How would you feel if you were ready to go to the Olympics (for the sixth time) and you just got word that because of COVID-19 it was postponed for a year? It takes so much focus and energy to accomplish goals – how do we respond when the goal line gets moved? When I heard the news about Tokyo getting pushed to 2021, I called my friend beach volleyball great, Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Listen to the episode here:
- The Elements of the Game [00:07:35]
- Deconstructing and Compartmentalizing [00:13:46]
- Being at Your Best [00:25:08]
- A Woman with a Mission [00:30:05]
- The Olympic Athlete [00:34:31]
- Kerri’s Kids [00:39:33]
- Lessons from Parents [00:42:43]
- Off-Season [00:49:50]
- Managing Injuries [00:53:28]
- On Marriage and Trials [00:58:55]
- Athlete Life [01:06:43]
- Being Better [01:11:47]
Kerri Walsh Jennings 3x Beach Volleyball Gold Medalist- Patience, Focus, and a Winning Mentality
Hi, everyone. I hope you are all staying safe and sane. I had the opportunity to speak with someone I’ve known for a long time, Kerri Walsh Jennings. I thought it was important to talk to her sooner than later because it was announced that the Olympics were being postponed for a year. I was interested in talking to somebody to see how not only it was impacting her but also to get into how you generate the focus and energy again to bolt on another year, and no one better to talk to than Kerri.
This would be Kerri’s fifth beach volleyball Olympics, sixth Olympics total. She already has three gold medals and a bronze. To say that Kerri is the most successful, greatest, and most talented athlete to play beach volleyball is not even an understatement. I find Kerri interesting in that it isn’t about, “This is what I do. I’m a beach volleyball player,” it is a deep passion and love not just that she has for the game but the process of, “Can I be better today?”
She has three children. She has two sons and they’re eleven and a half months apart. Don’t get me started about the qualifications for the Olympics. She had them back to back so she could qualify. She has her daughter, Scout. Her husband, Casey Jennings, is also a volleyball player and now works on p1440, which is a volleyball platform. Also, he works with Kerri as one of her coaches.We got into it. We got into, “What are you going to do for the next year? How do you sustain that focus and that determination?”
We got into getting through hardships in marriage, working with our partner, they’ve been married for over fifteen years, and also not falling victim to the age game. There’s always somebody that wants to remind you, especially if you’re what’s considered an aging athlete, it’s like, “You’re older now. What do you want to do?” I had a great time talking with Kerri. While you’re all there quarantined and being reflective of life, She inserts a lot of positivity and positive attitudes and perspectives that we could all use right now. I hope you enjoy the conversation. Enjoy and I’m with you guys in spirit. Aloha.
I don’t think people understand what it’s like to train or to focus on something for that long and then it’d be like, “We’re going to wait another twelve months.” When the Corona hit, were you thinking, “This will clean itself up in 8 or 12 weeks. I’ll figure out how to stay in the groove and then we’ll go to the Olympics.” Was that what you were thinking initially? When you found out about the pandemic, what was your next go-to strategy for the Olympics? I know you, you’re probably like, “Okay.”
I don’t know. Part of it doesn’t even hit me. It’s like, “Okay, that’s happening. I’m going to carry on and do what I do because that’s all I have control over.” That’s my default in every challenging situation. I raged against it. I let up a little steam here and there. I’m pretty dense In my head.
You’re geared towards being positive. How do I say it without oversimplifying it? I don’t want to say, “Do the right thing.” You’re geared to react, like, “I need to react the right way.” When you say that you get to react or let off a little steam against that, how do you do that? Do you have a safe place or a safe person?
It’s ugly. It’s not kind. I felt myself getting more and more agitated and not understanding where it was coming from. There were two places it was coming from, one is I’m going through a lot of growth. I heard this little video segment from Andrew Huberman at Stanford and he was telling about the processes that happened within your system when you’re learning something. I’m going to botch this but epinephrine is released and that’s an agitator. When you’re growing, you’re agitated. I’m living in this space of tremendous growth and agitation in my technique and my volleyball craft by choice and from my coaches.
Are you talking about internal and external or you’re saying, “I’m deconstructing elements of my game and I’m trying in order to be even better.” For you to get incremental improvements at this level that you’re at, people don’t realize how hard that is. Are you talking about an actual physical change?
Things are changing. Techniques are getting broken down. The psychology behind certain things is getting broken down. Maybe the psychology is being revealed because I’m starting to think about the game more and to think about technique whereas before, I didn’t, and that is a luxury.
You went out and it was intuitive. There were certain elements that maybe that was a flow for you.
For sure, but I aspire to get back to that place. Right now, I’m having to think so much and it’s taking away my instincts. I’m like, “I want to drill this down and get all these reps with proper form and nail it in training, in a controlled environment so I can go be free and instinctive and do what I do, which is no thought.” I did that well. That agitation is going on, which is beautiful. It sucks and I hate that I’m not more graceful as it’s going on because I am frustrated. I vent to my coaches, I pushed back on Casey, who is now a coach, which is a whole another 90 minutes that we need. That’s gnarly to be coached by my husband.
You’re coached by your husband, we’re going to get into that.
You guys have never done that, have you?
The joke is, people say, “Do you let Laird or do you tell Laird?” I’m like, “I don’t tell Laird anything.” I went to do something and I’m getting back on track downstairs and we’re in quarantine, I come up, and he’s like, “What were you doing?” I’m like, “Don’t ask me what I was doing.” If I’m fixing a television, don’t ask. I’ll tell you what I’m doing but do not ask.
[bctt tweet=”I love the big dreamers. I love the doers. That positive vibe is what I resonate with.”]
I see right behind it, it’s like, “I don’t want people telling me what to do.” It’s like parenting and we’re going to get into that. When you tell your kids and you’re like, “That’s right. I hate people telling me what to do too.” You have your coaches and one of them is your husband. You’re making physical and practical changes and you said there’s something else going on, what else is going on?
That’s one form of agitation but with all of this speculation and the ramping up of it, I have so many thoughts about this. The major overreaction to a certain extent and then the correction and then this gray area we’re in started to build up in me. We were getting closer and closer to tournament time and we were supposed to be in Australia. I was supposed to leave on Saturday so the day before I was supposed to go to Australia. This a major trip. We were supposed to have two tournaments back to back. Usually, as tournaments get closer, I turn into more of an asshole. I’m not proud of it.
