How Pro Athlete Fabienne Raphaël Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

At times when I can’t seem to focus, I just drop what I’m doing. I take a break. Go for a walk. Exercise. Sing. Dance. And when I come back, usually, it’s way better!

Asa part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewingFabienne Raphaël.

Fabienne Raphaël is a business coach, speaker, podcaster, and former team handball elite athlete.

She helps former elite athletes and undervalued employees become highly paid experts by building their dream coaching/consulting business, so they can spice up their life, living their purpose.

As a team handball elite athlete, Fabienne and her team (Canada) were Vice Champions of 1999 PanAm Games, silver medalist at many PanAm Championships and got the 20th position at the World Championships in 1997.

As personal achievements, Fabienne finished 5th best scorer at the 1999 PanAms and evolved 2 years, playing in Denmark’s 1st division, finishing 27th best scorer. In the Provincial like in the Canadian leagues, she was often selected as an all-star and got many MVP awards.

Fabienne is goal-oriented and highly disciplined — and with the help of her coaches, she was able to keep her body and mind in optimal condition, despite the injuries, the setbacks or the losses that would occur.

Last but not least, Fabienne was also an athletes’ mentor with Team Canada at the last Pan-American Games in Lima (2019).

What she learned in sports for mindset and peak performance, she can apply today for her own life, but also with the clients she works with. She’s definitely dedicated to living the high-achiever way.

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?

It’s funny, but growing up, I did not do so many sports! My mom made me do ballet lessons, once a week…

But I remember that in elementary school, I would always enjoy playing outdoors or competing with the other students. Plus, my big brother played soccer, hockey, and tennis, so he often showed me a few things.

Team handball came into my life in high school.

The physical education teacher came to me and said: “You’re good at doing sports. Come to the team handball tryouts.” I didn’t even know what that sport was.

Long story short, I made the team and that was the beginning of a journey that would last 20 years.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

I took my decision to join Team Canada after I heard Celine Dion sing The Power of the Dream at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. I felt shivers and took the decision to go for it. I called the coach — who had tried to have me join the team the year before and told him that if there were still room for a player like myself, I was ready to give it a shot.

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?

Let’s go back to December 1996. I felt ashamed. Walking towards my handball coach office.

I was about to tell him that I quit the national team.

I joined the team in September 1996.

And at the same time started my college education in physical therapy. Full time. But also training full time.

I had just been through my semester’s finals.

And was convinced that this whole situation had to end, because I did not believe in myself enough to see that I would succeed at doing both.

So I came to my coach Stefan’s office.

And I was already crying.

I told him: “I want to quit. It’s too hard. I don’t think I’ll be able to do both — succeed in physical therapy and being the best I can be as a team handball player. Everyone tells me I’m crazy, too busy, they don’t understand why I’m doing this to myself.”

After I was done, he waited a few seconds, looked at me in the eyes and said:

“It’s not about other people’s lives. It’s about yours. If you quit now, think about all the opportunities that you’ll miss. Think about all the experiences that you’ll never get. Who cares what people say. They’ll still have something to say anyways, even if you decide to quit. Practice is in 30 minutes. See you then.”

That’s all that it took for me to change my mind.

At that exact moment, I felt that my coach had my back.

And it made me feel so much stronger.

It’s crazy how one sentence, one conversation; one person can have a long-lasting effect on who you become and what you accomplish in your life.

I’m very grateful that this man was my handball coach (I still call him coach when we speak, even if I retired 10 years ago…)

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?

The funniest story happened at training camp. Right before PanAms 1999.

We were doing a training camp with the Americans.

We were all staying at the same facility, but each of us had our private room.

One evening, one teammate invited me over to go play cards with the Americans downstairs, in the living room.

I said that I would stay in my room, quiet, to read a book and listen to some music. (I needed that alone time.)

Curfew was at 10pm. At 10pm, we had to be quiet in our rooms, ready to go to bed.

It happened that my coach was back from a meeting at 10pm and he saw the light in my room (while all the other lights were closed — yes, ALL the other players were downstairs playing cards…)

The day after at practice, guess who yelled at me?

My coach.

He asked me… What happened in your room last night? Lights open, music playing! ALL the other rooms had their lights off, you were the only one awake after the 10pm curfew!!!

Everyone was looking at me, waiting to hear what I would say.

If I would betray them or stand by them.

I decided to stand by them.

I told my coach — come on, my music wasn’t so loud…

And he made us run… and run…. And run….. To pay for “my” mistake.

After practice, all my teammates came to say thank you!

Moral of the story — way better to have the coach mad at you than to have your entire team mad at you!

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

Stick to what YOU want to do or accomplish and don’t listen to others who have NO idea about what you want to achieve because they’ve probably never done it themselves.

Stay in touch with high achievers and find mentors in your sport or guidance from a great coach…

Stick with the people who want to see you soar and succeed.

