Clay Stephens is a gymnast on the Australian olympic team. Having competed in the World Championships and Commonwealth games, he has done all this while overcoming the condition Poland Syndrome (the same as Lewis).
THIS EPISODE AT A GLANCE
[04:07] Clay and Lewis’ relationship with Poland Syndrome
[07:14] What stories are you telling yourself?
[13:02] Body Dysmorphia in men
[15:24] How to have a better relationship with the voices in your head
[18:55] Managing stress and conflict with humor
[21:50] There’s no such thing as perfect
[24:21] What Clay does differently compared to other athletes
[28:56] Lewis’ admiration for gymnastics
[32:10] The stretching and warming up side of gymnastics
[35:55] How to manage injuries as an athlete
[37:20] Building confidence after a nasty injury
[40:29] Why having fun in sports is crucial for athletes
[46:05] How to overcome mental blocks after an injury
[50:18] The mental process of executing a gymnastic move
[54:58] How to fix your relationship with perfectionism
[58:01] Clay’s relationship with failure
[01:03:12] Good coaches know how to balance critiques and praise
[01:08:41] Building the best team environment for athletes
[01:11:38] What businesses can learn from sports about culture
[01:14:47] Playing through pain
[01:19:05] Understand that you don’t have to live in pain forever
[01:24:21] The difference between experience and performance
[01:31:05] Ways to become an adaptable perfectionist
[01:35:31] Sports environments shaping who we are
[01:37:17] Parting thoughts
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0:00:00 – Lewis
Clay, welcome to the show.
0:01:46 – Clay
Thanks a lot for having me Glad to be here.
0:01:48 – Lewis
It’s good to get you. You’ve been traveling around the last few months and you’re now settled down over in Australia, so we’ve got a bit of a time gap but we’ve managed to pencil in some time for people. That I guess will set the scene really for people. So you and I have met through knowing each other, of both having poland syndrome and we’ll probably get on to that and it sort of manifests itself differently for both of us and so we’ve got common ground there. But also, having been athletes, I wanted to get you on and talk through your experiences and also, having never had a gymnast on the show, wanted to talk around loads of different topics. So I’m really excited for this. But I think for anyone just to kind of set the scene, let’s go into, like, how you got into gymnastics and actually we’ll talk about how poland syndrome affects you. So start wherever you want to start, mate, and then we’ll get into your journey.
0:02:41 – Clay
I’ll start with just how I started gymnastics basically, but relatively simple. I was invited to try gymnastics out from school. There was a program that came to my school and just invited me to try it out. So when I tried it out, really enjoyed it, and that’s sort of the first few months was just come back if you enjoy it. And then after that, because it was the high performance program that invited me out there, after that it was sort of we’ll cut you down if you’re not doing well enough and we’ll send you to a club. But I kept making the cut and kept enjoying it so, honestly, sort of the rest of his history.
So that’s basically how I got into the sport, initially with the poland syndrome, stuff obviously born with it. But I’m lucky enough that poland syndrome never became a topic of conversation until later, and I think we probably dive into that a little bit. But I think that’s probably partially the reason why I’ve had this success that I have had is because a lot of people talk about the barrier that something like poland syndrome can provide. But the barrier wasn’t introduced to me until I had paved a lot of the way already. So that is unfortunate in that sense.
0:03:48 – Lewis
Yeah, For me, my poland syndrome means that I’m missing my right pectoral muscle, two ribs directly behind it. I think I’m missing a part of my lat and definitely, yeah, pec major is not there. Pec minor what about you? What is? How does it affect you? It’s interesting.
0:04:05 – Clay
I’m interested to ask people about this sort of stuff because I don’t know about you but I’ve never had a scan or anything so it’s hard for me to know exactly. But I’ve got all my ribs, I believe. I’m missing my right pec and my right collar bone is slightly deformed as well. So in the scheme of poland syndrome slightly minor I would say, is mine compared to yours and compared to a lot of people that have poland syndrome. But obviously in elite sport, missing a major muscle group has had its difficulties, but yeah, yeah, I had a scan because of like backs and getting my back done.
0:04:41 – Lewis
I had like full body scans and they also, and then had an MRI. I think I was having an MRI for my back and I just said to the surgeon I was like, could you do one of my chest as well? And he actually said, well, where I say I’m missing two ribs, I do tend they are kind of technically there but they’re almost like they’re barely there because there’s never been. There was no need for the bone to grow, because apparently bones will grow when muscles are attached to them and need to. It’s early on in development. So yeah, I never really got that. So essentially they’re just, they’re kind of not really there. But the interesting about the collar bone I feel like my right collar bone, yeah, it’s a little bit sort of a little bit funky and I’m interested to then go into.
0:05:23 – Clay
It’s interesting because the collar bone thing for me, a lot of, for a lot of the time I thought that my collar bone and sort of sort of sits like this. I thought it dropped because of a lack of peck. But after speaking to a lot of people I think it must have. It must just be rotated or slightly deformed. But again, whether that happened because of the lack of peck or something that I was born with with the lack of pay, sort of it’s, I don’t really know and I don’t think anyone really knows. So yeah.
0:05:49 – Lewis
So when you’re growing up, it sounds like you were very similar to me in the sense that I I have. My parents said only a few things that I couldn’t do, like rugby was one of them, just because they were a little bit conscious of that Rugby is not as big a sport in Australia, so it would have been probably like Aussie rules and things like that that you might have, might have had experiences with. But mine was like, no, don’t, don’t play rugby, and that was pretty much it, and the rest of it was sort of going to it and then we’ll sort of talk about it on the way. And my parents didn’t really mention it, didn’t really talk about it, and I think that gave me the ability to to not worry about it and then just see myself as equal to everyone else and like I can have a crack at this.
And I think, more than anything and this is probably a shout out to parents that have kids that have it or may have something that they’re worried about in their kid they didn’t use it as a crutch, they didn’t use it as like an excuse. They didn’t use it as a reason to not do something. That didn’t use it as a reason to to worry. They just kind of got on with it, whereas now, like my mum bless her, like she is on Facebook groups and things like that with moms all around the world, she’s kind of like fighting these fires, where it’s like all these parents worrying about, oh well, what happens here if they get excited, you’re throwing your own insecurities onto your child before they’ve even had the chance to develop their own insecurities like what? What chance they have. So I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have that and I’m curious to know what your experience was like as well.
0:07:16 – Clay
Yeah, honestly, very, very similar my parents wasn’t really talked about at all and unless I brought it up and I only brought it up when I was old enough to start actually worrying maybe more about the more about the aesthetic of it, honestly. So yeah, and I had two older brothers, so we’re all very competitive. So it was sort of you know, there’s no handicaps when you’ve got brothers, you know there’s no, you don’t, you don’t get to. You know, cheat, cheat, that way, or anything like that. So it’s sort of if you want to win, you’ve got to win. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, how tall you are, shorter than both my brothers, how short you are or how strong you are, it’s just head to head, you’ve got to go for it.
So I think sort of growing up in that sort of environment and treating my gymnastics I played soccer, my tennis, swimming, all that sort of stuff exactly the same way was well, if I want to win, I’ve got to win, like I’ve got the tools that I’ve got, I’ve just got to win. So then that’s sort of how I attacked everything, and I probably wasn’t until I was a bit older, like I said, but the aesthetic of it sort of started to come in probably teenage years, when you know your physicality as a man or as a growing boy start to become a little bit of a conscious thing that you notice and yeah, sort of some mental issues, mental battles, sort of thing, and they weren’t sort of too hectic around that time. But yeah, just start thinking about it more. And the more you think about it, sort of like you’re saying you’re lighting these fires and you start projecting on yourself when it’s like there’s never been an issue here You’re creating an issue that hasn’t actually been there because of, like you said, your own insecurities.
0:08:49 – Lewis
So I had a really sort of a similar time when I was about 15. So at 15, I started to really be conscious of it and I started to think about obviously you start to get interested in girls and and you sort of want to look good and things like that, and especially being in sport, right. So, and probably even more in gymnastics for yourself, for cricket, you don’t aesthetically need to look great like to do the sport, but your sport you just end up because of the physicality of it, you end up looking great anyway, like you look. You’re never going to see an overweight gymnast like that’s. You’re never going to see one who’s like slightly higher on the skin folds, right. So for me it was that it was there because you’re still associating yourself with being an elite athlete is still like, okay, there’s an expectation for me to look and be a certain way, even just when you’re out with friends, that if you’re a sportsman they’re like, oh well, you don’t drink Pepsi or Coke because you’re, you’re an athlete, right, and it’s just little things like that that just add on to the rhetoric of you being an athlete. But then so from 15 to sort of 18 and still into my 20s, like I was very conscious of it. I used to do things where I’d have like a t-shirt over my my right shoulder trying to hide it, and I would constantly do this thing where I’d like scratch my my nose just to protect sort of that side of my right arm and like not show it, especially if I was on the beach, because I love being on the beach, that’s where I learned my cricket, like it’s the things I love doing.
But when I got to about 20 odd, I went on a lads holiday like with a couple of team at end of the career season, when it was a proper boys holiday, and I remember being around the pool and these were mates of mine that I’d never spoken to about my condition and few of them probably had a bit of Dutch courage with the beers and we started chatting and one of them just said he’s like I think I think I even said to them what I’ve just explained, that I would hide it and show it and he just turned to me and goes like Lou, you know, realize we don’t care, like no one is, no one is really looking, and like we wouldn’t. We sort of like look at you and go, oh yeah, that’s there and even if we didn’t know you, we’d probably still look at the end, go, oh look, that’s interesting, that’s, that’s a bit different. But then you sort of get on with your life and you, I think you always I wish I’d sort of heard that earlier on or started having that message nailed into me a little bit earlier on because you realize the things that you’re worrying about. You’re thinking people are looking at you.
You think people are worrying about you when really, within two seconds, they’re back to worrying about themselves, like they’re just worried about whatever’s going on in their life and those insecurities that you might have are just a story that you’re telling yourself. That is really not true about yourself. And, yeah, I resonate with that because, being a being an adolescent, there’s so many pools and it’s obviously I think it’s almost more now because of social media throwing more images of what a man should look like and that could be confusing right now. So I was fortunate I didn’t have that. But, yeah, definitely an interesting what it’s explained.
