Olympic Gold Medalist and former World Record Holder Brendan Hansen is "allergic to average." In this interview, Hansen describes his competitive instincts and underdog work ethic in preparation for the Athens, Beijing, and London Olympic Games. Hansen also shares his experiences as a triathlete and unveils the importance of focusing on the training process and how the best athletes respond to failure and disappointment.
TriDot Podcast .22:
"Allergic to Average" - An Interview with Olympic Gold Medalist Brendan Hansen
This is the TriDot Podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We'll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let's improve together.
Andrew: Welcome to the TriDot Podcast. I am your host Andrew the average triathlete. There are a lot of fascinating people in this world. And although our podcast normally focuses on helping you swim, bike, and run hopefully a little bit better; when we had the chance to sit down with someone that has a story to tell, we want to take that opportunity every single time. And today I'm thrilled to be talking with Team USA Swimming’s Brendan Hansen. For those of you that missed our Monday episode with Brendan, let me fill you in a little bit on his accomplished resume. Brendan is the Director of Team Services for USA Swimming. He's a three time Olympian who's won three gold, one silver, and two Olympic bronze medals. Brendan captained five International Team USA teams throughout his career, and he swam collegially at the University of Texas. He has held managerial and coaching positions with multiple top level swim clubs, and is a former world record holder in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke. So, without further ado, Brendan, thanks for being our featured athlete.
Brendan: Man, we're so close to the weekend. It's Thursday. Let's kill it.
Andrew: Yeah, I love the enthusiasm. I absolutely love it. Brendan gets me hyped. And we have lots of great stuff to get to. So, Brendan, let's start at the very beginning. Talk to us about how you got into swimming.
Brendan: Yeah. Honestly, born and raised in Philadelphia, went to the Jersey Shore as a kid [crosstalk] for vacation. Yeah, keeping it classy. And parents wanted us to be water safe, put us in a local community program and of all three of my mom's kids I was the one that was crying when they got out of the pool, not getting into the pool.
Andrew: So, you took to it right away.
Brendan: Yeah, just blue lips, didn't-- took to it right away in the sense that I love the water. I love being around the water. It calmed me down. I was kind of a hyperactive kid very active, very active, and just what they would consider boy energy, right? And really and truly just started to fall in love with the sport of swimming but was not good at it at all. That being said, doing one stroke of arms versus the other stroke of legs and just not putting it all together. But just again, just enjoying the medium of the water, and building a great relationship with it. But my mom will tell you that a couple of my first coaches were like, “Hey, I don't think swimming-- he's water safe, but I don't think swimming is a sport that this kid needs to be doing.”
Andrew: So, at what point as a young developing swimmer did you realize-- When did the talent start to click and you actually start to become something special in the pool?
Brendan: I think the two things that I gravitated towards in the sport of swimming was the fact that what you put into it is what you're going to get out of it. I had great coaching as a young kid. A lot of the coaches I worked with were ones that really taught me the cycle of, hey, if you work hard, good things are going to happen. You don't just fluke, you know, there's no just random race that you're going to potentially win. Like you can totally control your outcome if you focus on what you do day in and day out. I love that life skill. It was something that I felt like I always approach things as a kid as the underdog. I liked being the underdog. I liked watching movies about being the underdog. And so regardless of how talented I was, and I've been told I was really talented in the sport of swimming, I always took the mentality of being the underdog. So, that aspect of it I absolutely loved. And then just like any other kid, all my friends were doing the same sport. I wasn't swimming year round till I was probably in high school. A lot of my swimming was around the community pools, summer leagues type things, six to seven weeks seasons.
Andrew: So, nothing out of the ordinary for a young swimmer.
Brendan: Nope. And really and truly, it was a lot of my early coaching that instilled a lot of those, that mindset of just being extremely competitive. My parents will tell you that like I was the kind of kid that would burn the boats to take the island. I wasn't afraid to, and it could have been a backyard game of basketball or it could have been who could clean up the downstairs basement fast enough, you know, to get whatever-- [crosstalk] It didn't matter what it was like there was no dimmer switch to my competitiveness, it was on and off. And I've had to learn over the years how to control that and stuff. But I also take that as a huge advantage of mine to have that kind of on and off switch.
Andrew: So, in high school, you start swimming more and what drew you to the University of Texas for your collegiate swimming?
