Love as a Coaching Strategy

EPISODE 10

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In this very special episode, we get a chance to chat with Jane Figueiredo—World Champion and Olympic medal-winning diving coach and Yulia Pakhalina—European Champion, World Champion, and 5-time Olympic medal-winning diver. We talk about love as a coaching strategy, and draw parallels between performing at the highest level of athletic competition and succeeding in business.

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Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Director

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Frank Danna
Director

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Jane Figueiredo
Olympic Coach

Yulia Pakhalina

Yulia Pakhalina
Olympic Diver

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Jeff Ma
Hello, and welcome to love as a business strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business. But we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from, and we believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma. I'm a director at Softway, an agency based out of Houston, Texas that specializes in digital transformation, culture and branding. Each episode here, we dive into one element of business or strategy and test our theory of love against it. And today, we want to talk about coaching. Of course, on the surface, this is a very important aspect of leadership in business and in general, but we wanted to take a much closer look today and really make a case for love as a coaching strategy. And I gotta say, I'm practically shaking with excitement about today's show. So I've invited my good friend and partner in crime, Frank Danna, to help me co-host today and make sure I hold it together, Frank. How excited are you?

Frank Danna
On a scale of one to 10? Jeff? 50.

Jeff Ma
I'm right there with you, bud. It's crazy.

Frank Danna
I'm, like, fanboying. I can't even. Anyway.

Jeff Ma
So the reason we're so excited is because we're about to have the pleasure of speaking with two very special guests. And what better way to talk about coaching than to speak to those who have practiced and experienced it at the highest possible level. So I'm going to jump into these intros. I'm so excited. First, I'm joined by Jane Figueiredo. Jane is an Olympic and World Champion medal winning diving coach. Across four athletes, she's coached for six Olympic medals. As an Olympic diver herself, she represented Portugal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She's also a legend as a collegiate coach at the University of Houston, with 12 consecutive conference diving Coach of the Year honors and four NCAA diving Coach of the Year awards. In total, her divers won eight NCAA titles and 51 All-American honors. An Olympic diver herself, she again represented Portugal in LA and between being an athlete and coach. She's been to six different Olympic Games and will be coaching for Great Britain at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It's an honor to have you with us here today, Jane.

Jane Figueiredo
Thanks so much, Jeff. It's a pleasure.

Jeff Ma
And I want to go ahead and introduce my second guest as well. Someone you know very well, Jane because you coached her. Yulia Pakhalina. Hailing from Russia, Yulia is an Olympic champion diver. As a student athlete at the University of Houston. Yulia was named NCAA Diver of the year twice, winning 64 of the 66 diving events she entered, with five NCAA national champions - championships sorry, as an Olympic athlete. She's won five medals across three Olympic games, including a gold in the three meter synchronized event at the 2000 Sydney games. She's also won three World Championships and eight European Championships. Yulia it's an honor to have you with us here today.

Yulia Pakhalina
Hi guys, nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Jeff Ma
And, Frank, I don't want to leave you out. I believe you've won a participation ribbon in your eighth grade science fair once?

Frank Danna
That's right. You did your research, Jeff.

Jeff Ma
But but no Olympic medals if I'm correct.

Frank Danna
not not yet. So that's why like, Listen, this is crazy. It's amazing to have both of you on this is awesome.

Jeff Ma
So we have a tradition here on the podcast. We have to start with some questions to loosen you up. So I've had some questions here for our coach first, Jane. If you could coach one famous non-athlete, who would it be?

Jane Figueiredo
Oh...

Jeff Ma
She's deep in thought.

Jane Figueiredo
Non-famous athlete...

Jeff Ma
No, famous, but not an athlete.

Frank Danna
Famous person.

Jane Figueiredo
Ellen Degeneres.

Jeff Ma
Oh, yeah. She could she could use some coaching.

Jane Figueiredo
Especially based on what I'm reading recently looks that way.

Jeff Ma
That's a great answer.

Frank Danna
Very good answer, man.

Jeff Ma
Yulia, your turn if if they gave gold medals for things other than Olympic sports, what would your medal be for?

Yulia Pakhalina
Like you mean another sport?

Jeff Ma
Non-Olympic sport, or if they gave medal if they gave medals out for things in life, what would you want your gold medal to be?

Yulia Pakhalina
Hmm, okay. Interesting question. I think maybe I wanted to be a doctor? Some kind of recognition. I don't know what it is. What is that there? They give them like Nobel Prize for something that they had discovered. I would like something like that. That would be neat.

Jeff Ma
That would be neat.

Yulia Pakhalina
In medicine, yeah.

Jeff Ma
Absolutely. Yeah, Frank. Gotta give you one. What Olympic sport would you have the best chance of succeeding in?

Frank Danna
Trivia night. Pop Culture trivia night.

Jeff Ma
That might be one in the future, but...

Frank Danna
Is that an Olympic sport? It's not okay. Jane's shaking her head.

Jane Figueiredo
No chance. But I do like it. I think we could put in a proposal for 2024

Frank Danna
Yeah. Man. I literally don't have any athletic prowess at all. So...

Jeff Ma
You know they have Olympic weightlifting.

Frank Danna
So okay, I'll do weightlifting. That sounds good.

Jeff Ma
You got a ways to go. You'll need a coach.

Frank Danna
I need a coach - Jane's like come on.