Let’s look at that. You have three children and you’re walking around as Kerri the human being and you’re a female, a mom, and a wife. Over here, a big part of who you are or who you have been, is you’re a competitor. I always find it interesting that work and competition would be in the masculine side of our personality. It doesn’t mean only males possess it, it means it’s a masculine trait.
You wouldn’t be smashing a ball down my throat and then going, “Gabby, Is that okay?” I’ve done what the task was and that is more male. When you say you get more asshole-y, I’m going to push back on you and say that part of your greatness and something that you have maybe more easily than other people is, “I’m competing. This is what I’m doing. This is what it’s going to take. I’m not going to analyze that, I’m going to honor that.”
It’s in contrast with your natural personality of, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I a nice and good person? Is everybody else okay?” I’m naturally probably meaner than you as a person but I didn’t get into my gnarly competitor as easily and as deeply as you’re able to. It’s a cool and beautiful contrast to watch someone like you because it’s compartmental, it’s different.
It’s the dark side of the moon.
Why would we say asshole? Bill Romanowski, a famous and radical football player, said that in order to do what he needed to do because he wasn’t the most talented, fastest, and biggest, he started getting pissed by Thursday. They’re playing on Sunday. It is not different from what you’re trying to do. It’s a different kind of war. It’s different, there’s a net dividing.
Do you even think about this and talk about this? When you have to leave your family and you’ve got to get on the plane, you start to separate because it’s hard. Instead of being like, “I love you and I’m going to miss you.” What you’re doing and what you’re defining as asshole-y is, “I’m getting ready to go to my war. Also, now I must separate from these people that are the most important.”
100%. Let’s go back to the asshole thing because I feel like I wouldn’t feel that way if I felt like I had better control over it. When I have raging PMS, I know I’m an asshole and I’m like, “I can’t control it to a certain extent. I’m going to let myself be taken over.” In this situation, I see myself doing this. I believe I can be that gnarly competitor but not have this cloud of agitation. I want to be primed, I want to be laser-focused, and I want to go for the throat and be turned on all of my senses.
What I feel as the agitation ramps up is a lack of control and an unnecessary negative edge that affects my people. I know where it’s coming from. If I were to take a moment, I’d be like, “I’m nervous. There’s a little fear here. I’m super excited.” I don’t need to put that on my people because I want them to shine and to step up and to have their space to be the asshole, the princess, or whatever they need to be.
Meaning your coaches and your partner or do you say bleeding into your life?
Both. I’m pretty consistent in my life. What you see is what you get. Especially in this day and age, we’re all being challenged every day. We’re all being provoked and prodded every day. We’re having all of these chances. I’m having all these chances every day to rewire my brain and be responsive instead of reactive in ways that I don’t care for.
I’m the biggest judge of myself. I’m a natural pleaser. If you met my family, we all are that and that’s a beautiful thing to be. I also am sick of being a pushover. I’m sick of being called naive when I’m not. My eyes are opening. I want to be who I am, which is kind, sweet, and sincere, and to navigate the challenges. I don’t even know who I would look to and say, “I want to do it like that.” Seeing Kobe now through the lens I have and that we’ve seen his life off the court, it was all the Mamba Mentality. That was almost a turnoff to me and Kobe is my favorite.
Now, I realize it was Kobe, which it’s his heart, his soul, and essence, that drove him to find the Mamba Mentality so he can live in both places equally powerfully. What I’m recognizing now is that the most powerful part of him was that soft heart. It was everything outside of basketball that drove his curiosity, intellect, and all these things to be the best he could be. I feel like I’m on a process like that but I’m a crap show. It’s exhausting.
Do you think it’s harder to question that and analyze it and deconstruct it also when it has worked incredibly well? I find this interesting because in every form of the definition of champion and winner, you are that, and you have been that for a long time. It’s like once-in-a-lifetime success in an area like sport and you’re saying, “That’s cool, medals and all of this stuff, but I have to look at this to deconstruct it.”
I’m unhappy with it.
That’s it. Where does one person even start to say, “I’m going to pick up the thread to try to figure out how to take something that works so well.” Every person knows who’s ever done a sport, you work on stuff and they’ll say, “You’ll be worse for a minute so you can be better in the long run.” We’ve all done that. From what I’m getting from what you’re saying, that level of deconstruction, that’s something else, and that’s different.
Are you in bed one night and you say to Casey, “It’s not working.” I said this to Laird when we were having coffee, “I’m going to be talking to Kerri. Do you want to ask her anything?” “I want to ask her.” There are things he probably can relate to you about better than other people. “Is it fun?” That’s what he wanted to know. That’s the only thing he said. His New Year’s resolution every year is to laugh more and have more fun, that’s his whole thing.
I love that.
He said, “Is it fun and can she continue to make it fun?” He even said, “Will she play when she’s done competing?” He was like, “If I can’t practice and be okay at it, I moved on. Also, I was always in a million different places.” With you, he was like, “That’s what I want to know.” How do you get to this thing where you go, “This isn’t working for me whether I’m winning or not,” and then have the wherewithal to start to look at it and then make moves to make the changes? Where does that come from?
The restlessness from within and being like, “Something’s off here,” and sitting with that feeling and then thinking about it to my husband, to my partner, and I have spiritual counselors left and right, I’m attacking this from the inside out because that’s where all real change happens, for me at least. That’s such a rad question that Laird put because I want to finish the way I started and the way I started was I was stressed but it was so fun.
That’s what he said, he goes, “She got into this ultimately because it was fun.” I don’t know how old you were, 10, 11, 12, or whatever. He said that’s where it started.
Yes. 22 is when I started beach volleyball. I panicked every day. I was paying with Misty and I had no business being with her. I was terrible and yet the hope and potential were all dreamlike and worth the stress because it was so fun to feel improvement. I feel like I’m right on that edge even if I’ve been playing this sport for over twenty years and I’m walking that edge again where I feel like there’s so much potential right there. I’m agitated by it and I’m willing to suffer it but it’s not fun and I can’t wait to get back to where it’s fun.