0:11:46 – Clay
If you’re happy to explain some of the sort of like the mental struggles that you had, yeah, well, my mind was sort of my first mental struggles are probably like almost before high school, but it was that sort of stuff and, honestly, it’s super interesting about the towel or the t-shirt that you throw over the right shoulder, because it’s exactly the same thing. I went through exactly the same sort of thing and I find myself doing it now, even Sometimes I’ll find myself with a t-shirt over my right shoulder and I’ll put it to my other shoulder just because I’m like no, I don’t need to do that and it’s. I didn’t put it there for that reason in the first place, but it’s almost like a pride thing Now. Well, no, no, you can approve yourself, you don’t. You didn’t do that on purpose, but yeah, it was. It was just. I remember sort of the one when I sort of consciously realized that maybe I maybe I need to think about this a bit more, maybe I just acknowledging that it was something that I was struggling with.
There had an iPad, sort of family iPad this is before, probably before even out of phone, honestly and there was a like a mirroring app on the, on the, on the camera, and you sort of could mirror one side of your body to the other, so as your head went in. You could do a small face or a fat face and things like that. But I actually mirrored myself to my left side and actually saw what I looked like with two pairs and that sort of. When I did that and took a photo of that, I was like, wow, almost in the moment I wish I looked like that. That was when I was like, oh, like, maybe, maybe we’re running into an issue here where I, you know, actually have some sort of issue not a big issue, but just some sort of issue, personal issue with the way that I look, some sort of insecurity. So that was probably the first time that I actually realized and I remember taking that photo and looking at that photo whenever I jumped on the family iPad, but the little things like that, it didn’t stress me out too much.
There was probably a period of time where I wore a t-shirt and a gym and it was. I was so close with my gym friends and my gym family is what I call them when I was training that you know, everyone was okay, sort of mucking around and making jokes about each other, and that would just happen to be the center of the jokes people made about me. And that was fine because it was sort of an endearing thing when you know when you, when you, make fun of your friends, sort of an endearing thing because you trust one another with that. But I started to be less comfortable with that when I started to become the owner, having my own personal experience with it. So that was an interesting journey, to acknowledge, and I don’t think I did anything specifically at the time because I was relatively young, still probably under 15.
But it was an interesting experience to be able to look back on and see, just I sort of observed it as that happened, sort of let it flow, and again it’s just sort of I’m not sure if it would have been better if I had addressed it, because again, sort of, are you lighting a fire that doesn’t need to be lit, sort of thing, or is it just one of those things? I’m not and I’m not sure about that. Actually, I’m not sure what could have done, what could have been better or not, and maybe not addressing it was the best thing to do, but maybe, maybe addressing it and talking about talking about it to someone would have been a better, a better way to handle it, and probably that would have been the case.
0:14:45 – Lewis
That’s so interesting. I that that’s such a wild thing that you did. I’ve never done anything like that and I probably won’t now, but I’m sure the word has been will be thrown around his body, body dysmorphia for this, and and it’s common in men that don’t have a condition, right? So men that have you got you? Show me a gym full of men, pump an iron and tell me they don’t. Some of them don’t have body dysmorphia like you, laughing really.
So I know, I know for a fact that that was something that I had and maybe, if I really think about it, like you said, I do the same thing. I consciously or sort of subconsciously, will put that towel over my right shoulder now and then change it or get rid of it now because I’m actively making it, and I think the difference now is that I just have a better relationship with it. I don’t think you can get rid of this idea of body dysmorphia. It kind of will just sit in the background and be that, that noise, but it’s just having a better relationship with that voice that actually helps you out, because you can listen to it, but you don’t have to act on it. You don’t have to think that that voice is right either. You don’t have to agree with it and believe that that voice is the right voice to listen to, and then you can make an action based decision to to do something that makes you feel better about yourself, have more self esteem, self confidence, whereas if you listen to that voice, yeah.
0:16:04 – Clay
I think maybe the the important step that I took was that voice is there for everyone.
It’s just saying different things to everyone.
So I think that’s maybe an important thing that I’ve started to notice is like, you know, if I’m getting out of a pool and I’m a little bit like worried about, you know, my pack or what people are thinking about, that is, every single person, no matter what they say, will probably be thinking about something when they’re getting about out of that pool, and yet it might not be about their physical appearance.
It could be about the way they you know they how they interact with other people in conversations, or their mental status. Everyone’s got something that they’re managing, and I think so going to every situation with that sort of mindset is more comfortable, because you put yourself in a pool of everybody managing their lives, the way, their reality of, the way it is, rather than everyone’s normal and I’m not it’s like that just automatically separates you from the whole group, but you put everyone in the same group and say, well, everyone’s dealing with something, and some may be, you know, more obvious than others, some may be more severe than others, but there’s something, something that everyone’s the little voice yelling things that I want to hear at them.
0:17:14 – Lewis
I also think I didn’t have any outside voices saying anything as well. Again, going back to my parents not saying anything. So that didn’t really that didn’t create another, another story. I mean, maybe them not saying anything actually was great. It was great, but maybe if they had said something then I would have brought more attention to it, made it an issue.
I was at a beliefs conference at my school. I was giving a talk to basically our sixth form college students at my old school. It’s a beliefs conference. They throw a load of topics at them and one of the topics was gender dysphoria. Now have not ever experienced that and I then sort of brought on the topic.
I don’t want to go down this road for this conversation, but one of the things I had mentioned sort of giving a bit of background to my own story was having felt gender body dysmorphia when I was younger. I was so fortunate that my parents had said to me we will help you do something about this if you want. Like we will go, look into anything that you would like to do to maybe make this aesthetically better, but we will not do it until you’re 18. We will not do make that decision and we will not allow you to make that decision to 18. And I am so thankful that they did that, Because if I think of like a 1213, 14 year old me that might have been emotional one one day and just said I want to change this about myself, I could have made a decision for the rest of my life that would have had massive consequences.
By the time I got to 18, I was so hell bent on being a pro athlete that I was like if I changed something about my body now, then that could get in the way with it.
And also, I’ve understood my body, my body feels okay, I’m strong in my body, I’ve done all the right things and all I have to do is just deal with this little voice in the back of my mind. Alright, sometimes it’s a big voice, but I just got to build a better relationship with that and I feel like I’m strong enough to do that. I feel like I’ve got enough strength to do that because I’ve dealt with it for the last however many years and I’m only going to get better at it as I get older. Whereas I do get worried about people throwing the idea of changing aesthetically changing something early on, I think women maybe a slightly different. It obviously can’t speak from a women’s point of view. We’ve had conversations with women that have had, who have, poland syndrome and have had surgery and I think that is different, a different topic of discussion. But for men I think there’s definitely sometimes too early a decision made for changing that when you could probably deal with that body dysmorphia.
0:19:45 – Clay
Yeah, and I think there’s ways that you can deal with it and they can be physical and mental and it’s sort of, I think in this case you attack. The one that’s got the least amount of downsides is the one that you attack first and you do what you can and you exhaust your resources in that area and, like you said, what that looks like is building a better relationship with that voice. And if you spend time and resources and energy on doing that and it’s a dead end road, look, look at other options, look where else you can go. But I think jumping to the second or third, the second or third sort of checkpoint in that series of changing yourself, is not the right answer. To begin with, you need to go through the whole path, sort of together. Yeah.
0:20:40 – Lewis
Did you ever use humor, or did humor start to come into it? Because I know that when I went over to Adelaide when I was, when I was 18, and I started playing with my team over there there’s a huge amount of tall poppy syndrome that goes over in in Australia and I was so thankful, actually, that I was able to use humor. I think one of the best things I ever did from being an 18 year old was use humor to like just deescalate the situation or make it okay for other people to say things, because if I could do that, then anyone could do that.
And then it flipped me from being aggressive to accepting and humorous about it, and just it allowed my acceptance to be way better. What did you ever find that humor and things like that? Have you used that at all?
0:21:27 – Clay
Yeah, I still use it all the time. Honestly, it’s such a massive part of the Australian culture is kind of taking the piss out of each other and I think, again, everyone’s got the things that they get taken the piss out of for and you know, it happens to me a lot of the time. It happens to me, my peck and the people that do it are the people that you’re close with. It’s sort of when it starts to become a malicious, when it’s got malicious intent from people you don’t know, is when it gets a bit like standoffish and that’s when I may be a bit more, you know, stern chested and aggravated about the instance, but it doesn’t happen very often. Like most, I like to think that most people have the best interests. You know I assume people mean the best until they prove otherwise, rather than the opposite.
0:22:08 – Lewis
Yeah, that’s actually a great, great quote to think about. That. I think too often the voice that I thought I had when I was young, I was really angry. I used to be very protective and if someone came at me, even if I knew them like, I would just protect myself through like anger and direct aggression, not like physical, but just protect myself. And I think that was because I was thinking that they were thinking something else about me than what was really going on and that if I’d probably thought of something like that, which was let them prove otherwise, like believe that they’re well intentioned until they prove otherwise, that that probably would have been slightly different for me.
But yeah, humour just de-escalates everything for me. I think that’s one of the keys to it now, because it’s the part of being we have a physical imperfection. You can see this imperfect part of us, that or what is imperfect, right, but that’s the cool stuff, that’s the brilliant part about it, like we’re all imperfect, we’re all built different and I think we’ve had to go through a slightly more escalated journey to self-acceptance. But I think essentially everyone’s on that journey.
0:23:28 – Clay
Yeah, totally agree, absolutely.
0:23:30 – Lewis
So with your gymnastics and I think even from a young age, did you let’s get into a bit of the nitty gritty of it and how and the sort of mechanics of it all? How did you have people pull you up on it as you were growing up in gymnastics? I think your sport is so physical, like it is all physical, there’s not, there’s there’s. You are purely using your body to do your skill. Did you get people say no, you can’t do this. You should be thinking about doing something else. You’re not built to do this. Your condition is not going to allow you to get to the highest level that you potentially want to.