Jeff Ma
So let's dive into this. I want to I'm so excited to talk to you guys. But I have to start - I have to know i mean Yulia, you're from Russia. Jane, you're born in Zimbabwe. I guess I got to know: how did you two meet, how did this relationship even form? Either of you.

Jane Figueiredo
Well, obviously, Yulia's partner, Vera Ilyina, moved to the states before she did. And she dove at the University of Texas. And I had met Vera in the woodlands in 1996. I'd actually met her prior to that in 1994, at the World Championships, but in 96, they came to the Woodlands which used to be an awesome diving facility, and they were there with the Russian team training for the Atlanta Olympics. So, I went up there and I met all of them there and then so Vera dove in 96 and then Vera said to me, she didn't want to come to the States. Well with the NCAA rules as they are, couldn't really help her and try to recruit her - wasn't going to be possible. Because it meant bringing her into my home. I would have had to have taken her to English, which is what we did. And we couldn't do that without breaking a million NCAA rules. So we sort of just helped to move and come, and then I met Yulia sort of on on that journey through coaching Vera in Houston. And then, Yulia's dad was coaching her, obviously, and when I met Yulia and I saw Yulia obviously, I thought, well, I gotta get her If I can't have her, I gotta get her. And, and so various sort of helped with that process of talking to Yulia and talking through like, Hey, what do you think about coming to the States? I don't actually know that conversation word-for-word how Vera talked to Yulia about it. But I knew that it was going to be quite difficult because obviously her dad was coaching her. And I didn't see how he was going to probably let her go. Because of the the relationship and the connection. So I sort of left that to Vera and, and I think we would just, I feel like really the luckiest coach on the planet to not only have Vera but also to have Yulia who ended up coming after they won the gold medal. And I think at that point, her dad was like, Well, now you can go. And if that's what the way I recall the story, I mean, there's sort of a lot that's empty up until 2000 when we actually won. And then I realized at that point, her dad was pretty much gonna allow her to come in. And then it was just a matter of a matter of getting her into the university, English, TOEFL, SAT. I mean it was going to be very difficult because her English at that time, as all of their English was was very minimal. So, that's that's sort of the beginning of the journey of coaching Yulia.

Jeff Ma
Yulia, how long did you work with Jane? in coaching?

Yulia Pakhalina
Like a total number of years I started 2000. Like she just said, I came right off to Olympic Games for spring semester, and well, Jane was coaching me up to Beijing Olympic Games. So, that's, what, 18 years?Eight years sorry, eight years. 2008 was Beijing right? Yeah.

Jane Figueiredo
To be fair, I wish she'd gone longer too.

Yulia Pakhalina
Those kids...

Jeff Ma
Kids will throw a wrench in everything.

Yulia Pakhalina
Kids... I love them, but you know - Now that I think of it? I should have done... I could have probably... Well, sour topic, guys. Let's move along.

Frank Danna
Do not talk about that, Jeff. It says in the show notes.

Jeff Ma
Okay. Do not talking about kids, I didn't see that. Sorry, fine print. So, you know, jumping into why we invited you guys and thank you so much for coming. And I think we really were really excited because Jane, you're you're known for a unique style of coaching at the highest level, and we wanted to get the perspectives of your coaching philosophy and style As well as having Yulia here, who's someone who's experienced it at that level, and get you guys to kind of share that journey and that story to help listeners understand what coaching could could look like, you know, at a level that a lot of us don't get to, we don't have insights into this world. And so I'm really excited and Jane, I'll start with you could you could you talk a little bit about your your philosophy around coaching and what it means to you?

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah, I think coaching for me was all about trying to make a difference in somebody's life. And that included my own, so not just a difference in whoever I'm coaching's life, but how that transfers back to me. And I grew up in a an amazing environment in Zimbabwe and, I think it's part of my personality. And I think that it you have have to have it in your personality to coach that way. I don't think it's something that you can just do forcing it. So I think it has to come naturally to you. So I never thought about it very much as just who I was and how I am. So I grew up in an amazing family I grew up in an amazing environment and it afforded me the opportunity to live a very happy childhood, and a childhood of just sunshine. Very, very little worries, very little challenges. Those became those sort of came later, but my early childhood was was very much just an incredible, amazing, happy memory that I remember. So, coaching for me is a natural thing. It's a natural way of sending out good vibes and making people feel happy and comfortable. Just like I always felt. So I think you have to start there. You have to make yourself vulnerable, I think, showing love and tough love or you know what we're here to talk about today. You have to make yourself vulnerable. So if you're not afraid to be vulnerable, then it becomes much more natural. So that's sort of coaching for me and coaching Yulia and Vera, and anybody that's ever come my way. I don't think too much about it. I just give love and I embrace them and I share who I am sometimes sometimes to a fault because it exposes me sometimes. And you know, my divers I've had amazing divers have been very, very lucky. There's been a couple of others in my life who didn't quite fit with me. And that's Just part of life, not everybody's going to love your way. Not everybody's going to think that you have the best intentions. But I think if you can come from a place of no agenda, and you just, you're on this journey together and let's just expose it all so that we we can just make it a great journey. So that's pretty much my philosophy is just not holding back. I don't want to have any regrets. So I'm going to expose myself I'm going to show it all and if I get hurt along the way, then I just manage that is it comes.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. Yulia, what stands out to you about Jane from a coaching perspective, like what makes her unique for you?