In my life, I haven’t had too many crises, I had a couple.When I am ready for a change, I seek out a lot of help. I seek out guidance. How many times have you and I talked? You’re so easy to talk to and I feel like I’m such a whiner to you sometimes but you always have a way forward and it’s powerful. Hearing myself speak things out loud helps me to figure out, “I don’t want to live in that weak space. Let’s figure this out.”
Within my game, physically, tactically, and technically, I’m inconsistent. How do I become more precise? I’ve always been physical, instinctive, and intuitive. How do I become everything that I’m not? Welcome my husband. How do I become better than I’ve ever been before? Welcome Brooke Sweat. I want to take up more space and I want to give her more freedom to be her. I want to do more than I’ve ever done in court.
The desires I have in my heart start manifesting with opportunities in my real life and it’s beautiful. That’s the way life works, it’s what you think about, where the energy goes, and things are created and that’s where it flows. My whole life, even this pause, even this COVID thing, perhaps I manifested this because it’s heartbreaking to leave my family. When I’m on the road, I can’t even talk about it. My lungs are restricted when I leave.
I’m sad and yet, you’re right, I compartmentalize so I can survive. It’s gnarly what humans do to cope. I don’t feel guilty. I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty but I can’t even let myself look that way. Otherwise, I would just hang it up the first second Joey was born. It’s an exciting time. I’m inviting all this change. This pause is allowing me more time in the saddle to work on the technique that’s been broken down. It’s gnarly, Gabby.
The Olympics were right here and then you’re deciding to go through this deconstruction right before the Olympics. I don’t know how long it’s been going on but it’s like, “This is a good idea. I have a great partner. Let me deconstruct everything about myself.”
I have something dramatic but you’re right, it’s that fully loaded.
Did you feel that it was like you had no option? Was it there and you went, “I don’t have an option. I have to get into this now.”
No, it kept coming and I keep stepping up. My friend always says, “Seek the fight.” I’m seeking the fight. I have this one last chance to be the best on the world’s biggest stage against the best people and the best the sport has ever seen. I want that, I want to go out on top. If I were to keep doing what I’ve been doing in the past, I’m not good enough. The world is too physical. I have to rely on other things now.
Everything goes back to fundamentals and the fundamentals of technique and all these things, which I certainly have a lot of room for improvement. Also, the fundamentals of my psyche and finding the fun even in the agitation and breathing through that. If I could have peace in my head when things are chaotic and it’s a competitive moment where things are on the line, it’s huge.
What’s interesting is that you can speak to this because to get to a form of mastery even though that’s ongoing, you have to arrive at a certain level to be able to even start to talk about mastery. Maybe you have to do it as long as you’ve done it and win as much as you’ve won to even be in the position to talk about what you’re talking about There are a lot of athletes, professionals, and even Olympic athletes that don’t stay in it long enough. They can never even arrive at that nuance. This is nuanced stuff that you’re talking about.
That will lead to grand, huge, and ginormous life-changing things. You and Laird, the way you guys live your lives and the way you look at life and the way you’ve created your lives is inspiring to me because there’s always a next level and you’re always leveling up. Wherever you’re at, you want to be in the best position you can be, body, mind, and spirit, so you can take on that day, take on that challenge, and you can guide other people to find all these great things within. I want that. I believe in that. I’m always going to strive for that. Part of my process of always striving for more is that I see people like you, that’s huge.
Your view of yourself is from the inside. If you want to come inside my head and look inside what I’m seeing about myself, it’s a different picture than what you think you’re seeing about me. Let’s be clear. Personally, it’s two things simultaneously, it is that striving and it’s that looking and that learning and saying, “I can do this better.” I’m catching myself knowing when I’m not being my best self or I’m developing weird little habits or something.
Simultaneously, it’s going like, “I’m here at this moment.” How do you float through these processes with a clear intention and focus but not, “It’s not good enough.” You don’t want to be there because then we can live there. I could live there forever, “I’m not good enough. It’s not good enough.” The list is long. It’s that thing of striving for your best self simultaneously and also going, “This is where I am and who I am.”
100%. I love that. That’s important and hard. I live in the major critique part of my head a lot and that used to drive me beautifully. It used to be perfect. Maybe the ultimate pleaser that I am, that part of motivation got me to be good and it made me own things. The insecurity and fear pissed me off and made me work hard and focus. It doesn’t work anymore. Now, if I’m finding myself being super critical, I’m tired. It’s momentum in the wrong direction. Everything I express is going to put me on the upswing or downswing.
[bctt tweet=”First things first, an athlete’s life is finite. The competitive life of an athlete is finite.”]
I fully agree, I’m working on unconditional forgiveness, which sounds fluffy and impossible. If I do an asshole move, I know it. I can’t take it back. Let me do better next time. Apologize and take full responsibility and then do better. Being shameful about it and apologizing a billion times, that stuff is going to keep me there. That’s the dance in life for all of us.
You’re a woman on a mission, you’re a person on a mission. I got interviewed once regarding Laird and I was asked this question that I thought was smart and it pertains to you as well. The person asked me, “Do you think to be Laird’s friend you have to be on Laird’s motion?” He’s going, he has a mission, he’s going to go to bed early, he’s going to train, and he’s going to eat a certain way. I don’t mean me, I’m in a relationship with him, and that’s different, but his guys. Do you have to be on the program at least on the day in and day out to be friends with Laird because he’s got to go?
When I see you and I’ve observed you for a long time, it’s a little bit like that. Sometimes if you are female and if you’re a mom and you are someone’s partner, we feel weird about that. It’s being like, “You, as my friend, I love you but I’m on a mission. I don’t expect you to feel the way I do but you also, conversely, may not understand all that I need to try to get done right now. When it’s left over, I’m only going to have some leftovers for my kids and my partner.”
Sometimes we walk around going, “I’m never enough for a lot of people but I have this mission and I’m going to do this.” It’s a time thing. I don’t want to keep breaking out on gender but there’s something I’ve observed. With girls, we are also conditioned if I say I’m going for it and I’m doing it, does that make me not a nice person? A guy doesn’t even consider that. I wonder sometimes because you’re one of a few females that I know that’s on a mission.
I’m on a mission. Like attracts like. It’s like water finds its own level. The people that I resonate with, it’s an energetic reason.There are synergies within our belief systems or, mostly, our view of the world even if it’s not all of our thoughts and beliefs. Politics and religion are aligned but our overall view of the world are similar. We love potential, we’re curious, and we want to keep growing.
