Kelsey Jo Holsten: “Follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something”

Any negative chatter or thoughts that come into my head out on the golf course or in life, I simply let that thought occur, notice it and then say the words DELETE or CANCEL to quiet the noise and shift my mind elsewhere. As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Any negative chatter or thoughts that come into my head out on the golf course or in life, I simply let that thought occur, notice it and then say the words DELETE or CANCEL to quiet the noise and shift my mind elsewhere.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelsey Jo Holsten.

Kelsey Jo Holsten is a Bay Area golf professional, fitness trainer, actress and community leader that inspires and motivates all of her following to channel their greatest self. She has been published as a Top Female Leader in the golf industry and has represented Northern California PGA four times in the Women’s Cup Matches. She has broke down barriers at her local golf club being the first female golf manager to take on the position. Kelsey is committed to building a world based on inspiration and motivation. She does this by providing the thought of “why not?” and “why not me?” to continue wherever her journey takes her.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. 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 a small town in Toledo, Ohio where literally my entire family lives ten minutes away from each other. I was an outdoorsy girl that enjoyed playing sports and just moving. I played basketball, softball, track and field, volleyball; pretty much any sport you could think of. My main focus was fastpitch softball. My heart and soul were in the sport and the game gave me a close connection to my dad that grew up playing baseball. I was in my junior year of high school and was thinking about college and the next steps to fulfill my athletic career. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t at the level I needed to be at to play fastpitch softball at a top university. I thought to myself what in the world am I going to do now? I decided to try something new that I’ve never done before. It was between tennis or golf and I randomly chose golf. Now, none of my family or friends played the sport and this was me just going out on whim, but I instantly became infused into competing and practicing the sport that was going to change my life forever. I was recruited to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida and through golf internships and experiences, I made my way out to California.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

My swing coach, Claire Batista, inspired me to continue with golf at a higher level. I was in my senior year in high school and debating on what I should do for a career. She mentioned to me that I could have a career in golf and I just looked at her blankly; like is that even possible? She explained to me that I could get a college degree in golf and continue competing and that was it. That was my dream and goal and I was going to go after it.

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 success comes from one of my greatest mentors, Bill Hughes. We had met briefly before I went away to college at a special awards banquet where I was honored with the sportswoman of the year award. He was the special guest to the ceremony, and I made sure afterwards to go up and thank him for being at the event and for presenting me with the award. That was the last conversation I had with him until a month into college.

A week into college, I started to have back pain and was very lightheaded. I was 17 at the time and no family around. A friend that I just made drove me to the hospital to find out that I was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome and was given a twenty percent chance of living. I don’t remember much, but I knew that I was put into a comma and lots of blood transfusions were made to flush out all the toxins. After a month of being in the hospital, I slowly inched my way back to better health and learned how to walk again and function properly. I was released a day before my 18th birthday but was on too many medications to really know what was going on. This put a damper onto my golf game, and I had to learn the game from square one.

Throughout this experience, Bill was supporting me and my family the entire way. When I was released from the hospital, he was in close contact and really showed up not just for support, but for guidance as well. I finished my physical therapy and went back to school to finish what I started. To this day, Bill has always been the biggest supporter, cheerleader and most warm-hearted person I have ever met. What sticks out in my mind, is whenever I am faced with a choice to follow the method of “GO BIG OR GO HOME” and that’s how I have lived my life thus far.

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?

I was at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida working the CME Group Titleholders LPGA event. There was an event going one afternoon where they had the top female golf professionals play with young girls to be a mentor and provide an experience. One of pros backed out and they asked me to participate. Me and the club fitter from the academy grabbed a staff bag and we rushed to the tee. This was my first time in this type of environment. I’m classified as one of the top LPGA Professional in the world, WHAT? I was shaking and wondering if I was even going to make contact with the ball. My name was called first for the group and the nerves and adrenaline were pounding. I let go and just hit the ball and it was one of the most powerful drives I have ever hit. I was in shock and doing my happy dance inside of my head. The group was walking towards their ball and the other pro in the group looked at me and mentioned “Great shot. How many appearances have you had at this tournament?” The takeaway I had from this experience is to never count yourself out. Believe in who you are and what you have to offer to the world. The way you hold yourself and respect yourself is how others will see you. It was another pivot point that led my mindset in the right direction.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

Follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am so excited to share that I am working on some great projects that involve golf, fitness and mindset. I have always been a fitness guru and throughout my professional career I have obtained the right knowledge that I can now help others and give back in the way that matters most. I’m also working on creating a more open and inviting environment for women to join in the game of golf. An example is Women’s Golf Day that happens every June. Outside of golf, I am currently running a charity campaign for the Woman of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of my dad.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. 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?

Have a plan and practice that plan before competition and stepping onto the first tee. Before every tournament or golf round, I have a specific plan related to golf, sleep, nutrition, fitness and other components to be in the right mindset to set myself up for success.

Forget the future, focus on the present. Especially in golf, you want to think about the finish line and what could be the outcome. DON’T. Get your mind space right and be present in the moment. Shot by shot and working towards enjoying where you’re at in the here and now. This relates to the sport of life as well.