You’ll never regret it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now, other than already helping former elite athletes to build their coaching business, I’m building and nurturing connections with many retired athletes or people who are dedicated in helping athletes live a fulfilling life after sports. Workshops, Masterclasses, Speaking — all these things are cooking. And it’s exciting!

Believe me. Athletes are geared to become successful business owners. They’re high-achievers!

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?

I just want to mention that these are all strategies that I used while I was playing — in my elite athlete years!

The best way for me to handle the pressure before a big game was to be prepared.

Especially with the pre-game meetings that we had with the team.

My coach Stefan was really great at letting me know what my role was going to be, who I would guard and how to prepare to face them. Knowing that my coach was with me on my role helped me feel more confident.

The other thing I would cherish was visualization.

I would visualize my offensive moves, but also my defensive moves, adapting to what my coach had told me to prepare for.

That was really powerful for me.

I would keep the same routine when warming up.

Almost in the same sequence.

Not really talking much to my teammates, because that’s when I would review the strategy in my head and still visualize the key parts.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

At the time, I didn’t. But today, I know that when I face a stressful situation, the first thing I do before anything else is go to a calm environment, lie down, and take some deep breaths.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

One of my life values is simplicity. What is the least required to accomplish what I’m after?

Life goes so fast. And the opportunities are everywhere. In the inbox, on social media platforms, on text messages… It’s important to filter these — evaluate if they are truly necessary to the accomplishment of your goals.

Then, I feel that whenever you have to do one of these activities, it will be easier to stay focused.

At times when I can’t seem to focus, I just drop what I’m doing. I take a break. Go for a walk. Exercise. Sing. Dance. And when I come back, usually, it’s way better!

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

I would just follow the training plan. I was really good at implementing what the coaches were telling me. Because I trusted their capacity to give me the training I needed to reach that peak performance.

That is why, even today, when I feel that I lack something — I hire a coach!

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?

What the international competitions world has taught me the most is the value of persistence.

I keep moving forward. I am not scared to face challenges, as I know they are part of life. But believe me, if I get down, I will surely get up.

I’m not saying that I’ve never struggled with implementing better habits in my life though.

What I am saying is that if I try to do so and I fail, I try again. If it needs tweaking, I do it. Until I succeed at it.

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 would just focus on the process.

Do what I have to do.

The set backs usually happen when we start asking ourselves too many questions, when we start questioning the process…

To stop bad habits, I would identify if it comes from a mindset block first.

If it isn’t, what have worked for me is to find an accountability partner.

I hate to report a “fail” to my accountability partner!

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?

The state of flow happens when you are at your highest level of self-confidence. That you are in sync with who you are and what you can do. And… you’re so confident, that nothing seems to be a hurdle. It becomes easy.

To get there, I would say is a combination of high preparation and clear focus on what the goal is.

Having a clear idea of the path and strategies to get there, keep that in mind and just execute. Nothing else.

No other thoughts.

No what if it doesn’t work.

Just doing what you trained really hard to do.

And succeed at it. With ease.

So to get to that state more often, double down on the preparation and the focus.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I don’t have meditation practices at the moment.

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?

First thing first, I don’t believe that if your self-talk is negative and your self-esteem is shaky, that you can get it back up just like that, without finding the right person to help you with that.

So that’s the first thing I would do.

But, I’ve found with time that these thoughts come less with how I decide to focus on doing what I love and expressing gratefulness, while keeping a positive attitude towards life.

When the negative feelings come though, I embrace them, acknowledge them and allow myself to feel them. Entirely.

Then, it is easier to go forward and be geared to solution mode and use the right words to formulate my thoughts –

All these to really stand in my own power, being of service and live my purpose.

The words used for the inner talk are extremely important in the outcome that I’ll get.

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?

I share my lessons learned and my strategies via my 2 favorite social media platforms, Facebook and LinkedIn. I regularly receive some feedback about my positivity and my vulnerability in sharing personal stories.

I also bring all my life experience into my coaching, helping others achieve their goals and change their lives.

Witnessing my clients’ evolution and celebrating their successes with them are to me extremely fulfilling.

More happy and successful people equals more goodness to the world!

I also make sure that I share these values with my sons. And positively influence their lives.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Success is something you attract by the person you become.” — Jim Rohn

I strongly believe that when you work on yourself at becoming a better person, you attract the right people and the right opportunities.

Not everyone achieves success — but those who do have decided to dive into the inner work, fight the limiting beliefs, learn from their mistakes and embrace life with the right attitude.

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 🙂

Since we are talking about sports here — Michael Jordan.

I’ve been watching the Last Dance and oh it’s soooo good.

What I knew about him (from watching all these documentaries in VHS, remember?!) was taken to another level with that series:

His mindset.

His work ethic.

His focus.

The goals that he crushed. Each and every single time.

The challenges that he overcame.


Just being at the same table, not even talking, I’m sure I would feel his positive and powerful energy.

Actually, I would probably settle for a quick Zoom chat! Lol.

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