I love the big dreamers. I love the doers. That positive vibe is what I resonate with. To be honest, I have dear friends and I never see them. The hardest thing in my life is when Casey, my love of over twenty years and married over 15, doesn’t seem to understand the mission I’m on and where I’m at. I’m like, “Can you love me when I’m being an asshole? Don’t you understand, I got p1440, and I got babies.” He then goes, “Look at what I got.” I’m like, “You’re right.”
I’m getting to be like Laird where I have to go to bed. I’m not even functioning past 9:30. If you want to roll in at 10:30 and get all lovey, I’ll resent you. You’re in my way. It’s rude because I’m tired. I was like, “He’s my man. I love him and I want to be everything he needs to be when he needs to be it.” My people understand and I express a lot of love.
My best friend, Sarah, is my college roommate and I loved her since I was 15 but I never see her. We know where each other is at. We’re consistent in our inconsistency. I feel like all of my dear friends, I have that with. My best friends are my trainers. My trainers are people I adore. I don’t adore them because they’re getting me into the Olympics, I adore them because they love me, they support me, and they provoke me to the next level of me because they believe in it. I love their hearts and the way they do things. There’s not a lot of social left going on. I’m not alone. I have deep and dear relationships and I appreciate that.
When you’re younger, sometimes it’s a conflicted place to be where you feel like, “I do want to do this thing. Hopefully, the people that I do genuinely love understand me enough to support me instead of making me feel like I’m falling short on how I deliver or my ability to go to whatever baby shower or things that I can’t do.”
I’ve never had a problem with that. It seems like I always want to do the right thing but if I don’t want to do it, I don’t do it. There’s probably been a handful of things in my life that I had done that I didn’t want to do. if I have somewhere else I would want to be, I’m going to be in that other place. A couple of times in high school, my best friend, Jenn, was hilarious. She was the social butterfly, the super introvert, and quiet as a mouse. She played volleyball, she was a champion, she’s been at Cal, and she didn’t want it the way I wanted it.
I remember she got so pissed at me a couple of times and I’m like, “Jenn, what are you talking about? You’re going to make me feel bad for chasing this big dream.” She was like, “Yeah, I am. You need to have a life. I love you and you’re ditching out on all of us.” We had a couple of those moments but we each found ourselves. It’s a pretty great conversation to have and it’s amazing to have people who will call you out because it helps you reaffirm where you’re at or change it, shift it, and then it helps them to see who you are.
We all saw Japan holding out as long as possible and you were like, “I don’t know if they have some secret. Let’s get 250 countries coming to our one little island and we’ll do the Olympics.” All the athletes are always messing around in the Olympic Village, sexy time, “Here’s your Olympic t-shirt and your condoms.” The idea of it during the Coronavirus was the worst idea ever.
It’s the opposite of quarantine, what happens in Olympic Village.
They’re the apex of fitness, they’ve got testosterone pulsing through their blood, they’re all beautiful, young, and are celebrating the time in life. You get the word, “One more year.” What do you feel?
At that point, because it had been weeks of escalation, I stopped watching the news I had to. The first two tournaments of the year went away. The day before we got the official word, I called Brooke, my partner, and I was like, “Brooke, I have to start looking at life like this is off-season.” We were hearing rumors that the beach is going to shut down and all these things.
I had that internal panic, like, “What? I have this big thing coming up. That’s not even possible.” I started to formulate, “Who has a private court? Should we go to Florida? Where should we go?” It’s my escape route. When the news came, it was as clear as day that it was going to come. It was like, “I can breathe. Thank you, Japan. Thank you for taking away the stress of waiting for some big announcement to come. Thank you for making the responsible choice that makes the most sense.”
I went to the point where I was like, “If the world could come together and get the Olympic contenders to have access to their places, we can make this happen. We can all still train.” That’s the way my mind works. I’m like, “That’s possible. I can start a petition.” There are only however many Olympians. It’s crazy because this is so much bigger than sports. The Olympics is the biggest thing for 2020. I don’t think that they took their time. I don’t think it took too long. Gabby when did they get the bid? Over eight years ago?
Something like that.
To win the bid is eight years of life and the money and man hours. It’s Japan, everything is in order. I understand why they took their time. For me, if they would’ve rushed it and been like, “It’s off on day one,” I would’ve been pissed. I would’ve been like, “You can’t make a decision out of pure pressure. those are not good decisions. Be a little bit more thoughtful.” They did awesome.
What about the pacing for you? There’s a mark on the calendar, the Olympics, all tournaments, all practices, and all training is paced to this moment and now the moment gets stretched. Do you pull back a little bit because you’re in quarantine and then say, “I’ll start the motor again and generate that.” It’s a burn and energy that you’ve got to hold that fire to sustain you through so you can kick ass the moment that you need it. What does that look like to you? Is there a systematic way of pacing yourself? it’s always unusual.
We talked about it on the phone that you have a firefighter and you go, “You’re chilling. Be ready now.” Living with Laird, with every second, I don’t know when it’s going to happen. The waves are coming, it’s super dangerous, be ready. Those ready are different. I don’t know how people do that. What I’m saying is how do you start that process? Is it systematic? How do you do that because you’ve been doing it for so long? A lot of people could use this and entrepreneurs could use it to build a business where it’s you have to not only pace yourself but you’ve got to keep that hot fire still burning hot inside you and keep going.
A couple of things. The blessing and curse of my life perhaps is that my fire is stoked at all times. If I love you and if I choose it, I’m in, but that does not mean that I’m ready on a dime. I had to call Brooke and say, “This is off-season now,” because I was panicking. If I’m not doing A, B, and C on the court, I’m a crap show and I’m not going to be great. That was the first step.
When you’re preparing, you need to be tethered to like, “We’re doing this and we’re doing that.” If it can’t happen, then you need to back away a little bit.
Especially now, when I’m trying to get back to the freedom and the fun with some of these awesome techniques that I’m doing, I need that. If I don’t have that, I’m pissed and I’m stressed and I’m like a slave to my fears. That was a huge perception.
Do you hide that from your kids? You go to practice and you’re working on stuff and you’re like, “This is not the way I want it to be going right now.” It’s then time to go pick them up from some. Do you have that ability?
