Kenn Dickinson: Secrets of Elite Athletes at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Kenn Dickinson’s TEDx Talk: Secrets of Elite Athletes at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries conference.

Kenn Dickinson:  I want to introduce you to a friend of mine: Mr Wilson.

No, not Russell Wilson from the Seahawks. He plays with this oblong ball, and it doesn’t bounce very well. But Mr Wilson and I have been friends for a long time. We go way back, and he’s been by my — I mean, I first met him when I was — at Christmas time.

I was about four years old, and there was this big box in front of the Christmas tree, and I just dove in and opened it up, and there was this big orange ball. And he’s been by my side ever since.

When I walked down the street or went to school, I always had Mr Wilson with me. And then I went on to college and obviously played college basketball.


Then I went on to play professional basketball, and he’s been actually a part of my life in my business career. So we’ve been on this journey for a long time, and it’s been an interesting journey. And one of the things that we’ve been able to do is meet some amazing people. Those amazing people are elite athletes; not just your regular athletes but your elite athletes.


Now, a lot of you are going to say, “I can’t relate to these people. They’re superhuman, these men and women.” I’ll give you a little secret: they’re just like you and me. I actually had a front row seat. OK, I was at the end of the bench, watching, and observing, and learning from these world-class amazing kind of athletes.

But what I want to give you today is a window into that world, that a lot of us don’t have an opportunity to. And a lot of us think that these amazing athletes are there because of their talent, but Mr Wilson and I realized it’s really not.


It’s about a competitive mindset. They actually see, and think, and behave so much different than we do. And that’s what I want to share with you: some two key points that we saw that maybe you could use in your daily life or in your business.

The two points are visualization and deliberate practice. Let’s start with visualization. A lot of us think that visualization is about seeing a goal ahead of us. But actually these people travel in time. They actually take their emotions, their senses – seeing, hearing, touching – and they go into the future.


What they’re doing is defining their own reality, their own future, and they’re living there. And then they come back, and then they have already created an imprint, a blueprint of what success is going to be for them.

Let me give you an example. I used to be a really good shooter, and I used to shoot a lot of free throws. Before I shot a free throw, I would actually – and you can take the time if you want to follow with me – is close your eyes, and I would think about how I was holding the ball, I would think about the arc of the ball, I would think of a really good backspin, and it goes right through the net.


And what was really cool to me if I could make the net flip up onto the rim. Then all I would do was open my eyes, take a couple dribbles, and I would just let it go. Nine out of ten times, I would make it, 90% of the time. What I didn’t realize at that time was with neuroscience today when you actually visualize what I was doing, you’re actually using the same part of the brain as if you were doing it. And it’s so powerful today.

Even Jordan Spieth, the number-one golfer in the world, you’ve probably heard now with technology their communication with him. Michael Geller would say to Jordan Spieth, “Paint a picture.” Well, what he’s saying is, “Look at the flight of the ball. Watch it hit the green; watch it roll onto the green. How is it going to react?” Jordan would say, “Got it,” and he says, “Make it happen,” and so he does.


One of the most powerful one of these visualizations happened with a gentleman named Colonel Nesmeth. He was an average golfer, shot around 95. But something happened in his life, tragically. He became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He was a prisoner for seven and a half years in a solitary confinement of a cell no more than 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet.


What would you do if you were in that situation? Well, he didn’t want to give up hope. He wanted to overcome this, so what he did is he actually played golf. He didn’t think about golf; he was actually playing golf. He visualized it. So what he would do for four hours is play his golf course back home.

He would put a tee in the ground. He would hit it, watch it go down the fairway, put the club back into the bag, and start walking down the fairway. He would hear the birds. He would hear the clippers of the mowers. He would feel the wind on his back, and he would keep on walking along.

He would come up to his ball, and he would repeat it again, and he would feel the club in his hands. At the end of seven and half years, he was finally released. But he did this every day. Now remember I said that he had a shot around a 95. That was his handicap, or his strokes.

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