0:24:10 – Clay
Yeah. So the transition from a junior level to a senior level those definitely questions asked. The overwhelming majority, because of the level that I was able to achieve from a young age, were the opposite, but there were. And it’s interesting, when someone says something negative, it almost takes 10 positive people to pull you out of the hole that the one negative person pulled you into. So but there was a couple of instances where it was like this isn’t going to be possible, when it was said to me by people I trusted, like I had a coach back in Adelaide who would say listen, let’s avoid this skill because of this reason and let’s take it down the other path. It was a technical reason to it, it was, there was thought put behind the comment and it was truly for my best interest, whereas when a coach from another state was saying, well, why should we be investing in this kid to go to junior camps and things like that if he’s not going to be able to do what we need him to do when he’s a senior? So we’re investing in the wrong athlete here, we’re putting money towards someone that actually, once they get to a senior level, isn’t going to be able to achieve it. So that was probably once or twice that that sort of happened.
To be honest, at the time it was sort of work hard and I had good mentors. My coach in Adelaide was just in a work hard, proven wrong. If you want to keep going, keep going, you’re not going to let them stop you. You sort of almost like, if you let them stop, like you’re really going to let that guy tell you you can’t keep going. I’m really really best and really lucky in the sense that I’ve had people around me A lot of the time just supporting me, and I’m lucky that my results have just given me a good grounding in where I’m at and sort of try to just trust the results and the results have sort of spoken for themselves for the most part.
0:26:05 – Lewis
Have you had to do anything physically different to other athletes that you’re around? Do you have to get into certain positions? Do you have to consciously make certain different decisions? What are you going through?
0:26:19 – Clay
Yeah. So I think one of the reasons I am at the level that I’m at now is because early on I made absolutely no changes. I was in the same program, did everything exactly the same as everyone. The body is incredible and the human body just adapts where it needs to. Obviously, when I was born I haven’t had the muscles. Everything that I’ve done and thankfully gymnastics is such a symmetrical sport, everything that I’ve done has been symmetrical. My body’s had to handle that load on both sides of my body. So it’s just a doubt that my right shoulder is slightly bigger. My back muscles on my right side, my right lap, my abs, are a little bit more prominent on the right side, my intercostal muscles are noticeably bigger. So just, there’s been amazing adaptations in my body and I think I’ll put that down to the fact that I didn’t ever do anything different from my right to the left side of the body, moving a little bit more forward to now.
There’ll be things sort of dumbbell, bench press With the weight that I sort of maybe cap out on my right side at eight reps. I could probably do a thousand reps on my left side. It’s little things like that, but again, that’s the very specific exercises that affect me. There’s a couple of things on rings that for a long time I was like I just won’t be able to do them and that’s okay. Even now I’m coming to the point with saying why, why not?
It might be hard, but again, it’s for someone that’s got heavier legs than the next guy. It’s going to be harder for him too. So there’s all different body shapes and sizes and they’re all doing the same thing. Why is my specific circumstance going to mean that I can’t do it? And there are things that are harder, but it’s just navigating your way around them and working out what’s best for you and working out the best path, which is interesting with gymnastics because you get for me, in a routine there’s 10 skills I get to pick what 10 skills I want to do, so that I have a little bit of freedom in a sense of going all right, well, that one’s very, very peck dominant, probably not going to pick that one over this one that isn’t so peck dominant and I can do that one easier anyway because of those reasons. So it’s sort of you get a little bit of choice and I’ve been able to navigate my career by just making smart decisions and skill choices.
0:28:33 – Lewis
Yeah, that’s interesting. I had to adapt slightly with certain techniques and bowling I had to use my left side a little bit more and especially when the right side would fatigue. But it’s quite funny, you talk about the bench press. Bench press is quite literally the thing that just pulls you up, doesn’t it? It’s just like the biggest that I think wide grip push ups. So, like your standard wide grip push up, I now do sort of a more tucked in elbow in planche type push up because it’s more tricep dominant, but doing a wide push up or a bench press Like.
I remember being an Adelaide at the aquatic center, just in the city, and I was in the gym there working out and I had like 40 kilos in my right hand, left hand, and then like I think like 20, it was quite literally half in my right side and a guy came up to me and like tapped me on the shoulder I was out of t-shirt on and he just goes. He goes, mate, what exercise are you doing? And he’s like what were you trying to do? Your core? Like he thought I was like revolutionizing the gym. He’s like I need to find out what is this thing that you’re stressing your body in a new way. I was like no mate, I’ve actually got this. This is the reason why I can’t do this. And it was interesting, but that was the only time I’ve ever really had something that sort of pulls me up on it, and because it’s so isolated, that one movement.
0:29:59 – Clay
Yeah, yeah, and it’s the same thing for me, Like, for instance, the cross on rings, where your arms are out here and you’re holding up. I still compete that in my routine. If you actually look at it from a symmetry point of view, I am slightly favoring my left side, but it’s still in my routine. I’m relatively strong at it. It just looks a little bit different Not enough different for it to be noticed too much by the judges. So, yeah, you just, it’s just one of the things that I put up with in that sense, just like every gymnast puts up with something. You know there is something that they are a little bit worse and it’s, you know, risk, risk reward, pros vs cons, and you sort of just you know you use the ones that are that are worthwhile.
0:30:40 – Lewis
I think I wish I had done gymnastics when I was real young. I know I was it. Both your parents or one of your parents is a physio, both yeah. So I think that that must have given you a great knowledge on like them, how to look after your body and doing things like that. But gymnastics, I think early on it just teaches you how to use your body very naturally all body weight but then obviously it progresses into being just super elite and the strength that you get. So give us a little bit of insight into some of the, I guess, the route that, the training that you have to do before you even get onto the mat, the rings, the, the, the, the vaults and things like that, anything you have to do. Give us, give us a bit of an insight. What, what, what’s your training sort of look like at the moment? Yeah, so I mean training for us.
0:31:28 – Clay
We train around 30 ish hours a week give or take in the gym and then we do strength and conditioning, so weight training three days a week. I actually also do a swimming session a week. What? We’re just one swimming session and that’s more so because I like variety and I find there’s benefit to my for breathing and mainly for my floor routine with heavy kicking in the pool. So it fatigues my legs and also makes me basically hold your breath after time, sort of things like that. I find that really useful for me. It’s also a nice to just get out of the environment and doing doing physical activity in the gym for 30 hours a week. It’s nice to get a bit of change. But so yeah, we do a lot of stretching, a lot of flexibility stuff, strength, different days of the week, sort of four different things in the gym.
So one days we do basic training. So you just go back to the basics and do really basic skills and just work on technique for basics. So you’ve got to. If you’ve got issues with your basics, they’ll show up when you’re doing more advanced stuff. It’s pretty, pretty standard, I’m sure, for a lot of sports. So there’s, you know, for instance, you know soccer or a sign, if you haven’t got your basic care for your touches off, then you’re not going to be able to put it top right from outside the box. So it’s sort of a little bit like that. And then there’s other days we do skill training at the moment, prepping for competition.
So a lot of my training is routines, so putting 10 skills back to back to back on each event, or six events. So I do all six of them and that’s pretty difficult. We’ve just got the schedule for the World Championships which I’ll be competing at. So we’ve actually got time timelines of how long we’re going to get for warm up on every apparatus, how long competition for each apparatus is going to be.
So I’ve been doing the last week I’ve done three World Championships simulations in training, which has been really difficult but really really beneficial because basically you get to the competition and other than the external stresses of competing at a World Championships, having Olympic Games qualification and having 10,000 people watching you. You’ve actually done it a bunch of times already. So what you’re doing, it’s always nice to then send yourself and be present in the moment and give yourself confidence in the fact that I don’t like that stuff’s there, but actually the hard work, the physical work that I have to do I’ve done it heaps of times, so that’s a lot of what I’m focusing on at the moment. It’s really nice to get into a place where I feel fit and healthy to get through all the six apparatus, and it’s focusing on just cleaning up and polishing the edges and making sure that I can go into those routines with up most confidence that I can perform them as well as I can.
0:33:54 – Lewis
Before I get onto the mental side of the game that you play, or you do compete in how long are you stretching for? Flexibility is obviously a big part of gymnastics. How long do you stretch for when?
0:34:10 – Clay
we’re younger, we stretch for a lot longer, which is maybe a little bit backwards because it’s a bit stiffer and tighter now than I was when I was younger. But we warm up for probably 30 minutes and then we do rehab exercises with bands and stuff like that some sort of flexibility and stretching. So it’s probably 30, 40 minutes at the start of most sessions, sometimes a little shorter. If I’ve got an easy day, I’ll spend a lot more time stretching and just getting my body right.
Last week and I had a light Saturday training and that just meant that I had a massive week. So I came in on the Saturday and just had a bit of fun but just stretched basically the whole time. So an hour of just stretching and doing flexibility and working on shoulder range of movement, stretching out my glutes, because that has a big impact on my back. I have a bit of back pain. Hamstrings, quads, hip flexes is a big one too. So just stretching a lot. But it depends on the day and what we’re doing during the day. But if you spend 20 plus minutes every single day doing some form of stretch and warm up, Does that not get mentally draining, having to warm up for that long, all the time, every day?
0:35:19 – Lewis
and I guess, how do you get around that? How do you deal with that monotonous grind? Because I even know, having played for a few years, like the warm-ups were almost sometimes the mentally challenging thing and it’s so easy to skip. So how do you stay mentally on it and not want to skip a warm-up when you know it’s so important?
0:35:43 – Clay
Well, you don’t ever get parts wanting to skip it. You want to skip it every single day, but it’s the actual the act of doing it. I think I get to a point now where if it’s something I don’t want to do, it’s probably the thing that I need to do, is sort of the way that I try to look at things. Stretching for me. I’ve had a lot of injuries in my career so you know I attack every session, being like we’re not gonna leave any stone unturned, and what that means when it comes to the side of the session is I’m not gonna injure myself because I was too lazy to stretch at the beginning. We’re also lucky that we stretch in a group. I’ve had previous teams when I was over in America where the warm-up was very specific and I ran them warm-up every day, every session, so I actually had to count out every rep for all the up the 20 athletes that were over in America with me and I led warm-up and that got really monotonous and tough. But again, that was that taught me sort of team resilience, in a sense of like I’m doing this, I’m not just stretching and warming up for me, I’m stretching a warm-up for us. We’re doing this together.