Brendan: Well, I think there's a story here that I need to tell because we talked about these like focal points in my career, right, and one of them was in high school. So, freshman year of high school, I joined a high school team and the reason I started swimming and be a little bit more competitive was a lot of the girls on the swim team were really cute, and I started liking girls. So, I was like hey look there’s-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: The quality motivation.
Brendan: Yeah, I was like, you know, as an adolescent boy I was like boom, I'm in, let's do this, right. So, started practicing a lot harder, focusing on my technique, those kinds of things. Remember going to one of my high school dual meets where I was swimming 100 breaststroke, which is one of the last events before the relay. We're down by 15 points, I have to win the hundred breaststroke, and we have to win the relay. I’m both of those races for us to win this duel meet to hold our perfect season record, right.
Andrew: Clutch time. Fourth quarter.
Brendan: I get up in lane five, there's a big senior way more muscular than me, four years of growth on me, gets up against and race me, looks at me and goes, there's-- just makes this smirk like I'm gonna kick your butt. That's the PG version of what he said.
Andrew: Yeah, thanks for that.
Brendan: Yep. And so I just-- I remember diving in the water, getting touched out by two hundreths of a second, and that was one of those moments where I was like, this is never happening again. I don't want this to happen. And I remember walking up to my coach saying, I know I'm gonna race that kid again at districts regionals and state, and I don't want to lose to him, so you need to tell me how to get better than him. And that's where I think the mentality of most, and this is what I realized as I went through my career is that people that get to the level that I got at, they hate to lose more than they love to win. And that's a dimmer switch competitiveness. Right? Like it's on or it's off.
Andrew: Yeah, you hear about that from all champions from all sorts of different sports.
Brendan: And I think all of my teammates will tell you, at least on that team, that I was a different person on Monday at practice. And I just-- I took a failure, I took something that I consider I lost the meet for our team, I thought-- I took it all on my shoulders. I took full ownership of that situation and that downfall, and literally motivated me to district regionals and state. I lost him at districts and regionals but continued to work on my technique. And then at state in the final, I touched him out and touched the wall first winning state as a freshman in that race. And a lot of that is attributed to how you respond to failure, which I think is one of the things that this sport really teaches. You had the ability in that race to qualify for my first Olympic trials, which is crazy, right? So, I went from like liking girls, wanting to join the high school team, right? Like, I mean, this is a drastic span as you can get-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: To wanting to kick a senior’s butt.
Brendan: Yeah, to having a kid told me I couldn't do it. Right? Which we talked about in Monday's podcast. And then boom, here we go. Now, I'm going into the biggest stage in the sport and all the span of about eight months. Go to those Olympic trials with the mindset of I'm going to Australia and it’s 2000 Sydney, Australia. And was like I'm going to go see a kangaroo, never seen a kangaroo other than the zoo. I'm doing this.
Andrew: And not going to the trials and not making it on the team-- [crosstalk]
Brendan: I’m not going to the trials to be a participant. I'm going to make the team.
Andrew: Yeah. And how old are you here?
Brendan: I am 18 years old. Yeah, sorry. Good question. Yeah. So, swam another three years of high school. So, I go to 2000 Olympic trials and if you know the procedure with the Olympic trials, if you get first or second, you make the Olympic team, boom, you're on the team you're going. If you get third you don't make it, right. 18 years old senior in high school honestly, again back to the mentality of burn the boats take the island, didn't go to my senior prom, didn't go to senior week, didn't go hang out with my friends.
Andrew: You were all in.
Brendan: I was all in. Started doing doubles, focusing, got great coaching, got great dryland fitness stuff; all those aspects, just wanted to check every single box going into these Olympics. I just felt like Sydney was going to be my ticket for bigger and better things, right. Going to those Olympic Trials, swim the final-- make the final of the 100 breaststroke, I'm in lane three, think I have a shot at making the team, I only have to beat two other guys, I'm seated third, which is crazy. I'm like the newcomer of the meet, touched the wall I got third by hundredth of a second, right. This is that moment where you're just sitting there looking-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: Oh, my gosh. And no bronze medal at the Olympic trials.
