Repeatedly writing things down to help stay focused has been a huge help for me. I will even write myself a message on my alarm, so I see it every day when I wake up. This helps me remind myself constantly about what my goal is and what I need to do to accomplish it.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Kemp.
Adam Kemp is a professional basketball player, ISSA Certified Personal trainer and health and fitness writer. In 2014, Adam graduated from Marist College with a BA in Communications. Since 2014 he has been playing professional basketball in countries throughout Europe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
First of all, thank you very much for choosing me for this interview. I grew up in Sherrill, New York, which is the smallest city in the state of New York. When I was about ten years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, from which I still deal with motor tics daily.
I played a variety of different sports as I was growing up, but basketball was always my true love. Although I’ve managed to play in some of the best basketball leagues in Europe, and I played in the 2015 NBA Summer League with the Detroit Pistons, it took a long time for me to become who I am today.
I never received a scholarship offer to play NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 basketball while I was in High School, and it wasn’t until I went to the Winchendon School (a prep school in Massachusetts) that I started to build a name for myself in the basketball world.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
I always wanted to be a professional athlete, and honestly, most of that inspiration just came from within myself. I certainly had different players or athletes who I have looked up to throughout my life, but it’s hard for me to point to one particular person or factor. I always had a dream of playing professional basketball at the highest level, and I’ve never let any circumstance stop me from pursuing that goal.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There are definitely many people who have played a huge role in my life and what I’ve been able to accomplish as an athlete. My parents have always supported me endlessly and set a great example of how to work hard for achieving your goals, and I’ve had many coaches in my life who I’ve appreciated for the amount of work they’ve put into me.
One of the people who had the biggest impact on my life because of the circumstances surrounding the situation was my coach at The Winchendon School, Michael Byrnes.
Coach Byrnes was involved in probably the single most significant turning point in my life when he brought me to The Winchendon School. As I said before, when I was in High School, I was never offered any NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 basketball scholarships. Throughout my Junior and Senior year in High School, I had spoken with a variety of schools about the opportunity to play basketball at those levels, but because I was from such a small area and had only limited experience against quality competition, none were very interested in me.
Due to that, I finished my High School basketball career without much of a way forward, and I expected that I was going to attend a College that only offered NCAA Division 3 athletics, which is a level that players rarely advance from.
However, Coach Byrnes had seen me play in the summer before my Senior year of High School at a large basketball camp with players from around the country, and when he learned of my post-High School plans, he provided me the opportunity to come to The Winchendon School and have a better chance at earning a scholarship to play college basketball. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He gave me a second chance at life with the opportunity he gave me, and I have never forgotten about it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve had tons of funny moments with my teammates and other people throughout my career, but honestly, I can’t think of one which would answer this question properly.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
I always enjoy talking with young players of young athletes from my area, and one of the main points I always try to make to them is although it takes an incredible amount of commitment and dedication to become a professional athlete, it’s okay to play a variety of sports and do a variety of things while you are young and become more and more focused as you get older. One of the mistakes that a lot of coaches and trainers make nowadays is forcing kids to play only one sport and ignore other aspects of life in hopes of turning them into star athletes. This can cause too many problems with overloading young kids and not letting them find their own motivation or desire to keep going.
I played many different sports when I was younger and even through my time at The Winchendon School. Along with that, I also learned to play a couple of different musical instruments in High School (I played tuba and trumpet). All of these parts of my life made it easier for me to commit to my career as I got older fully.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Outside of my basketball career, I have been working on my website AdamKempFitness.com for the last four years. I use my website to spread health and fitness knowledge that I have learned throughout my career, as well as share stories of my travels throughout the world.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high-stress situations?
For me, a lot of being able to perform at a high level and in high-stress situations comes down to preparation. As an athlete with Tourette Syndrome, keeping pressure and stress low is incredibly important because when I feel “stress,” my motor tics become uncontrollable. Due to that, I have to prepare myself as much as possible so that I can feel as controlled as possible while playing. The key is to go into each game, knowing that I am 100% ready for anything that is thrown at me and that I am the most prepared person on the court that day. This comes down to both physical and mental preparation. I enjoy watching film not only of the team I will be playing against but also watching previous games of myself and my team to learn more about what I can do better.
Another key strategy I use is that I practice yoga each day. Not only on game days, but every day throughout my season. Yoga has been instrumental with helping me control my motor tics, and it has been a huge help for how I feel going in to each game. My routine now contains a 20–30 minute yoga session before I head to the gym each game, which gives me time to internalize what I want to accomplish that day and calm my mind and body.
Lastly, I always have to find the right songs to listen to before games. My moods are always different, so the music can range from anything like Nirvana, to the Rolling Stones, to Meek Mill (a few of my favorites). Music relaxes me and gets me fired up to play, and it’s a huge part of being ready for the high-pressure and stress that will come in the game ahead!