I don’t either.
When I say I’m an asshole, it’s not at the moment. When I can do things better, it’s not just in the moment, it bleeds. I think about this. I fancy myself a non-thinker. I’m obsessed and I’m emotional. I’m not a good figure. My kids are little mirrors for me.
Joey is your oldest. I love the eleven and a half months apart between the two boys and then Scout. Is there one of them that hones in on what you have going on more than the others that are tapped into you in a different way?
Joey is the squeaky wheel because he’s relentless, he wants to be going all the time. He calls you out, “Mom, get off your phone. You’ve been doing emails too long. Get off. I see you’re on Instagram, get off,” or, “Mom, calm down. Stop being a jerk.” I’m like, “I know.” We talk about it and I was like, “Joey, it’s not an excuse but I’m having a bad day. I yelled at your dad for coaching me.” I never try to make excuses because that’s disgusting. I share with them what I’m feeling. Sometimes, after 30 minutes, I tell them, “Pipe down and get off me.” That’s where I feel like an a-hole. I let it seep into other parts of my life and I wish I could turn it off but I can’t.
Sometimes I feel like if you’re in pursuit in life, you’re trying to go for it. I’ll use business people I know or athletes. I’ve had this internal thought quite a bit. It’s so much about what we’re doing and our mission., For you, it’s even other layers like your body, your rehab, your prehab, your training, and all these things that have to line up in order for you to do what you do.
There have been times, as a parent, when I look at kids that do big things whether it’s in sport, art, music, or whatever, it almost felt like the parents sacrificed everything in order for that to happen. They were at every game, every bleacher, every practice, and whatever. I’m always curious because what you do is so much also about what you need to do. Do you ever get pulled? Sometimes I get pulled. I provide the opportunity for my children but also I’m not trying to live through them.
I’m not going to go to every practice because you should be going to practice because that’s what you want to do. I’ll get you to practice and I’ll pick you up from practice and I’ll feed you. I often wonder when you’re in pursuit simultaneously to being a parent, I’ve often felt not guilty but I’m like, “Maybe I’m not even sacrificing enough for their pursuit.” I don’t even know if that makes sense what I’m trying to say.
My people are my biggest mirrors. I parent the way I was parented ideally having learned what worked for me and what didn’t with my parents who are amazing. I’m pretty casual. I have this faith. I trust my kids a lot. If they say they got it, I’m like, “You got it.” They’re full of crap, they don’t got it. If they tell me, I’m like, “I got you.” I believe them. I always give it a lot of space. I’m always giving a lot of freedom. I wasn’t allowed in the house growing up. I was with my brother and my sister is out so we weren’t allowed in and we would explore and play. I was always the last kid picked up from practice because my parents worked and we lived 45 minutes away. I’m a parent like that. I’m not gnarly on my kids.
That’s what I mean, do you ever have that internal conversation with yourself? It’s like here you are in this definitive pursuit. Sometimes, with your kids, you’re like, “You’re going to be safe. You’re going to be clean. I’m going to love you. If I screw up, I’ll apologize.” In a way, what I’m saying is I don’t manage my kids’ life in that way to the level of detail when I’m in pursuit of a professional quest. Sometimes I go, “Maybe they’re going to suffer because of that.” It’s an interesting thing.
It’s cool. We’re all trying to figure this stuff out. I don’t know what the right answer is. Different kids need different things. Different people who are in pursuit parents in different ways. For me, the biggest time that I start to question the way I do things is because Casey is the opposite. I see my significant other who, ideally, is on the same page in most ways with the way you parent. There are a lot of rules. There’s a lot of crack in the whip and checking a lot. My kids are amazing.
It’s interesting, sometimes also when you’re like, “I know what you could be up to.” You didn’t get into trouble so you’re like, “They’re good.”
Maybe. They are good. When I’m sick, I don’t want to be touched, leave me alone. If you’re sick, I’ll be like, “I’m here for you but I’m not going to come and coddle you.” Casey is needy when he’s sick. We’re the opposite. I want space in my life to figure out how to improve in this area and this area. I don’t want to be told what to do, I hate it.
I don’t want to be that for my kids even though I want to guide them and put boundaries that are healthy that allow them to feel safe so they can explore. We’re different humans. I feel guilty sometimes that I’m not more on point but also, I can’t keep up that level of exactness and precision in all areas of my life. When it comes to raising other humans, I’d rather err on not being a helicopter and not being everything with my kids and letting them do their thing.
I always joke with Laird, the great thing about parenting is you don’t get a redo and there’s no way to get it right, “Was that the right move?” “I’ll let you know in eight years.” I find it a fascinating thing. If you have a mission and you go, “I have a tournament. My objective for this tournament is to win the tournament.” If you win the tournament, you hit the bullseye, and mission accomplished. In parenting, the deeper you get into parenting, the older your children get. When they’re little, it’s like, “They’re safe. They say please and thank you. They bring their plate to the sink.” Their clothes are matching and doing good.
They then get older and you’re like, “I don’t get a redo. There is no way to get it right.” I’ve had this thought lately that you keep showing, you keep looking at it, and saying, “I’m unsure but I’m going to keep swinging at the ball.” You love them. Maybe that’s the win. Maybe the win is when you’re scared and you’re unsure and maybe you don’t even like them at that minute but you’re going to keep showing up and going to keep loving them. That might be the win.
If you can consistently do those things, I feel like you’re not going to lose. That’s a great baseline. Jordan Peterson has been my world for a little bit now but now I’m ready because I’m going through this restructuring of myself. He has these 12 Rules for Life. There was one talk where he is talking about kids. He’s like, “Don’t let your kids do asshole things. Don’t make them do things that would make you not like them.”
To raise a kid that people will like, I don’t like that phrasing, but don’t let your kid do mean things or something that would make you not like them. I like that thought because that makes me want to hold them accountable for their great character traits. Also, this might lead me down to another selfish self-pursuit.
[bctt tweet=”Everything goes back to fundamentals and the fundamentals of technique and all these things, which I certainly have a lot of room for improvement.”]
He has a program about Self Authoring. You get to know yourself on these deep levels. I bought the program and I’m going to go into it. Honestly, I believe that the better I can be and the better I know myself is a forever work in progress but the more I can be in tune, the better they’re going to be because of it. Even if this takes me a 90-minute workshop, I’m going to go do it, “I love you guys. You’re fed. You’re hungry. You’re good.” I’m going to go do this and it’s important.