Yulia Pakhalina
Just about everything. I think I was really fortunate for, you know, for Jane to coach me, I don't know like, you know, she gave me a nickname right in college that I had a nickname Bubu. And she, she, like she was just talking about it. She had to - she had to be different with me. She had to be - she said she had to be more strict with me because she knew I could take it. She had to expose herself, in you know, from different angles. And I really I was one of the divers who really reciprocated to that.

Yulia Pakhalina
Jane shows so much of like, a love to her job. First of all, I really admire her for how much she works. She like I've never seen a female coach who is so determined. She's just always so dynamic. She doesn't - she's always learning - It's like, Jane, when are you going to stop? You know? And it gives a lot of energy to her divers. She, you know, there's a phrase she she walks the talk, right? She shows by example how we should treat each other how we should treat the job that we're doing and it was literally a job for us, whether it was college or it was professional athletics. You know, I haven't seen a lot of coaches who are willing to be so transparent were with their athletes. And, you know, diving with her - like she coached me individually in college and apart from that in four Olympics and World Championships, but mainly our greatest achievement was in synchronized diving. And at that point, you know, it's not an individual performance. It's - you get exposed as a union. It's - you know, Jane is not somebody who would come and she would single you out. And she'll be and, you know, by By the way, I really appreciated the way that she she never singled me out or my partner saying, this is your fault. That was never the case. It was always okay. This is what we did wrong. This is what we're going to do about it. You know, it's always about moving forward. What are we going to do about what we did wrong and how we're going to get there? What, what we want is to get a gold medal. That's clear, right? We want to win. So we just have to be as passionate and energetic like she is. And not everybody does that. You know, just I don't know - people just lazy. Jane is not a lazy coach.

Frank Danna
I want to say like last year, I got a chance to meet Jane in person and, and I got a chance to see some of your divers practicing right in London. And kind of one of the most amazing experiences ever. It was great to meet everyone and great to meet you personally. And afterwards. We went out to brunch. And what was interesting is that your your divers came and had brunch also, like they wanted to spend time with you. After they had just been coached by you in the pool.

Jane Figueiredo
Either that or they wanted a free lunch.

Frank Danna
Or they wanted free food. We don't know yet what it was, but I do know that I do know that in that conversation. Like even during the breakfast it was dynamic. It was energetic, like Yulia was mentioning. We were having conversations, they were adding things you were talking back and forth. There was this, this relationship that I had seen and when I see coaches and movies and TV shows, I see See the whistle in the mouth, screaming at someone and then the people wanting nothing to do with that person, even if there was free food involved. And so I saw something different in just spending those few hours with you. And you know to hear someone who's an Olympic champion talk about - that actually gave her the energy to compete at the level she was competing at - speaks a lot to the way that coaching differs and the different types of coaching experiences that people have seen.

Yulia Pakhalina
Well Jane is a tough coach, don't take me wrong. She coached me like I didn't see her coaching others and I asked question I even asked Jane I think I asked you I said yeah, why are you talking to me like that specially before the meet? You don't coach, you know this, you know, that girl, this guy like that? And she's like, well, because I know you can take it and this is what works for you. And this is what she, you know, this is what makes a great leader in the union that we have in the pool that she's the boss, you know, she dictates the weather and sometimes she comes in the pool and we're like, uh oh, Jane is in a bad mood, you know, we better get our stuff together. So, yeah, I mean, and I tried when I was coaching, I tried to implement, you know, similar strategies, which was how Jane was coaching me, I always, before even talking to my divers, I would think, Okay, how would Jane would say it, how would she react to this, but it's hard. You know, like she said, She's a natural at this. And she's great at that. And, and I had many failures, implementing the same style, like, you know, tough love Is just what she knows how to do. I mean, I immediately I thought that Jane would be a great candidate for this podcast because I just know, you know, I was like, I felt that I I've lived tough love in, in what we've been doing and and Jane was the one who was doing it and before that, I never even thought of that, you know, it's... In athletics, it's really... athletics is a business world, right? And it is, it is very natural to be transparent, but yet not everybody does it, because they they're scared to be vulnerable, like Jane said, and will, you know, and sooner or later it will, it will burst in a problem of some kind. And if you don't talk about it if you don't work things out. It's hard. Like I said, it was very hard for me to implement the same strategy like Jane did as I was coaching. And so you know, I, I'm hoping that I'll be learning more when Jane comes to Houston eventually.

Jeff Ma
You both use... you both used in these... In these moments here - you both used the word love and you both used the word tough love, and here at this podcasts we have a definite affinity to that concept. Especially, of course, this is a business podcast. So, you know, I hope the listeners are drawing the parallels immediately themselves, but we will unpack that later. But Tough Love is something I want to kind of get your more detailed perspectives on here because in business and in, in athletics, there's this there's this toughness needed to achieve the highest level. You have to be strict, if you will, to some extent and disciplined, right? And in business, Love and the toughness are almost considered opposite ends. If you're if you're a tough leader, or you can't, you can't easily show love and vice versa if you're loving you're soft. So Jane, what how do you tread that dynamic? How do you deal with that?