Brendan: No, I just-- it's funny, Andrew, I remember swimming down in my race and my goggles kept filling up, and I'm like why are my goggles filling up, I don't know why like I'm just not leaking, like what is going on. And then I realized I was crying. Like and it was just that emotional response of any person that puts that much effort into something. And so I was like, okay, you're tougher than this, somebody's trying to teach you something, just learn from it and get better for the next race. So, I get up, go back to my coach and say, hey, let's dissect these two laps of the pool that I swam and where I made mistakes, and I got two days to fix it for the 200, which is four lengths of the Olympic sized pool. Go into the final of the 200 breaststroke, I got an opportunity to race the same guys, two of them already made the Olympic team for Sydney, and I'm like I am full of like animosity and I'm like-- I'm kicking, I'm ripping somebody’s head off basically, right. Dive in the water, swim my race, make all the adjustments I need to make, touch the wall, I got third by a hundredth of a second, right. I'm in the Guinness Book of World Record for missing the Olympic team by two one hundredths of a second collectively over two, like it's like the worst record to possibly have, right.
Andrew: And a very specific record at that.
Brendan: Yeah, it's like Wow, thanks for taking the time to print that. Yeah, it's just tough, man. And here's the thing, in the moment, my life crushed, right? 18 years old. It doesn't make sense. Nothing is adding up. The equation is not balanced, things don't make sense. But this is where I think perspective and looking back on it, the greatest thing I ever did was never give up, surround myself with the right people, and then walk onto the University of Texas. I walked onto the University of Texas and I turned to my teammates who were all, some of them were Olympians on that team. Some of them were going to be Olympians. I mean, it was one of the most talented locker rooms I'd ever walked into in my entire life. I took a white piece of tape on my brand new locker with the name Hansen on the back of it, and I wrote man on a mission, and put it over the back of that. And I just remember I was member swimming down at the 2000 Olympic trials and walking off that pool deck and being like, I'm never going to feel like this again. And I am going to outwork my competition day in and day out. And I never lost that perspective through the rest of my career.
I mean, I went to the University of Texas, and one of the most proudest things I can tell you is that I never lost a race in college. And I remember the first couple practices Andrew, like racing warm up against some of my juniors and seniors and getting kick boards thrown at my head being like, “Hey, we don't do that here.” And I remember looking at him and being like, hey, you can tell me to slow down but like--- I was like, “You can tell me to speed up but don't ever tell me to slow down.” Like I was legitimately changing the way I was going to swim from there. I was extremely successful up to this point. But I think what separates people like me that got to the 1% of 1%, and eventually became the fastest world record holder in that kind of caliber, is how you reacted to success and failure. So, much of it right now is perceived that it is talent, and it's not. It's really not, it's really that innate ability to just say, I don't care. I don't care what you think, I don't care what you think, and I don't care how my body's telling me, I'm going to do this. And that's what-- that was the mentality that I took going into those four years. 2004, made the Olympic team in the process touched the wall, and all you hear is world record holder. And now I go from that being the token guy that got third in the Guinness Book of World Records, right?
Andrew: Still there in the Guinness Book-- [crosstalk]
Brendan: Yeah, it’s still there and now you just, you flip five pages down that book and my name is in there as a world record holder from 2006 to 2012. And that's where I think you can decide what you want your story to be. You just have to be willing to handle the bumps. And I think a lot of people from my point, and I know we're getting quickly into my story, but I wouldn't change it at all. And you fast forward to 2012, I'm in a press conference it’s Michael Phelps, myself, and we're both retiring. I'm retiring. He's saying he's retiring. And they say you know, [crosstalk] classic media question, right? Like, what was the turning point of your career? And I said, if I went back and I could change anything about my career, I wouldn't change a thing. And I was like, I'd swim that race 100,000 times in the 2000 Olympics and I would want to get third twice, every single time.
Andrew: So, do you feel like that moment set you up for a more successful career once you made it to the Olympics?
Brendan: It's probably the one that glaringly I talked about the most, yeah. But I think there's always going to be moments, the little small moments along the way, right, like if you're pushing the limits to be the best you ever can be at something, then you better get used to failure. And you better get used to frustration, and like I would say, of the seven days a week that I was training, four of those, I'd get in my car and roll my windows down blaring music and be like, “Why the hell am I doing this? What the heck is going on? I did not. Today I did not get better, you know.” And then the other three days I'm like, straight up like I'm on the front of the Titanic with my arms out just like “Yeah, I'm free.”
Andrew: It’s one or the other.
Brendan: It’s like, yeah.