I feel like even when volleyball goes away, I’m going to keep doing this stuff because it’s true to me and I need to be there for my kids in every capacity possible but also allow them to know that they’re safe without me while I maintain my pursuit of whatever the hell I’m in pursuit of, which is inner peace, fun, and growth.
You’re in your off-season. Quarantine is your off-season. You’re probably doing some training here and there. Let’s say we come up for June or July. Let’s say, give or take, you’ll be allowed to go out of your house maybe in June or July, I don’t know. Let’s say the curve flattens out or what have you. Let’s say you reenter. Hopefully, it’s not life as we know it. Hopefully, we figure out something. Laird is always like, “We’ve had five pandemics since the 1950s and everybody goes back to the same old way.” Hopefully, maybe we get some clues and go, “Let’s make a conscious reentry.”
Ideally, that happens on the individual level. I hate that. I’m a small government girl. When people tell me what to do, I’m like, “You can suck it. I’ll be a great person on my own.”
It’s bringing that change. What does your life look like? You’ve moved the goal line for another year. Let’s say you’re practicing by late summer. How do you keep that steam or that motor?
To answer your question before, which is how do I maintain that? That’s something beneficial, the way I’m wired. I honestly don’t believe in peaking. I don’t even know what that means. For volleyball, as you know, there’s a championship every weekend. It’s not a season. I’m not trying to peak toward whatever. I’m trying to win a championship every weekend. That’s how I live my life. I want to be incrementally better every single time. I want to be here in May, a high-level winning.
When it comes time for August 7th, 2020 and now will be 2021, I want to kick ass and win that gold medal. I have all these building blocks. I don’t have to worry about my fire. I don’t have to worry about my people. I have all the components. Now, once we make the announcement of when the Olympics are, and then once we know our tournament schedule, I’ll be able to breathe and pursue things 100%. In the meantime, what I’m going to keep working on figuring out is, “How do I want to live my days better?” It’s the realization that I’m in a bubble too much of the time obsessed to a point of discomfort that is impacting my family in a negative way.
I have no control over my snacking habits. I’m going to be a tank by the time this quarantine is over. I’m eating like training eight times a day and I’m lucky if I’m training too. It’s nutty. I want to do the little things better because the little things make the big things go. Ultimately, I’m a happy girl and I want to put myself in the right mindset and in the right environment to be happy with my people.
Let’s talk about the vessel, managing your health, injuries, surgeries, rehabs, and all of these things. It’s easy to buy into this idea of age because it’s always a topic of conversation, “You’ve been doing this a long time and now you’re one of the older players,” and all that rhetoric that they love because it makes a narrative. I saw this woman and her name is Dr. Sue, a naturopath, and she came to an XPT thing. I was like, “Dr. Sue, I want to talk to you about some stuff. I’m 50 now.” She’s like, “Gabby, your biological age is less than that. You’re sitting there redefining, ‘I’m 50.’”
As an athlete, we have to be realistic. How good are you at managing because you’ve navigated injuries? In any repetitive sport, people are managing injuries, and that’s what you do. “When I played my first Olympics with Misty, that was X years ago.” We do all that BS. How do you not only fend that off but don’t allow that to be part of your narrative?
It’s not. I like Dr. Sue. I have such a different perception of age at this point. I don’t subscribe to the age thing.
Looking at immortality is a real thing. Besides that part, like, “I’m going to be on the planet amount of time,” that’s what I mean, this age thing. For athletes, females, and things, it’s all age, time, youth, and strength.
I know it’s BS. I was weak at Stanford in every way. I’m a late bloomer. I’m still blooming, thank God. We all ideally keep blooming. I was weak. I was broken in Rio. I was treading water for four years after London. I had many things. Ultimately, I should have been proud to be there but that’s not how I’m wired.
The Olympics are postponed a year or whatever it will be. It’s the way I’m looking at like more time in the saddle with my technique. I’m adding time where I can get stronger and stronger. I had ankle surgery and I had shoulder surgery after Rio 2017. My ankle was jacked up that I couldn’t even bend it for years. It’s gnarly stuff.
Once I fixed that, my whole body started to come together. At Stanford, I had two elective surgeries that set me up for the four that came after. There wasn’t a gun to my head. When you’re 18 and 19, when I had my surgeries, I had my period a year before. I’m still growing. I never was given therapy. I was given a lot of drugs and two surgeries that they stopped doing because it made me worse quickly.
Don’t you love that when you go to a doctor? I had what’s called a lateral release years ago on my knee. If I go to a PT now and I’ll say, “I had this and I had that. Please don’t make a face right now.” They’re like, “That only works for 11% of the population.” They don’t even do that surgery anymore. You’re like, “Awesome, thank you.”
They did it for a period of two and a half years and I had it done twice in that time. It’s ridiculous. I’m building myself. The only time the age thing comes up is when it’s like, “I’m a woman with three children. I’m in a way different place with my life.” I’ve been married for over fifteen years. I’ve been through a lot. The conversations are a little different.
We’re all humans and I can relate to anybody. I love people. When I look in the mirror, I’m like, “That’s about right.” That’s hard for me. I don’t want to be one of those people where it’s like, “My body is pretty good and my body looks young.” You go up and you’re like, “It is what it is.” I’ve never been the cutest girl. Thank God, it’s a total package. I don’t look in the mirror a lot but that’s okay. I got to love myself and I do. I’m grateful for everything.
What you’re saying is important because we all feel it but how long do you want to sit there? My favorite is when you look in the outside mirror of your car. Have you ever done that? You’re in the driveway and somehow you’re like, “I’m going to check something.” You look in that mirror on the outside of your car in that light and all of a sudden you’re like, “I’m not going to sit here and do that right now. I did notice that.” Sometimes it surprises me.
I’m like, “When did that happen?” Instead of it being like, “I’m going to sit here and go deep or down into that,” I’m going to be like, “I see that I feel that way. I got to keep on rolling because there’s no jack you can do about that.” It’s things that you think about, what you’re talking about, working on things, deconstructing things, and improving things all day long. Gravity, the freaking time, and whatever, it’s like, “There’s nothing you can do about it so let’s move on.” It’s important.
