Power By Name, Performance By Nature | Keith Power
Power Play: Keith’s Background
Keith Power has competed in four sports internationally, has the distinction of being the youngest person in history to be Head Coach at an Olympic Games and has worked with “best of the best” as a performance psychologist and high-performance expert.
Recently, this has included working for the Malaysian Government, as High-Performance Director (HPD), as HPD for The University of California – Berkeley, top GB Olympic Sports, the Welsh Rugby Union, top Premiership Football and Rugby Clubs as well as numerous Olympic champions and medallists and top leaders, managers and coaches in both sport and business.
In the corporate world he has worked at board and senior level with global organisations such as HP, Motorola, Credit Suisse and Toshiba. Previously, he was a senior executive member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).
AMG: How did you get into your line of work and sports?
Keith: I came from a pretty tough background, a council estate in north London. I got stabbed when I was eight years old. It was a pretty harsh existence and sport was my way out. We moved to a different area, and at the new school I had this amazing P.E. teacher and he was great at ‘getting out’ people’s talent. He recognised that I had athletic talent and could throw objects a long way! This led me to becoming a junior international hammer thrower. I then got a scholarship to Millfield School that was life changing from a sports, education and life lessons perspective.
On the back of that, I went to Brunel (Borough Road) University studying sport and ended up competing for GB1 Bobsleigh team. I was a full-time international athlete and student, very tough. This passion for competing around the world, studying sports, learning from other people – that was really the genesis of things.
It was back in the early days of high-performance sport and I wanted to be different. So I trained, practised and worked in multiple performance disciplines – strength and conditioning, performance psychology, as a sports physiologist and as coach, all at the same time. Pretty unique then and still is today. By my mid-twenties I was working with top football and rugby teams/players and was an Olympic Head coach!
AMG: What has been your best experience as a coach?
Keith: If I was if I was to pin down one it was my experience of being the national team head coach for GB Bobsleigh. I took on the position at 23 and I am very proud of the fact that I am the youngest ever Olympic coach in the history of the summer or winter Olympic Games aged 25 and had coached at two Olympic Games by the time I was 27. When I was competing bobsleigh for Great Britain our team became very successful and we won medals in the World Cup which was kind of against all odds for Great Britain.
Then there was a real disaster at the Calgary Olympics in 1988: the sport went from hero to zero. And I got brought as the head coach in 1989 because of my sports coaching/science and bobsleigh background. In a short period of time, we went from outside the top 25 in the world to having two teams consistently in the top 10 in the world. It was a fantastic time of my life, identifying and developing athletes, building a high-performance structure, culture, teams and mindset, then harnessing the power of sports science and sports technology. I was begging and borrowing and stealing all sorts of really wonderful people and resources – getting top athletes in, working with top sports scientists, bringing in specialist coaches, I/we were way ahead of the game, getting things done that still today top teams don’t or can’t do.
We created a powerful culture and performance edge because we had about 10 percent of the budget that the top nations like the Swiss, Germans and the USA had. We just didn’t have the financial muscle to be able to throw resources. We had good talent, but we certainly didn’t have the kind of talent that the US a lot of other countries had, so it was an amazing journey for me to bring all these things together and actually get them to work.
AMG: So how do you go from hammer throwing to bobsleigh?
Keith: I’d always been a naturally talented athlete, loved being a goalkeeper, all sports in fact. Going back to Millfield, I competed in 8 sports for the school, but my scholarship was in athletics and hammer throwing. I was good but I realised although I was a junior international hammer thrower I was never going to be world class. And that’s always been a real big philosophy of mine on a day to day basis – be the best you can be at something you love and if you can’t move on to something else you can be, so an opportunity came with the Great Britain bobsleigh team, there was one slot and I completely restructured my training and my mindset, my approach and the research I did into bobsleigh. I even got up at 5am to practice running on ice before I’d even seen a bobsleigh track. I never looked back from that moment.
AMG: Incredible – you’ve had your hand in multiple sports then! What has been your hardest experience as an athlete out of all those sports?
Keith: When I was halfway through my third year of bobsleigh with the GB team I got injured. We were having a very difficult season. I got injured in the middle of December and the Olympics were in February. In January I slowly got back but then I got cut from the Olympic team. And that was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to go through, especially at such a young age. It was brutal. Realising my dream to become an Olympic athlete was certainly over for at least four years.
But I’ve always been very positive and resilient and try to reinvent myself and turn things round in the world, and an opportunity came up to go [firstly] to New Zealand to work at their institute of sport and also out in Australia. I did a lot of sports mentoring work out there, had an amazing year – I learnt so much. It’s like sliding doors. When one door closes, another opens.
AMG: What life-lessons has your line of work and coaching given you?
Keith: I learnt this a bit too late in life and it’s only really been the last couple of years that I’ve realised this, and that’s to really be in the moment and smell the roses, as they say. I’ve always been such a highly passionate person, a very intense person wanting to be high performing, high achieving, wanting to be the best person I can possibly be.