Jane Figueiredo
Well, I think my strategy has always been To show love first. to show caring, to show empathy, And like I said, to show vulnerability, so that there's a mutual respect. And tough love comes after you've established a good, caring relationship, because I don't think anybody would really take tough love very seriously, if you just sort of came in and started screaming and ranting and raving. If your athletes and or your employees didn't actually understand you as a person and where you're coming from. So I think opening yourself up so that they understand who I am, Who, who your boss is, in that respect. And, and actually understanding what kind of personality they have. And then not being so critical. And I think that's that's what I've been able to To show to my athletes and I show tough love but Yulia's right. I can't actually say that it makes me feel good when I have to show tough love. And, and probably because of my personality, showing tough love is always probably the most difficult thing I ever have to do. Because I come home, and I just don't feel good, but it is a necessary evil. And it's like being a parent. You have to show the discipline - crack the whip, however you want to, you know, phrase it. It's not a good feeling. But if you have great athletes, they respond in a very positive way. And that's the same in business. It's not what you - it's not the way you feel about it - It's what you're going to... what's your next move. So my boss has come in and screamed at me. My coach has come in and screamed at me. What's my next move? how am I going to respond? Am I going to respond: "Oh my god, she doesn't like me" in a very negative way, or are you going to respond: "She's right." or "I may not agree with her, but I know this is good for me." So so I think for me, that's what tough love is, is just how you're gonna respond. Yes, it may not be nice and they don't make you feel good. But if I get something positive out of that, then I'm hoping I did the right thing.

Jeff Ma
That's awesome. Yulia, on the receiving end of tough love. What does that look like? Do you have any stories? Do you have any recollection of moments of tough love that you'd like to share?

Yulia Pakhalina
Um, well, there are many with Jane. Yes. But you know, one that stands out to me - and Jane was not coaching me, she was she's coaching Tom - and when I was I was watching Olympic Games and unfortunately when Tom - he was about to win that you know, Rio game and you know things happen in athletics. A crazy thing happened that day and I saw Jane and... I don't know... I felt my entire... my heart just had a hole that day for her. But if you seen Jane's face that day, it just showed how strong that lady is. And, I don't know, It's like... she's ready to take a punch and move forward. You know, and I've had that experience. But, you know, luckily we had a good outcome. We had a positive outcome. But leading leading to to success was not always a rosebush. Right? And, and I'm from Russia. so tough love is in my blood, I would say. You know, we... it's how our parents bring us up. This is in our culture. So for me, it was nothing that I had to get used to. But Jane does it in a very unique way. She, she doesn't embarrass you. You know, most of the time people they come and they embarrass you, they feel that they make you feel guilty. And not because they want to do it because they love you. But it just comes across and you feel, you know, I just wanna I just want to move forward, I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to find any solution for that. Well, Jane does not do it that way. She does it in a way that - okay, well, we're gonna get through it, we're going to find a way how to deal with that. And we just have to work harder, you know? Like, like they say, if if you're resting, others are working, so you have to keep working, you just have to be very determined and passionate about what you do. And, and Jane, you know, when she started coaching me... she wasn't, she wasn't after necessarily my performance. She wasn't after how many medals I'm going to bring to the University of Houston. She had to shape my attitude and my character to, to, to feel like I'm a part of the team. That it - you know - and she did it so I feel that I'm inclusive, you know, so I Don't stand alone and I don't feel like I'm a superstar. Just coming, winning, you know, a medal. She made sure that I respect people who I work with. And she made sure I had fun. And, you know, you kind of like switch off at this point, you're like, Okay, well, I actually can enjoy tough love, you know, I can take that and transform it and put it into, into what I'm doing. I can I can take that energy. I can take a punch. But that's all for for a good reason. That's all for winning. You know, in athletics, it's very normal to take a punch. You know, swallow that bitter pill. Because, you know, you know, what's at stake. And Jane is there all the way with you. Not everybody does that. She's, she's there for you. 24/7, especially when you're coming as a foreign athlete, you know to the country that you don't know any about. She's always there for you. And it wasn't just for me. That's what she did for many athletes.

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah, I'd like to bring up that exact statement that Bubu just said because I'll tell you just a quick story. A Russian journalist interviewed me last year after the World Championships. I can't remember when we did this interview. And one of her questions was - and booboo was right, it's a cultural thing - She said, usually an athlete that failed so badly at something like the Olympic Games, the coach and the athlete split. And I thought that was very interesting because my answer to that question was, well, why would you do that? Why would you abandon each other when you really need each other The most. And I can't speak for Tom. Because there were many things that contributed to to that unfortunate performance. And we all took blame for that - all of us. Because that's, that's the quality of a great leader and a great coach is - it's not the athletes fault. It's everybody's fault. But I thought that was interesting that she asked me that question. in a, in a Russian culture that would have been well, I'm going somewhere else, which I don't necessarily agree with, and say, Well, I can't speak for Tom. I don't know what he thought. I don't know if he was interested in just kicking me to the curb. But I had no thoughts of ever leaving him. In fact, I was gonna leave Great Britain after that Olympics because that was that was what I was asked to do. And I stayed another four years, five now, Because I couldn't leave under those circumstances. That would be a regret that you would have the rest of your life. So a leader cannot leave under such circumstances. it is not possible. at least in my nature it's not. maybe other people walk away and they go well you know, I'm not gonna be able to to come back from that but I think you - Oh my God, I would do myself such a disservice to walk away and leave him sort of hanging. So I appreciate what Bubu said and...

