Champion’s Mojo Podcast: Josh Davis Believes Consistency is Key

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Champion’s Mojo Podcast (Josh Davis)

This week’s guest is five-time Olympic medalist Josh Davis who talks with hosts Kelly Palace and Maria Parker about setting routines and repeating patterns to reach success. He also talks about his swimming renaissance using ultra short race pace training. He’s got great tips for success and how faith, instead of fear, drives his decisions.

Davis won three gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and came back four years later to win two silver medals in Sydney. He was a nine-time U.S. champion in the 200-meter freestyle (every year from 1996 to 2002) and he also won titles in the 400-meter freestyle and the 200-meter backstroke. He remains very competitive in his age group for Masters, winning the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle and finishing as the runnerup in four events in the 45-49 age group at the 2019 U.S. Masters Spring National Championships.
Josh Davis is the current and first head coach of Oklahoma Christian University’s swim team and is one of the most prolific ambassadors and teachers of swimming skills through his more than 1000 Breakout! Swim clinics. Josh continues to inspire and motivate swimmers during the coronavirus pandemic with his Motivational Monday interviews on Facebook.

Below is an abridged Q&A of the interview, conducted by Kelly Palace and Maria Parker. You can listen to the full podcast episode #63 at https://championsmojo.com or by clicking here.

Champion’s Mojo: Hello Josh! Tell us about how you’ve been working to motivate people.

Josh Davis: I’ve been swimming for 30-something years now. I’m 47, I started when I was small. It’s just been part of my life and my whole existence for a long, long time. I’m very grateful now to be a college coach, to be a masters swimmer, to teach age group kids through the Breakout Clinics with my Olympic friends and obviously was honored to represent the USA for 10 years. So now, I just love giving back. I love helping young people reach their potential. Whether it’s through the clinics or helping them reach their potential through our college team or helping them pick the college that’s right for them. I love getting to meet other fellow masters swimmers at the masters meets. I have six kids of my own. I love water and I love my friends in the swimming community. I’m happy to encourage them.

Champion’s Mojo: How are you doing with no swimming?

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Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

Josh Davis: Well, I feel terrible about this, but I actually have the keys to my college pool. I get to go in to swim and my wife, who likes to swim, comes with me. My son Luke is a freshman at Missouri. He’s got an Olympic Trials cut in the 200 fly so he’s trying to stay in shape because obviously he’s going to race in Olympic Trials in June of 2021. He likes to come swim. We do our 45 minutes swim about every other day. We try and go every day, but it’s just crazy with nine people in our home. It’s just been the Twilight Zone now for a while. I honestly feel guilty going to the pool because I’m one of the few humans that gets to do so. I figure if I have the pool, I should use it. Every morning I wake up and I feel like I got hit by a truck. People over 40 know what I’m talking about. But when I get in and I swim, I feel like it’s a rebirth. When I’m done with my 30 50s, which is the set I’ve been doing every day for about five years now, I feel like I’ve been reborn. I am grateful that I have a pool. I’m grateful that I still get to swim. I can’t wait for the rest of the pools to open back up so all my swimming friends in the world can get back to normal and have that same feeling because it really is important. It really, really does help.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you feel like you’re a rare case, or are most swimmers making their way back to the pool?

Josh Davis: I’ve asked a lot of my Olympic friends, “Have you heard of anyone who’s been able to swim?” Cody Miller and a couple of his pro friends found an indoor pool that a wealthy family had. So they were able to use that pool. Then Team Elite in San Diego, a couple of Dave Marsh’s pro swimmers, have found a backyard pool. People who live near the beach have been swimming there, sneaking in their swims. I know those backyard pools are there. Those 25 yard, two or three lane pools. So say there’s 150 Olympic hopefuls, people that realistically have a shot at making the Olympic team. I have to believe they’re finding some water time somewhere and it doesn’t seem that difficult. 150 people in our country could do that. I really believe that the top 150 Olympic Trials qualifiers should find a pool and have legal access to a pool. To me, that doesn’t bother me if I had to sit out of the pool. But I’m totally comfortable with those trials qualifiers being able to train because they’ve done something pretty special to make Olympic Trials. But with the new time set, with a new timeframe that we can technically take this month off and still get back into shape for 2021, it’s not as urgent.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you struggle to keep that positivity you share with everybody?

