Posted by: Competing In A Borderless World | October 29, 2011

Olympian Bryan Clay on Mentoring: “Give Them the Right Tools for Life’

American decathlete and  reigning Olympic champion, Bryan Clay, was interviewed during the Ascend 2011 National Convention at a session titled “Overcoming Obstacles and Leveraging Strengths.” Clay, a native of Hawaii, comes from an African-American and Japanese background. Coined “Hawaii’s Hero” after winning the Silver Medal in the Athens 2004 Olympics, he earned another decathlon title World Champion title in 2005, and went on to win the Gold Medal in Beijing in 2008.

The Olympic decathlon champion is referred to as the “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Now among the very few decathletes to hold two Olympic medals, he sets his sights on a third: if Clay wins in London in 2012, he will set Olympic history by becoming the only decathlete to win three Olympic medals.

A great Q&A with Clay followed during which he discussed the importance of mentoring – learning from mentors and their experience, how to pace yourself, not to quit, when to slow down. “As a parent,” he says “don’t try to be perfect but to do the best job you can, with wisdom – rather than encourage my kids down a specific path, I’d rather teach them about honesty, integrity – they’re more important to the journey.” Recently he was in Hawaii for an event, and needed his gold medal – but he didn’t know where it was. “It’s not about the medal,” he said; “the medal is cool – but it’s about the journey getting to the medal.” He recalled winning it was “all kind of a blur – I don’t remember standing on the podium.” It’s the journey there that he remembers. As a parent, he recommends “concentrating on kids having the right skills, having integrity – we can give them the right tools for life.”

He noted the athletic world is “a cut-throat world, I don’t know any other occupation that requires you to be the best in the world or you lose your paycheck. Everyone in the world is gunning for you. If I have a bad day, it’s not an option for me – I can’t feed my family.” He noted other countries, “have government support, are supplemented in a few other ways than we are in the US. We don’t get any government funding and all that. That’s why those partnerships (with corporate sponsors) are so important; without those partnerships we as athletes could not go out and do what we do. I’m learning more and more about diversifying those, it’s a little more difficult to do in track and field. We all deal with it, every athlete has to – hope you can compete and capitalize on that.”

When asked, he noted that if he was to be your mentor, and to advise you on improving those areas you’re not great at while knowing there are limited resources and time available, he said he’d “try to get you to pick three things to work on, three things important to you. Pick a few of those things and cut out everything else and really focus on those things.” On being a multitasker, he earlier said “you can’t really multitask. The only way to be at your best – focus. Trying to be 15 different things all of the time, you aren’t going to do well. Drop down to a manageable number. Quite frankly you will be a lot less stressed out. Focus on a few things that you do well, rather than try to do too much.”

In closing he discussed his family, bringing together his two traditions – Japanese and African-American. He spoke fondly of the diversity of Hawaii, and its culture as a melting pot and diverse place. “We’ve accepted that we are a melting pot and have learned to take the good things from each one of the cultures represented there and to celebrate those good things, to use those good things to build up our state. That’s what we can do as Asians – take a little bit from everything, the good things from everybody, bring it all together to build up our people, our cities, our country – and pretty soon, everyone is going to want to come and be a part of it, like they do Hawaii.”

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