Andrew: Highs and lows.
Brendan: Uh-huh. And I think we, at least what most people saw was those three days or two days or whatever it was, the highs, right? Like they don't ever really see the lows. They don't really talk about the lows.
Andrew: And they don’t realize that athletes at the top of their game experience that, and have to go through that to get to that stage. So, you go four years, you know, you make the team for Athens. You know, what was it like kind of heading to your first Olympic Games going into the stadium? Did you go to the-- I always love watching the, just the festivities, right, the opening ceremony, all the pageantry. Did you go to that at your first games?
Brendan: So, I swam the next day. And so the opening ceremonies would usually start somewhere in the range of like nine o'clock and then by the time the athletes got bussed back, it was two or three in the morning, and my first race would be eight o'clock the next morning, so it was just not conducive to me. [crosstalk]
Andrew: So, you just skipped that.
Brendan: Yeah, which wasn't part of my process. So, I didn't really get too much involved in that. I think I was super jazzed to go to my first Olympics and be a part of it. The things that I did not realize was the overwhelming sense of pride I would have when you put on a garment that, I mean, look, we were all kids that grew up in the United States, right? You don't go to a Fourth of July without eventually putting on a garment that has the American flag on it or the USA on it, right. But when you do it in that stage, it has a totally different feel.
Andrew: So, bigger than putting on University of Texas, bigger than putting on Swim Club, High School logos? So, it was a markedly different feeling, putting the stars and stripes on?
Brendan: Yeah, you just had this overwhelming sense of pride. And you would somewhat become somewhat of a historian like looking back at all the great people that competed at that level for you. And you would get nostalgic a little bit looking at these gold medal performances and things. And then you want-- you could potentially be the next person to do that. That became really a cool experience. And I think once the games start, it becomes and it's unfortunate that I tell you this, but it just feels like another swim meet. But then until you touch the wall. Then you touch the wall and you're like, holy crap, and then you walk over to the podium and you put an Olympic gold medal around your neck and you're like, “Wow. This is…”
Andrew: They start playing the anthem.
Brendan: Yeah, and it’s just, it's everything that you-- Everything that you're thinking right now listening to this is exactly the way you feel times 10. And I can't, I don't ever want to dumb it down, and I always want people to be like like, there's times now where I watch the Olympics on TV, or I'll be there and I'm like, I can't help but stand, right. And I can't help but just like, be proud or get emotional or excited, because I know what that feels like. And some people do that now looking back on it. And I think that connection is very real. And it's very true. And I think that's why then the Olympics every four years, bring people to stand up off their couches and get excited about it, you know? So, those are the things going into my Olympics that-- And then look, you leave you come home, and then all sudden you're like, you go to the grocery store that you've been buying your meals and 6,000 calories a day kind of stuff that you’ve been buying, right and all of a sudden the lady behind the counters is like “Oh, my God!” And then you become this local celebrity or in your hometown, they're giving you stuff-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: Cuz the local news all covers--the [crosstalk]
Brendan: Yeah, and it's really surreal. It's a crazy roller coaster, but... And then once you do it once, you want to do it again and again and again. And some people get the opportunity and other people don't. And I, fortunately, had the opportunity three times.
Andrew: Yeah, so you went to three games, right? Athens, Beijing, London. Was there really any difference between the three just in terms of the experience or did you find that just once you got there, it was just another swim meet until you touch the wall?
Brendan: Every single one of them was totally different, Andrew. Yeah, so just to give you an idea, Athens felt like spring break. It was 100% a party. There was movie stars in the stands. Everybody was staying on islands, athletes were staying in the village, people were living on cruise ships. I mean, it would-- it just had this like you look up and you just see people with alcoholic drinks and cheering going crazy. And it just had this like concert feel to it-tons of energy, just not structured at all. You go to Beijing, it's like straight up, you could, it was like golf claps and it was just very controlled, very-- just-- you just felt like everything was security-oriented. It just, there was no like willingness to kind of break out, right. But then also at the same time, my teammate Michael Phelps is making this historical run for eight gold medals. He's my suitemate for the week. We're all pushing him to do that. I'm on the eighth gold medal relay with him. So, there's that side of Beijing that was awesome that we all got to experience, right. London was probably my most favorite. Had like the nice balance of historic feel to where there's like some, there's like that royalty thing where we're all kings and queens and you know, like, then you could like, there was like, really old stuff to where you feel like you're a part of something-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: LORD Brendan Hansen.
