Podium’s Podcast of the Week: An Interview and Talk by Dr. Jerry Lynch – author of “Way of the Champion”
Editor’s note: Jerry Lynch enlightened our evening with a most compelling view of The Way of the Champion, his eigth book and probably his most important to date. Both inspiring and insightful, this is an article you’ll want to read.
I have nothing but incredible gratitude for a lot of love in this room. I see faces I have seen before and I have not seen in a long time. I have tremendous gratitude for you coming out and supporting my work.
The other thing that I am really excited about is the fact that you might even listen to me. As the father of four children with some teenagers thrown in there, being listened to is a high commodity in my life.
Book signings are kind of strange. It’s like the weather in Boulder in May, it’s unpredictable. You don’t know how many people are going to show up! Usually when I put on an event, I know approximately how many people are going to be there. But for a book signing, I have had upward of one-fifty to one hundred seventy-five people show up. I can remember one night in Seattle on a Monday evening, two people showed up. Now, you have got to understand that it wasn’t just me. My co-author Chungliang Huang and myself were sitting there with two people. That night was put in perspective two years later when I went on another book signing, and (my son) Sean reminded me of that Seattle date. He asked me, “How many are going to show up at your book signing?” and I replied “I don’t know, you can never tell.” He thought for a while and said. “Well, if nobody shows up, just come home, we’ll be here.” and I thought to myself, what a perspective! Really, what’s more important? How many people show up in your life or the people that do show up that want you and love you. And I thought to myself, what a champion! What a way to be a champ! I introduce my book by reading something from a chapter that gives a true picture of a champion. She happened to be one of the best champions I’ve ever met – a true champion in all aspects of life. I could never forget the dedication, the sacrifice, the courage, the patience, the perseverance, the fortitude, the determination and the bravery during the birth of three children. I thought the grueling pain I experienced during an all-out marathon was remarkable until I witnessed her courageous efforts during child delivery. Her preparation, her training for those events were not unlike the focus of all great champions. Her champion-like core continues to carry over to her work as a physician, as a runner, as a mother of four .vibrant, challenging, and active children. Like all champions, she strives to gain positive results but she truly savors the process. Her life exemplifies what I call The Way of the Champion. Its important to note that no one is putting a medal around her neck, and no one is giving her a big trophy. No one is congratulating her on the big victory that she had, but that doesn’t make her any less a champion. This is what a champion is.
How do I know this? I have spent a good deal of my life learning this. It actually started in 1976 when I got to Boulder. I have marinated my nervous system for thirty years in the juices of champions. I’m talking about ordinary people. Like you and me. Who are doing extraordinary things not necessarily with sports – it’s just about how they go about life.
For the last eighteen years I have been really fortunate being in the right place at the right time. I’ve been blessed and been around a lot of champions and I’ve been able to write these books. They have found their way into locker rooms thanks to a friend, Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls and now the L.A. Lakers. He took these books and had his players read them.
I’ve been blessed to work with Champions, world champions, national champions, universities, Olympic athletes, championship schools like Duke, Maryland, Stanford, Columbia, Iowa, and the Ohio State University. In the last eighteen years, forty of the teams I worked with made the Final Four. Thirty of them got to the finals. Many of them won national championships! I was at the right place at the right time! And there is no doubt that there was a little luck involved!
I know I have given them some things to do and they have taken it to heart. The thing is that they tend to jump on it. You can’t force people and you can’t make somebody be a champion. It is not the kind of thing you legislate. You offer it, you put it out there, you show them the way, and then you see how they go about doing that in their life.
I’ve learned a lot from these champions and that’s why I’m sharing this information with you. In fact, I have probably learned more from them then they have from me. That is why I have been able to write these books. There are three things I’d like to share with you that come to mind right off the bat.
First, I can tell you right now that nobody in this room will ever become a champion. Youâ€™ll never become a champion. Have I lost you yet? Do I have your attention? The reason is that no one ever becomes a champion! All those champions that I worked with didn’t become champions.
Champions make the choice to live the lifestyle, practice the habits, to live the life, to adapt the traits, develop the characteristics and learn how to be a champion day in and day out.
Becoming a champion is a choice and it involves a decision making process. You do or you don’t. You will or you won’t. You are or you are not. You can start at any time of life, you can start right now. The fact is that The Way of the Champion is there for us to choose.
It is what Joseph Campbell would refer to as the hero’s journey. Where you follow the passion in your life, you follow your bliss – but that bliss is not just a road leading to the top. That bliss is often down, filled with down times when you feel terrible. You make mistakes, you’re screwing up, and it’s not working. You feel as if you are not good enough. You get off track and then you get back on. But because you have passion and love for what you are doing and you want to be a champion – you develop the qualities, you go back and you try again and you start all over. That is the process and what the hero’s journey is all about.
