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Mental Health

Podcast No. 36: The Science of Winning

August 21, 2019

Today’s episode features our VP of Performance, Kristen Holmes, and Elite Performance Manager, Mike Lombardi. The subject: The science of winning.

By Will Ahmed

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As a national-champion field hockey coach at Princeton University, Kristen developed several methods and philosophies for sustaining success on an elite level, enabling her teams to win 12 league titles in 13 seasons. Mike is a Princeton grad himself and a former Olympic rowing coach who’s guided a number of athletes to great achievements as well.

Kristen and Mike discuss the idea that winning is a choice, and how to instill that mindset in athletes. This includes concepts like always playing as if the score is 0-0, and ignoring the names of each upcoming opponent to avoid “trap games.” They also dive into the psychological factors that influence performance, and the role WHOOP data plays in all of this.

If you’ve heard Kristen on any of her previous appearances on the podcast, or Mike on our recent episode live from the CrossFit Games, you know they both have tons of valuable insight to offer.

Show Notes:

3:30 – Coaching Background. Kristen won a national championship and dominated the Ivy League as Princeton’s field hockey coach, while also producing 4 Olympians. Mike coached rowing at Princeton and then worked with the US national team.

4:30 – Performance is a Choice. “Probably one of the most profound yet simple things that anyone can think about when they’re trying to set up long-term success,” Mike says.

5:10 – 3 Factors of Winning. Talent, skills and expertise, and lifestyle. “The choices that you make every single day will either add up to help you, or they’ll add up to hurt you,” Kristen explains.

6:57 – What is Success? “I think we both would agree that the idea is to optimize the athlete and make sure that each person is reaching their potential, and the result is a byproduct,” says Mike.

7:44 – Defining Performance. According to Kristen, it’s “the capacity of an individual to intentionally behave at a level equal to his or her physical, mental and emotional potential.” As a coach, “how do we help the athlete intentionally be able to perform?”

10:23 – Using Data to Individualize Training. “If you’re not customizing for the individual in team sports, you’re missing a huge opportunity,” Kristen notes.

11:20 – Off-Field Mindset. “It’s these other 22 hours of the day that are extraordinarily important as it relates to performance,” Kristen points out, and we need to understand how the choices we make affect it.

14:35 – Trust and Accountability between coach and athlete. “Attacking it from a values standpoint is really important,” Kristen states. “What are my values, and do they align with the organization’s values? … Unhappiness invariably ensues when expectations do not meet reality.”

20:06 – Perennial Contenders like the Spurs and Patriots. How does it start? “I knew every single little thing about the opposition, and was on top of everything technically,” Kristen recalls. After a few years she worked towards putting together “an infrastructure that was sustainable.”

25:43 – The Score is Always 0-0. “That kept task orientation super clear, because if it’s 0-0 you’re always trying to score,” explains Kristen.

26:19 – An Opportunity, Not an Opponent. “I hate the whole thing around trap games,” Kristen says. “We never named our opposition. It didn’t matter who we were playing, when we stepped on the field we were going to impose our will.”

33:08 – Appraising the Task from a data perspective. “When they know that they should win, the WHOOP data is not as good from the athletes.” Kristen notes that there are often “little hints throughout the week that invariably set them up for a lower performance.”

37:06 – Load Management. What do you base it on? “Understanding what influences capacity is really important,” Kristen says. “Where most organizations fall down is that they don’t have a system in place to measure one’s capacity.”

42:05 – What a Coach Embodies. “We aren’t just looking at training anymore,” Mike says. “You should never be too busy and too tired to live your values,” Kristen adds. “Everyday they’re looking at you as an example of how to live.”

46:28 – The Role of Sleep. “It’s the most important behavioral experience we have as human beings,” Kristen states. “Sleep is a skill. If you’re not good at it right now, that’s OK, let’s figure it out.”

50:13 – Athlete Empowerment Tool. “WHOOP gives them an understanding of how their behaviors are influencing their capacity.”

52:28 – Data Trends. Kristen points out what she looks for in her athletes’ WHOOP data over time. “Where you see fitness losses is when you don’t have enough yellow recovery days sprinkled in the green, that means they’re not getting enough stimulus.”

56:38 – Favorite Recovery Modality. “I do Romwod at least 3 times per week,” Kristen says. “It was life-changing for me, honestly.”

58:48 – Nasal Breathing. Kristen is a huge fan. “That in itself is a recovery modality.”

1:00:08 – Circadian Rhythm. “Just waking up and getting yourself in the sunshine” makes a big difference.

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.