Kerri, you have been married for a long time and I’m always fascinated by your and Casey’s dance. Casey is very masculine, he played the same sport as you. You’ve been highly decorated in your sport and you guys have gone through your own things as we’ve all gone through things. Laird and I have gone through things. Anyone who’s like, “We’ve never gone through things,” it’s like, “If you’re saying to me you never went through anything, people got divorced and then they weren’t together.” If you’re still together, that means you went through stuff.
What I’m curious about is going through hard times. Laird and I had some dances and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married at one point. He was navigating and dealing with alcohol at another point. How do you get through that? What made the two of you say, It’s hard and uncomfortable.” This is when you’re pretty young. How do you get the skill to say, “We’re going to try to work through this.” Also, going into marriage versus now, what’s your belief system that’s different about that?
Years ago, in 2009, the wheels came off. We got married in ’05, we started dating in ’01. The wheels came off, all of them, at the same time in 2009. You were part of that. You were an amazing resource for me in 2009. You shared some wisdom with me that I will take with me forever and I’ll say it later. I was head down and blinders on chasing something right, in pursuit, taking for granted a connection with my husband.
Casey is masculine, he’s alpha, and he’s controlling. He wants control because he feels vulnerable. He’s protective. He’s from Vegas and he’s seen a lot of things and he’s lived a lot of things. He has the utmost regard for women. Because his mom was a cocktail waitress, he saw her get pursued and he saw a lot. It’s framed who he is. I love Casey, I respect him, and I adore him. I remember dating him after two weeks and I’m like, “You feel like you’re blunt. You feel like you are me.” There’s a deep connection there.
When the wheels fell off, I remember saying all the time, “I’m your girl, you forgot.” I know Casey so much and he was making decisions and acting in a way where I’m like, “That’s not Casey. He’s lost.” It’s not that I was right. I was to blame for the disruption in our marriage and so was he. I saw him and I saw me. I couldn’t control him so I went to me.
I asked him because he was like, “Babe…” He couldn’t even call me Kerri. It was gnarly. He was like, “You are going to thank me one day for this divorce because you’re going to be happy after me.” I was like, “You’re delusional. You’re out of your mind.” He was drinking a lot and he was in a dark place. He had been hurt for ten years by me in pursuit of something else, me not watering his lawn as a major understatement.
We have a foundation of love. We started going to Mike Gervais, who is my performance psychologist, and who became our marriage counselor. I remember after the session, Casey couldn’t even look at me. If you were looking at body language, I was over here, and Casey was this. He was so hurt and therefore was angry.
Gervais was like, “You guys love each other.” I was like, “Thank you for seeing that.” I’m like, “Am I delusional? Is everything Casey’s saying true and we never belonged together and all of this has been a sham and all these things?” There are so many things that go through when you’re in a tough spot. I believed in it and I was all in.
Gervais, at one point, was like, “Kerri, if you have a couple and one person’s willing to fight and the other person has this much of their baby finger in, then you have hope.” I knew that Casey had this much in because he had moments of softness toward me where I can tell that he loved me even though he was so mad. I maintain the hope because I know Casey through and through and I knew us. I just knew it.
My parents modeled for me that you got to go through a lot of crap. My parents went through a financial crisis, a loss of a child, a mudslide taking our house, and a lot of death and loss. My parents stuck together and they did it messily. They got in fights, they did all these things, and they did it in front of us but they love each other fiercely. That was my model and that probably allowed me things to carry on in a bad way for too long but it also allowed me to fight forever. That was long.
It isn’t long. I know that a lot of people are in relationships and cohabitation in general is a dance. I always said that especially when you’re in a newer relationship, not only are you continuing to get to know yourself but also you’re learning the dance steps with your partner. You’re going to step on each other’s feet. A lot of people don’t know how to find a way to push through that and realize that most times on the other side is the greatest reward of going through that together.
I’m not saying all couples should stay together. For some couples, maybe it’s that moment of realizing, “We’re probably not in it for the long haul so I would never suggest that.” It’s reminding people that if we’re acting angry, we’re probably hurt. If someone is dealing with an addiction, they’re probably hurt. It’s not personal against you. It’s the constant calibration of, “How do I make myself happy and pursue my own life and my self-expression simultaneously to trying to enhance your life?”
Think about times maybe you’re winning and getting all this attention and success and your husband is now redefining himself. Little children, growing a family and then having less time for each other, all these things that we’re going to go through, at least trying to figure out ways to develop a skillset to figure out how to navigate it a little. A few of us have good examples like you or come with that skillset somehow naturally. You have to bump into stuff.
That’s the benefit of being an athlete because we have the team concept in mind and we’re used to dealing with stuff. Obviously, this is next-level times a million. It’s fun to be with a partner who constantly challenges me and who holds me accountable. It’s exhausting as hell. We start to get itchy. We transition to life every couple of years because we want to keep growing and sometimes we don’t recognize that we have this calling for something more and we start to act out in weird ways. Fundamentally, there’s great intimacy to be had when you engage even if you’re fighting. That gets you to the heart of the matter.
Even if you keep having the same fight over and over, ideally, you’re peeling back the layers and getting somewhere where you have a deeper understanding of each other. Gervais told me at one point, “Kerri, don’t be afraid to have conflict. That is literal intimacy. You don’t want to bicker and pick a fight just to pick a fight. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say, ‘That’s not okay.’ If your husband’s mad at you, don’t cower because that’s like a bandaid.”
You asked if Laird’s friends had to do the same things Laird did. When times are hard and when times are good, it should always be an invitation, “Babe, I’m going to go to bed at 9:30. I’d love for you to be in bed with me.” Casey was pissed off and was like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “How do you not understand this?” We’ve come to terms and it takes time and people need space to grow. It has to be his. It cannot be my choice for him. My last point, when things are hard in a marriage or a partnership or whatever, you have to go from here to here because that gives you control as much as you can have control in the environment.
I find the greatest change is if you want to change your environment, change yourself. I see that with my children and I see that in my partner where it’s like, “If I somehow have this idea that I want you to elevate, I need to elevate. Possibly, I would never limit you.” Do you think that this is possibly your last Olympics or are you going to see how it goes and see how you feel?