Josh Davis: I have my spells. My family knows that I’m not perfect. I do get frustrated. I’ve decided not to watch the news the last several days, and I’m much happier. I want to be knowledgeable. I want to be a smart, compassionate citizen and be able to make good decisions. I just feel like it’s just not right to shut down so much when I think most of us are relatively healthy or could fight it off. I don’t know what the thing is. Maybe people over 60 need to kind of shelter in more and let everybody under 60 get back to work as best they can and just just go for it because I’m just wondering if the cure could be worse than the disease.

Champion’s Mojo: So you experience frustration just like everybody else?

Josh Davis: I do have my little spells of frustration like, this is crazy. What are we doing? This is a hoax. You know? Then I come back to normal gratitude. I’m thankful for my health. I’m praying for my family.I’m thankful that this isn’t throwing my life off that much. My heart goes out to everybody else. I get frustrated for everybody else that is struggling.

Champion’s Mojo: Can you explain why you are such a fan of USRPT?

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Photo Courtesy: Josh Davis

Josh Davis: In the 90s and early 2000s, I was progressing within team USA. I was the main guy going off to the Olympics and still trying to train as hard as I could. In 2004, I missed the Olympics. I was now 32 years old and my body wasn’t recovering as well as I’d hoped. I missed the team and it’s a little frustrating. Then I started teaching full time around the country for the next four years till 2008. I made Olympic Trials just for fun, but I wasn’t really training. I was just giving clinics to kids. Then, in 2012, I had been traveling another four years on the road and was really struggling with enjoying the sport. I had this mindset that if I’m not swimming two hours, then it’s not really worthwhile. I struggled with that because here I am, I have five kids, two jobs, traveling all the time but I love swimming. I want to be in shape. I want to race fast. I’m not that old. I want to go fast but I don’t have time to swim two hours straight. I don’t have time to lift for an hour. I don’t have time to train three to five hours a day anymore but I want to feel fast. I want the life of a swimmer. Finally, in 2014, I started reading about Michael Andrew breaking all these records, and I thought, this is crazy. My wife asked me on my birthday, September 1st, 2014, “what do you want for your birthday?” I want to go drive five hours up to Michael Andrew’s house and I want to spend the weekend with him and talk to him and get to know this kid who’s broken 70 national age group records. My wife was like go for it. So I drove from Oklahoma City to their little farmhouse outside Lawrence, Kansas, where they have 10 acres, the house and a pool they built: a two lane, 25-meter pool, where Michael trains. His dad trains him, his mom’s the manager, and all they do is 25s. I thought, this is insane. I went and trained with him and I couldn’t do his workout. He did these 25s so fast with 20 seconds rest and I couldn’t keep up with them. I couldn’t do half his workout. I was exhausted. I mean it was just incredibly painful. I thought, ok, there’s something here. This kid’s only going race pace, a very strict rest interval, very perfect technique. I mean, everything is just really outlined very carefully to only train his muscles in his mind, to only do what he wants to do in a championship moment. There’s no slow swimming. There’s no ugly swimming. There’s just only training his body and mind for championship moments. I thought, this is really interesting. I’m going to try this. Before I got all excited and started telling everybody about it, I’d worked it on myself. I would take the kids to school in the morning. I had 20 minutes, literally 20 minutes between school drop off so I’d jump in the Gold’s Gym pool. Just an old three lane, 25-yard pool that is too hot. I didn’t even have a clock. I had my stopwatch. I did 20 25s as fast as I could. It took me about 15 minutes and it was really hard. I was going really fast. Then, later that night, I would do 20 minutes more. I was doing doubles quite a bit. Some days I only hit singles. So I go to Masters Nationals. I crushed the records. I went 20.6 and 45.1. That’s fast. To go 45.1 off 20 minutes a day is insane at my age of 42 or 43, whatever it was. I just laughed. I felt like I had robbed a bank. I was like, you’re not supposed to go this fast on so little. Don’t be fooled, that 20 minutes was incredibly painful and I was only doing race pace. That would allow me to go 45 seconds at the race. I was training my body. My 200 was terrible, though, because I just didn’t have the endurance. I was only doing 25s. So then I thought, well, I’m going to double it. I’m going to go from 20 25s to 20 50s. It actually worked the next year. I went to Masters Nationals in 2015 in San Antonio, my hometown, and just had one of the best meets of my life. I broke the 50, 100, 200, and 500 records. I’ll never forget that before the 500, behind the blocks, this thought goes through my mind. I haven’t done more than a 50 in two years and I’m about to do a five hundred for the first time.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you have any trouble pacing yourself?

