How Professional Beach Volleyball Player Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

People who are in flow are in the moment and are one hundred percent there. I like to live the motto, “be where your feet are,” (Michael Gervais) because it helps me achieve flow. I check in with myself, listen and feel harder to bring myself into any moment more consciously. Whether it’s in the car listening to the radio, walking on the beach or snack-prepping an almond trail mix for my family, I turn my senses on and feel the textures on my fingers and the sand between my toes.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings.

Walsh Jennings is an American professional beach volleyball player, who competes on the U.S. AVP Tour and internationally on the FIVB World Tour. She is the most decorated beach volleyball player of all time being a three-time gold medalist, and a one-time bronze medalist. Recently Walsh Jennings and husband Casey Jennings co-founded p1440, a new beach volleyball-centric digital media company aimed at bringing more prize money and attention to the sport through live streaming, storytelling, training and tournaments. The media company, p1440, was coined from Walsh Jennings’ motto that people should spend all 1,440 minutes of every day with a purpose. She is also a mom to Joey (9), Sundance (8), and Scout (5), who she was pregnant with during the 2012 Olympics in London.

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?

Igrew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, with a lot of love, nature, and sports. My parents set me up on a good path and those three things are still very present in my life. My childhood was very active and not much has changed since then. I’m still surrounded by family, friends, faith, nature, and sports. My life currently is the result a lot of nurturing and combined with my inherent nature as an individual.

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

I was raised in a sports-centric household. My parents, siblings and very large extended family are all athletes; high level, intense competitors. Every weekend during my childhood we were at a different sporting event. Through my family’s love for sports, I learned the value of teamwork, training, consistency, focus, playing to win and learning through losses. When it came time to play sports on my own, I found that I loved it. Sports has been a constant in my life and I love that I am able to chase my dreams and to develop my character through this medium. It has been the gift of a lifetime and I’m so grateful that my parents modeled it for me from the very beginning. It made so much seem possible and it made the pursuit so meaningful.

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?

My parents set the tone for my life in every way imaginable. They were and continue to be amazing role models for me, especially as an athlete and a person focused on excellence. They really are the ones who taught me the importance of being an individual with integrity; to be the one who sincerely can “walk their talk” and lead by example. They also planted a seed in me to never let up on the pursuit of excellence or of my dreams.

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?

My partner and I were playing in a nationally televised championship match. I went in for a jump float serve and my legs went out. They buckled and I ended up on my knees in the sand, having whiffed the ball. Nightmare!!!! The entire crowd gasped, and I literally had no idea what had just happened. I was quite embarrassed! It was so absurd, that it was comical, even to me. So, I curtseyed to the crowd and carried on. Worst part is that we were winning, and that changed the momentum and we ended up losing the match. Ugh! Lesson learned. The lesson I learned that day was that all things are temporary even though they may seem momentous at the time and that in order to WIN, we must work to quickly transition our minds from failure, discomfort, embarrassment, and being in a funk toward that which we want …focus, in the present moment, on the good and on the task at hand.

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

My advice is do what’s possible and then, go beyond that! If you’re going to do something, do it to the fullest — follow your heart and don’t hedge your bets. It’s important to create your own path in this world. Focus on mastering the ABC’s (the basics), and this will help you to build a strong foundation and better set yourself up for success. Commit to the process of becoming excellent and hold yourself and your actions to high standards — it’s relentlessly hard work, but the benefits are off the charts and the feeling of meaning and purpose you get when living life this way, is incredible.

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, I’m focused on p1440, my digital platform and events company built around the sport of volleyball and all things that exist to live an optimized life. p1440 is on a mission to serve, unite and elevate the sport and the individual so that everyone can feel good in their bodies, they can develop a sound mind/body/spirit connection and that connection will help them lead a better-quality life and certainly be better at their craft. We have put together virtual training programs that focus on body, mind and spirit to help people everywhere stay strong and stay in the game. On the platform, we also offer strength training and nutrition guidance — check it out on! Anyone can participate, from little kids to folks over 60 years old. Our programming is universal, and it will make a positive impact on any single person, no matter age, gender, skill or fitness level — it’s incredible and has been curated by some of the best coaches and trainers I have ever known (and I’ve known A LOT!)

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?

Recognize the way you frame things. If you say, “I’m under so much pressure with all of these enormous tasks,” then you’re not setting yourself up for success. Stand up tall, put your shoulders back, and look at challenges as an opportunity to grow. Reminder, “it’s not the weight you carry, it’s the WAY you carry it.”

Set yourself up for success and know that can take shape in many ways. Surround yourself with things, people and resources to allow you to deal with what’s happening in the best way. I think one of the biggest tools in life that we ALL have, is the ability to be resourceful. For me, setting myself up for success looks like maintaining my hydration, keeping nutritious snacks on hand when hunger strikes (I pack a container of natural almonds in my beach bag to stay energized throughout my workout), wearing lots of gold (symbolic of what I am working toward) and surrounding myself with truly amazing and inspired humans who challenge me to be my best and love me through the process. We become what we’re surrounded by and so I am diligent and mindful of my environment and of the culture of my team/business/partnership/family.