Find gratitude. When there is a big moment or event that is happening, I always look to gratitude to ease my mind. Before competition or big events, I have a little pocketbook that I keep in my golf bag or purse and I take five minutes to write down why I’m grateful for this opportunity. Those five minutes puts my mind in check and takes away the expectation and standard of having to do nothing but the best. I can always refer back to this book out on the course as a reminder if I am feeling any signs of anxiety or discomfort with my performance.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

Through my yoga teacher training, I have learned a variety of breathing techniques that create a calm mind. The two techniques that have helped my athletic performance on and off the golf course are the four-count breath and alternating nostril breathing. The four-count breath is when you inhale for four counts, hold breath for four counts and then exhale for four counts. This has been great when I’m out on the course and I’m feeling the pressure from my competition, especially after they hit a pretty good shot. The technique allows me to stay in the moment and find stillness before hitting my shot. The alternating nostril breathing can be a combination of counts of your choice. I use four, ten and eight. The way this works is to close my right nostril and breath in through my left for four counts, hold breath for ten counts and then exhale out the right nostril for eight counts then repeating vice versa. I don’t do this out on the course. This method is when I’m sitting in my car or locker room getting prepared to step into my moment.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Visualization is the best technique for me out on the golf course to keep focus. Doing this before, during and after I hit the shot is so important on how I handle my manor out on the course. When I step behind the ball I visualize exactly how the ball is going to go. The trajectory, curvature and distance. I keep that image with me when I stand over the ball and ready to hit. After I hit the ball, I now create the image of how this next shot is going to go. Staying in the moment and keeping this visualization helps me stay laser focused and quiet any distractions.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. I can’t stress this enough being a professional athlete. Yoga and isometric movements are so important in any sport that is played. Depending on how I feel, I will either do a hatha or vinyasa practice for about two hours that includes breathwork. I have found when I do my practice and exercises, I am balanced and stable throughout my whole swing and able to really produce a better power source from the ground up. These two areas of focus not only help with consistency in golf, but also help prevent injury on and off the course.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

One-hundred perfect. The first thing I did was identify what I needed to practice or include into my routine and then make it a habit. What works for me might not work for you and what works for you might not work for me, so identifying the key components are vital to be successful in your sport or industry. One of the major life changes was during to a plant-based diet and incorporating more raw organic foods into my diet. I had a lot of intolerances that were affecting my body and how I felt every day. This was an option to partake in. This was EXTREMELY hard for me at first because I’m not the biggest fan of veggies. I first got my mindset right and committed to it. I started with just one meal a week and then slowly progressed to where I almost always eat foods from the earth. Not to say that I don’t break habit here and there because I definitely do and that’s ok. I think the biggest thing with creating successful habits is to start small and grow big. The changes the way you feel, and the experiences are life changing.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

I’m not going to lie. Doing two hours of yoga a day, along with meditation and other activities is a grind and not realistic. When you go to your average golfer, nine out of ten times they aren’t doing any activity to prepare for their golf round. With that being, to create these habits of mindfulness and physical conditioning I think starting in small doses will create the habits that people want to pursue. Starting out with five minutes a day of meditation or two core exercises you can do both morning and night. These little things that don’t take much time can translate into routine and then habit that can only expand and better the body and the mind. Another option is holding yourself accountable with an alarm or a friend. When you see or hear that message, you’ll know that it’s time to get it done. That way the day doesn’t get away from you. Stopping bad habits can be done by granting yourself with little gifts if you didn’t do it. Example would be if I lay in bed and don’t do my nightly stretch before bed, I will award myself with a delicious dessert on the weekend.

As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

The flow of mental state is such a unique and powerful feeling for an athlete. I have been in it many times out on the course. The experience seems almost unnatural. There was a time where I had five birdies in a row and I remember thinking to myself, “is this real?” The best advice to stay in the flow of live or in your athletic performance is to stick to the plan. Have the same routine or approach before you hit your shot or make your move. Don’t focus on what could go wrong, but the things that are going great. That level state of mind will continue the flow and expand the length of your flow.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

There are two different meditations that I use to help in my life. The first is the auto body scan. I will lay on the floor and go through each part of my body and then say in my head words like release, grounded, let go and other words that relax my muscles and my mind. This really helps me identify how much stress and pressure is held up in certain areas of my body and allow myself to send that tension away. This allows my mind to completely relax.

I also use mantra to meditate. I pick a phrase or a word that I would really want to bring my focus to and bring into my practice

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

Any negative chatter or thoughts that come into my head out on the golf course or in life, I simply let that thought occur, notice it and then say the words DELETE or CANCEL to quiet the noise and shift my mind elsewhere.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I use experience and adventure by sharing with others the stories, specifically the tougher times to let others know that I feel them, and I know where they’re at. I have been through a lot in my life and I know that if you believe in yourself you can achieve anything. If I can touch someone in a way to motivate, inspire or believe in themselves, that is more of a success then winning any golf tournament.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

The quote was “success is the sum of your choices”. I use this as almost my mantra from day to day because it is the choices that we make that impact our success and get us further along our journey and pathway to be who we want to be. If you want to be a professional athlete, what choices are you going to have to make to create that outcome. Maybe it’s giving up some of your time spent with friends? Maybe it’s grinding when everyone else is tired and went home? The choices have to be made to create the success and life you want to live.

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 a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would be very honored to spend time with Robin Roberts. She is an incredible human being that has achieved so much through so many challenges in her life. I think we are both similar in so many ways. She inspires me not only in athletics but in life and how she tackles day to day with such poise and independence. Her emotions are raw, and she has a caring personality that sheds positivity with her community.

You might also like...


The Social Impact Heroes of Social Media: Rhonda Vetere is using her platform to inspire women to pursue STEM opportunities

by Candice Georgiadis

Kelsey Bucci of Paris Laundry: “Don’t expect anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself”

by Candice Georgiadis

“Look at your eyes in the mirror.” With Ming Zhao & Kelsey Patel

by Ming S. Zhao
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.