, a sports community dedicated to mastering the journey to inner greatness.