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
As I mentioned, I regularly practice yoga, which involves multiple unique breathing techniques. I 100% believe in the power of optimizing your breathing, and practicing yoga has made a huge difference for me. Also, I have exercise-induced asthma, so practicing breathing techniques makes an even more significant difference in my physical preparation as well. A lot of times, when I am preparing for a game or resting during the game, I will use a controlled 4-count breath (4 counts in, 4 counts out), which helps me maintain my heart rate and improve my focus on what I need to do better.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
As I mentioned, do a lot of yoga. The yoga and meditation itself has been a huge help with improving my focus and reducing distractions around me. More specifically, I am a strong believer in visualization. Before games I try to visualize myself making specific plays, how I will react when a certain play happens, and even simple things like how I will run up and down the court. One book which was very influential for me for learning visualization techniques was “Mind Gym.”
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
Honestly, I love working on my body. There are tons of my favorite tips for optimizing your body on my website, and sometimes it might even seem like I enjoy working on my body as much as playing basketball! I could talk about different workouts or ways to optimize my body for hours, but if I were to pick something specific, I’d say two of the most important things I do to optimize my body are intermittent fasting and HIIT workouts such as the Tabata Interval Protocol. I have been doing intermittent fasting since I was in college, and it makes a huge difference in how my body feels both in and out of season. From the side of physical performance, Tabata Workouts (which involve 8 rounds of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest) are perfect for helping me with on-court conditioning. Since I also have severe exercise-induced asthma, keeping my body in peak condition is vital to my career because there are many days when my lungs just don’t work as well as they should!
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
Absolutely. I firmly believe that we must make thins into habits if we want to accomplish our goals. I don’t necessarily believe every habit takes only 21 days to make, but I think it’s more of a range of between 21 days and maybe even up to a year for some things. However, I am always working on building healthy habits for myself which can last a lifetime because I believe
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
I use a few techniques to help develop positive habits and kick out old habits. One of my favorites is that I am a huge believer in writing things down, whether in the notes on your phone, in a journal, or anywhere else. Repeatedly writing things down to help stay focused has been a huge help for me. I will even write myself a message on my alarm, so I see it every day when I wake up. This helps me remind myself constantly about what my goal is and what I need to do to accomplish it. If you have a bad habit, the same strategy works as well. I prefer positive reinforcing good habits, compared to trying to simply discourage bad habits. So find something which can replace your bad habit, and positively reinforce it into your mind!
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
From my perspective, this “zone” comes from being extremely prepared as well as extremely focused. When you are prepared for what’s about to happen, and you are focused on what you are going after, you will naturally enter that “zone” where good things start happening. It’s no mistake what athletes get in the zone during games, etc. This comes from hours of hard work and preparation, and then things just begin to “click.”
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
I practice guided meditation a lot. However, I don’t have any individual practices. Unfortunately, I am still only at the level where I must follow along with someone else cues.
Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
I’ve spoken about this a couple of times already, but I am a huge believer in positive reinforcement. I believe everyone should speak positively with themselves every day. Sometimes you need to literally look into the mirror and tell yourself something positive. You can start with small steps and then work your way up. For example, just pick one thing per day that you believe you did or do well, and remind yourself about it multiple times. Over time, you can continue adding things to your list and build a positive rapport with yourself. As someone with Tourette Syndrome, this was not easy for me. I used to be almost ashamed of myself for my tics. However, over time, I have pushed all of those feelings away and grown much more confident in myself. In my opinion, the best way to change our thoughts is through positive actions.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Throughout my career, there have been a variety of ways I believe I have helped bring goodness into the world, and I am hoping I can do even much more. One of the main ways I believe I have accomplished this is through community outreach and activities. While playing for my respective teams, and in my personal life, I have spent a lot of time doing different community service and community activities, especially in working with children. I have done these activities throughout many different parts of the world.
In the future, I hope to use my health and fitness as a way to promote healthy living further, while also branching into aspects including more environmental and social issues. I had written about social issues before, such as an article I wrote on criminal justice system reform in the United States, but as I continue to grow my digital presence, I plan on using my voice for many more issues.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
There are honestly tons of quotes and phrases which come to mind, but one of my favorites is this African Proverb:
“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or the gazelle; when the sun comes up, you better start running.”
This is a pretty well-known quote, and to me, I really think it symbolizes the nature of life and what it takes to be successful.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
If there is one person in the world I would love to have a private meal with it would have to be Jeff Bezos. Not only would I love to pick his brain about the steps he made to build Amazon, but I would love to have the opportunity to speak with him about how he could use his position to improve the world. I believe a lot of people view him negatively because of the wealth he has amassed, but I believe that is his right given the company he has built, although there are so many ways he could improve the world with his power. I think having an opportunity to speak with him one on one would be one of the best learning experiences possible, while I’d also love the opportunity to express the thoughts and opinions I have developed throughout my tie traveling the world and experiencing life from a unique perspective.