In 2016, I took a hiatus to work on my mental health. For the first time ever, I put my needs first. I fully committed myself with therapy, meditation, manifesting, and gratitude practices. I became a much better version of myself, and learned how to truly make the most of my capabilities. It changed my perception in every aspect of my life. My mind was clearer than it had ever been, and I made smarter decisions for my well-being.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rodney Wallace.
Rodney Wallace is a world class athlete who has played domestically, internationally, and on the largest stage of world soccer, the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Born in Costa Rica, Rodney moved to the United States when he was nine. Rodney quickly took the soccer world by storm, and won a NCAA Championship with the University of Maryland. Soon after, he was drafted by DC United in the 2009 Major League Soccer Draft. During this time, he was called up by the Costa Rica National Team and was vital in many major tournaments including Gold Cups and CONCACAF. He continued his career for the Portland Timbers, and became the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year after suffering an ACL tear and missing the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The following year, he scored the goal that ended up winning the 2015 MLS Championship. From there, he signed overseas in Portugal Primeira Liga, then Brazil Seria A where he quickly became the best left back in the league. After a successful year, he moved his family back to the United States and signed for New York City Football Club. While there, he achieved his ultimate dream of playing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Costa Rica. After New York, Rodney signed with Sporting Kansas City where he underwent two major hip surgeries. He is currently rehabbing, focusing on his family, and running his premium CBD brand, Rewind by Rodney Wallace.
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 a pleasure to be doing this with you all, I really appreciate the opportunity. I was born in San Jose, Costa Rica, and moved to Maryland when I was 9. My earliest memories include soccer, school, more soccer, friends and family. The first thing we would do after school is set up our field, which was the street and the goal posts were two rocks, about 5 feet apart. We idolized the pro players, and on Sundays our family would gather together to BBQ and watch games. When I moved to the US, everything was completely different from my home country, but I quickly adjusted to the cultural change and language barriers. My sister Wendy played a huge role in making this transition easier and we leaned on each other for support when we were homesick and faced various challenges
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
Growing up my idol was my cousin, who played professional soccer for the Costa Rican National team. There were other players, such as Patrick Viera, who later became my coach during my career. I have always been competitive and imagined playing in packed stadiums and visualized scoring the game winning goal. I believe this is why I demand a lot from myself, and a reason why I was successful in the MLS. I never put limits on myself and stayed true to my passion. After moving to Maryland, my mother came across an ad in the local newspaper for soccer tryouts. It was pouring down rain and I had nothing but my sneakers on. I was slipping all over the field, but I wasn’t concerned with the muddy and unstable surface. The other players had the latest cleats and proper gear and I was just a kid from Costa Rica that wanted to ball, and with that mentality I impressed the head coach Arnold Tarzy and the entire team. I was selected for a second tryout and the coach suggested I bring the proper footwear. My mom came through with a vital cleat purchase that set the tone for my future. That pair of black Nikes with the lime green bottom symbolized hard work, sacrifice, and belief, as it was not an easy purchase at the time. I made the team and my first trophy was the Walt Disney International Cup. Through all the adversities, challenges, setbacks, and injuries, I made it to the world’s biggest stage in soccer — the 2018 FIFA World Cup. My imagination allowed me to take chances and play with joy!
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?
I have many people in my life that I am thankful for. My academic dean and head coach at Bullis High School, George Moore, alongside Robert Pollicino, were pillars during a crucial stage in my life. In college, I was fortunate enough to be coached by Sasha Cirosvki at the University of Maryland. He pushed me to be great in all aspects, including winning a NCAA National Title and ACC Tournament Title the same year. He demanded a base of hard work, and then talent, which helped me take my game to the next level. In 2009, I was drafted 6th overall pick in Major League Soccer to DC United. Legend Ben Olsen become my teammate, and then my head coach. He ended up trading me to Portland as the Timbers number one pick during the expansion draft. Although I was devastated, Benny sat me down and told me, “I am doing this because this is the best decision for you, you need to get out of this comfortable hometown environment and start fresh”. He knew I had too many distractions that could be detrimental to my growth. John Spencer, my head coach in Portland, gave me valuable advice as well. I didn’t greet him with a proper good morning like I always did because I was upset, I was not starting in our upcoming game. He said, “just because you are upset with your coach, does not mean you have to be disrespectful. In the end we are all human and we respect each other”. From then on, I started putting my team first. Lastly, I have been given life lessons that I respect and hold close to my heart, from long time agent and friend Richard Motzkin, to Claudio Reyna, Caleb Porter, Patrick Vieira, and Peter Vermes to name a few. I also have received terrible advice from people who didn’t have my best interest at heart — this forced me to trust my intuition. In the end, all of it made me who I am today.
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?
In my second year at New York City Football Club, I missed the bus to go to practice. The rule was that even if you are one minute late, you would be left behind. I ran out to the lobby just as the bus doors closed, made eye contact with the coach as he signaled to the bus driver to go. Shortly after, the media team and camera crew gave me a ride, and in fact beat the team to the facilities. Being the first player there, I grabbed a camera to take pictures of everyone walking off the bus. I made sure to have the best training session to hopefully not catch heat for being late. In the end, the joke was on me as I still had to pay the fine. The moral of the story is, if you are on time, you are late!