Yulia Pakhalina
I live that moment through with you - I I would - you know if you have a failure like that, a single dive if you miss a dive, you just don't want to come up. You just want to like stay in the bottom of the bowl literally. Because all that work, four years, just not four years, but forget about all the previous year. That you've done right? And just that single moment, destroys everything what you've done. And, you know, for me, it was the hardest to feel that I let my coach down. And I can't imagine what Tom might have felt. But we all know he's a great athlete and a person. But for a coach, it's, it's such a void. It's like your life had come to a stall at that point. And to be able to come back and bring that person back and give them you know, strength and encouragement to move forward. This is hard, very, very hard and that's why Jane is good. She's probably the the, I don't know anybody else with so much of love for her athletes and there's not - there's no other words. If you don't love that person, if you don't feel him, and if you don't read into him so much, you can't you can lead him to a great success.

Jeff Ma
That's amazing. For you know, this is just for our listeners just in case because I realized I know exactly what you guys are talking about. But could you guys give some context when you guys say Tom in that incident, just so the listeners can you tell that story just briefly?

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah, so as as Yulia said, Tom came out in the prelim, so he had already won a bronze medal in an event that we weren't sure we were going to win a medal, but that that was our goal, regardless, so he had already won a bronze medal about 12 days prior. And he had trained - just we were in the best shape we could possibly be at the Olympic Games in Rio, and his individual event was 12 days later. What preceded his individual event was, They were a British team that won a gold medal, which was completely unexpected. And Tom in his nature sort of saw that and I think he just, he was ready to go and he was just was so fired up. And he came out in the first day of the individual event and scored an Olympic record, I mean, he, he was just just screaming, he was so good. And the problem with that is the next day we have to come back, there was very little time for recovery. So we had to come back very early the next day, and he had to sort of repeat that to go to the finals. So you move from prelim to semi final to final, like a, like a track evnt. And the problem was, was he had just expended everything he had. There was nothing left in the day prior. There was, I think he tried - He did everything he could he, he thought he was present. And he thought that he was going to manage this, but it was like deer in the headlights. He just was - nobody was there. Nobody was there. And he, he was trying to get his body and his mind to work, but it just didn't. And that's a very common thing. I mean, most people might say, well, he choked, but I don't call it a choke. Because the previous day he had proven himself and - but, again, we learn so much - the reflection on something like that, your greatest sort of unhappiness can actually hopefully become his greatest happiness. And he won the world championship The next year, under incredible circumstances. I always say to him that a goat could have coached him that day, because he was just so good. So you went from, from this - The saddest day of our lives, probably to the happiest day of our life in in one year span where he had everything to prove. So that that's, yeah, that's that was the story. So that's what Yulia's referring to. We're all gonna have failures, but again, I always believe it's how you respond. You can sit and mope about it and cry about it. But that's four years of being - having a lot of crying and moping. So we might as well just get after it.

Frank Danna
It sounds - I mean, you know, when we talk about tough love, or I think we've been focusing on tough as the way we act, to others, right? But what I'm hearing is tough in terms of resilience as well. We, we can take a punch, we can get back up, we can do the things that people don't expect us to do. Because that much care that we have for the people around us, gives us that resilience. It gives us that toughness to care for them and say, I'm not going to quit on you, because of this particular moment. I'm not going to quit on us because of a failure. Right? So that that's a very interesting way to kind of spin the idea of tough love as well. It's not just about you being tough to someone. It's also when things get hard. Are you there to support each other?

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah. And that shows a lot of character that actually shows you who, who the athlete is or who, who the employee is you've got to be able to rebound you've got to be able to get back up and keep slogging away and all of those kind of traits, he's going to be able to use those as Yulia does in every day of their lives moving forward. And that's that's a great thing about coaching. Whether it's coaching in a business or coaching in the swimming pool, you have to teach life skills, because those are the things they're going to be able to use later on. Yeah.

Jeff Ma
Yulia, you you painted a very emotional picture for me earlier about sitting at the bottom of a pool. As you as you enter the water knowing that that was not a good dive. And when you when you when you finally do swim to the edge of the pool and get out, what is, what is Jane... What is Jane being there - Like, what is - paint me that picture. What is she saying to you? What do you - what's happening in that moment there?

Jane Figueiredo
After a failed dive?

Jeff Ma
Absolutely, after that bad dive.

Jane Figueiredo
She didn't have any of those, she's too good. She was too good.

Frank Danna
Maybe not hypothetical, but I mean..

Yulia Pakhalina
My heart is racing right now guys, you literally put me in a spot right now.

Jeff Ma
Good. Love it.

Jeff Ma
Simply put, what does it mean to have Jane there for you? or What does it mean? What does it look like when you come out of that, that failure?

