Be okay with no social life — I didn’t have a huge social life when I was an athlete and I was okay not being able to go out all the time with my friends. This is a mindset shift for some, but you need to be okay with making sacrifices.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Beard.
Amanda Beard is a four-time Olympian and two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer. A fierce advocate for water safety and drowning prevention, she co-founded learn to swim school Beard Swim Co. in 2017 with the philosophy that the ability to swim is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child. Amanda also serves on the board of national nonprofit, Hope Floats Foundation, which provides swim lesson scholarships for children in need.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Southern California and had a cookie-cutter childhood with two older sisters, a mom and a dad. I lived in a great community with a community pool that was easily accessible. My childhood wasn’t anything too exciting, but I thought it was super fun. The coolest thing was how easy it was for me to join a swim team. Now that I’m living up in Washington State, I realize there aren’t pools everywhere. I didn’t know that growing up because in Southern California the ability to swim and learn to swim is much more available.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?
Summer Sanders. She was someone I remember watching when I was 10 years old during the 1992 Olympics. I thought she was amazing. I remember being at my friend’s beach house and watching her compete and thinking, “I want to be like her, that is who I need to be.” I already loved swimming, but that summer was eye-opening to me. I realized that swimming was what I wanted to do. And I what really wanted was to swim at the Olympics. I told my parents that night and four years later I was competing in the Olympics.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My dad was definitely my in-house sports hero. He was a super athlete. He played football, basketball and baseball, and played basketball in college. It was nice because he didn’t understand swimming when I was starting out so he didn’t put pressure on me, but he could talk to me about his general experience as an athlete. We never dissected my swimming technique specifically, but we could relate on a lot of other levels. He would tell me, “the hardest practices, the ones you didn’t want to go to, when you’re feeling unmotivated or the weather is bad — those are the most important ones because when you get to your swim meet or competition, it’s never going to be the ideal scenario. You need to practice when you’re at your worst so you can learn how to overcome that and push through.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Every day there is something goofy or weird I find myself involved in. People are always surprised when they meet me because they expect athletes to be tough, but once I let my guard down, they realize I’m a nerd at heart. I remember getting ready for the 2004 Olympic Trials and I was sharing my room with fellow Olympian Kim Vandenberg. I was 22 and we were blasting the song “Pump Up the Jam” and I was dancing and singing. I was acting more like a 13-year-old, just a few hours before the competition. I think the lesson for me is to not take life too seriously. There is always time to have fun, it needs to be balanced.
As an athlete, you often face high-stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high-stress situations?
My best advice, and what I would do in big meet situations to prepare mentally, is to have a clear plan and a routine. I always had a timeline and a routine. I mapped everything out in my head including exactly how I wanted everything to go down. Get on the bus at this time, stretching at this time. I didn’t allow myself to be rushed. Having a good routine and timeline helped me go through the process of preparing without time to panic. Visualization is another big one. I learned visualization at a very young age and did it in college as well. I would visualize my race on the bus ride to the pool, going through the full race in my mind from start to finish, including how I wanted to feel, my stroke count, every detail. Then during my warmup, I was ready.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
I didn’t start doing anything concrete in the business world until after I tried to make the 2012 Olympics, which was my last attempt. My second child was born in 2013 and then I decided to retire. I was ready to let go and move on to the next chapter. I realized my identity wasn’t tied entirely to being a swimmer. From there, I had to decide what I wanted to do next and that took some time before I found my purpose and the drive to create something new.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
I co-founded Beard Swim Co. about four years ago in 2017. When I was living in Tucson after I had my first child, we went to my friend’s swim school and we had an amazing experience. It finally dawned on me that this was something I could do too. It was different than I thought, and I realized how rewarding it felt to pass on my love for swimming to children. At that time, I realized I could see myself doing this and teaching children to swim is something I would love to give back to my community. What a cool gift.
After that my husband and I decided to move to Washington State, near where my parents were born, to a town outside Seattle called Gig Harbor. There is water everywhere here and at the time there were no learn to swim programs. It was then that Beard Swim Co. was born!
Over the past several years, I’ve also done a lot of speaking engagements and it’s something I really enjoy. It’s a very different experience from my day to day at Beard Swim Co. to go and talk and share my stories with people. I really like being able to relate with others on that level and not in the pool. I’ve spoken to groups at conferences, universities, swim programs, corporations…you name it, I’ve probably done it.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Being an athlete definitely prepared me for starting my own business. I think you hear a lot of negative feedback in both situations. People have told me it will be too hard and counseled me to do something else. But I’ve learned how important it is to commit yourself fully to something. My experience as an athlete taught me how to dedicate myself fully to my goals. So when I decided to open my swim school, I knew I was going to do whatever it took and not give up. The athlete mindset sets you up and gives you that drive to push through.
Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”?
- Never take no for an answer — I never felt bad when I got turned down for a bank loan or was told no by someone during the process of creating Beard Swim Co. Hearing no was never a devastating blow. I picked up and moved on. Persistence pays off.
- Do whatever needs to be done and do it “right now” — no procrastinating, you need to be able to do the things you don’t want to do. Not everything is going to feel good.
- Be goal-oriented — setting goals is super important and striving to attain and meet those goals helps you overcome the roadblocks you will come across.
- Take care of yourself — working long hours on little sleep can take a toll on your body so you need to find time to take care of yourself, whether that’s with good eating habits, scheduled rest time or moving your body.
- Be okay with no social life — I didn’t have a huge social life when I was an athlete and I was okay not being able to go out all the time with my friends. This is a mindset shift for some, but you need to be okay with making sacrifices.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
I cannot stress balance enough even though I’m not always the best at it. When you commit yourself totally to your sport or career, it can create some unbalance. It’s vital to have an identity outside of your sport. That’s not who you are, it’s what you do. Someday, your athletic career will come to an end and you don’t want that to be a devastating blow. Hobbies and other passions are extremely important and having other things you love will give you breaks to refresh and recharge yourself.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve been working in drowning prevention and water safety since my first Olympics. I grew up with pools all over the place, and with that came access and learn to swim programs. Every single one of my friends knew how to swim. Then I learned that was not normal across the country — some kids do not have the access to pools and the opportunity to learn to swim that I did. So being able to give people the opportunity to teach their kids to swim is huge. It’s been a great way to redirect my love and passion for swimming and to share it with others on whatever level that may be, even if it means just getting comfortable in the water.
I also serve on the board at Hope Floats Foundation, which is a national nonprofit that provides tuition assistance and need-based scholarships for swim lessons. Hope Floats works with local swim schools to develop fundraising programs and promote available scholarships in their communities that directly benefit local families. Their program enables us to provide free swim lessons and help kids who otherwise couldn’t afford lessons without having to create our own nonprofit organization.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now, accidental drowning remains the leading cause of death for children under four. We’ve got to change that, and I would love to see every child given the opportunity to learn to swim. I want to remove the barriers that prevent kids from learning to swim and open the doors to all the benefits swimming provides. Beyond saving lives, parents of children in learn to swim programs report improvement in listening skills, motivation and work ethic, academic performance, energy levels, attention levels, and the ability to set goals. These are amazing outcomes and span behaviors well outside the pool. Every child deserves to experience these benefits!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I don’t have a specific favorite quote, but it would be something along the lines of “Be Kind”. This is how my family and I try to live our lives.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this…
Because my son is so into baseball, I would love to meet the baseball players he loves. He’s obsessed with Ricky Henderson so that would be my top pick. Ricky is a retired player from Oakland who has the record for most bases stolen. My son watches all the old games on YouTube.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!