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April 3, 2021

Steven Pust, an Olympic Hopeful, Focuses on the Mind

TaskHuman coach Steven Pust

In a recent episode of the podcast TaskHuman Talks, host and Coach Jamie Carroll sat down with Coach Steven Pust to discuss his run for the 2021 Summer Olympics in pole-vaulting.

As a coach, Steven serves as a personal trainer and mental skills consultant. And he has two big takeaways for listeners:

  • Set a good goal
  • Build a strong mindset

With these two tools, Steven is confident that you will be able to change your life. But those weren’t his only two pieces of wisdom. Here are the highlights from his conversation:

1. Mental Training Trumps Physical Training.

Obviously, both the physical and mental game are important for someone hoping to qualify for the Olympics. For Steven, though, mental preparation is where he believes champions develop.

“We can all put that physical work in,” he says. “That’s not the hard part.”

With the right coaching and physicality, there would be many people capable of competing at such a high-level. What sets the elite apart is their ability to be diligent in their pursuit for more. Steven explains that this pursuit results in clear goals, and reminds listeners that goal setting isn’t a physical skill.

“Mental skills trump all,” Steven says.

2. Use Goals to Hone In On What You Want.

When he works with clients, Steven pushes them to develop a specific goal. Without it, there is no direction to what people are doing. And without direction, progress can be sporadic, unsustainable, or might even stop.

“Regardless of the type of training, you have to have some kind of ‘Guiding Light,’” Steven says.

After he understands where his clients want to go, he can use his skills to build the practice they need to get there.

A technique Steven uses to support his clients building a stronger mindset is to use a Confidence Journal. Once a day, clients write 3 affirmations, or positives, about themselves. This practice helps them recognize other positives in their lives, which works to change their outlook.

“People don’t realize how negative we are,” he says, “and how much negativity we put out.”

When we learn to focus on the positive, it helps us change the energy around us.

3. Life Can Come Full Circle.

Steven trains with 2000 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila. When he saw her win, it woke up his passion for the sport, and he began dreaming of his own wins.

His dad, a top-tier high school pole vault coach, wouldn’t let him learn the sport right away. In fact, because of the risk involved, it took Steven 4 years to convince his father that he could do it.

“You’re up there a bit,” Steven says. “It’s almost a two-story building.”

And it is dangerous. With jumps nearing 20 feet, a bad fall could be disastrous.

4. Training Isn’t Life.

Steven used to be very strict in how he trained. And while he is still regimented, he gives himself more grace than he used to.

Because pole vaulters need to be strong, flexible, and mechanically on-point, much of his training includes lifting, gymnastics, and sprinting. He also incorporates a lot of stretching, so he can recover better.

His training turned after the pandemic came to the US. As events in the country closed, he realized nothing is certain. He works to be more present in his life outside of training.

“There’s more to life than just pole vault,” he says. “And funny enough, as I realized that, my jump has gotten better, and I’ve been in better shape.”

Sometimes relaxing frees us to make more progress toward our goal.

5. Losing Control Doesn’t Define You.

Covid changed Steven’s outlook on competition. When the entire summer season was cancelled, he realized it could be a while before he would have another chance to reach for his goal–if he got it at all.

He struggled with his mindset for a while before he realized he needed to change his perspective. Instead of thinking about the lack of a season as a loss, he chose to see it as more time to prepare.

It is “one more year to get even better than I was,” Steven says.

Steven encourages his clients to think the same way. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, focus on what you can.

When one avenue shuts down, you need to look for a new one. Steven admits it isn’t always easy, and there are people with a lot more loss than he’s felt, but he also feels it is necessary to look for something different.

“Humans don’t like to do that,” he says. “We are creatures of habit.”

We want the same routine, even if a better one waits for us, because we already know it. Growth can be uncomfortable.

“It does take a little bit of forcible mindset shifting,” he says.

6. Avoid Speculation, Focus on Yourself.

Recent investigations have shown track and field to be rife with doping. To an athlete trying to compete at an ultra-elite level, the shadow of cheating is difficult to sidestep.

For Steven, what makes it harder is knowing many of the people involved, but pole vaulting doesn’t have high rates of cheating. The skill level is so high, it takes close to 16 years of training before athletes reach top-level.

“I don’t think the payoff is worth the risk in my sport,” Steven says. But even though he knows this, the thoughts do come up. “I try to keep them fleeting,” he says.

Steven focuses on himself and his training. He knows he can’t control what others do, but he can work on his own skill and make sure he stays clean.

7. Prepare for Failure.

Any athlete understands failure. But as the stakes get higher and the talent more rare, failure can seem more devastating. Steven went through the emotion at a high point in his season last year.

He was jumping exceptionally well. And during a meet became the favorite to win. During one run, he started down the track, took two steps, and felt his hamstring pull.

It was over for him.

“It just kinda blew up in my face,” he says.

But he knew he couldn’t wallow. Failures, even massive failures, happen. The point is to get up, address the weakness, and pick up where you left off.

Steven focused on physical therapy and progressed beyond his pre-injury heights. But the lesson is still there.

Goals are important to set, but you might not get there.

“If goals don’t work out, that’s ok, because goals are supposed to be fluid,” Steven says.

Steven’s mindset training and personal experiences in setting and achieving goals are amazing resources to have in a coach.

Watch the full podcast here. To get even more benefit from Steven’s wisdom, connect with him on the TaskHuman app for a live 1:1 video chat. But be ready for him to ask, “Did you set a goal? What are we aiming for?”


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