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
I would share with them to make every choice with pure intentions. If you remain yourself and follow your heart, you will get where you want to go. Stay away from distractions and situations that can take away your chance before you even have one. I know this is easier said than done as I did not always make the right decisions growing up. I have seen close friends lose their chance at becoming pro, not to mention almost lose their lives. I would stay up all night, smoke, and drink too much. I am fortune enough to be able to be here today to pass this message on. When I became sober, my life opened up to new opportunities I never imagined. My newfound clarity took me to new levels in life, as a man, as a professional, and it truly changed my life. I hope young kids see this and take it to heart. Not everyone is fortunate enough to make it and it is not worth gambling on your potential. Stay focused, stay in your own lane, and stay true to yourself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The most exciting project that I am working is a potent and pure 0.0% THC -Free CBD line, Rewind by Rodney Wallace, developed with my wife Haley. CBD changed my life and is a vital extension to my daily regimen. A few years back, I was dealing with chronic and severe hip pain. I was given every prescription and therapy under the sun, yet I could barely walk and the side effects were horrendous. The competitiveness in me would not allow myself to miss a day of training, but by the time I got home every day I couldn’t even walk. I was performing at the highest level, but not at my best. My hips became bone on bone as my joint had completely wasted away. My wife Haley, was desperate to find a remedy to alleviate my pain. Eventually, Haley came across CBD at the Canal Street Market in New York. It was a risk, but we had nothing else to lose. Once we found a therapeutic dose that worked for me, our lives began to change physically and mentally. I was able to control my pain for the first time without losing my clarity which is what eventually led us to create our own high quality CBD line
As I began experiencing relief with the CBD my wife brought home, we knew it worked, but found it challenging to know what was TRULY in each bottle, as well as noticing the varying product consistency with each bottle. Although CBD was legal, the stigma surrounding it was strong and I always worried that I would fail a drug test. We knew so many others were suffering, mentally and physically, and that CBD could help them like it had helped me. With proper labs, extensive testing, and a genuine care for others, we ran with it to launch Rewind by Rodney Wallace earlier this year. Now, we are able to offer consistent, transparent CBD products that are suitable for professional athletes, yet is made for anyone who holds themselves to a high standard.
Being able to give back has brought so much to our lives. From top to bottom, from sun up to sundown, Rewind by Rodney Wallace is a full CBD regimen that allows you to prioritize yourself. It has been fun and rewarding that we can provide people with a better outlook, which is just as big as dominating the stat sheet!
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?
Your mentality is everything! I was able to perform in many high stake situations because I always thrived off of the intensity and adrenaline. However, it was unsustainable and became clear that I couldn’t continue on that path. I had my sights set on the FIFA World Cup, and knew I would not be able to get there if I didn’t change my ways. In 2016, I took a hiatus to work on my mental health. For the first time ever, I put my needs first. I fully committed myself with therapy, meditation, manifesting, and gratitude practices. I became a much better version of myself, and learned how to truly make the most of my capabilities. It changed my perception in every aspect of my life. My mind was clearer than it had ever been, and I made smarter decisions for my well-being. Once I completed the treatment, I signed with the highest star studded team I had ever been on at the New York City Football Club. Without taking a step back, assessing my decisions, and finding help, I would have not been able to continue playing at this level. My wife found a sports psychologist for me because I found having someone to check in with is vital in optimizing your performance. I learned that situations can become stressful because of previous negative experiences attached to it. By reminding yourself that you have control of your journey, you can make the outcome more favorable.
Before I wake up and when I go to bed, I remind myself that life is a gift. Upholding a mindset of gratitude allows me to feel good about what I am doing, it gives me purpose, and the energy for everything I do. Visualization in the days leading up to the event is key. I like to put myself in the setting and go over everything I want to do to succeed. If it’s a match, I tap into a younger me that plays for fun and free of worry by listening to music I grew up with. Respecting the moment and understanding my purpose helps me conquer any situation without fear. Although I stay focused, I never let a situation consume me. Whether it’s stepping out for coffee, going on a walk, or indulging in my favorite treat before a game puts me in the best possible mindset. I’m not tense, I enjoy the moment, and I do not deprive myself.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
I work with a hypnotherapist that sends me guided breathing and meditation sessions. I like to meditate in the morning and in the evening. My daughter Ivy will not go to bed without me meditating with her. We always start out by taking deep breaths, while checking in with ourselves. She’s 6, but has developed a strong mentality and connection to her inner self from watching me do it. I didn’t learn meditation until I was older, and not only was it was completely foreign to me, but I fought against it in a way. Learning from a young age turns these essential practices into a normal daily routine and habit.