First things first, an athlete’s life is finite. The competitive life of an athlete is finite. I don’t know when that’s going to come. We thought that this Olympics could be postponed in 2022 and I didn’t even skip a beat. I’m like, “I’m going to be there.” Casey is like, “Paris is only two years after that and you’re only getting better.” I’m like, “You’re right.” I’m assuming this will be my last Olympics. I’m not going to say I’ll know when I know.
What makes you say that?
I don’t know because I keep getting new life into me.
I know it hasn’t been an easy half coming to the last Olympics and this Olympics. I know it’s been a dogfight probably for seven years or so. Do you say, “We’ll see,” or, “I’ll deal with this first and then I’ll answer that later.”
On the road to Rio, I kept getting hurt and that was exhausting. It was soul-sucking hard. In the last three years leading up to the Tokyo Games, the disruptions have been by choice. I’ve brought it all on myself and that’s more empowering and that makes me think there’s so much more inside of me. I never want to like tap out prematurely, ever.
For a while, it’s like, “Why are you being greedy? You’ve been there so much. what are you doing?” I’m like, “Shut up. This has nothing to do with anyone else. Respect the world and respect everyone’s opinions. They have no say. I don’t need to care that they think I should be done.” I’m not taking away opportunities from their people. I have to earn it. I did this little experiment. Brooke and I are where we are because we have more money and we’ve been able to go to more tournaments because we have more money. I was like, “Screw off man.”
First of all, they chose to stay at the AVP. We all have choices. If you think I’m a bazillionaire, come on in. I played beach volleyball. No disrespect to beach volleyball, there’s just so much ignorance out there. As with everything in my life, I want to be the one to choose. I pray to God that when I retire it’s because my heart is satisfied with everything I’ve done and that it’s not because of my body. I pray that my body is on point.
I don’t know the answer to that question. We’ll see. I hope you don’t think I’m kissing your ass. You and Laird and the way you’ve constructed your life, that’s what I want, at least from my perspective, I know you guys work like discipline is freedom. I feel like you guys live that. I’m wired that way as well but you do things together and you each have your own individual paths. You all support each other and it’s probably messy and ugly but in respect and play it seems and I want that with whatever’s coming next.
Kerri, you have the capacity because you’re willing to do what it takes. That’s the underlying thing. People can go, “She has it like this or like that.” I even hear a lot, especially with Laird, “I wish I could train all day and surf.” It’s like, “You have to show up.” First of all, when you look at the opportunity to be able to do it as a gift, that’s a starting point. You have that and I see that in a lot of other people that you go, “The fact that I get to struggle in this thing that I dig, perfect.”
The level of showing up, to hear a person like you who has won so much talking about rejiggering and reexamining is the thing that people don’t understand. A lot of times people lock and load and they go through their life and they’re good to go. When people are willing to say, “This is pretty good but it could probably be better.” The process of doing that is pretty uncomfortable. A lot of people don’t want to do it or they haven’t been in environments where they could do it.
[bctt tweet=”I feel like autonomy and freedom are what I’m after and that self-accountability allows for these things.”]
I’m going to end on this because the other important thing for me that I come away with this is that it’ll be on you to decide. You’re not allowing the world to define you or to say to you, “TikTok, you’re this age, wrap it up.” We have a good friend named Don King and he’s a water cinematographer and not a boxing promoter. It couldn’t be more different. Someone said to Laird a long time ago, “Everybody gets their turn.” Don King said, “The problem is Laird doesn’t want to give his up.”
The turn changes and evolves and it’s more about that. Also, I think that the idea of, “I could be a little better.” I don’t mean it in a physical way. The thing that you’re doing where you go, “Could I be a little bit better?” If we all look at that and realize that we have that in our hands, it’s such a great way to go through life.
It’s a beautiful way to look at life. A couple of thoughts came to mind and one is I listened to a lot of Abraham Hicks, The Law of Attraction, so what you focus on is what you attract to your life. She’s like, “How you frame things in life is so important.” A lot of people think there’s one pie. We’re cutting up pieces of this one pie. She’s like, “That’s so wrong. We’re creating a new pie.”
It’s a universe of abundance and not lack. Those who look at life like it’s abundance operate in that way. It’s like, “I’m not going to give up my turn. You have your turn. You go ride your way. I’m not taking anything from you. God bless you. I’ll high-five you and ensure you the whole way sincerely but I’m going to keep doing this.”
The other thing is I was listening to Jordan Peterson and he’s like, “I never write anything down because I don’t want to take myself to new places. If I have this script, that’s the least authentic. It’s like a facsimile. There’s already an agenda and we’re never going to get to the new frontier. If I show up with things I’ve been thinking about and keep trying to get deeper and more precise in my articulation, that’s doing me justice and you justice.” That’s how I look at life.
I’ve always lived a life that way even though I don’t have the words to articulate these things. It’s fun. I feel like autonomy and freedom are what I’m after and that self-accountability allows for these things. Life is good and being surrounded by people who are constantly challenging themselves and asking for more and pursuing helps me a lot.
You helped give me vocabulary. You helped the way. I’m talking to you because you’re one of my people whether you know it or not. Laird is the same. Jordan Peterson, Abraham, and Jesus, I have all these people. My children are lighting the way for me and then it’s my job to make that light even brighter. It’s been a fun journey but I’m not done and I’m far from done. I want to finish satisfied and perhaps that’s not even possible. If I can get rid of that asshole edge and then leave it and allow it there, I have a chance.
It couldn’t be any better. I appreciate your time.
I love you so much.
I love you. I’m going to congratulate you on an additional twelve months of preparation.
I never started that pool work so that’s going to be coming. There’s so much opportunity here. It’s exciting.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Kerri Walsh Jennings
Kerri Walsh Jennings is an American professional beach volleyball player, five-time Olympian, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and a one-time Olympic bronze medalist. Today, Kerri has her sights set on winning Gold at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Kerri played high school volleyball and basketball for Archbishop Mitty in San Jose where she earned a scholarship to Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies. Following her collegiate career, Kerri played in her first Olympic Games in 2000, representing the U.S. on the indoor volleyball team. Team USA took home fourth place and Kerri then immediately transferred to beach volleyball.
Kerri has participated in the last four Summer Olympic Games, representing Team USA in Women’s Beach Volleyball.