The second thing about champions is that champions by nature do what other people do not want to do. Let me give you a for instance. Please stand up and put your hands in the air. There you go. Good, a little more, a little more, little more, there you go, little more. Now, don’t cheat me, okay, give me four more inches. Look at that, look at you guys! Four more inches now, hold it, don’t come down. Do not come down. Hold it up there. Give me two more inches, see! Look at this, two more inches. Okay now, thanks. You know that none of you wanted to do that, but you did. And so it is with the champion, who by choice does what other people do not want to do to succeed..
You know you were uncomfortable because I was asking you to do something that was counter-intuitive. Imagine walking into a room and there is a nice comfy chair and an iron chair. It’s cold in the room and I can predict you are not going to sit in the iron chair. The thing about it is that Champions become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The same thing applies when Zen Buddhist’s talk about how suffering is the gateway to enlightenment and awareness.
I can remember being uncomfortable living here in Boulder, testing my limits with running. Champions you’ve heard of like Michael Jordon for instance used to practice for hours. He would shoot five hundred shots before a game or a practice session. I’ve seen Tiger Woods at Poppy Hills, in California, after a wonderful round of golf, going out and practicing for two hours on the putting green. Imagine Lance Armstrong, getting up at four-thirty in the morning in the middle of March in the freezing weather in France and climbing the Alp de Huez over and over because he knows that he is a champion and that is what champions do. They do the things that other people do not want to do.
The third thing is that champions work, play and compete with heart. That’s what they do that makes a difference – they compete with heart.
For most sports and for most athletes, you go into the arena to a competition and you know it is a battlefield. It is you against them! You’re going to fight them! You are going to do everything you can to come out on top. The champion sees that and goes into the arena knowing that winning is important, and they love to win, but they also realize it as an arena for the battles within.
Fear, frustration, fatigue, failure, and self-doubt are the experience of every champion. Champions fight battles with what I call “weapons of the heart”. The weapons of the heart comprise the right stuff – things like integrity.
Integrity is when you narrow the gap between what you say and what you really do. I’m a cyclist, right? If I say I’m going to go out and do fifteen hill repeats on this incredible hill, but I don’t do it, then why misrepresent myself by saying it? Integrity counts.
Another weapon of the heart is courage which comes from the French word cour which means heart. You have got to take risks to find out how good you can be and that’s what champions do. They don’t find out if they can be the best, they find out if they can be the best they can be. In competition I can use our competition as a guide, because if we go into battle together and I come out of it alive and feeling good about what I have done, then you have given me an opportunity to test myself. Rarely do tests not require courage.
Perseverance, patience, sacrifice, suffering – these things are the right stuff. This is the stuff of life. You see these fifteen year old kids, playing with heart, working with heart, going about life with heart. You see it in ninety-five year old adults, they are still going at it with heart and that is what makes champions.
These things can be learned. The Way of the Champion can be taught. This book is my attempt to teach you methods, ways, techniques and strategies on how to do just that.
This book has got big print. It says, “Come on in!” The size of the print makes it like a child’s book and I constructed it that way on purpose. The child’s mind often works like a champion’s because they have no beliefs that they can’t. They speak the language of possibility. So The Way of the Champion is like a child’s book written for the open mind.
I divided it into four sections that address self-awareness, team positioning, competitive advantage and team unity. Each section has three chapters for a total of twelve chapters which match the four seasons of the year. The Chinese cycle of the four seasons is their way of representing the complete experience. The Chinese always thought that it takes a year to develop habits. It takes a year to really make changes.
Each chapter and each division is introduced with a beautiful piece of brush stroke calligraphy. On the page I start out with a quote from the artist that explains the experience. For instance, one of the chapters in this section begins with the Tao quote: In conflict, in competition, the power of virtue is greater than the power of weapons.
In another chapter, we speak to the Chinese intention of neutralizing duality. There is no black and white in Chinese, in the Tao, it’s all gray. Transformations are clearly explained. When rain comes into contact with fire, there is a transformation. For the transformation process to occur, you [must] neutralize the duality. The examples are powerful. Soft is strong. Less is more. Thinking body, dancing mind. The nature of things are [discussed in such a way] that your thoughts expand when you realize that – not doing is doing.