Yulia Pakhalina
Well, like you know, I was coached by my dad and Jane in the same pool at the same time for the same event. And it was very tough for me. Very tough to, to, you know, become like a split personality person. Jane was not - Jane was not somebody who was Just going to give it up, you know whereas my dad on one side he'll he'll be very pessimistic very upset and you could see on his face, Whereas Jane Is like, you know, okay well, it's it's history What are you going to do about that? you have a chance to just stand up and fight till it's it's not over until it's over right? and this is how Jane coaches. it's like it's like having a mother there, but not, you know, not a like a crying kind of Mother You know she's not going to feel sorry for you and give you a like a piece of chocolate and tell you "okay don't worry about it, just don't go there anymore." But But Jane, she gives you love, She gives you - you know you need that person right there. And Jeff and you're right about that. It's so important who stands right there in that moment next to you, you know like for my synchro union. You know I had Vera Ilyina, who was my synchro partner for two Olympic Games. And she was a locomotive kind of a thing in our in our partnership. Well besides Jane obviously, but for me Vera was that kind of a you know, a leader in our union. And for me it was much tougher to face - to see her face if I would fail. Because you know, she's a perfectionist, literally she - you know, it is hard to deal with her. If If you know it's your fault and you fail a dive. It's not like she is going to be rude and she's going to put you on a spot and tell you that that's your fault. You must stop. You know, this is a great this is a great example where you You don't single people out for what you've done wrong. You You just kind of move on. It's OUR fault. It's no one else's fault. It's it, you know, and I see, I see so many divers that are doing synchronized diving that are just putting themselves in the front. They're not thinking about the outcome. You know, they're not thinking about I'm a leader in this partnership. You know, they're thinking about what is this for us as a team? What is it going to give us as a union because we're, we're there to show what we are, in that single moment. so for me, it was much more of a you know, a stress to to fail my partner. And Jane was not - I was never scared of coming and talking to Jane after my failed dive. I knew I would have her support. And like, you know, there's a reason I brought my dad into this conversation, right? Because that was a different reaction from him. And, you know, I don't know if I would be able to come back from a failed dive if I knew that Jane was not there. And no matter what, you just love your child, right? And this is how Jane was doing it. No, it was not a mother daughter relationship, but this is how she presented it to be, you know, you fail, but I'm going to give you a hug and she literally gave us a hug, gave us a kiss. And you're going to step it up. You're not going to you're not going to cry here. No one cares about your crying. That's how Jane coaches.

Jane Figueiredo
I do have a great story of Yulia. Like I said to you, she, she barely had any failures. I can tell you that in the sport of diving. She had one occasion, we went to the University of Tennessee. And we were trying out a new hurdle, which, in diving terms, that's a new approach on the board so that we were thinking about doing a bigger Twister, which has higher degree of difficulty. So we were trying out this new hurdle. And it was going great. Until we entered the competition, we went to the University of Tennessee for a dual meet. And she, she got on board and this hurdle, because she had never done it in competition before, And she got quite, you know, the adrenaline is pumping. And this hurdle if you get too much adrenaline, it can go anywhere. You could be in the middle of the pool on the side of the pool deck, you could be back on the stairs, you could go anywhere. So of course she got she got way forward over the board and she and she did like Jump into the pool. She was supposed to do a two and a half somersaults. Yeah, most of you listeners wouldn't know what a reverse two and a half is. But there was no chance when you leaning that far forward, that you're now going to be able to go back the way. So she jumped in. And of course you're not - I was kind of laughing. I knew she was gonna be really mad. And she came up and she was like, halfway down the pool. She swam out, she came by me I was judging. And she said, I'm done with that hurdle. Never again. And that was it. That was the end of the hurdle. We never did it again. And, you know, that was just when you asked me what, you know - has she ever failed? There's only that occasion - I can think of one time. one time.

Jane Figueiredo
Yulia had a tendency to panic about when the competition's were coming. She never thought she was ready. She would always say to me, I'm not ready. I'm not going to that competition. And this was, we were heading to Fort Lauderdale the next week. And she came to me on the Friday and she said, I'm, I'm not going and I said, you are going. And she said, I'm not. I'm not going, and you can't make me go. and I said, Oh, you're going. And she said, okay, but if I go, and I don't do well, it's your fault. And I was like, Okay, that sounds like a good deal. And that was one of the occasions - tough love, because I was like you're going and I was darned if I was going to change my mind. And so of course, we go, and she like kills everybody and wins so easily. And, and and I always laugh at that story.

Yulia Pakhalina
I won, but not easily Okay? I was looking at a lot of good things going on in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. You don't want to concentrate on anything other than the beach. So it wasn't easy.

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah, but that was one of those occasions and there's obviously many others but that one I remember just clearly because she was telling me: I am not doing that. And, you know, normally I can't change her mind, normally. But she was going regardless.

Jeff Ma
That actually brings me to a really important question, I think is like, Did you guys always get along? I know the answer. But did you guys always get along?

Jane Figueiredo
I'll let Yulia speak but I, I think we only we had one occasion where we we had a bit of a spat, but I think that really changed our relationship in a lot of ways. And it was it was really to do with her synchro partnership because the girl that we were - Anastasia - we were trying to get her to be Yulia's new synchro partner. And she's a different character. She's very different to Yulia and Vera. And she's an artist So, so she was quite laid back. You thought she didn't care but somebody that doesn't always show it on the outside doesn't always mean that don't care. And we fell out because she - Anastasia wasn't, wasn't diving well, and she wasn't doing the training. And I think Yulia was right in that she said, I don't want to dive with her, she's rubbish. And, and we fell out because I just said to her at that point, she was really interested in maybe looking for another partner. And I think I love - this is what I love about Yulia is that although she was mad and felt like maybe a medal chance was going to be lost, she hung in there and just trusted me to get this girl ready. And that's what we did. I just said, you have to just leave it with me. And and we work toward this, Anastasia, and myself. And we had to prove ourselves in order to be Yulia's partner. And, and to this day, it's one of my favorite stories. Because if if Yulia hadn't done that, and you actually she showed tough love the other way. So in other words, she was telling us, like, either you get your act together or go take a hike. And then we, we stepped up. So So there are some occasions where - I'm always so proud of her - She doesn't probably remember half of those occasions, but those for me were really pivotable relationship changes and and game changers for for our success