I mean, it’s a bit of a cliche now to talk about being mindful, it’s the buzz word, but I certainly wish that I’d practise that as a philosophy a lot more in my 20’s and 30’s. I was rushing around from bobsleigh coaching, to building my consultancy business, wanting every individual and team I was with to be great and always thinking what’s the next challenge? And I just wish that I’d maybe step back a little bit and enjoy those moments a little bit more. So that would be my biggest life lesson.
AMG: What drives you as an expert?
Keith: The thing that drives me is that all I can be is the best version of me that I can be. What I expect of those who I partner with and I collaborate with is how can you be the best version of yourself or how can you be the best team or the best organisation that you can be. So it’s not to say I’ve always got to have these completely unrealistic expectations about myself and it has all got to be do or die every single day. I think I’ve just learnt that that just puts so much pressure on me.
What you have to do is just get really comfortable with this experience, this learning experience every day, looking to be the best that you can be in your personal life and your professional life with your family, with your friends. And that’s really what I try to work with, with various people I work with on a day-to day-basis.
AMG: Would you say this is a philosophy of accepting our limitations?
Keith: I’m certainly not saying put limits on yourself and go in with a mindset that you limitations, or just accept second best. I think you’ve got to live your life with no limits – What is it I can do? How can I excel? What’s possible? – and shoot for the stars. I 100% believe that philosophy, but also be comfortable with yourself and know the right way to search for excellence. Otherwise I just think you end up in a bad place.
You end up kind of disliking yourself and you don’t really enjoy the experience because all you’re thinking about when you get up, day in, day out, is just taking yourself to the next level. It is a contradictory existence: you’ve got to be able to do both at the same time! You’ve kind of got to go in there with positive mindset that there are no limits. How do you create a framework that the skills, the tools that you need to be the best that you can possibly be? But at the same time be comfortable with yourself as well?
AMG: So what you’re trying to promote is seeking balance in your performance. Would that be correct?
Keith: 100%. That’s a great summary. There are positive passions and negative passions. And the positive passion is about wanting to be the best that you can be, about this love of the game, about this mastery experience. The negative passion is when you whole existence is caught up in what you do and if you don’t fulfil that it is literally breaking yourself down every single day. It’s not good for your well-being, it’s not good for your performance. I’ve been there myself and seen too many people there. It’s not good.
AMG: Fantastic! So moving onto our final few questions, which Olympics have you attended as a coach? Which was your favourite and why?
Keith: I was the head coach for the Great Britain bobsleigh team, at the 1992 Winter Olympics, which was in Albertville in France, and in 1994 at the Lillehammer Olympics, Norway. And those experiences were absolutely fantastic. I was also the high-performance director for Malaysia at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It’s very difficult me to say pick any one and say it was the best. They were fantastic for different reasons. I would say 1992 because I had always dreamt of going to an Olympic Games as a kid. I missed out as a competitor going to the Olympics so to go there as a coach was fantastic. Lillehammer ‘94 was great because I’d matured so much as a coach and was able to better understand how to pull a team together under the pressure of the Olympic microscope.
I loved the Rio Olympics for different reasons. Firstly, at a Malaysian level because of the nation’s love of sport. Malaysia ended [the games] against all odds winning [a total of] nine medals over the Olympics and Paralympics, and the most they’ve ever won before is one silver. That experience for Malaysia and what it meant to the nation of Malaysia…it transcends everything and that was just so special. It was also really special on a personal level because I’d not been to a Summer Olympics before. I had been to the 2012 [Olympics] as a kind of ambassador for University of California, Berkeley (Cal), but not as a high- performance director. You could just smell and feel the whole Olympic experience in Rio. It was really, really intense and it was just absolutely fantastic.
AMG: What is something you’d like to champion further as a coach? E.g. athlete wellbeing, anti-racism in sport, gender equality in sport etc.
Keith: I would say from a personal point of view I’ve always championed all of those different causes. And throughout my life and career, just intuitively, because that’s who I am. Plus I have been fortunate to have always been around very diverse environments. For example, I was determined that there should be women’s bobsleigh World Cup circuit. And I championed that cause and GB’s Caroline Walker became the first women bobsledder driver in the world ever.
When I was in Malaysia I championed para-sport and women’s sport from grass roots to elite level. I brought in lots of different people from different perspectives to achieve that. It’s fantastic that all these issues have been highlighted and are being positively impacted, there’s so much passion going into all of these areas. They’ve always been things that have been really important to me.
AMG: Do you have any projects for the future which you can tell us about?
Keith: I’ve got a really exciting project that I’m working on right now in the world of soccer and also another amazing project that I hope to launch later this year. I can’t go into too much detail at the moment, but it’s going to be a game changer in the field of human performance. I’ve got some amazing human performance experts from the world of sport, corporate, the performing arts, media and the military committed to it. Watch this space!
Keith can be contacted on email@example.com, on twitter or Instagram @keithpowerelite.