Josh Davis: No, on the 50s, I would go 25 seconds or 24. I could do 20 to 30 50s on the minute averaging 25.0. It gives you a speed pump like lifting weights does to your muscles. But if you do it 30 times, it gives you the endurance pump. So you actually can work your speed and your endurance. You can work both energy systems within 30 minutes. I was getting a very productive 30 minute workout. So, behind the blocks, I thought, “All I know is 25s. I may not know a 500, but my body knows how to do 25 second 50s and all I’ve got to do is try and string 10 of them in a row.” So I dove in. I have a very good start and streamline. I just let my body go. I had a very skinny kick just because I didn’t want to kill my legs. I had very crisp turns and I just got in this groove. This is one of the first 500s in my life that I’m not dying. I’m actually really enjoying it. I’m on my last lap. I feel amazing. I throw my kick in. My legs were totally fresh. I just kick like crazy. I push a 25 on my last 50. The record was 4:38 by the great Alex Kostich, he is an incredible distance swimmer. He trains his brains out. His record was 4:38. I look up and I see 4:33. I broke his record by five and a half seconds. I raised my fist like I was in the Olympics! The stand at the San Antonio Stadium, for those who haven’t been there, holds 2000 to 3000 people. It’s a beautiful, huge stadium. It’s one of the biggest swim stadiums in the country. And everybody’s clapping. And I was like, this is too fun.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you get a lot of push back for following USRPT?

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Photo Courtesy: Jennifer Hoffer, YMCA of greater New York

Josh Davis: So I was in the thick of it in 2014/2015, because I had been asked to be the interim head coach of a club team. This is where it got really interesting because here I am having a blast in this renaissance of my swimming career. I’ve fallen in love with swimming more than ever. I’m going faster than I thought possible for my age group. I’m doing it all in 30 to 45  minutes and I can go have a life. I’m not exhausted the rest of the day and I’m just loving it. I’m so thankful for Michael Andrew and his family. It opened me up to a whole new world and made me fall in love with swimming more than ever. I was just so excited to share this. When I got asked to coach this club team of 100 kids, they would have freaked out if I gave them 25s and 50s. I came up with what I call the healthy hybrid. That healthy hybrid is where you take the best of the traditional stuff. Sometimes you gotta just do long stuff. Sometimes you do kick stuff. Sometimes you do the equipment stuff. Sometimes you just do all the drill stuff and all the fun stuff that you can think of that kids like to do. Then you also do the race pace stuff. So you put the two together, the traditional stuff with the race pace stuff, and you get what I call the healthy hybrid. You have to be careful because you have both ends of the spectrum, the old school, grind, grind, grind and then the other end of the extreme. It works for Michael Andrew, and it works for me, but it may not work for everyone. We have to be very careful because the distance people, they just need that confidence that they’ve put in some yardage. I’m helping with his club team and I came up with this healthy hybrid. Sure enough, we had like 80, 90 percent best times. Kids were loving it. Parents were happy. And so I got to spend two years writing these kind of undercover race pace workouts. They didn’t seem like race pace, but they were race pace. If that makes sense. The kids loved it. And they went fast. And now I get to use this healthy hybrid with my college team.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you think this is transferable to other sports?