Jeff Ma
That's awesome. I would - man I want this podcast to go on for three more hours at least, but I want but I want to I want to move into kind of the the kind of way we always try to tie things together which is: let's tie it back to to the - you've said love 100 times which is great. Let's tie it back to you know business a little bit - and I think it'll be really easy from what I'm hearing. You know, coaching and leading have countless parallels. You know, just listening through everything you've said if you just replace the word coach with with leader, or placed Yuliya with, you know, someone who works for you as a leader or on your team. My mind is just swimming with with parallels and you know tough love and coaching whether in sports or in business, you're going to face all these different scenarios like different different meets different challenges the "Olympics of business", if you will. And and I think I'm hearing that this this the reason you guys would be able to we're able to elevate above others was really founded in this bond that you guys are talking about. I'm feeling it through the through the internet right now. I'm feeling the bond. It's incredible. And, and I think I love I know, you know - when it comes to diving, there's there's this there's this world that I think that our listeners are probably like, Well, you know, that's that is a very, very different world. But what what, what other parallels, I guess - what are the parallels between I guess athletics and - coaching in athletics and business would you say are applicable here?

Jane Figueiredo
Um, well, like I've mentioned to you guys before, I think, since I've been in London, I've been doing much more of a leadership role whereas in Houston. Like I said, being an NCAA coach is sort of just to follow it. So, my leadership skills have really developed over the last six and a half years. And I think we are running a business. So there's a lot of parallels in that respect. It's high performance. There's a lot of money involved here. A lot of money at stake. The British government, UK sport, provide funding, I think we probably have a bid budget of about six and a half million. So we're running a business We're not just playing coach and athlete. So there's accountability there's dedication there's commitment. There's slogging, there's - I mean, like Yulia mentioned earlier, we have a lot of fun, but I think - fun. I have a lot more fun when we're doing well. And I think because Yulia and Vera was so successful, it always seemed like it was fun, even though we were working really, really hard. But, yeah, I think, you know, we'll see what happens to my coaching careers of that. I think leadership is about communication. And in businesses, if you don't have a good communication style, and you don't talk to your employees, I think it's going to be very difficult to Have buy-in. And so those things are what I think are the most parallel.

Jeff Ma
I feel like in business, a lot of times - I kept going back to that story that you painted for me Yulia because in business sometimes it feels like as employees, we might be in that - the bottom of the pool not wanting to get out, and we swim to the edge and there's nobody there. In business, it's so much easier to be a leader that's not there. If you think about it. It's it's, it's it's easy to just manage a team. But what I'm hearing is when you lead a team, you have to be there. You have to, you can't be looking the other way. You're watching intently what's happening and you're, you're you're empathizing with what the athlete is going through what the employee is going through. That's something I'm taking away personally right now, to make sure that I can apply that, because that's that's really powerful what Yulia is able to say about her experience and her growth through that..

Yulia Pakhalina
You know Jeff, in in sports, like dangerous sports like diving, If you don't trust the person who's coaching you yet, right, and you're going to end up on, you know with head on the board or whatever, you know, athletes not always, I not always know what I did wrong. And most of the time, I don't know, I need either a coach to comment on on what I did wrong or a TiVo to do look back and see what I have done wrong because you know, when we get out of the pool with there, we have a system that replays the dives for us so we can look what we did wrong. But when you're growing up, and you're becoming someone, you know, you you're entrusting your life in that person. And this is what, you know, my father was that for that person for me for so many years. And, and then, when I started working with Jane, you know, that was like, like I said, You know, just take my whole body and my whole soul and just mold me into what you think I should be because you have all the experience, you know what you have to do with me. You know, I'll make sure I'll bring, you know, my work ethics, my love for the sport for this - for you for my teammates, but you entrust your life into coaches, you know, expertise. You're absolutely you have no choice in sports like, like in our gymnastics like diving. It is - there's no there's no like, you know, "oh, the coach doesn't like me today, he screams and you know, and he or she screams and she's she's gonna put me through trouble today." Well, there's nothing like that going on ever between a coach and an athlete in sports like diving. For example, you know, and it's, it's, it should be absolute priority for any coach and This is how it was for me. You know, if I didn't feel like I'm ready for a dive you - or for a certain move, a new new step that you're that you haven't experienced - have little experience and you you turn to your coach and you ask her, Jane, do you think I'm ready? Do you think I'm going to be able - and she, you know, you know, you trust that person to lead you through what you're doing, you have to have that trust. If you don't have that transparency and trust, things are not going to go move anywhere from, you know, from my point of view, at least this is how we felt. This is what I've experienced.

Jeff Ma
That's great. And for listeners who are hearing this like like myself, I'm very inspired right now I think I'm taking a look introspectively at how I how I lead others. And if I'm if I'm providing that type of relationship for others, but can you guys talk a little bit about when You guys first got started, right? Like, I think if people were hearing this for the first time and they want to go apply it, and you want to talk about business, you can talk about it in your experience in diving, when you guys first connected, I'm assuming it wasn't like love at first practice or whatever, right? It wasn't just like you guys connected. Jane, you earlier said you have to start with love. How How should people approach this new approach where they want to they want to start applying this but when it's a new relationship, how do you how do you build that?