Brendan: Exactly. You know, I got to swim in front of the queen, which was cool, and there's that aspect. But then they're also rowdy, right, like they love their European football, right? And so it was loud at night. And anytime, you know, the hosts, it's cool to watch, like I mentioned to you guys earlier, it's just really cool to see the world come together, and cheer for athletes regardless of where they come from, to just see athleticism in its purest form.
Andrew: Yeah. Now, you mentioned getting to be on the relay team with Michael Phelps. And I think for the average American or even across the world, just the average Olympic fan, you know, that's who they associate is kind of the face of swimming at the Olympics. Right? And for good reason. Do you have any good quality never heard before, behind the scenes Michael Phelps’s stories?
Brendan: Two things that most people probably don't know is one, when we would come back from the village, there was like, basically, when you move back into the village, the village was like an apartment complex. And so you have these, there’s the common area, and off the common area was a bunch of bedrooms, and then you had a roommate, then the bedroom so you had a suite. Like let's just say we were in suite three, and then there would be like room A, B, C and D, and E, right. So, you had really and truly, you had 15 or 12 athletes in a room. But then that commentary, like to keep our sanity like you can't turn on the TV. If you turn on the TV, it would have all the Olympics on it. If you start watching it you, you're immediately competitive. All of a sudden, we're all walking around the room, we're just like pumping each other’s fist, we can't do this, guys. We're gonna lose all our energy, we're not going to be able to do it. So, we found ourselves like playing spades. Like it was competitive enough but you weren't like, it was controlled, right? So, we would play cards like nobody's business. I mean, we were like basically this old, like a bunch of old guys sitting in the basement somewhere, just playing spades-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: Just keep the adrenaline down.
Brendan: Just because it was competitive but yet our energy was low. We were sitting down, our feet are up you know, and he was extremely competitive. But one other thing about Michael was like before he went into his hundred fly final, I just remember telling him, which was where he literally won by hundredth of a second and that was his sixth gold medal. I remember telling him I was like, do me a favor, just don't take an extra stroke. Like whatever you do, don't take an extra stroke because if you don't take an extra stroke, like you know, and I know just time the crap out of that finish. We knew it was going to be a close race, but I was like just be like be better than him in that moment. And he was an extremely coachable athlete, and he worked, we all worked really well with each other. And when he took that extra stroke, I was like, you've got to be kidding me. And that just goes to show you how good he was in the moment. And I talked so much in our podcast on Monday about being 100% present in what you do, this guy was the freakin’ king of it. I mean, he just, he was like, he's like I, in that second, he's like, I knew that if I didn't take the extra stroke, I was going to lose the race.
And I was like, anyone else would have done what? Gone right back to their coaching and been like, well, so many people told me to do this and they stick to their guns, right? He just made the adjustment at the right time. And I just remember him walking out of his room in one hand hanging eight or six Olympic gold medals or seven Olympic gold medals and it looked like a freakin windchime. And we were all like, “Oh my God, dude.” Like the whole suite at some point had like 14 or 15 medals. I mean, this is just, we were changing that changing history a little bit. But it was just really fun to be a part of man, and he was just one of those guys that anytime you'd give him something, he would try to find a new barrier or break it down. And that was just a really cool person to be around. It really was.
Andrew: So, 2004 was your first Olympic Games, 2008, Beijing was your second and it was actually between and on Monday’s podcast, you talked about this. It was between the 2008 Beijing games and the 2012 London Games that you won, tried triathlon for the first time, you raced an Olympic try in New Braunfels, Texas. And then also in that time, you got older, right? So, you're in-- [crosstalk]
Brendan: Thanks, man.
Andrew: No, but seriously because you made a joke about you know, you're 31 years old on the pool deck, which I'm 31 right now, at the time of this podcast recording, I feel old. I feel it. I do. So, you're on deck as a 31-year-old Olympian in 2012, right, and you're the grandfather of the group and those are your words, not mine. How were you able and how, even we look at Michael Phelps, who we talked about a little bit ago. He went one more round in Rio, how were you able as an older athlete to still excel at the highest level against the best in the world?