There was a team building activity. Now it’s a little different, it’s much more individualized, but we do it in a circle, on the floor, we chat, so we make it a little bit easier. Everyone knows what they need to stretch. All the guys here are all senior athletes we’ve been see, have been senior athletes for a long time, so we all know what we need to stretch, what we need to do. So it’s different between all of us, but we have a joke and we sort of get ready and it’s that there isn’t too much. I haven’t had to come up with any strategies to not skip it. It just, you know, it’s sort of just part of the game, just gonna do it and just try to make it fun yes, it’s an absolute killer of a thing to do.
0:37:25 – Lewis
I just I just feel like that whole idea of if this is something that I don’t want to do, then it’s the right thing for me to be doing. That’s a great mentality to have the injuries that you’ve had. You said you’ve got what is your injury resume look like oh how far we go back back in 2016.
0:37:48 – Clay
I’d bilateral stress fractures in my, in my back and the old four, and what that meant for me actually long term is it’s a non non-union, which means was the fracture was big enough that their bones actually haven’t healed. So I’ve got to sort of live with a fracture on the left side the right side healed but live with a fracture on the left side of my of my spine, on L4. That was probably that first big injury. We try I sort of try to rush back into it and we would. I was told by doctors and physios it was okay, but unfortunately we got it wrong. So that set me back a little bit further with that injury.
But that was sort of no jogging, no running, no impact. For a long time I was running on a Ulta G, which is sort of basically lifts you up and means that you’re running but you’re not actually putting force through your body, things like that. But probably I’ve had a lot of different injuries, but the ones the most most impressive, I’ll say I’ve torn ACL three times. I went left, right, left and I’ve had also torn my MCL in my knee and I’m torn meniscus in both sides. I’ve had six knee surgeries, four on the left and two on the right. So that’s they’ve. They’ve taken up most of my gymnastics career. I’ve spent most of my gymnastics career overcoming knee injuries.
0:38:58 – Lewis
Basically was a senior athlete is yeah they’re not even slight injuries, they’re, they’re brutal, like those are proper injuries, those that’s not even going half half into it. But how did you, how do you get back into gymnastics having had an injury like that, having done your knees so many times, and how do you feel confident in it? How do you build your confidence back to want to throw yourself, turn yourself, tumble in the air and land, knowing that you’re landing on your knee? And how do you build that confidence back to to maybe not have it in your mind anymore?
0:39:44 – Clay
I think first comment is that it will be in your mind and it’s sort of again about building relationship with it in your mind. I’ve had, I’ve had difficulties along the way. After my first knee I sort of during the rehab, was like if I, if I do this again, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it back like this is the road back to full health and fitness is just growing. It’s monotonous, it’s hard work, it’s boring, it’s really really tough. And then I did it again. I was like, oh no, but I haven’t quite done what I want to do yet and I’ve still got enough. I’ve still got enough in me where I want to. I want to get to the level that I believe that I’m, you know, capable of achieving. But if I do it one more time, there’s there’s no way I can do this. And then the third time was really difficult. The third time for me I was in a similar position of I haven’t quite achieved what I believe that I’m capable of achieving yet. But it also meant, you know, I’ve done my third knee. I had to really consider like, is this just? Is this something that I can’t come back from? For starters, is this gonna happen again. Will my body actually let me come back to a high level of gymnastics.
But also was over in America. Covid hit at the same time. So everyone left college, everyone went home. During COVID I was stuck in my college campus apartment, wasn’t allowed to come back to Australia, had my first surgery right before I’d have two surgeries. For this one because I’ve told my MCL and ACL at the same time had my MCL repaired and then the second surgery, they said well, covid’s hit, we’re not, we’re not doing any, we’re not doing any. What do they call them elective surgeries? So the ACL was elective surgery, so I had to sit around waiting for the second one and I effectively retired gymnastics. Instead, this is done it. So it’s sort of every everything. The universe is telling me this is over.
And then I remember having conversations with my parents and they basically said listen, that’s fine, you do whatever you want, but please just rehab your knee, probably because you want to have a functional knee for the rest of your life, if whether it’s gymnastics or not. And the best place to do that was with the support of the gymnastics team and the physios that came along with that. So I ended up rehabbing the knee in the gym with the physios and things like that. Again, the floor, the bouncy floor and the uneven surfaces can be a threat, but also really really good for rehabbing knees. It really makes you work on stability and things like that.
So, yeah, I got back into that and just in the meantime we’re sort of playing around on the equipment and I remember when I was sort of three-quarters of the way through my rehab of the third knee, I was standing at parallel bars just waiting for my turn to sort of watching. One of the younger athletes sort of stood next to me and we’re sort of looking up and he just sort of tapped me and goes how cool is this like? How cool is gymnastics like we get to flip our bodies around. This is so awesome. And I had this crazy moment where I was like I have literally never, ever said that about gymnastics ever in my whole life. At no point have I said this is so awesome. It’s just been my job. I’ve just gone to work every single day and just grinded at this goal and I’m like how, how boring of me to have viewed my sport as such a monotonous thing when really like what we do is incredible and it’s so it actually is so fun if you give it the opportunity to provide you with that happiness, so that little massive spark under me to just be like you know what. I’m gonna get back into this because I know it’s fun and I want to have some fun doing this sport.
I didn’t do this for so long to not have fun and it was in having fun that I got back to the level that I’m at now. And when I got back to the level, it was a, it was a promise that I made to myself. But you know, if the pressure or if how hard you have to work, or if you know the goals you’re setting are negatively outweighing the happiness and the joy that you’re getting from the sport, that’s when it’s time to call it. And I’ve sort of lived by that and sort of, you know, managed. And of course, when you’re preparing for world championships, there are things you don’t want to do and you sort of give and take a little bit. But that’s really what lit the fire under my, under my belly or in my belly for the last one. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy. I also lived for a long time at the Australian Institute of Sport, which is where I’m at now with a lot of para athletes come through here.
So after my second and third knees, I remember getting messages from some of those guys. Some of them have one leg, some of them are vision impaired, some of them have one arm. I had one friend. I had no arms, no legs, and they’re just going on. We can’t believe this has happened to you again, mate. We’re so, we’re so sorry. Getting those messages I was like come on, mate, like come on, play, pull yourself out out of this dude. You, these guys, are living with some crazy, crazy, crazy things. Your knee will be repaired just a bit of work for the next 12 months. So I guess the way that pops of mine there is just perspective, and I was. I was provided with a perspective that I needed to bounce back from those injuries. But yeah, welcome to comment on that. But I can also go into the idea of sort of having those mental blocks and actually trying to get back into the specific skills. I still struggle with that I’m today. It’s something that I still have to tussle with on a daily basis well, let’s go into that.
0:44:50 – Lewis
But I think I’m so glad you said perspective, because that’s just the thing that was ringing in my mind now and how I’ve had I’ve got similar thing in my back like fracture. That will be there and you, I had my first one when I was 16. I had my first fracture and my purse sort of two years out of the sport that I loved when I was 16 and I always look back on it now. Obviously hindsight’s a beautiful thing and I remember thinking leaving the cert doctor, surgery, going, this is it. But it was it. It was I. Actually. I think they had said this will be it for you. But then I got in the car my dad had said, right, let’s go rehab like that’s call the strength and conditioning coach, just get going. And it was fairly similar what your parents had said, sort of like pushing you down the road, of like, go fix this, if anything, get yourself stronger, better, and then during that process, my god, like I, I owe that part of my life to the work ethic I now have. I got well known in my teams and things like that laid down the line as having a really good work ethic, but it was built when I was 16.
It was built in that period and I think I had this huge perspective shift when which goes from it’s not even perspective shift, it’s just this drive and this fire, like you said, where it’s very easy to get injured badly and think this is it, this is the end, and you’re living in that very emotional state early on, but then after a while that subsides.
It’s sort of like you go through this breakup period with yourself and then eventually, okay, what’s the step that I can take? And then when you get into that gym and you start seeing a tiny bit of progress which undoubtedly will happen because your body will heal you then start to go okay, I’m now, I’m missing out, I want to be doing this thing, I’m seeing other people go ahead and I want to go and do this as well. And I love the fact that you had that moment where you got a perspective shift of the enjoyment side of doing what you do, and that was that’s a an awesome story and an awesome moment for so many people, because not many people get that throughout their entire careers, even in injury, free or not like they don’t necessarily get that chance to to stop and go. I want to enjoy this. I want to want to embrace that.
0:47:04 – Clay
That’s a that’s an awesome part to it now absolutely, and I I guess the other thing that I will mention that I think was really useful for me was was just setting tiny little goals and, like you know, you can. You can climb a mountain just by taking a one centimeter step upwards, as long as you’re willing to take lots of them, and I think those ones tire you out less than if you were taking, you know, a third of the amount of steps, but they were slightly bigger steps. You know, it’s just set your goal. Set your goals and make them exponent sorry, incremental. I think that’s really important, especially the ACL surgeries to sort of enjoy the little wins and the little wins can be very, very little, but really celebrate the little wins yeah, love that.
0:47:47 – Lewis
So let’s talk about those mental blocks then. So you’re coming back from injury that save you. This would be quite big for a lot of people, I think. So you’ve been injured, really bad injury, and now you’re getting yourself back into physical training and going back into doing your skills. How do you get over those mental blocks, from having been injured to getting back to full fitness?
0:48:10 – Clay
yeah. Well, I don’t know if many people that will be listening to this, or yourself, have heard it’s called a term called the twisties. It’s actually Simone Biles talked a lot about it, which is why she had issues over at the Olympics. But the twisties is something that I’ve never had and it’s something that most gymnasts will have. And there’s one skill on floor that is in my floor routine at the moment that just it gets me a little bit, and it’s one of these things that when you’re twisting in the air, you just lose where you are, and that’s scary at the best of the times, because you’re a meter and a half, maybe three meters, in the air and you’re coming down and you don’t know whether your head’s up or down, you don’t know whether your back’s to the wall or your front’s to the wall. You just really have no understanding of where you are, which is a scary thing For me. You add the extra thing of well, I don’t know where I am. If I land improperly, then one of my knees is gonna go. That’s where my head goes when I get the twisties. It really scares me because for 0.1 seconds I’ve done my ACL again and that’s a voice in my head that I can’t get out when that moment happens and there’s one skill, specifically on floor.