Live in greatness before attaining it! There is so much power in preparedness. When you’re prepared, you’re ready to conquer the task at hand. You’re able to show up with confidence that you’ll be able to give your best and handle whatever is thrown at you. The best training for GAME TIME success is found in our day to day rituals and habits. Don’t just show up on game day and expect greatness. Live it daily. It’s a lifestyle, not a trend. Be focused on your body, mind and spirit always. Fuel yourself with healthy and powerful REAL nutrition, inspiring surroundings, focused training, authentic pursuits and MEANINGFUL, REAL relationships. I am a product of my habits — so are you. I am a product of the people I am surrounded by …. choose mindfully and engage sincerely. I am unconditionally inspired by my life and by my pursuits because I work hard to ensure excellence and I only pursue those things that truly mean something to me; these things allow for greatness.

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

Nasal breathing is an important technique that I practice frequently for performance optimization. For me, the exhale is as important as the inhale. Breathing “right” is so challenging for me, but the benefits are felt immediately and it’s worth pushing through the discomfort. Nasal breathing makes my mind and system at ease. It helps me to feel safe and it in the moment. It allows me to perform at my best. If I feel anxious, a couple slow deep breaths help me reset my physiology. I love to use breathwork apps like the State app to help me focus in on my breathwork.

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

No matter what the day brings, I work to stick with my healthy habits and mindful ways. No matter if life is good or bad at the moment and wherever I am: on the road, at work, traveling with the family and friends, before the gym, etc. In that transitional time before I start a new task, I try to pause and collect my thoughts, even if it’s just for 30 seconds. Then I set an intention. This holds me accountable and sets the tone regardless if it’s a workout or work meeting. I don’t want to be at the mercy of outside stress or anything outside of myself, really. I aspire to always show up sincerely and authentically in these moments and hone in on self-awareness and my breath.

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

I like to optimize life and feel good in my every day and my healthy habits reinforce that. A good night’s sleep is vital, and I need eight hours to feel rested and ready to take on each day. Nutrition plays a significant role in my life: I am a product of what I’m surrounded by and I like to keep healthy, natural foods nearby for easy snacking. Whole almonds and my winning trail mix are my go-to snacks because they give me sustained energy to own my every day and reach for my goals with their unique combination of plant-based protein, fiber and healthy fats. As a mom of three, I prioritize setting a good example for my kids and setting an example through these healthy habits sets a great foundation for them to build on.

Kerri’s Winning Trail Mix

Ingredients: almonds, tart cherries, dark chocolate or carob chips, dried apple. Makes 3 1/4 cups (13 servings)

2 cup all-natural almonds

1/2 cup tart dried cherries, pitted

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or carob chips

1/2 cup dried apple pieces

Combine ingredients in a large-sized bowl and gently toss! Keeps well in an airtight container or bag.

Additionally, I’m a big believer in moving your body daily and balancing that with stillness — even if it’s just for 10–15 minutes every day. I enjoy moving my body in ways that are challenging and fun. When I’m properly fueled, I like to push myself out of my comfort zone and embrace diversity in my workouts to make sure my body sustains excellence.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we must 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?

Fundamentally, we are our habits and we become what we’re surrounded by. That said, I work to stimulate healthy habits to positively affect my physical and mental state. It’s important to change, grow and create new habits over time. Nutrition and more specifically, healthy snacking, is an important habit that I’ve maintained over time. I like to practice mindful eating but also mindful grocery shopping. Shopping for whole foods like almonds that provide important nutrients like protein and fiber is critical to my overall success.

Professional Beach Volleyball Player Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings

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?

The only way to stop bad habits is to create good ones and to stay consistent. Get curious about what you can replace bad habits with by doing some research. This can be as simple as nutrition swaps in the kitchen, like reaching for a handful of almonds instead of a handful of chips. Set your standards, maintain accountability and focus on a goal.

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?

People who are in flow are in the moment and are one hundred percent there. I like to live the motto, “be where your feet are,” (Michael Gervais) because it helps me achieve flow. I check in with myself, listen and feel harder to bring myself into any moment more consciously. Whether it’s in the car listening to the radio, walking on the beach or snack-prepping an almond trail mix for my family, I turn my senses on and feel the textures on my fingers and the sand between my toes.

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

I like to practice silent meditation; even if I only have 30 seconds. I do try to meditate 15 minutes a day and I set a timer to keep me accountable and running on time (Insight Timer is my most favorite meditation app).

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?

Now more than ever is a time of reflection. Let’s use the beautiful gift of pause to decide how we want to be in our lives. I often ask myself, ‘what’s the best possible schedule I can create?’ Put pen to paper and daydream yourself into a brighter piece. To “change the channel” of our thoughts, try to tackle things in bite size pieces and structure your day around things that motivate you. Consistency is mastery.

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?

My sport has given me so much. Through my company, p1440 I’m able to share my wisdom and my experience, and my experts with the next generation. It’s an expedited path to greatness via virtual training camps, living digital engagement and within the powerful and trusted community we have created. It’s amazing to have a platform to authentically inspire others. I am the beneficiary of that, and I want to pass it on and do it with all my heart.

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

What’s resonating with me most right now is, “you cannot be a victim and a master at the same time.” We may be in situations that we don’t like but if you show up approaching challenges like a growth opportunity, then you can take on anything. Choose to own where you’re at and you whole system will step up to the challenge and net feel victimized by it.

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 🙂

I just watched ESPN’s Last Dance and I would love to sit down with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Those men exemplify greatness and are particularly relevant to my career at this time. I’d also love to sit with Tony Robbins, Esther Hicks, Robert Greene, Andrew Huberman, Jordan B. Peterson. Incredible humans who inspire me to be greater.

Learn more about Meditation