Jane Figueiredo
Well, yeah, I think trust takes a long time, doesn't it? So you have to build that over time. But I think it's the way you speak to each other. That's that's the first indicator to me. So if if she's coming on my team for the first time, I've got to meet with her several times to get to know her. She's got to get to know me. I invited her for dinner. You know, we did a lot of That where we're connecting on a personal level. And then the rest of it just sort of goes hand in hand with that. So, you know, how do you do that in business? Well, I think really, Yeah. So you start there, you go out for some drinks, you go to dinner, you start that relationship on a much more informal basis. And then as as things go, then then the expectations start to rise. And then you're not worried about putting that expectation there because you you've got each other's back. And I think - Yeah, I you know - Yulia, I mean, the way she articulates herself is just an incredible I'm always when I listen to her speak. You know, we have a saying in the US, right, she's not a BS-er. She and her partner Vera. If I want to complete, open and honest answer to a question, I spoke with you earlier, I don't know where it was the 10 days ago, two weeks ago. And I'm asking her would she be - Would she be interested in talking to my Olympic athletes because, I can't say it. And it can't come from anybody more experienced than her. And some of them have never been to the Olympics. And then you have Tom and Grace, who have. and I'm looking for that extra little thing that's gonna make all the difference in the world. And I think it is conversations that they can have with somebody like Yulia. And trust me, why am I asking her? because she's gonna give it straight. and And they either need to be able to manage that. Or they're not going to manage that. But they know what's coming because they know of her tenacity, they know that she's not going to BS and, and that's why I asked somebody like her, do you think you - would you and Vera mind talking to my synchro pair from Great Britain? because I feel like that's what we need - that like, mmm, that that just connection and this drive and this passion to do whatever it takes and and and that's what they had and you know it was - I always say it was easy for me because they already came with a lot of qualities that I didn't have to teach. They really came like a ready made package. All I had to do was just do the last little 10% which was tweaking, working on details, connecting with the mind, showing love and and showing how much we care about each other so that the the, the journey was going to be easier and it's going to be solid. And, and and the win was like a bonus. It was a big bonus.

Frank Danna
I feel like there's, there's so much that we can unpack with this conversation. But what I'm also hearing is the importance of a coach, the importance of a leader, seeing someone's capability and not making who they're out to be from their previous mistake. And from a failure. if that person sees themselves that employee sees themselves as a failure in a moment, It's a leaders opportunity to say I know you're capable of more I know you're capable of better because I saw you doing last week. I saw you yesterday. and bringing that person back up with that relationship knowing that that that individuals capable of doing it, right? I'm hearing you say that Jane, and and You have this Rolodex of knowledge of all the previous wins that someone has. So don't let this one thing stop you. Right? Don't let this one moment stop you and hold you back. Here's the feedback you need to apply. Let's get better and try again. Right? And I think that's so timely and so relevant for a business audience as well, who are looking at, you know, what can they do to improve it's first getting to know the people that you're surrounding yourselves with, getting to know the people that you're supposedly leading. And in doing that, you have the opportunity to prove to them that they're better, that they can be better and do better, even beyond what they think they're capable of. Right? And so, that, to me, is very inspiring.

Jane Figueiredo
I think, um, you know, leadership is all fine and well, but I think each person, whoever that may be, whether it's me and Yulia, you have to have the ownership. You have to come with that ownership. I'm gonna do whatever It takes. you cannot lead people that are just cheap, you have to have the people that you're going to lead, feeling the same way you do and the same desire to be a winner. You can't make somebody want to be a winner. And same in business. You can try all your life, but you've got employ people that have that same desire and that willingness to do what it takes. And, and then it's easier. This whole becomes very easy if you have all of those bits together. Right? And I was lucky because I had two people in Vera and Yulia, who. I mean, it was easy to be motivated around those two.

Jeff Ma
I think I think for a lot of our listeners, you might work in a business that is very good at hiring the best and the brightest and the most talented, you know, business athletes, if you will, with the drive and everything. But what, what I'm taking away for myself is that, you know, we, we so often separate business and personal life. And we isolate these two things. And I'm seeing the power of making sure that you have that personal life connection to build that trust to elevate. Because, you know, even if they come as a total, even if they come as a total package, you have to form that union. And that's how you bring the best out of each other. And you did that through building that love and trust through getting to truly know each other. And, and I think when we, when we're too busy kind of treating business as a separate world. And like, you know, after work, it's just back to our other life. And that's just an employee. I think we missed the mark. And I love I love seeing that in practice here. That's incredible.

Jane Figueiredo
Yeah, absolutely.

Jeff Ma
So, I mean, again, I'm stalling because I really, I would. I would. I would love to talk about this for the rest of this week, to be honest. But this was an amazing, amazing conversation. I want to thank Jane and Yulia, for joining us - you guys have been a real pleasure and I hope to get you guys back on on this on this talk about other things. But But thank you so much for joining us. And for the audience, we're going to be posting new episodes of love as a business strategy every Tuesday. And if there's a business topic you'd like to cover, if you there's people you'd like us to talk to or any other feedback, you can you can find us at softway.com/laabs, also in your show notes. And if you liked what you heard today, you know, please leave us a review and subscribe on Apple it would mean a lot. And and once again, thank you guys so much. This was amazing. And and and we will we will talk again soon.

Jane Figueiredo
Thank you so much for having us.

Yulia Pakhalina
Love you, Jane.

Jane Figueiredo
Love you too, Bubu

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