It’s in my floor routine now Because it’s happened a few times. It’s in my mind as I’m lining up in the corner of the floor, looking down the floor going, my first thought wants to be I hope I don’t get the twisties and it’s that initial thought that needs to be. It’s always gonna come in, but you throw it out straight away. The thought needs to go straight away. If you ponder on it, the chances of it happening are higher or you’ll be too scared, you’ll make a different mistake and it just comes back to technical goals that you have to remind yourself Little Q words of.
For me it’s sort of looking at my left shoulder making sure I see the ground here. If I see the ground there, I know where I’m at and that’s what I’m looking for. Because I’m actively looking for that, my brain doesn’t have the opportunity to wonder and think about what else could happen. So it’s for me it’s that with that specific skill, when it comes to it’s just in general, it’s really, really difficult. People will have different things that they do, depending on what sport they do or what skills they’re doing in gymnastics specifically, but for me it’s Q words and making sure there’s certain things within the skill that you can actually have to focus on so that your brain doesn’t have the opportunity to wonder into these other areas of fear.
0:50:24 – Lewis
Basically, Love that. That’s so cool that you’ve got this self-talk Q process that you will use and it’s really really effective, like for so. We don’t have obviously most sports don’t have the twisties, because you’re not physically putting yourself in danger like that, but we have the yips, for example, in sacred, like you just feel, like you just can’t control your body. You’re almost having this outer body experience and all goal-orientated is going towards wanting to achieve the outcome that you want. It might be throwing the ball in a certain direction, but you go to throw that ball and it goes so far off the right direction and you just almost can’t. You’re just immobilized by your own body and it’s a really interesting way to do it.
But to get people back to that, you have to strip back and then find those Q words for people to simplify it, because essentially the yips is this sort of this over-processing of information that you’re talking about. And then the twisties, like you’re thinking, you’re having all of those thoughts like what, if, what, if? Where is that? Why, how, what’s going on? Where is this, where’s that? It’s just so much information to be able to process very quickly. It’s almost near impossible.
So you have to strip it down, you have to bring it back down to simple Q words and I even do that with clients now, like a lot of the stuff, whether it’s like an instruction, whether it’s like goal directed, whether it, or whether it’s just sometimes motivational. Sometimes you can have that motivation where it’s like just puts you in a state of being in your body that makes you feel confident and you believe, or you’ve got the energy to then do it. Is there anything else that you do from sort of that mental process, or what is your mental process that you have when executing a skill? Do you have a certain routine that you go through before, other than sort of the I’m now talking sort of in competition? What are you taking into competition to mentally prepare yourself for an event?
0:52:24 – Clay
Yeah. So I take at the moment I’ve sort of narrowed down that I’ve got Q words for each routine and a lot of them are just about specific skills. There’s so much muscle memory and all these routines because of the amount of numbers that we do, that we can perform all of them. It’s just again about not overthinking and the way that you’re combat not overthinking is by sort of hyper-focusing on one thing and let the rest kind of take place. So I’ve got Q words for every single one of my routines that I’ll say to myself during and I’ll say sorry before, and then I’ll say during my routine at certain points it’s got certain checkpoints through my routine that I’ll remind myself of those things and it just lets me settle back into the routine if I’m getting a bit nervous or just queues me up to make sure that my techniques correct. On the next skill, I also, before I do an apparatus, I’ll visualize myself doing the routine, so in my body, as if I’m actually performing the routine, and then I’ll also do a separate visualization of myself. I watch myself do the routine from a third person as well. So I do both of those visualization techniques. I find they’re both useful. I find both of them separate, are useful. If I do them both together, it’s comfortable.
The difficult sort of bridge that I’ve maybe that I’m just really interested in at the moment is I’m really attacking, being present at the moment and being mindful of my thoughts. And being in the moment so visualizations is obviously like the complete opposite of that. You’re visualizing something literally that you’re gonna be doing in the future. So bridging the gap between visualizing and then coming back to right now and understanding that hasn’t happened yet, but you’re right here, but you know. So it’s running yourself through the routine mentally but then also bringing yourself back here, because if you start visualizing too much, I’ve had instances where I visualize myself and I start visualizing myself make mistakes, because again it’s sort of you know that overthinking comes in.
I’m like what if I make this mistake? It’s like no, you utilize the routine. You made it. Come back here. Now you’re back here, feel your feet on the ground, you know. And then the sort of things you have to do when you’ve got, you know, thousands of people up in the stands watching you, you’ve got a judge raising his hand, and your immediate thought wants to be if I miss this routine, I’m not going to the Olympic Games. It’s like well, what use is that for? To see, it’s a absolutely useless thought. Bring yourself right back here. What are your keywords? What are the things you have to focus on?
0:54:42 – Lewis
That’s so interesting and are you taking that into? Are you practicing that? You practicing that entire process in training and then just trying to take it into competition? Because I’m really curious about how you take what you’re practicing and then put it into competition with the added judgment, expectations, fears that go with that.
0:55:06 – Clay
Yeah, I don’t think it would work if you didn’t practice it. I think having to visualize something is an extra thing. You have to tick off and if you’ve never done it, it adds extra stress. So for me, like I was saying earlier, we’ve got actually times. We’ve got time slots that have been told to us of what world championships is going to look like, how much time you’ve got to warm up on every apparatus, how much time they’re gonna give us to compete on every apparatus. We have a general idea of how many guys we’re putting up on every apparatus, how many guys are competing, so I know about how long I’m gonna need between each apparatus.
So three times in the last week I’ve basically done a world championship simulation where I’ve run it exactly the timing that they’ve told us we’ll do it and I visualize exactly when I’m gonna visualize in the competition. I’ve sort of put the chalk on basically exactly when I’m gonna be doing that. I have to glue my hands up because I have sort of cuts and rips on my hand. I’ve glued up exactly after which apparatus I need to do it. So that’s, it’s routine and it’s again it’s making sure that everything when you get there, everything in your control is gonna be exactly how you practice it. And then those extra things they’re just gonna be there no matter what.
There are always gonna be things out of your control. But if you’ve got your little toolbox of the things that you’ve practiced already, you just there’s so much, you get so much belief and confidence in taking that toolbox into a competition with you. But if you’ve not practiced it, it’s not something that I don’t think would work, or it wouldn’t work very effectively and could potentially work against you If you’ve not practiced it. I think it has to be, it has to be mental practice. So mental preparation has to be practice, just like physical preparation.
0:56:41 – Lewis
With the nature of your sport and the judging of it and the scoring system of it. What’s your relationship like with perfection?
0:56:50 – Clay
It’s difficult. It’s hard because everything we do has to be perfect. So our routines start off perfect and then everything we do takes. We get deductions taken off of it. So any mistake you make means you’ve failed the perfection goal, sort of thing. And it’s interesting because I’ve even seen the same thing within my life. It’s everything has to be perfect. If there’s a problem, I wanna fix it. I wanna fix it right now and I wanna make sure we’re as good as it could be. And I think there’s a lot of merit, there’s a lot of good that comes from that.
I think perfect is a goal that we should all strive to achieve, understanding that we’ll never achieve it. And I think that’s something that as long as you go into an activity with that mindset that I’m aiming at perfect, but I will never be able to achieve it you can have a healthy relationship with perfection. I think the issue is when it’s drilled into you from a young age, like it was when most gymnasts and was for me was the perfect needs to be achieved and it needs to be achieved daily, and if you don’t achieve it, you fail. I think that’s. That is sort of what a lot of gymnasts have to go through. I think and I don’t wanna speak for everyone but a lot of sports people in general probably go through that. So yeah, I think that’s basically my, what my relationship has been with perfection is just navigating those two things and making sure that I understand that perfect is an achievable but it’s still a valiant goal to have.
0:58:23 – Lewis
I think it’s such an interesting environment in gymnastics and I’d probably put diving in there as well, and I’d had very early on in the podcast now Rich Hussaini, who was a strength and conditioning coach by trade.
He’s now doing slightly differently, doing different work now, but he was on the Team China, a strength and conditioning team for their diving team, and he tells his story about how he saw a diver and with all of his team watching, practicing a dive and it was a difficult routine and essentially dive jumps, goes in and twists, turns and then failed it horrendously like belly flop style, and he’s sort of looking around at the coaches and thinking, okay, probably the thing that’s gonna happen now is that that athletes gonna get out of the pool, get an absolute serve from the coach and be told where they went wrong and what they’re doing wrong and they’re bad for doing what the diver had just done.
But when the diver came out of the water they were met with applause and cheers from the team because they had tried something a little bit harder, failed, but were rewarding them by going. That was just in the effort of trying that difficult task. You’ve succeeded and I’m really interested in this sort of paradoxical world that you have to live in, where you’ve got perfection, which is judging you, but also the only way you can get better and grow is through failure, and so what does your relationship with failure look like in gymnastics for you?
1:00:01 – Clay
Failure is a common occurrence, daily occurrence, and I love that story actually, and it’s something that I would love for all gyms to have, especially around Australia, around the world.
I think it would be awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not always like that, and I think we’re talking earlier about feeling defensive and a little bit aggressive when someone talks about sort of your peck. It’s the same thing when I get off an apparatus and even if someone’s trying to give me a correction, it’s really difficult because I was trying to be perfect and any correction they give me is evidence that it wasn’t perfect. So it’s this pride thing where you have to drop your pride in order to actually get better. If you’re not willing to drop your pride and accept the fact that it wasn’t good and that can be better, then you won’t get any better. And that’s a really, really difficult thing when your whole life, basically, or your dreams in the sport, are anchored in the fact that you’ve got to be perfect. So on a daily basis, there’s failures and it’s a daily challenge to accept the failures in pursuit of perfection.