Brendan: So, much of it was around balance and recovery. When we would look at like when we talked about on Monday's podcast about Beijing and how I got kind of burned out, right. And we talked about this all the time, it's one of the number one topics that we talked about being burned out. The reason I got burned out in 2008, was because I still had the same training mentality that I did when I was 20 years old, and I was 26 at those Olympics, right. I was just everything I had all the time, like just giving 100% in practice, giving everything I had; not even focused on recovery, not thinking about sleep, not thinking about what my training plan was and how I would move forward. And then what I allowed myself when I started doing triathlons was like paying attention to you know, the aspect of recovery. Now, I have three disciplines to worry about in an uncontrolled environment, all the things we talked about on Monday. Now, as we looked at 2012, I wanted to as in that approach be a lot smarter. I want to pay attention to these things. And honestly, a lot of it became the fact that I was much more mature. Right? Like if you ask my wife, she'll tell you that.
Like I was definitely that now I was ready to listen, I was ready to listen to these things and make sure that I was doing the right things. And I think the question I get asked all the time now is because these athletes are getting stronger, they're getting faster, and they're like, when is it going to stop? And I think the reason that athletes are getting faster and the why I swam my best races at the age of 31 was because I paid attention to the data, I paid attention to what my body was telling me to do. And really and truly like what those plotted dots along the way, I was able to really measure the right way and have the ebb and flow and have control over how I was going to perform at the end, the end result, right. A lot of that, I took a lot of that approach from those 2012 Olympics in the last two years of my swimming career, and really brought it into my coaching the first couple years on the pool deck. Working with my athletes and like we talked about just teaching them the why, why we're doing this and what we're doing forward, right. Allowing them to take ownership of their process.
Andrew: Not just aimlessly doing a workout.
Brendan: No, and look, when you have the data and you get to control the data and you are paying attention to what that is, you have no choice but to take ownership. One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is thinking that well I have the best coach and that coach is what's going to make me good. At the end of the day, you're the one on the bike, you're the one with the shoes on running on the track. I'm the one that's on the freakin’, on the block about to race, right. And so as a coach, we utilize this data to really allow them to take ownership of their own process like we talked about, process-driven athletes and allow them to go forward. That's why when we were-- when Jeff Raines and I were working together with triathletes and swimmers, we talked about that and how we approach our athletes; we utilized TriDot a lot. And the reason we did is because it was a medium for us to really allow them to have their own vision into their own metrics, which allow them to have control over what they were doing forward.
Andrew: And you can teach them the why.
Brendan: Yes. It was the easiest way for us to teach them the why. Because they had it all right there, and the best part is, is that they had control over all of that. What I loved about that was there was a sense of accountability with that, where they had control over what that was. But we were pushing them just a little bit further. At that point, we were basically the threshold testers. We would just keep you on that threshold, and keep you thinking one or two steps ahead of where you were. It really allowed us to maximize our time with our athletes, and at the same time, allowed to push them a little bit further than they wanted to go. And that's what, at the end of the day, Andrew, that's what they pay us for, right? They pay us to push them a little bit further. Otherwise, they wouldn't have us do it at all. So--
Andrew: I think they pay you to try to get the 12 pack Olympian abs that you still have.
Brendan: Look, right now, I'm telling you, these athletes are smarter than we were 10 years ago. They're utilizing the data feedback that they are, and they're really paying attention to the total package, which is recovery, which is fueling, which is what they do in and out of the water or in on the bike and on the run. And part of me looks at how athletes approach today and makes me want to go back to when I was 20 because I think I could have ruled the world-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: With all this, you’d know more now.
Brendan: I could have ruled the world, dude.
Andrew: So, now you've transitioned into coaching, and you're highly successful at that, so tell me this, and on Monday’s podcast, you talked a little bit about what it was like to transition to a coach, how, when you are an athlete you're training for the Olympics alongside just top-shelf athletes. You're kind of doing a little bit of coaching each other so that innate kind of desire and ability to coach is already in there. But tell me now, going to competitions now and you’re a coach, you have athletes that you worked with, was it different being on deck, watching your athletes race as opposed to being the person in the pool racing yourself?
Brendan: Absolutely, it’s the hardest thing.
Andrew: What was that shift like for you?