Josh Davis: Cycling and track had this way before we did. They have been doing interval and speed training, practicing those race pace dynamics. The people who I knew who ran at the University of Texas, they weren’t doing slow jogging. It was almost all 90 to 100 percent. Lots of stretching. Lots of dynamic warm up. Not a lot of jogging. It will be interesting to see what happens as more swimmers adopt this over the coming years.

Champion’s Mojo: What was your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome it?

Josh Davis: If you can believe it, self doubt. I’ve been to the Olympics, I’ve won gold medals, I have been on TV and spoke around the country as Mr. Motivation, but I’m still like everyone else. I still have some doubts. I’ve been very blessed to have great people around me. My wife Shantelle has been very supportive. My mom passed away in 2012 from cancer so I miss her terribly. But my dad, my brothers, my sister have been very supportive. I have a lot of motivation to provide for our six kids. That really helps me a lot. I do have a genuine love for the swimmers I get to work with it at clinics and the college kids I get to coach. And so there’s just a lot of I’m surrounded with a lot of people that I get excited to serve. And I feel like the biggest obstacle is just just managing my schedule. We can’t get back time. It slips through our fingers like these last 35 days. I’m like, what just happened? I didn’t complete nearly as much as I should have because, as we’re recording this, we’re on day 35 of the Corona break and I feel like time slipping away. But what I do know is I can always get energy if I eat right, sleep right and do my swim. I’m going to have more energy to tackle the next day or tackle the next section of the day. That’s been my biggest obstacle. Like I need to go to bed on time, I need to eat right, I need to do my daily swim so that I have the energy to attack the next day.

Champion’s Mojo: What are your routines and rituals that have made you successful in life?

Josh Davis VIVA SWIM For Life learn-to-swim program

Photo Courtesy: San Antonio Sports

Josh Davis: So much of life is just showing up. I don’t feel that strong each day. I don’t feel that fast each day. I just don’t miss a day. And it’s so true with coaching. I’m not the genius coach I want to be, but I just keep showing up and I just keep hovering over their lanes and fixing their technique and reminding them for the millionth time: you need to get your streamline tighter, you need to fix your hands. You just have to keep reminding these kids to get better. You have to keep showing up for your swim and showing up and just picking the right foods, picking the right bedtime. You just have to keep doing these things. I coach from 5:30 to 7 and then we do our second group, 7 to 8:30. I make sure I get enough fuel and eat right so I can coach those three hours. Then I do my swim. I have to keep trying to eat as best I can because my metabolism is very high because I’m always going. I only operate on about five or six hours sleep and I’m going all day. Then I coach again from 2 to 6 that night and then try and spend time with the family from 7 to 10 or 11 at night. The train never stops.

Champion’s Mojo: What mindset do you need to be successful?

Josh Davis: People would always look at me funny back when I was still racing in my late 30s. I wasn’t training but I still want to go to nationals. I still wanted to go to the Olympic Trials just because I could. I love it. I love being around everybody. I love racing. I know I didn’t prepare as best I could for this meet, but I was swimming free. I didn’t care what my place or time was. I just want to go race. The goal for me is that I would live free: free from worry, free from doubt, free from expectation. I know God loves me no matter what. My family is going to love me no matter what. I could just be free to go all out and do my very best and not worry about the results. That’s what I want for my swimmers. I want them to swim free. I want them to not be worried, to not be shackled with unnecessary or unrealistic expectations. The world doesn’t want you to be like anybody else. We just want you to be you. To be freed up to race like you were meant to race. I experienced those swims at the Olympics. It’s what I call a Holy Spirit swim, where I just had this freedom that I knew God was with me and God loves me no matter what and I just went for it. It was wonderful. I try and bring that into other areas of my life. I try and share that with the swimmers I get to work with.

Champion’s Mojo: What was your mindset from when you were winning the Olympics up till now?

Josh Davis: It helped me very much in the Olympics to really practice that mindset. Just like you need discipline in your strokes, you need discipline in your mentality and spirituality. You have 3 billion people watching you on TV and you’re in a tiny little bathing suit. Everybody in the country wants you to win a gold medal. That pressure is overwhelming. You can have some crazy thoughts fly through your mind. You’ve got to have the discipline and practice of putting those negative thoughts out and replacing them with positive ones. Fear and faith can’t coexist in your mind at the same time.

