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Becoming Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps talks how faith from his coach helped him reach the Olympics

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Having won 28 medals, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history. He has trained and competed at the highest levels of elite swimming, has broken world records and forged a lifelong career unrivaled by any other. Even after he announced his retirement in 2012, he made a valiant comeback in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where he won five more gold medals to bring him up to a remarkable 23 first-place finishes.

You are about to hear from this legendary athlete, as he and Tony have a one-on-one interview at Tony’s private home, as part of a small event held for his Platinum Partners. You’ll hear Michael Phelps, who shares with the group how he came to dominate the sport of swimming – and the setbacks he faced along the way. You’ll also hear a little bit from snowboarder Shaun White, who was also there toward the end. (You can hear Shaun’s full interview right here on the podcast).

Michael has trained and competed in the swimming pool for the vast majority of his life. He made his Olympic debut at just 15 years old, and he spent the next 16 years mastering the sport through hard work and determination, intense focus and an unwavering trust in his long-time coach, Bob Bowman. Touted as one of the greatest coach-athlete partnerships in the history of swimming, Michael opens up to Tony about his unbreakable relationship with Bob, who not only molded him into at supreme athlete, but who also played an essential role in his emotional upbringing.

But not everything for Michael Phelps has been paved with gold, and his rise to the top was not without a series of well-publicized stumbles. In this interview, he opens up about his own struggle with depression, which affects over 40 million people in the U.S., and takes a particular toll on Olympic athletes who are on a biochemical high during the games and afterwards return home feeling empty and directionless.

Now, Michael’s life is far different from what it once was. He’s a husband and father of two boys. He’s more patient. He spends time writing. He’s rekindling a relationship with his father. He’s not planning on another Olympic comeback – instead, he’s using his platform to help save lives through the Michael Phelps Foundation and his commitment to water safety and mental health programs and awareness. And as he shares with Tony, to him, that’s a comeback even bigger than winning an Olympic gold medal.

Michael Phelps Interview

Michael Phelps Interview Show Notes

[01:13] Episode introduction
[03:55] Going through the ringer
[04:28] How Michael is different today
[05:04] Showing the world the new Michael Phelps
[05:30] Impact of a second child
[06:02] The tests of parenthood
[06:27] Michael’s wife’s unwavering support
[07:04] Growing together as a couple
[07:30] Michael growing up
[07:56] When Michael met Coach Bob Bowman
[08:31] The influence of Michael’s sister
[09:00] The trust in Bob Bowman
[09:25] Bob steps in as a father
[10:04] Growing together with Bob
[10:34] Butting heads with Bob
[11:04] Michaels training regimen
[11:28] Stories from the Olympic Training Center
[12:04] Why Michael never took a day off
[12:28] Shaun White’s training
[12:54] Where Michaels drive came from
[13:35] Goal to break a world record
[14:00] First world record and world championship
[14:35] Relationship with Ian Thorpe
[15:10] Ian Thorpe’s challenge to Michael
[15:48] Winning the race by 1/100th of a second
[16:21] There goes a gold medal
[16:59] Visualizing the win
[17:30] The small things that make a massive difference
[18:02] The 2012 downfall
[18:31] After the 2008 Olympics
[19:25] The most influential race of Michael’s career
[20:16] The decision to come back from retirement
[20:50] Michael’s struggle with depression
[21:18] The root of Michael’s depression
[21:45] Feeling lost after the Olympics
[22:04] Shaun White’s depression after Olympics
[22:37] Why Olympic athletes go through depression
[23:05] Decision to ask for help
[23:26] Pushing through depression
[23:53] What Michael learned at The Meadows
[24:36] Rekindling the relationship with his Dad
[25:28] The biggest misperception about his father
[26:00] Painful memories from his past
[26:30] The decision to communicate
[27:00] Michael’s relationship with his father today
[27:33] How Michael is similar to his father
[28:05] The biggest thing Michael learned from Bob Bowman
[28:31] Removing the word “can’t”
[29:29] What stands out most about his career
[30:10] Turning the page
[30:28] Reflections on Rio
[31:01] Nothing else left to accomplish
[31:23] Transition into the real world
[32:00] Importance of living in the moment
[32:37] Impact of reading The Power of Now
[33:16] The achiever’s curse
[34:00] Finding fulfillment after achievement
[34:24] Tony’s goals throughout his life
[35:18] What the next 10 years look like
[35:47] Life outside of the pool
[36:14] Commitment to saving lives
[37:00] Water safety initiatives
[37:40] What Michael loves today
[38:26] Tony’s invitation
[38:50] Tony’s thank you

A coach’s inspiration

We wouldn’t be talking about Michael Phelps’ medals – or Michael Phelps at all – without the support and belief of his coach, Bob Bowman. In many ways, Bob helped grow Michael into the Olympian he is today.

Michael grew up seeing his sister compete at a high level, and her victories helped shape Michael’s desire to compete as well. When Michael turned 11, he reports that Bob told him, “You can make the Olympic team… in four years.” 

Michael, deeply aware of his sister’s success and wanting to emulate her and carve his own path in the pool, said to himself, “This is what I want. I want to be an Olympian.” 

On the basis of his coach’s words, he dropped out of his other sports and focused entirely on swimming. 

The body and the mind

A good coach doesn’t just train your body. They also learn how your mind works so they can craft strategies that will help you reach your goals. For Michael, this meant an intense training regimen (10 workouts a week) and spending the bulk of the day in each other’s company.

Bob understood Michael’s natural competitiveness and drive to do better. After placing fifth in his first Olympics, Michael knew he wanted to do much, much better four years later. Bob wrote “WR” on their new training plan.

“We’re going to get a world record,” Bob said. “In six months.”

With that very clear goal to visualize and work toward, the two of them got to work.

Trust and confidence

Stepping back from other promising avenues is a risk many young athletes and entrepreneurs are not entirely prepared to take. Why close yourself off from other potential success if this venture fails? But Michael trusted Bob to guide him. At 11, Michael was searching for someone to show confidence in him and in his abilities.

You can’t get much more confident than declaring someone’s Olympic potential and giving them a timeline to reach it. As Michael grew, Bob’s confidence in him never wavered. Their communication occasionally needed to change and improve, but their trust in one another never wavered – and that made all the difference.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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