During stretches, I breathe deeply through each move to maximize efficiency. Being mindful of your breathing, provides more oxygen to think clearly. A great example of this is if I am one-on-one with a goal keeper, before I shoot, I take a deep breath to allow myself to control where the ball is going. These consistent breathing techniques along with my Rewind by Rodney Wallace regimen has increased my awareness and allowed me to get ahead.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
My sessions with my hypnotherapist are huge in developing my focus and clearing away any distractions. My sessions include guided manifestation and removing blocks in my life. I rarely go to bed without doing this. I also listen to positive affirmations as I fall asleep. I keep my intensions pure, I analyze, and then respond. I think BIG and I am always willing to learn! I like to say I am a student of the game, and that goes a long way beyond the field. Reaffirmation that I am made for the situation or task presented allows me to know I am in sync with the present moment. I don’t let others’ beliefs get in the way of a true opportunity. It is easy to talk the talk but harder to walk the walk.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
Putting in time for yourself to recover, regardless of circumstances, is everything. I use compression pants and a “GameReady” ice machine, coupled with cupping, acupuncture, and massage. I do my best to eat the best I can, yet I also reward myself for the discipline I maintain. A major part of my recovery process includes being consistent with my Rewind by Rodney Wallace CBD routine. I use it in the morning, afternoon, and evening, whether ingesting it or using it topically. There is no better feeling than waking up refreshed. These combined strategies help me maintain balance, and there is nothing better than balance for peak performance.
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? It really comes down to how bad you really want it? What are you willing to sacrifice? Who are you doing it for? What are you trying to truly accomplish?
One common mistake is that people are too hard on themselves. Set daily, monthly, and annual goals because any progress is better than no progress. Nothing happens overnight, and it truly comes down to how bad you want it. If you want it bad enough, you will make the sacrifices necessary for it. If you are doing it for someone else, your intentions aren’t in the right place. In my career, I averaged 10+ miles in a game, I had two hips bone on bone and I never let it stop me. I found a way to make it work (intense recovery and CBD) and it paid off. I achieved my ultimate dream of playing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. I have found, especially in high performance careers, people that do not have the passion or drive don’t make it. Growing up there were many players who were better, bigger, and faster than me. A majority of those players never made it to the Major League Soccer, the World Cup, or had the opportunity to play abroad. Everything I needed to succeed became second nature to me, and because of that I made it further than anyone ever thought I could.
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?
You have to learn to be ok with being uncomfortable. If a goal seems hard and your mind wants to go to your comfort zone, don’t make that mistake! Go forward with courage and stick with it for at least two weeks. Once you start to feel and see the difference, that’s when you file that good feeling in your mind and it becomes the base for your success.
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?
To achieve a ‘state of flow’ I recommend balance! Stay disciplined, but reward yourself. Work hard, but have fun. Visualize how you will feel when you reach the goal you want so bad and really take in what that will feel like. There is likely something from your childhood that you can do to make you feel grounded. For me, it’s music. Combining all of these practices will help you stay prepared and have the right mindset to be your best. I have always had to perform every week. To achieve my peak performance on game-day, I spend all week preparing. If you are doing something that does not make you happy, whether it’s working too hard or restricting yourself, you will not find joy. It is not easy to achieve this state, but once you achieve it you realize why you have made all the sacrifices you have.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
As I mentioned before, my family and I meditate daily. Manifestation has turned my dreams into reality. As a family, we love to use Headspace before we fall asleep. Before the day gets started, I do my best to meditate outside so I can be mindful on what it is that I want to get out of the day. It is a great way to set goals for yourself, and feeling accomplished.
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?
This is something I learned the hard way. I have found my best success in removing negative self-talk is to fully immerse myself in the present moment. If I am engaged, I am not listening to the negative thoughts that pop into my head. I find that negative chatter enters my mind especially when I am caught up with more than one situation. I have to take a minute to ‘Rewind’, and reset my thoughts. My daily CBD regimen keeps me locked in mentally, and I have found it to help maintain the control of my thoughts, which is freeing. I have to practice what I preach and remove negative self-talk out loud as well. When I feel something negative coming on, I take a second to think how I would turn it into a positive. Anytime I hear my daughter say “I can’t” or something negative, I do my best to give her a different outlook on how ‘she can’.
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 have always felt a need to give back, I just never knew it would be through CBD. Through soccer, I have had the opportunity to volunteer for the less fortunate, engage in motivational speeches, and partake in activities that uplift our youth. I have donated cleats and gear back to Costa Rica for children in need. Now, I have the opportunity to bring Rewind by Rodney Wallace to people’s lives. It is so empowering to feel that you have the ability to take back charge of your life, find hope, and have an opportunity to do so. At a time where I felt helpless, I found the light at the end of the tunnel and I want others to experience the same feeling. This is my way of giving back, and making others feel as good.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Less is more — I live by this. You don’t need to be doing the most, you don’t need to have the most, and you don’t need to show the most. Whenever I have encountered this in my life, it is usually because the intentions are not in the right place. I have seen so many life circumstances, from having it all to having nothing. Life itself is a blessing. Anything extra that comes is a bonus and true happiness comes from within. I do my best to make my daughters aware of this. They may be too young to know the extent to that they are blessed, but I do and I never want them to take it for granted.
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 feel blessed to be able to pass along my personal experiences, even if they only help one person, it is worth it. In regards to a celebrity right now I would go with Diddy. His energy is usually right, and if it’s not he will let it be known that he is working to get it right. That’s the energy I want to be on.