1:01:11 – Lewis
What do you do within your culture to sort of embrace that failure? Do you do it more on a personal level or do you guys make it a bit of an active part of your culture and value system that you hold?
1:01:26 – Clay
It’s probably something we don’t do enough of here. To be honest, it’s such a high level with all the guys we train at. I think it’s probably a relationship that we need to work on better. I know that I definitely have plenty of room to work on in that area and I think probably a lot of athletes around the world do.
I think it’s a really difficult thing to be able to accept the fact that you’ve got to fail to be perfect and not necessarily perfect, but to get better, and I think it’s a concept that we all understand. I completely understand it. But from the day-to-day skill to skill, I have hundreds of turns doing different skills every day, and when it’s just correction after correction after correction after correction, you start to be like I could really do with some positive feedback. Or you know, like I want to do something perfect, so bad because everything’s, but just accepting the fact that it won’t be. It can’t be perfect. It can always be better, and that comes down to the trust that you have with your peers, with your fellow teammates and your coaches.
It’s something that coaches have to battle with probably the most because, again, their job there is to get you better. So inherently, their job is to point out the places that you can be better, and that’s obviously a really it’s a bit of a tightrope that they have to walk, in a sense that they need to be supporting you and being positive enough to keep you motivated and keep you goal driven, but also they need to give you the hard information and the hard truths of this needs to be better because XYZ. So I don’t think I have any supertive tips. Honestly, personally, I think it’s probably something, probably an area that I need work on and will continue to work on. It’s always been up and down.
1:03:08 – Lewis
It’s interesting you say over there as well, because I think my experience with Australia culture as well is that it is built on wanting from a man side, from men’s point of view. It still has this not stiff up a lip because that’s associated with the UK and us Brits, but it’s definitely got a macho side to it and it’s still tussling with the slightly softer, more vulnerable approach and seeing that as a strength, because they’re not realising what’s sort of on the other side of it. And I see so many people sort of creating a mask or an armour that actually that armour only deflects the opportunity for growth to happen. And I actually think about when I was younger and I was really defensive, I was really protective of, I didn’t want to show failures, I didn’t want to show that I was unable to do something and that could have come from my condition or my ability at the time. But when coaches would offer sort of something new or different, I would like bat it away and just be like no, I’ve got myself here with this and look how good I am at this and would try to project an image rather than accepting and allowing in, ripping that armour away and actually allowing in the information, because then the next skill was like what do I do with it? Do I match, do I take it on, do I grow, do I change, do I develop something here? But by purely holding up that armour or not accepting failure or accepting something different just leaves so much out there on the table for being able to go another level.
And I think from a coach’s point of view I think many coaches will probably have to do the work on themselves to recognise that.
Are they critiquing their athletes more than they are giving them praise? They’re not giving them the outweigh critique over praise and their work on themselves probably has to be done on the basis of the junior version of them, having been taught a certain way from a generation past and sort of falling into a habit and a ritual of just repeating what they’ve seen before and living that because that’s what they know. That takes strength, that takes courage and bravery to completely change the way and I can even see that in sometimes myself when I interact with people and I’m being a certain way that I’ve been conditioned but it’s so far away from what I want to be and it takes awareness and willingness to want to change that and I don’t see it as change. I just see it as building. It shouldn’t be seen as change. I’m completely changing who I am. It should be seen as I’m building and adding and growing into something more and just layering on top. I think the coaches can sort of go into that.
1:05:58 – Clay
Yeah, and I think a good coach not only knows how to balance that in a general concept, but they know how to balance that per athlete. You know there are me versus the next guy. I’m going to need a completely different balance of constructive criticism versus positive reinforcement than the guy next to me is going to. So a good coach not only understands how to balance it but can manipulate how he balances it depending on who he’s delivering the information to.
1:06:26 – Lewis
Yeah, I kind of want to take a little bit of a left turn and we sort of teared on the subject around when we were. We were talking around Well, actually I’ll come back to this because I do want to talk around thing. I know we’d spoken at the start of the episode around sort of like team environments and things like that, and I’m curious to know what you to hear, sort of what you have on team environments. What have what have been really good team environments for you, and maybe areas that have not been, and anything you want to add on to that.
1:06:59 – Clay
Yeah Well, my biggest team experience is over in the United States, when I competed for the University of Illinois, I was a team of 22 guys, which was an incredible experience, and that was probably my first as a as a man rather than just a boy was my first experience being a part of a team, because I didn’t play soccer. When I got older, I didn’t play in any team sports and that was really interesting because you sort of again you walk the balance between an individual sport. You compete by yourself, you know that their performance doesn’t impact you directly, but you’re also competing in a team where all of your stores get added up to them, you know, be a contribute to a team score. So, and then obviously, your training environment is very much team. It’s the same balance. You sort of get in there together.
But still, me on the high bar you know what someone else has just done on the high bar doesn’t influence what I do, but I had an amazing, amazing time over there and I learned a lot of different stuff about compassion, empathy to other people and being able to manipulate my standards not really not manipulate my standards, but adjust my standards on how I, how I, treated other people based on their own goals. So a lot of the time when I first got there, I was projecting my goals onto everyone and thought, you know, if you’re not acting in a certain way that reaches our goal, but didn’t didn’t really click to me that my goal isn’t everyone’s goal. So being able to adjust my expectations and how I treat people based on what their goals were for themselves was step one. And then the next step, which was really empowering and really insightful for me, was not only acknowledging that they don’t have to do what I’m trying to do, but also, you know, but also helping them and facilitating an environment where they can actually achieve what they want to do while I’m trying to achieve what I’m trying to do. So working and collaborating in a team in that sense was was really, really insightful, and I made a hell of a lot of mistakes over there. I was, I was voted in as team captain after being there for about two months and then I was voted back on to be the captain for the four and a half straight years that I was there. So I was voted captain every year, which was a lot of pressure, and I had, you know, at times made a lot of mistakes and at times did a good job, obviously did a good enough job where they kept voting me back on, but that it was. That was a really, really insightful and interesting leadership experience for me and I definitely grew a lot in that sense over over.
Here we have a much smaller team and a lot of the competitions that we go to a individual focus is actually not even a team aspect to it. So that’s interesting and it’s been really interesting coming back here where, before I got back here, there was two or three guys training in here and it was very, very individualized and focused. And then I came back from working in a team in America of 22 guys where team was the number one priority. So coming here was a massive switch because I’ve just been exposed to, you know, team, team, team, team for four and a half years in America and then here it was very individual and a sort of you know, I’ve had to, and I’m still having to, make adjustments on how I, how I train, how I interact with the guys, my expectations and things like that. It’s a constant journey of working out how to best create a team based on what everyone’s intentions or that team are.
1:10:23 – Lewis
That’s interesting and I’m always curious around how the team events in gymnastics pan out, because, again, it is such an individual, you’re not doing anything with anyone, you’re still on your own, but you’re doing it in a team environment. It’s almost like it’s like golf and the rider cup. I always find that one an interesting one as well, where you’ve got two teams of individuals competing as individuals but as a team like. It’s just again an environment that I’m not used to because I spent so many years. Everything I’ve done has been in a team.
Yes, you put in individual performance, but you can kind of influence your teammates performance as well in the moment as well. Like, even if you’re a cricketer and you’re a batsman and you’re the batter at the non-strikers, then you’re not even hitting the ball In between balls. You can, kind of you, you can actually go up and talk to your teammate to psych them up or calm them down or talk around tactics to like focus them. You have the ability to sort of lean on your teammates a little bit more, whereas in gymnastics it’s sort of go out there, do your best. It’s almost like a different, different pressure of being seen and maybe having the expectation to do well.
1:11:43 – Clay
And then there’s definitely ways you can impact a person, and that’s one of the things you start learning when you join a team is, again, exactly the same thing, and, as one of the things that I did with the team over in America was, we talked through what we liked to talk about before a competition, during a competition. So I got to the point where all 22 guys knew exactly which guys need to be G up, g’d up before their routine, exactly which guys need to be left alone, exactly which guys need to be talked out of their negative hole, exactly the guys that want to just, you know, throw their guards around and have a bit of fun before their routines. And everyone knew what everyone needed so that we created an environment that facilitated the best performance for every individual athlete, and everyone played a role in that. I think that’s the important thing is the team. A team is a team because everyone’s willing and bought into creating an environment where the team’s mission can be met.
Even though each individual athlete and each person has a completely different role within the team, it’s still collaborative, and that’s we all had a team. We had team values and things like that we’d all stick to, and your personal values can be different from the team values, that’s no problem. But if the problem arises when your personal values actively are opposite, or actively or negatively negatively impact the team’s mission, and that was a really important bridge between people just all having the same values. You can’t expect everyone to have the same values, but you need a team with no direct conflicting values, or else you’ve got something to talk about and something to work out.
1:13:22 – Lewis
Yeah, I do think you, if you want to be a part of a team, there has to be an element of you that is willing to shape and mold what you have into that team so not just from a skill set, but actually from your values and say I can still live my values within this team and this environment, but there are going to be times where I’m going to have to live a team value and that is my entry price to being in this team. That is it. It’s very interesting. I always talk to people in business around this. I always think businesses could have this mentality a little bit. More is that so many businesses are interested in sports and culture and values and how you live them, and but they miss out on the point which is in sports teams there’s almost like a non negotiable that goes on you set your values, you set your team goals, you set. So if you’re what you want to do, and then your culture is non negotiable as well, like there are. That’s how good cultures run. There are accountability parts to having a good culture. So if you overstep the line whether it’s respect or communication, whatever is word you use to be a value, and then the behavior that sits behind it. Whatever you do and set, if that gets overstepped or missed, people get held accountable. But also it gives people really clear indication of who’s in the team, who wants to be a part of the team, who actually do. We want to be a part of the team and businesses go right, this is our culture, this is who we want to be. But then we’ll mold that culture because now the employees are setting the same Well, these are my values, and I don’t actually believe that and that’s not aligned with what I want and therefore I don’t think that’s right. And then the business panics to lose them and goes okay, well, naturally we’ll change our values and we’ll fit you, whereas something really interesting could happen and I think almost should happen which is businesses being really strong and those organizations saying these are our values, like this is how we want to be. We don’t believe we’re discriminating anyone here. We don’t believe we’re. As long as you’re not discriminating or being in just or being unfair, then as long as those are fair values and fair, it’s a fair culture.