Brendan: Well, it's like you go from holding the controller to the video game to you watching the video game, right. And so if there's ever a helpless moment in your life as a coach, it's when your athletes are now competing and there's nothing you can do about it, and you become the biggest cheerleader on the sidelines. And it's something that you really have to work towards. And I think that's where you really have to learn that and that's why I think coaches are a really special breed in the sense that they are selfless. They can never-- As soon as you start coaching for yourself or trying to increase your own career, you're extremely beatable as a coach. There's no doubt. Like you're not the best coach on the pool deck if you're trying to figure out how this athlete’s going to improve your coaching career, you're done. I think anytime you never lose sight of how you make your athletes better and increase their experience as an athlete, that's the coach I want to be around and you talked about like athletes at the highest level and how they coach each other, you’re only as good as the athletes that you train with.
So, if you want to get better in your sport as an athlete, and maybe your coach is doing 1% of the job or such a small piece of the pie because there's 20 other athletes in the pool or on the track or on the bike and spin class, whatever it may be; you better find a way to make the other 19 people in that class, make it better for them. Because anytime I found that I was making my teammates better in a workout, I always broke through a barrier. I always went to a level I never thought I could before. And I think that's an area that not a lot of athletes tap into. But you see it time and time again at the highest level, culturally. And so many coaches try to emulate that backdown. But anytime I was a coach and you were working with athletes, the more I could get athlete to athlete interaction and have them working together; everybody was getting better. And it maximized my exposure on the pool deck or in a workout and allowed them to be better. And like I said, it enabled me to be more successful and my team to be more successful when I had zero control over it when the gun went off.
Andrew: A couple more questions, and then we'll wrap for today. But I do want to hear this because we heard so much about your time as an athlete at the Olympics, getting ready for the Olympics, qualifying for the Olympics, winning at the Olympic level. What was maybe one key lesson you learned as an athlete yourself racing on that level that you now apply to your coaching with your athletes?
Brendan: It’s a good question. I think when you-- the number one question you’d get asked when you go to that high stakes, pressure-packed situation like an Olympic final; the only thing that prevents you from basically completely crumbling is staying focused on the process, and not the outcome. And whenever I was able to stay focused on how I was going to accomplish the performance I wanted to do it and less about what the clock was going to say when I would finish I was way more successful. And so I want to coach a bunch of processed driven athletes. I don't want athletes to come up to me while I'm coaching them and say, well, I didn't go X and Y time or I didn't, you know, my heart rate isn't where it needs to be or whatever-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: So, process-driven over results-driven.
Brendan: Process-driven over result driven, yep. I can make that athlete better and then we will continue to get better, and the word plateau will never be in our vocabulary.
Andrew: And the results will come.
Brendan: Yep. And it's not. Most of the time, it happens a lot faster than people think. The problem is, is that while everybody else is thinking about what is going to come of the effort, if you just focus on the effort, those results happen a lot faster. It's just not a natural-- It's just not the natural way of looking at it. Or like you become-- you don't become the normal. And that's why I always said like, there's any-- I'm not allergic to anything, but I'm allergic to average. And that's one thing that like I will not surround myself with and we talked about on Monday’s podcasts and how I shared the pool deck with some of the best coaches in Austin when we were working on building teams and working with triathletes. And Jeff was one of those people and we just, we always felt like if we pushed each other, like I'd walk by him while he was working with triathletes and be like, I'm out coaching you today. And he looked at me and he-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: And this is TriDot Coach Jeff Raines by the way, everybody.
Brendan: Yes, this is Jeff Raines. And he looked at me like without even missing a beat and he'd be like, “Bring it.” You know what I mean? And like it was just the stage was set, but it becomes that's the mentality that in a coach, you can still bring in like that teammate feel. And there's a lot of coaching staffs that are listening to this, there's a lot of athletes looking at you can control the experience of everybody else that you come encounter with in your workout. And it's your opportunity to do that. And I tell people all the time, especially kids. I travel the world now talking to kids and coaches. And they say, “When you swam, what was your main focus?” And I said, “My main focus was I knew that I couldn't control what the seven other people were doing. But I knew one thing, that without a doubt, they were going to remember racing against me. That I may not touch the wall first, but they are going to remember racing as me because they had to go through some excruciating pain and find a way and do whatever they had to do to touch the wall first because of me being in that race.” And I think when I relay that onto my athletes where I'm like, hey, just your presence in this final or in that triathlon is going to change the way other people perform, your perspective on your outcome becomes totally different, right. And it becomes, everything becomes about the process, and how can I push people to be better. And I stay 100% present in that moment. And from a coaching standpoint, that's the only way I've been able to get more out of my athletes.
