Brendan Fox recounts his nine-year coaching journey with John Morris, Olympic medallist at PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics
By Brendan J. Fox, BA. KIN, CSCS, CHEK 3, HLC 3, FMS 2, GPS, EFT, Head Fitness Trainer, Exercise Therapist, Medcan
Photo credit: Getty Images Canada’s Katitlyn Lawes and John Morris cruise to mixed doubles curling gold with a 10-3 defeat over Switzerland at PyeongChang 2018 on Tuesday 13 February. (Source: Olympic.org)
John Morris reached out to me in 2009 to work with him as a client, as he knew I had assisted the Canadian medical team at the previous Olympics in Torino. His request was simple: to help him make it to the Olympics. I told him “no” because I didn’t like his goal. He asked what his goal should be, and I said it should be to make it to the Olympics, go undefeated in the Olympics, and win a gold medal. After working together that first year, that’s exactly what he did, and his team was the first curling team ever to go undefeated.
Building and maintaining internal strength
It’s public knowledge that John could become very angry during matches, and inevitably broke many curling brooms in his career. Most of this happened prior to my working with him. He had great talent, but like many of us, the mind was his biggest opponent. One of the most challenging moments for us came in the men’s curling team qualifying round for the 2018 Olympics in Ottawa in December 2017. Team Morris lost 5 of their first games early in the tournament and was eliminated from advancing. It was an all-time career low for all the guys on the team. I drove up to Ottawa to meet up with them, and we stayed up all night practising mental toughness.
Understanding mental toughness: getting the right digestive enzymes
Everyone is very familiar with external strength, the ability to bench press, squat, or deadlift in the gym. But few people respect internal strength. If one bad phone call or email can ruin your day, I don’t care how strong or fast you are, you’re like a leaf in the wind when it comes to managing your life.
Some people have what I call “adversity intolerance”; it’s kind of like gluten intolerance. They just can’t digest when things don’t go their way. Mental toughness is all about training the thoughts that serve as “digestive enzymes” for adversity, so you can get over difficult times as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.
John and I spent a great deal of time talking about how good things fall apart so better things can come together. We actually talked about how the men’s curling team being eliminated opened the door for John to compete in the Olympics in mixed doubles, and be the first ever gold medal winner in a new sport. As a mental toughness coach, it’s all about being a thought leader. Sometimes you have to see all the hope and opportunities in discouraging situation, before they do. Even though they had already been eliminated, the next morning the guys went out with renewed enthusiasm, and won their remaining games in the men’s tournament.
Non-Olympians can benefit from coaching too
With clients, I generally do mental toughness sessions once a month via the fitness coaching program at Medcan. We also mix in coaching for home exercise, and travel exercise routines. After all, it’s hard to have a healthy mind in an unhealthy body, so the two go hand in hand.
I think the main thing is that everyone does better with a coach. Whether that’s a psychologist, or a behavioural eating coach, or a dietitian, or a trainer, every Olympic athlete has at least one coach, and if you want to set the gold standard for your life, you should have a coach too.
From the Coach’s Corner: watching the gold medal match
On the day of John’s gold-medal game, I went over to my parent’s place. For them it was really special, they’ve been following along with the performance and giving me updates. As much as we like to chase after the bigger things in life, like winning gold medals or climbing mountains, it’s important to recognize the little things that play a big role in our lives, like spending time with family. That’s why I try to make the little things big.
I brought over some coffee and muffins, and they were over the moon with excitement! As we watched, I kept my phone by my side in case John needed to lean on me for mental counsel. Before the match started I was detached to the outcome. My job was to help him be the best person who could be for the event, through our 9 years of coaching. Earlier in the tournament his partner was really struggling. He stood by her and publicly supported her. That’s when I felt like we won the gold. The older version of John would have destroyed a few curling brooms in frustration. The medal itself was just the cherry on top. It’s just a trinket; character is everything.
At the end of the day …
We control very little in life beyond our judgements. It’s not under our direct control what people think of us, how we advance in our careers, and how other people behave. Even the cells in our body, muscle and bone growth aren’t under our direct and total control. Life is all about perception. And perception is a choice.
I think that exactly 87% of success in any endeavor is mental. The rest is physical and mechanical. When in an optimal mental state, we control our bodies better. We relate to others better. The world looks better. The world IS better. It all begins with managing your thoughts. John believe this and how he has a gold medal. I can’t ask for a better example than that.