If someone just doesn’t fit that culture, they’re not for you, they don’t need to be there. They don’t have to be there and they should want to be a part of that team, and then it’s on them to mold that certain partner to be like. No, this is somewhere I want to be, for whatever motivations I have for being here, this is what I want, and I think too many businesses and organizations get worried about being canceled because of that, whereas in sport you would have no way. You’d never get canceled, you’d never see this happen, because teams just go. You either accept this culture or you don’t be a part of it and you go to another team, or you just don’t play it, do this event or the sport, and I think that’s where business can learn from sport, and I think sport is getting it has got that right. It doesn’t mean that every culture is perfect, because cultures need developing. I think you’ve got to set your culture, but when you’ve got your culture and it’s good, live by it, be strong by it.
1:16:30 – Clay
Yeah, no, I totally agree. I couldn’t have said it better.
1:16:33 – Lewis
So the little left turn that I wanted to take was when we were talking about injuries was around pain, because there must be times when you’re competing and you have little niggles injuries. You see gymnasts like strapped up all the time. And I only bring this up because one other thing for me was recently, sort of the last week or so I’ve committed back to getting into my yoga routine. I’ve set a new yoga routine. It’s something that I do to manage my condition, but also all of the work that I do through my exercises and sports and things like that, and I, my body, now feels so much better and I have changed. In the last week I just feel more myself.
But I now look back at the guy that I’ve been for like the last three to six months and I was just walking around in pain and allowing pain to dictate who I was and actually the person and how I mentally approach things, and so I’m curious to know how you deal with pain, because I think we wear it as a badge of honor, sometimes as a man as well, sort of taught like you have to feel pain. You have to feel pain to grow and be better, and that’s what you got to grit your teeth and go through and I think I fell into that trap too much over the last few months Whereas actually it can actually hold you back from being the person that you want to be, from being the type of person you want to be and interacting with the world and your goals, ambitions, by just purely living in this state of pain. So I’m really interested to hear what you you might have on that.
1:18:07 – Clay
Yeah, I think that the fear in sport is, if you escape the pain, does that mean you are hopping off the, the, the trained to wherever you set to go and I think you get you dive into this mental space of you know in order to get there. If it feels like this now you know it might get worse, probably won’t get better. If it gets better, I might have gone off track and I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. It is in sport is really difficult because when you’re pushing yourself to to the limits, you’re doing exactly that. You’re pushing yourself exactly to the limits and to find those limits is really difficult. So a lot of the time, whenever you’re trying to find your limit, whether it be mental or physical, a lot of the time you got to teeter over the edge a little bit to see where the edge is, and elite athletes, unfortunately unfortunately, both positive and negatives come with it. It’s that you, you walk very, very closely on the edge, which means a lot of the times you lose your balance and you’ll go over. So, whether that be with injury or pain, pain’s pain’s a difficult one. Everyone has pain quite. It is a sort of feels pain differently and has different pains. So from a general point of view, it’s kind of difficult to this to to for me to talk about pain in any way other than sort of how it pertains to me. But I have a lot of pains in my knees, I have a lot of pains in my back. For me, it’s about deciphering which pains are necessary and which pains are not necessary and being really honest about that. And I’m really lucky that I’ve got a medical support team around me of doctors and physios, massage therapists that I can have those conversations with and we can make sure we’re checking things up.
And unfortunately for sports people for me especially recently leading into this world championships is some of it has to be masked by anti-inflammatories. It’s not necessarily. It’s not, it’s not a long-term solution at all, but it’s something that I think a lot of people get stuck, stuck with that as the only option and that probably means you’ve got onto the idea of pain too late or you haven’t actually addressed the deep issue and if you get stuck under those for too long, then it can be a pretty deep, dark road. But yeah, if you have to do it for a certain period of time, you have to do it, but it’s about reflecting and going okay, if I’m hurting, something’s wrong, I’m either doing something wrong, I’m doing something too much or I’m not just completely neglecting, whether it be rehab or things like that. So difficult pain is definitely something that I deal with on a day-to-day basis and the different pains. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and it’s a different shape and a different size every day when you wake up.
1:20:43 – Lewis
Sometimes yeah, just think, for me it’s the fact that you so easily can fall into a trap of going well, this is it, this is how I am. And I just said to myself like a month or so ago. I just say, well, I’m sort of at about a seven-hour 10-pane all the time, and that’s just me. And I just now have thought, like this week and last week I was like what ridiculous statement to say to myself that doesn’t have to be the way, like as long as you are just making your life so much harder by being in pain all the time. And all it took was, quite literally, what am I at? Sort of 10 days now of just discipline and commitment to. I’ve got one yoga routine that I do. I do a round of it twice over on each side. It hits all parts of the body that I need it to. But after that 20, 25 minutes, like geez, I feel good and that is now worthwhile me getting up a little bit earlier to do, because the rest of my day is actually I’m interacting with the world so much better and by the time I go to bed, just even from a level of anxiety and worry and stress, that is so much better and the mental stress which can have an impact on your physical stress and sometimes your health. That’s so much better.
And so I look from like a sports point of view. I think about some times where, potentially, I was in pain unnecessarily but listening to a rhetoric of, well, you’ve got to be in pain to get through this, whereas. So I think it’s about splitting pain and discomfort, like, am I uncomfortable right now, in this moment, or am I constantly in pain? I’m constantly in pain. That is not a badge that I need to wear as a badge of honor. Yes, I can take discomfort. I can take it and I can run into discomfort because I’m strong enough to do that, but I don’t need to be in pain all the time. I don’t need to have that. That, for me, is sort of a realization, and I think sport can get you into a worry or a mindset of just that all the time.
1:22:50 – Clay
I would say that a less experienced athlete would look at pain the same way they will look at hard work. It’s sort of the harder you work, the better you get, Sort of the more pain you’re in means the harder you work, and which means the better you get. And I think for me it comes down to my experience and probably a little bit of wisdom in the area of pain, and it is exactly that. You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to work that hard. You can work this hard and get similar results, have less pain. If you’re working smart, if you’re being diligent with planning and there’s other areas, you can put that last 5% of energy in. You don’t have to put it into hard work as well. If you get 100% of whatever you’ve got, it doesn’t all have to go in the wrong after going to hard work. It’s probably way less beneficial doing that than putting 80% of it in hard work, 10% in planning and 10% in, honestly, probably relaxation. It’s about finding what balance of those things works best for you.
So you know, hard work and complete and utter sacrifice was my life for the first 20 years of my career and it wasn’t until I had this realization after my last ACL that it could be fun, and that led to me, you know, divvying out my time and my energy a lot better, and I’m, out of chance, realized that, oh wait, I’m performing just as well, if not better. I’m not sacrificing every little thing, ie not going to any social events, not seeing my family, not talking to my friends, and I’m having fun doing this sort of stuff. So the hard work, the last 10% of the hard work that I mean 10 years, 10, 20 years, wasn’t you know. It got me and I learned a lot from it, but it probably wasn’t necessary. If I could go back, maybe I’d be a bit smarter from the beginning.
1:24:35 – Lewis
Yeah, I think. Just my last bit on it is the fact that it changed. I’ve noticed that I was my attitude to people that I cared about was not how I wanted it to be, because I was so focused on my body and internally dealing with it, and I feel our condition has created an awareness in my body that I really love. I love the fact that I’m really conscious and aware of my body. I think just by simply having podensyndrome has allowed me to be really mindful, because I’m constantly scanning my body.
I’m almost doing daily body scans, like it’s really interesting, which is such a meditative process, even if it’s just in the morning or just standing making your coffee, or just now, like whilst I’m in the podcast, and sort of readjusting shoulders and back and things like that, like you’re kind of in your body all the time, and I don’t think many people are, however, being in pain and living with that, living with this idea of I need to be in pain or this is just how I am actually focused, my mind away from actually what was really going on around me and how I was interacting with the world, and if I put that into, whether that’s relationships with people outside of sport, or in sport you’re not actually being who you want to be, so you’re not giving your full self because your attention is so drawn on sort of a very primal instinct which is to like look after yourself and take care of yourself.
So yeah, I guess that was my last little point on on pain, because it’s just a very interesting yeah and it’s sort of the touching on an interesting thing that I’ve been thinking about it.
1:26:05 – Clay
It’s sort of a little, if we tailor that sort of general concept to a more specifically sport thing. I’ve sort of been thinking a little bit about how people can take control of their own experiences and separating performance from experience, and I think they can be very, very separate things. And I think most of the time and for most of my career, what it was was I’d go away on a trip and my experience was dictated by my performance and what. Just by having a conversation with a younger athlete that was going to resource Australian trip, just having a conversation with him, I was like never actually said that out loud and I probably need to think about that a bit more myself. So I’ll be interested to see what you think about it. But basically I would say that your experience, or your decision to have a positive experience, precedes the experience itself. So you decide that whatever you’re going into and whatever experience or whatever thing you’re about to do, is going to be a positive experience, regardless of what happens.
I think that’s a decision that someone makes before they experience what it is, and I think that going into a competition or going into an event like that means that whether the results are good or bad, or whether what happens to you is typically good or bad, if you’re going in with a positive mindset and with the decision that the experience is inevitably positive, then there’s nothing but positivity you can take from that experience, regardless of the results.
If you don’t make that decision before the event, if you don’t decide that this is going to be a great experience and you go in with that mentality, then what you do is you leave.
All you have control over is the results and if the results don’t go your way, then the results are dictating your experience and you walk away with a situation where you potentially didn’t have great results and because of that you don’t have a good experience. But in my experience with competitions and things like that, I can have a good competition and a bad experience. I can have a bad competition, a good experience, I can have good and good, I can have bad and bad, and the difference that I’ve been at Identify is that it’s my mindset. Going into the competition, I’m always preparing for the results exactly the same way. I’m always working smart, working hard towards the results, but it’s when I actually have a diligent process of preparing for the experience as a whole. When I prepare for that and say this is going to be such a good experience, then that’s when I come out of it being like, wow, that was such a useful amount of information, a useful time that I had.