Andrew: So, you're now on staff with USA Swimming, still a fairly new role for you that you're really excited about. You're on as the Director of Team Services for USA Swimming. Tell me about some of the exciting opportunities you have in that role to kind of be an ambassador for the sport and really take swimming in this country to the next level.
Brendan: This is a great segue into what I've got going on. So, one of the things is USA Swimming is a national governing body for our sport, right, for USA-- for swimming, in general. The reason we're so successful at the Olympic level is because we have so many kids that do this sport. And my job is in a sense, offer the resources and tools to change the way coaches are coaching, keep them on the cutting edge. I was so blessed through my career to have the coaches I had and had the experiences that I had, pluses and minuses. We spent more time on this podcast talking about the failures that I had and how it catapulted me to where I wanted to go, rather than talking about the stuff you lead with, which was like medals and records and everything else. We didn't even touch on that-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: Those are the footnotes.
Brendan: Which we won't touch on. But I think being able to be truthful in those experiences, allowing people to have the resources that they need to become successful in it, and then make sure that look, there's going to be kids that enjoy the sport that learn delayed gratification, and what you put in, hard work pays off and those kinds of things that the kids can learn outside of ever even touching foot on an Olympic pool deck. I am so far removed from the competitive swimming world now, almost 10 years removed from that, but I approach every single day now in my business life and my family life and my own personal life, the same way I did as a swimmer. And I think because of that I beat my own path and doors open up that I never thought we could open up. And people are like, “How did these opportunities come to you?” And I'm like, just get involved, burn the boats, take the island, and just go for it, and do it. And I think if you take that mentality you just, you never know what's going to happen, man. And I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, all the down falls that I had in my career happened.
But what I find now is that if I'm a little bit scared to do it, and I know it's going to be challenging, I'm 100% in. If it's going to be easy and a home run, then I'm on board. And this USA Swimming job that I have is not going to be easy. You know, and it has a history. And it has one that just it's kind of a-- we tell you what to do, and you're going to go do it, and you're just a member because you have to be and I want to change that whole perspective, and we're going to do that. And hopefully, my main focus right now is dude, 2028 is LA. First time that our Olympics have ever been back on the US soil since Atlanta in 96. The games that literally made me want to become an Olympian. So, right now I have the direct opportunity to impact those athletes that are 13, 14, 15 years old, that are going to represent us, and we talked about it, get to put on the USA stuff in 2028 LA, and we're going to kill it, and I want to be part of making sure that those athletes think the same way I did in every Olympics I went to.
Andrew: And so it's just bringing the journey full circle for you on getting the impact that truly the next generation of swimmers. So, outstanding. Well, we wish you and Team USA all the best in Tokyo. I know you previously said that you're not going yourself, you're gonna help the team prepare, and then you'll be watching. What should we be looking for from Team USA Swimming in Tokyo this summer?
Brendan:It's a great question. I think you're going to see a really spunky young group of kids. We've seen a lot of veterans over the last two Olympics, hang on and really know what they're doing and capable of doing. You're gonna see a lot of young faces, a lot of young energy and people that you can fall in love with, people that you're excited to see stories, that you, you know, it's just going to be a whole new generation of kids that come in at this level and throw down. And it's really fun for me to look back on it because I feel like I kind of molded those kids a little bit from my own experiences. And now I'm part of the historical story that they get told as they make their approach. So, I think you're going to see a lot of young spunky kids take on the world.
Andrew: Brendan, where are your six Olympic medals right now?
Brendan: Don't put me on the spot like that, man. I know where the bronze medal is for 2012. No, they're all in a safe, I think. Here's the thing, once you have an Olympic medal, you want as many kids and people to touch it, right? Because just like on our podcast, there's a powerful, tangible feel when you get to hold one because you get to kind of get the sense of what it took that athlete or that person to achieve that. And like, for instance, this week, Friday, I'm going to go to my kid’s class, and you know, right now they're talking about the Olympics this summer in Tokyo and stuff like that. So, my oldest daughter wants me to bring them in and talk to the kids about it, and that's what we'll do.
Andrew: Very cool. Well, Brendan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. And we can't wait to see what Team USA does in Tokyo.
Brendan: Rock and roll man. Thanks.
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