Rachael Rapinoe: “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”

The Flow state is what all athletes strive for. But getting to that state is a journey. Being in the Flow state means you’ve put in a ton of work beforehand. You’re prepared physically, mentally and emotionally so when the whistle blows you only have to think about what you’re doing in that moment. You’re […]

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The Flow state is what all athletes strive for. But getting to that state is a journey. Being in the Flow state means you’ve put in a ton of work beforehand. You’re prepared physically, mentally and emotionally so when the whistle blows you only have to think about what you’re doing in that moment. You’re free from the distraction of achy muscles, burning lungs or a foggy mind. If you put in the work, you’ll be more prepared, which means you’ll have a greater likelihood of achieving the Flow state. This concept transcends beyond sports

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

Rachael Rapinoe is the Founder and CEO of Mendi, a CBD sports recovery brand. Rachael won a NCAA national championship with the University of Portland in 2005, played pro soccer in Europe in 2010, and eventually retired to pursue her passion in the health and fitness industry. Leveraging her Masters in Health and Exercise Science from PSU, Rachael went on to build Rapinoe SC–a soccer performance training company & lifestyle apparel brand with her twin, US Soccer star sister, Megan. Having recently consulted as women’s soccer strength and conditioning coach for Division I Colleges, Rachael continues to apply her expertise in training, competition and recovery in an effort to better understand the role recovery has in performance and the human body. With her network of influential athletes and passion for competing, Rachael shapes Mendi’s products to meet the relevant demand in sports.

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?

Thank you for taking the time to share my story.

I grew up in rural Northern California, from very humble beginnings. Being the daughter of two blue collared workers, I was taught the importance of having a strong work ethic at a young age. Sports was my first outlet to express my work ethic, passion and competitive spirit. I excelled in school, but not because I’m overly intellectually gifted, I was dedicated every day to doing my best. My mama didn’t raise me to cut corners, so I never have.

After receiving a full scholarship to play Division 1 soccer at the University of Portland, winning a NCAA National Championship, playing abroad in the pros, achieving a MS in Health and Exercise, running my first business for 5+ years, I now finds myself at the helm of a sports x cannabis brand leading the charge to disrupt the status quo in sports.

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

My family inspires me. As I said above, we grew up from humble beginnings. We did not have financial security growing up, so I had to be extremely motivated and driven in soccer because that was the only way I could attend a four-year college. It was receiving a scholarship or bust! Seriously, it motivated me every day to work harder, dream bigger and do everything in my power to set myself up for the future I wanted.

I carry this same motivation with me today. Yes, I want to check certain things off my career list but ultimately my goal is to take care of my family.

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 right-hand woman is my twinner sister, Megan. She’s always been my best friend, confidant, biggest supporter, biggest critic and aspirational figure in my life. Having someone who’s brutally honest but also deeply invested in my happiness, has been instrumental in my journey. She encourages me every day to be better than the day before. Every career decision or big life decision I’ve made, Megan has been right there next to me. I’m deeply grateful.

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?

When I was a junior in high school, my club soccer team based in Sacramento was in their fall season. We had a Saturday morning game, which meant we had to leave our home in Redding 4-hours before the game because we lived two and half hours north. My mom, Denise, worked the night shifts at Jacks Steak House and wouldn’t get home until close to midnight, 4-nights a week. Needless to say, when Saturday morning rolled around it was early, we were all tired, but especially my mom.

We ended up winning the game, but it wasn’t my best game — by a long shot. My work ethic was not there, and my mind wasn’t in the game. However, I ended up scoring the game winner on a 50-yrd half field bomb. It was actually an incredible shot. When we got in the car after the game, I fully expected my mom to be proud of me and tell me all the fluffy, nice things about my great goal. I was totally wrong. She chewed my butt out for my pathetic work ethic during the game and called my half-field goal a “fluke”.

Still today, this story remains one of the funniest of my youth soccer memories. Although my mom feels terrible about her comments after the game, I’m thankful for them. She always taught us not to settle for mediocracy. She didn’t care that I made the game-winning shot, because in her mind I didn’t do it the right way. I cut corners. And that wasn’t to be praised. The lesson is, who cares if you’re successful if you’re not doing it the right way.

Thank you, mom.