At the end of each chapter, I summarize each lesson and include affirmations to match the lessons. For instance: “My setbacks and my failures are my teachers”. So what I’m saying is that when I lose I also win and what I learn comes from my setbacks. They become ways to illuminate the past, “The journey, the Quest.” Affirmations help us use these lessons. “My ability to persist when all feels bleak enables me to act like a champion”.
The audience was given an opportunity to ask questions and have Jerry respond to their queries.
Question: Jerry, can you give an example of how you might coach someone in training. I work out 4-5 days a week.
Jerry: Four or five days a week, okay. What five things, in the next four days, can you demand of yourself that will stimulate you to your best performance? What can you do that you’re not doing now? Think about where you’re going and what you are aspiring to instead of doing the same routine every day as a matter of course. If you do the same thing today as you did yesterday what’s the point?
This is really true in practice with teams. Athletes will show up and they will practice and attack the same way every day. Practice with a clear purpose builds specific skills. The questions in the book will help guide you.
Question: Jerry, what sports do you play and what got you into sport psychology?
Jerry: When I was a kid, I played squash. The truth is, I’m a gym rat. The only difference between now and the age of 14 or 15 is that I’m getting paid for what I do now. By the way, I highly recommend getting paid, for what you love to do. It’s a good thing to love your work.
My sports ranged in high school, from cross country to basketball, and then when I matured a little bit and I found out who I was and what I was built for – I became a national class distance runner. After a knee injury I took up cycling, and now I do both.
The second part of the question is what got me into this? To tell you the truth, the mountains out here really got me into this. I would run those mountains. Running in the mountains would really bring up a lot of things for me. But I had the right people next to me to answer many of the questions I had. I learned that there was more to sport than what is on the surface. I’ve always felt closer to my Maker in those mountains than being in a church some place. That’s the truth. I always answered the deeper questions in my life, when I was running. [It is how] I came to writing a chapter in my book – or I came to understanding my problems at home, or understanding what perplexed me. I noticed that sport became a wonderful way in which I could seek out something more meaningful and take it to a deeper level. There’s nothing like putting yourself through a grueling test, in the weight room or out there on the trail, and really challenging your body to go beyond what you think you can do. Digging down deep, finding a little more, you really learn a lot about yourself. It gives you confidence, it gives you courage and it gives you patience and perseverance. And these are the qualities that ultimately we can get from sports.
I read Joseph Campbell for years. He ran track at Columbia University back in the 1920s. He said that everything that he learned from that running experience taught him about himself and life. He said that sport is truly a microcosm of the classroom for everything we do.
Podium: What has been your biggest thrill in sports?
Jerry: The biggest thrill for me? (Long Pause) Wow, you should have said that before the meeting! (Long Pause) I’m trying to pick the best one here.
As an athlete or professional work I have done with athletes?
Podium: What has been your biggest thrill in sports?
Jerry: I don’t know, to tell you the truth. When someone puts the question out there about the greatest of anything, I don’t know what to say. One of the thrills, I had in sports, was my first marathon. I was going down to just run 5 miles, and there is a marathon there and someone said to me, why don’t you run the marathon and I did. That was a thrill, a painful thrill but a thrill. When I get a phone call from an athlete that I’ve worked with and the athlete says to me: “Right now I’m going to law school and I want you to know that everything that we learned in the session that we had in the locker room, all that stuff made sense to me, and if weren’t for that I wouldn’t be where I am”. That is a thrill.
The first time that I worked with a team that won a national championship, that was a thrill. Nothing jumps off the page as being the greatest. It’s just great to be out there, year after year. I have appreciation and gratitude for all of the people I’ve worked with. I think that’s part of being a champion – the appreciation for what you’ve got.
Question: How do you work with an athlete who is depressed?
Jerry: Sometimes athletes get depressed. I understand it and know that people go through that. It’s like anything else in life. It’s a loss. An Olympic athlete (a swimmer) once told me after losing the gold medal that he was going as far away from a pool, as I possibly can. I thought to myself, “How sad, what a loss.” The disappointment is real. These athletes work out extensively. Talk about swimmers – the sensory deprivation, in the pool, not once a day but twice a day, six hours a day, everyday, seven days a week, 8 straight years… Something is going to happen to you when you get to the starting line and what doesn’t materialize is what you’ve been doing all that work for.
I like to talk to people about that, after the fact. We talk about where they are going with their life, what they are doing, what’s it all about now, what is their depression based on and what are they feeling down about. It’s not the loss of the gold medal – not the loss of the event – it’s the loss of innocence. They’ve finally realized that there is more to it than that. Every ounce of their life was put into this thing and then all of the sudden, the “results” don’t show up.