1:28:34 – Lewis
Yeah, look, I think for me. I love that. I think it’s spot on. The bit I would add in as well is and I talk around people linking their self-worth and their self-esteem and their self-confidence with the expectation of their outcome. So they may go into a performance expecting something and that expectation can literally kill them. That can cripple them by there being so many things that are out of their control Makes it quite interesting in your sport, because there are so many things.
You don’t necessarily have too many external factors. Your role is to practice your routine and then execute on the day. So your job is execution. In another sport, if we take tennis, anything that’s got an opposition in it. There are so many things that then become out of your control. They become in a sport like mine, cricket there are conditions that they’re going to get into, conditions that become out of your control. That needs a level of acceptance of what’s going on there.
But I love that you’re talking about almost highlighting whatever this experience, this performance, how it goes. I can make this a good experience on the way I bring myself to that experience, that performance, and then see it as an experience, because we so often will say in a performance, that that was a bad performance. Therefore I am bad, and that’s where we’re linking our self worth with our performance. It’s I’ve had a bad performance.
Now I am bad, and I think that’s why having personal values, personal goals and intrinsic motivations going into a performance is really important, because the outcome, the result, no matter that, even though you can influence it, it’s not 100% guaranteed. It’s not 100% guaranteed if you put in an amazing performance of your routine. You nail it 100%. That’s like on the day and a competitor could suddenly have up the difficulty and had their blinder of a day.
But so does that make your performance a bad one? Right, it doesn’t. You may not have had the outcome that you wanted, but you have done everything you can to make that experience the best it possibly can be. So I love that and I think it’s so, so important to make sure that you have those expectations, the motivation set, and you’re not linking your performance with your self worth. And that does take some work. That takes that active process of before you go into something, journaling, writing it down, talking it out, saying to yourself or someone else. This is what I want to see this as, rather than and I value myself on the effort and my attention that I put into an event, rather than just the outcome.
1:31:28 – Clay
Yeah, I think deciding that it’s going to be inherently positive before it happens allows you to accept the things that you can’t control. There will be, for instance, specifically for gymnastics trips it might be. You know, travel gets delayed, the food isn’t the food you usually like to eat, your sleep gets interrupted, things like that. If you have expected it to be, if you’re prepared for it to be a positive encounter with these things, then you’ll do exactly that. You would attack these issues with a smile on your face, knowing that that’s a positive thing, because, whichever way you want to spin it, it might be it’s making me more resilient, or this is just the way it’s going to be.
Every international trip that I’ve been on, something else has gone wrong, and every single time I bend the next trip, make sure I adapt what I do, my preparation, and make sure I can adjust for that. That doesn’t happen. Something else happens. And now the understanding of that and the acceptance that not maybe definitely something is going to happen. It just relieves all pressure, because now you’re expecting the unexpected, which means you’re ready to adapt in any way that you need to. It’s not this has to be perfect. It’s well. How do we make whatever it is we get to. How do we make that perfect?
1:32:45 – Lewis
Yeah, it’s so interesting Speaking of Dr Gordon Flett on a podcast, sort ofa godfather of perfectionism. He talks about being an adaptable perfectionist rather than a rigid one. And if you were to be offered something, as an athlete, which is two choices and you can only have one, you either can be adaptable or perfect, which one sounds more appealing. And I would actually say adaptable because you can still have excellence within. Adaptable, like you can adapt to any scenario. But if you’re perfect and you’re rigid, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be able to adapt to different scenarios, different environments, like out anything that’s out of your control in that time, and you’ll just get tangled up in knots.
1:33:26 – Clay
Adapting sort of is interesting. Adaptation is interesting as well. There was this quote and you might have heard it, but it was. It’s about environments and it’s something along the lines of the same boiling water that hardens an egg, softens a potato. So, and the way that I look at that is, our environment is inevitably going to impact us. Our environment will have an impact. We know that it impacts us. The next sort of level of that, which I’ve started to sort of play with a little bit, is we have an opportunity and we have a massive part to play in what that inevitable impact is going to be.
So, whatever environment you’re in, you in a way get to decide whether you’re going to be the egg or whether you’re going to be the potato. So you know that the environment will affect you. You do have some part to play and some decision and some responsibility as an athlete and as a person to decide how am I going to let this impact, this environment, impact what I’m doing. And that’s sort of a again another sort of concept that I’m playing with at the moment, and again, it’s a really empowering one as well, because it gives you the opportunity to take responsibility of what’s happening. You don’t have control over your environment, but you have some sort of control over how you are able to adapt to it. And that doesn’t mean that all environments are completely adaptable, because I would encourage an athlete that if an environment is detrimental you can move, but first evaluate how you may be able to adapt to get the most, at least, out of the environment that you’re in.
1:35:04 – Lewis
Well, I think, kind of leading on with that analogy, I would say that that analogy of am I the egg or am I the potato in boiling water, essentially, like I said, it’s the responsibility of, and almost the responsibility of you to make yourself of material and matter that can deal with that harsh environment, that can adapt to it.
So what am I doing to make myself and build myself into the makeup of something that can deal with that harsh environment? That would be how I see that, that playing out, rather than being like, well, I am either a potato or I’m an egg, sort of thing, I am made of this and, oh well, I hit, I get into a harsh environment and this is just what I’ve got at the moment. It’s like, no, you can change, you can develop, you can grow, you can be better than what you currently are right now, and it just takes a little bit of work. And by doing that work you’ll surprise yourself. You’ll look back and go, holy shit, like I am made of stuff that can deal with something way harsher than I ever could before, and it’s the it can be confronting to begin with to put the responsibility on your back, because our initial response always is to point finger and say that’s wrong.
1:36:21 – Clay
But the amazing amount of opportunities that will arise if you just get the courage to put the responsibility on the back, the options that you get. You can be a potato or an egg, depending on which environment you’re in and what that environment requires from you. It’s taking the responsibility to make that decision because, again, it’s sort of like the experience, one that we’re just talking about before If you don’t make a decision, your environment will pick for you. You don’t just stay in the middle ground. You will be one or the other. So either let your experiences or let your environment change you, or make a conscious decision about which one of those things you want to be right now, in this circumstance. And that doesn’t mean you stay like that forever. It just means that that’s what you’re going to be right now, because that’s what your environment, the people around you and what you need to do. But because you’ve taken hold, you’ve taken responsibility, gives you the option to adapt. Yeah, I think that one’s.
1:37:15 – Lewis
That’s a really interesting topic, something that I brought up with a recent guest, tom Mitchell, who was England rugby sevens captain former England rugby sevens captain and we spoke about whether we thought that sport environments had shaped who we were, which they undoubtedly had, but not only that, had they squashed a part of us that we were a bit sort of sad and disappointed that it squashed, and I agreed with him. I said there were definitely. I think there are parts of me that have been squashed from sport environments that I’ve been in, but it has also been so valuable in creating the person I am today with so many good characteristics. So I think for many people out there, it’s really important to make sure, especially a young age, is this environment that my young person that I’m in charge of is going into? Is this an environment that is going to help them, not like coddle them and just tell them that they’re brilliant, but provide enough challenge, stress, but also support with it, and that’s that’s a big thing to think of.
I think of a young lad that’s in our cricket team right now. He’s just moved to our club this year and he talks about a team that he played for before and and he said within the first hour of being in our team he was treated better than he’d been for the last sort of months few months that he’d been with his other team, and he’s at an age of being 19. But this is really seminal to sort of his growth and how he sees the world and how he interacts as a young man. So he’s done the right thing, getting himself into an environment that could shape him into something more like what he wants to be. No, absolutely 100%. It’s been brilliant to chat to you. One thing I do do before people leave is ask them is there anything like a documentary, a film series, maybe a book quote that you are recommending at the moment that has inspired you or something that you found valuable to you?
1:39:14 – Clay
Interestingly, I literally just started reading an introduction to Buddhism. So I’m really interested in that at the moment, really interested in deciphering the differences between being mindful and mind wandering and how being present can or not being present can affect sort of my mental well-being, both in and out of the gym. Obviously in the gym affects my performance, but my mental sort of, again, adaptability outside of the gym obviously has an impact on my gymnastics as well. So I’m really interested to dive into that. I just read what was it called the Way of the Superior man as well, which I thought was a really really interesting book. Again, it wasn’t necessarily sports related or specific, but once again, just being conscious of yourself and the decisions you make and why you may make decisions that you do. I thought that was really interesting as well.
So those two books I’ll probably read the Way of the Superior man again relatively soon. I kind of like to double up on books to make sure I’ve got all the information out and squeezed all the information out of them. So I’ll try to get through the introduction to Buddhism first. That might be a difficult one to squeeze dry, just to be honest.
1:40:26 – Lewis
Yeah, I’ll look into those. And just before we go, where’s the best place for people to sort of follow what you’re doing and keeping on? Where’s the best place to send them?
1:40:37 – Clay
Yeah, I’m probably most active on my Instagram account, which is just clay with two wires, and then Stevens, ste PH ENS. That’s where I post most of my gymnastics content, my life content. I try to keep it as well rounded as I can, but, yeah, that’s the best place to catch the updates on what I’m doing.
1:40:55 – Lewis
No worries, we’ll link to all of that in the show notes. Mate, it’s been awesome having you on, really loved chatting to you. It’s been one that I have enjoyed following you on Instagram to begin with, learning more about you, seeing your career develop all the way from the knee injuries, trips to America to where you are now. And, honestly, best of luck going into the world championships. And like congratulations just on just getting into it and into the team, because there will be loads of athletes that you would have had to compete for. So, condition or not, it’s a genuine feat that you’ve done. And, yeah, best of luck going into the world championships. I’ll be watching and I’m sure people will be cheering you on Awesome, now I really appreciate it.
1:41:34 – Clay
Thanks a lot, and yeah, thanks for having me on Always, always good to chat. Hopefully we’ll chat again soon. Cheers, mate.