The Sacrifices and Dedication Necessary to Achieve | A Q&A with Olympic Rower Matthew Pinsent

23 March 2018

One of only 5 athletes to win 4 consecutive Gold medals, Matt Pinsent is an outstanding motivational speaker who takes his audience on a journey. We spoke to him about the sacrifices and dedication necessary to achieve.

You've earned a well-deserved place in Olympic history with four consecutive Golds under your belt! Can you tell us briefly about your rowing career?

I rowed in four Olympics – 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 - and I won a Gold medal in each. Three were in crews with Steve Redgrave , who retired after Sydney 2000, and I carried on and rowed one more after that.

Rowing is often called the ultimate team sport as every constituent part of the rowing boat has to do the same thing, all the way through – you’ve got to be timing the boat perfectly, to have worked out your goals, to have established your working relationship very early on. It’s a combination, where every person has got to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

Did you instinctively know how to be part of a team or is this something you had to learn?

All these things are learned skills and attributes.

In my speaking, what I’m really doing is laying out a template from my point of view about what makes a successful team player and how we got the best out of each other – especially when things weren’t going well; for example, when we were overcoming adversity and the problems of injury. Then, there are all sorts of fantastic habits we had around goal-setting, performing under pressure, communication, trust. These are all themes that come out of my corporate speaking and coaching time and time again. These are familiar challenges for anybody running almost any team!

Over time, I’ve become a strong believer that, while there are, of course, differences between the sports world and the business world, there are a huge number of parallels as well.

Did you have any key moments that embodied those themes for you?

We had a methodology or relationship where we were talking between the team members almost two or three times a day – and I think that often surprises people. As often, in the reality of a business life, geography and time get in the way – but we really couldn’t have it any other way.  So, because we were talking all the time and sharing our goals and trust for one another, what happened was we made very good progress over what can be a long project e.g. the boats go four seconds faster between one race and the next. At the outset, that seems completely beyond reach and completely impossible to think you can go that much faster, but if you have team members who really trust each other and are really honest, you can find a template whereby you find improvement fairly regularly.

If you could go back to the Barcelona Olympics to when you won your first Goal medal, what advice would you give to yourself?

I think don’t be overawed by the event! At the outset, and in principle, the Olympics is a huge, scary beast, where you’re competing amongst all this hoopla and razzmatazz surrounding the games. There's very much a stance of an impending challenge ahead of you… but there’s really nothing to be scared of! You’ve got to just see it as an opportunity in which you’re going to shine and excel and show just how much you’ve trained. And, of course, as we won the Gold medal, it’s hard to look back and think, “I made mistakes”, but I do think I could have made it easier on myself as I went through.

What’s next for you?

I do all manner of things now. I speak at conferences, I do broadcasting, I’m doing executive coaching. It’s great – I love standing on stage and talking to people and talking to the business as a whole on this macro-scale, and I also love that one-on-one relationship you get while coaching in more personal manner. It’s fascinating and exciting.

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