Champion’s Mojo: Would you actively turn away stressful or fearful thoughts?

Josh Davis: I would have conversations with myself and with God in my head all the time. I got better at it. It becomes a discipline. When I was swimming, I could think about my technique. Think about my race. Think about what I was working with with God at the time. And you just get better at it doing both of them at the same time. So I’m grateful that I had my Olympic chaplain and coaches helping me with that to be able to swim free.

Champion’s Mojo: What commonalities do you think champion’s share?

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Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

Josh Davis: I have several ways to answer this. My coach, Eddie Reese, my Olympic coach and college coach, says there’s three things that make a great, great champion. One is genetics. So say on a scale of one out of 10, I’m probably a seven in genetics. I’m pretty good. I’m six foot two now. I have kind of big hands and big feet. I’m not that flexible. I can’t jump a lick. But I got decent genetics. I kind of have long arms. Number two is work ethic. This encapsulates a lot how much you study your technique, how much you work in practice, the years and years and years and years accumulating to a great work ethic to where you’re very fit and very tough. And then the third thing is what Eddie calls the X Factor. The X Factor is not so much that you like to win. It’s that you hate to lose. I’ve seen some of the people that emerge as gold medalists. You could just tell if you see them in practice or you see them consistently over the years. They hate to lose. I’m big on number two, the work ethic. I’m like a nine or 10 on work ethic. I just outworked all the people who are bigger than me or more talented than me. I just outlasted them. I waited till everybody retired and I just kept training.

Champion’s Mojo: Is that X-factor genetic or can it be trained?

Josh Davis: I think it can be fostered. I think it takes a very unique formula of coaches and parents and athletes working together in that triad, which is a very fine balance. The coaches and the parents and the environment of the athletes and their teammates working together to foster that. I thought I fell into a perfect storm where I had some great friends that were on my swim team that pushed me. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything because all my friends were at practice twice a day. We just all showed up on time. We all raced every day. We all pushed each other and had a blast with each other, laughing all the time. It was just normal to laugh and go all out. It was just a beautiful, beautiful environment of unconditional love. It was like this perfect formula. I always hope that for all of our kids that they can find that. That triad to help them develop that X factor and bring the stuff out in them that they did not know they had.

Champion’s Mojo: Is there anything we haven’t covered?

Josh Davis: I talk about that coach, parent, athlete triad. You see an athlete puts pressure on themselves like a good athlete does, because they want to be better. It’s not uncommon for an athlete to kind of be hard on themselves and be frustrated after a race or to keep coming back for more. Then a good coach, puts pressure on that athlete. You know, John Wooden, the greatest coach of all time, said a great coach makes you do the things you don’t want to do to become the athlete you always wanted to be. A good coach knows how to do that tough love and press and make you do some uncomfortable things that challenge you. There’s a level of pressure and expectation there from the coach. The parent part of that, of the three parts, it needs to be a place of refuge, a place where there’s just unconditional love and support and nourishment. It almost needs to be the safety valve. I get concerned when all three parts are pushing on the athlete: the athletes pushing on themselves, the coaches pushing on them, the parents pushing on them. All in an unhealthy way. I think the athlete can reach burnout. There’s parents that have to do tough love. They have to be encouraged in the right way and they have to discipline. My parents would say, if you’re going to do this season, you’re going to do this sport, you’re going to finish the season. We’ve signed you up for the season. We’ve paid the dues. If you’re not liking it, you’ve got to finish the season and then you can switch. So that always helped me get a sense of responsibility, a sense of discipline. I knew I had the freedom to switch when the season was over. I’m very grateful to my parents for doing that, for being a safe place where I could come refuel and a place of refuge so that I could go back into the fight. Swimming takes on a whole new perspective. When I was having an off practice, I would go to the back of the lane. I started cheering on others. And sure enough, that got me off my bad practice even quicker. We were all having a better practice because I was cheering. So that’s my little secret, serving others.

Champion’s Mojo: Thank you for joining us today Josh!

Josh Davis: Thank you for having me!

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