I try to help them see that it wasn’t about the results. It’s about the process and the love and the joy and putting yourself out to a place where you can feel yourself realizing your best potential. Honestly, that stuff should all be talked about way before they get to that place. An athlete needs to understand why they are really doing something, and, that they can’t control the outcome.
You can not control outcomes. You can only control little things. You can control how you pull the water – you can control your turn – your pre-race routine mentally, and you can control your training, but you can’t control the outcome. If you are putting your eggs in the basket of outcomes then you are setting yourself up for failure. What I prefer to do, is to train young men and women the deeper version of what sport is all about – and yes its nice and a lot of fun to win – and we are going to try to win – but when we get into the pool and show up we’re going to try to race. We focus on the process and try to understand that the outcome is uncontrollable – and that the win is very deep and personal. I’ve learned that from a lot of disappointment in my own life. Failing classically and being extremely disappointed.
Champions understand that it’s not about doing things perfectly. If I pay attention to the process, I will know what direction my feet are pointed in. In my heart, I know that my intent is to realize my personal best in this lifetime. The way I go about fathering and parenting and the other things that I do. That’s number one.
Perfectionism can be a real problem. I see nothing wrong with trying to be perfect. But perfectionism is rampant. Unfortunately, perfectionism usually becomes a block to progress. People stuck in that mindset don’t want to do something unless they think they can be perfect at it. You just stop doing it, kind of like a catch 22. So what I try to do is help people see that it is not the perfection that hurts us, it’s what happens when we don’t reach perfection. It’s a great idea to shoot for the moon, but if you don’t get there you might be further along than if you didn’t shoot for it. So long you as you don’t measure your self worth based on whether you can get there or not, because then it gets into a conversation about goal setting.
I look at goals very differently, goals are just beacons. They are lights. They’re flashing lights on the horizon. They keep you on track. As long as you have a goal, that goal might be moved back and back. But if you keep walking toward that goal you’re getting the most of yourself. You might not [ever] get there. But if you measure your self-worth by not getting there, then you are surely going to experience trouble.
At the end of the book, the last page actually, I have my website there. I want to tell you for one minute about my online business. People call me from all over the country and set up consulting sessions, which I love to do. I work with them over the phone. I have folks I work with from Biloxi, New Orleans, Amherst, Cincinnati and elsewhere. Basically, what has happened is that people have read my books and want more. The questions I pose throughout the book give people an opportunity to bring focus to the consulting work. I invite you to do that. I know I can help through life coaching and sports consulting. Once you’ve done this kind of reading, you know where you’re at, and where you want to go. I would love to help you get there.
Here’s the link to the interview podcast.
About Jerry Lynch:
Jerry Lynch PhD has been a sport psychology consultant to over 24 international and national championship teams at the professional and NCAA collegiate levels. He is the former sport psychologist for men’s and women’s basketball, lacrosse and soccer teams at the universities Duke, Maryland and Stanford and continues to work with several teams nationally. He has been involved with junior athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, helping them overcome fears, blocks and slumps, and to perform up to their potential. Several of his clients have participated in various summer and winter Olympic games. Aside from sports, Dr. Lynch has worked with performing artists and corporate executives. Dr. Lynch is a well known and in-demand public speaker at athletic and corporate conventions, a national presenter of clinics and workshops for coaches and athletes in college and high school. He is a dynamic, entertaining, motivating, provocative and humorous speaker presenting topics on Peak Performance and the Ways of Champions in a practical, easy-to-apply manner. Some of his presentations include keynote talks at the New Zealand Academy of Sport, Der Deutsche Schmerztog in Germany, the National Field Hockey Coaches Convention, the Ironman Sports Medicine Conference in Hawaii, and the USA Lacrosse National Convention. Dr. Lynch has had extensive media interview coverage such as being an invited guest on CBS, NBC, and PBS national television, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Baltimore Sun, Outside Magazine, and several national radio broadcasts. Dr. Lynch received his doctorate in psychology from Penn State University, and has done extensive post-doctoral work in the area of philosophy and performance enhancement. He has been a national class athlete, having been a member of a national championship team and, to this day, continues to train and compete in running and cycling. He has coached at the high school level as well as AAU sports. He is the author of nine books, in as many as seven languages, on coaching, peak performance and sport psychology. He has five video DVDs on the Way of the Champion as well as two 6-CD audio boxes on Performance in Athletics. Dr. Lynch is the founder and director of WAY OF CHAMPIONS, a performance consulting group geared toward helping others master the inner game for peak performance in athletics and life. He maintains a private practice and an extensive sport psychology consultation service for athletes, coaches and parents around the world.
Email: docj (at) wayofchampions.com