Charlie Walsh: The Power of the Mind Over Body
Charlie Walsh pushed many of Australia's cycling elite to their very best, and beyond, as one of the early adopters of high performance psychology.
Over his time as an Olympic and elite cycling coach, Charlie saw it all. Athletes who physiologically 'had it all' and some who didn't, but his job was to shape them for success, he didn't care if they liked him or not.
Speaking to PickStar's Off-Field Podcast, Charlie said "coaching wasn't perceived or respected as it needed to be" when he started leading young cyclists in the 80s.
Charlie immediately set out to bring change, and his approach was unlike anything ever seen before in elite sport at the time.
He brought high performance psychology, a scientific method never seen in Australian cycling, and along with it came a gruelling training regime.
"I would always try to test the limits and I would say to the athletes, ‘look I'm not sure what the outcome of this will be, but let's try it'."
He spoke about the rigorous training schedule he made his cyclists endure - a hard 5am training session, then off to their respective jobs all day, and then back to the track in the afternoon for another brutal session.
"I say to them 'well meet me at the Velodrome after work', so down to Hanson Reserve, 400m track, windy, hot and cold, and I'd have them do two and a half laps, cracking in.
"And this training had never been done before, both in terms of the intensity, the distance and the volume for what we would actually do.
"Being two and a half laps means you're gonna have three tail wins or three head wins. Well, I can tell you it was always three head wins. Never anything easy because I'm targeting the psychology and when they finished that, for most people that's the end of the day."
But it wasn't the end, because after a light dinner they'd be racing in a competition.
"So they'd go out racing, heavy legs, tired and then there's all the other people fresh and ready to go and selection [is] based on performance and I'm saying to them, 'well I'm not concerned about you winning, what I am concerned about is do not give in'."
While his methods didn't win him many friends they did win his cyclists plenty of medals and titles. Over his time coaching he helped his cyclists break 10 world records, 12 Olympic records and 22 Commonwealth Games records. His total medal tally sits at an impressive 78 Gold, 50 Silver and 51 Bronze.
"Ultimately, in performance, it is (about) the mind. You can have the best body in the world, but it is (about) the mind," Charlie said.
"If you challenge yourself and fail, that's okay. I don't worry about that, I like to see people that will challenge yourself and then, if it hasn't worked then we need to work out why."
Charlie was recently booked as a keynote speaker through PickStar for the Star Pharmacy group. Feedback from the event was full of praise.
"Our overall conference was a great success, Charlie was engaging, funny and inspirational. We would highly recommend him to others in this context."
PickStar produces Off-Field, the podcast that focuses on the world of sport outside of the arena with the people who make it happen. It's more than just a podcast. We host regular meet-up events and live interviews for people interested in the world of sport outside of the arena.