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

I tell people these three learning lessons of being an entrepreneur all the time. First, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Running a business is hard. If you’re not prepared to work, in the trenches, entrepreneurship might not be for you. Second, you can’t do everything alone. Find the right people, put them in the right places, and get out of their way. Be prepared to lead by example and provide guidance, but not by micromanaging them. Lastly, don’t wait for things to be perfect. If you wait for perfection, you’ll miss your opportunity.

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

An overarching challenge for Mendi is to re-shape the status quo for pain management and recovery in sports. We’re trying to break the walls of cannabis stigmatization in sports and get people to use this plant like a supplement. I’d say this falls in the categories of interesting and exciting, but it’s going to take a lot of work to educate our consumers, athletes and key stakeholders and partners.

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?

Certainly. Pressure is just an emotion. You can make your reality whatever you want it to be. A few strategies to combat the feeling of pressure are to always be prepared, surround yourself with the right team and adjust your reality.

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

I wholeheartedly believe in meditation and mindfulness. Again, this helps me adjust or reshape my reality. Breathing actually creates a physiological and chemical response in your body. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is a basic tool everyone should have in their toolbox, especially during times of stress and/or anxiousness.

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

This is where mindfulness comes into play. I work every day to be more present and I still fail. It’s incredibly hard, at least for me. However, the more present I am, the less stressed and distracted my reality becomes.

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

Movement, sleep and nutrition are the three most important elements to optimize performance. I get up to move every 1–2 hours throughout my workday. I’m famously known for dropping into a random hamstring stretch in the middle of a conversation. Other than basic movements, I try to mix up my workouts. Endurance runs, interval runs, and strength training are some of my favorite types of workouts. But for me, it’s important to mix it up.

Sleep is the best anti-stressor and anti-aging gift for your body. Make sure you’re getting the right amount and quality of sleep.

Nutrition can sometimes be a tough one for me due to my busy work schedule, but as much as I can I try to fuel my body as opposed to shoving random foods in my body. Of course, you want to eat healthy, whole foods, but equally important is making sure you’re actually fueling your body with the appropriate nutrients.

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?

Routines play huge roles in all of our lives. At the end of the day, most human are creatures of habit. So, if someone has adopted unhealthy, unproductive and generally bad life habits, their health and well-being will be a reflection of all those habits. You have to get to the root of the problem and change it all the way up.

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?

For instance, there are certain days of the week that I absolutely won’t exercise on. In my mind, I need to give myself those 1–2 days of the week to free my mind and body from expectation of going to the gym. However, that means on the other days of the week I need to be fully prepared to hit the gym or go on a run.

We’ll use sleep as another example. Five nights a week I have a fairly strict sleeping routine, which better prepares me for work and life. However, I give myself some freedom Friday or Saturday (sometimes both) from my sleep schedule. For me it’s all about balance. I stick to my sleep routine, but I build in some leniency throughout my week.

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 state is what all athletes strive for. But getting to that state is a journey. Being in the Flow state means you’ve put in a ton of work beforehand. You’re prepared physically, mentally and emotionally so when the whistle blows you only have to think about what you’re doing in that moment. You’re free from the distraction of achy muscles, burning lungs or a foggy mind. If you put in the work, you’ll be more prepared, which means you’ll have a greater likelihood of achieving the Flow state. This concept transcends beyond sports.

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

I’m a big fan of the Headspace app. Check it out, they have a ton of great focuses to be mindful of.

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?

Our relationship with the world is a reflection of the relationship with ourselves. In other words, if you’re a negative person who’s always skeptical or critical of other people, that is probably a reflection of the language consistently used in your head. So, the most important change one can make, if to change the relationship they have with themselves. Start journaling or meditating. Maybe seek out a therapist that you trust. Ultimately, if you want to change the negative self-talk, you need to change how you feel about you.

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?

First of all, that is quite a compliment. I only hope I’ve brought some goodness to the world. For me it comes down to treating others as I want to be treated. It’s pretty simple. Respect, honesty, love, kindness and consideration are a few fundamental components of operating in a state of ‘goodness’. I strive to do this everyday, and also with my company, Mendi. We operate with these core values intact, everyday. Hopefully, this positively impacts our employees, athletes, partners and consumers.

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

Fail hard. This resonates because so often we are afraid of failing, but failure is the key to success.

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 am a BIG fan of Sally Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest. Although I have already met Sally once at an Ellevest event in Portland, I would not pass up the opportunity to have another conversation over a poached egg and coffee.

Sally has made it her mission to close the wage gap and promote gender equality in the workplace. Need I say more.

We’ll tag if you tag. : )

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