Ed Tseng knows nothing about the long jump, but this week in Rio, he’ll be the key to one long jumper’s quest for gold.
Tseng will be working with Mexican track and field athlete Yvonne Treviño Hayek as her mental fitness coach, helping her tap into that inner-dialogue that pushes athletes past their limits to greatness, glory and gold medals.
Tseng, a 1991 graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, is a tennis pro and peak performance expert. He started his own company—Tseng Performance/Tennis Solutions—in 2007 to help athletes work on their mental game. While Tseng has coached athletes from around the world, this is his first time coaching an Olympian.
He joined Treviño Hayek and the rest of her team in Rio for the 2016 Olympics last week, in time for the track and field events. Treviño Hayek will be competing in the women’s long jump qualifications on Tuesday, Aug. 16, and Tseng will spend time with her before the event to ensure she’s ready to put everything she has into her long jump.
Treviño Hayek contacted Tseng after she read his book Game. Set. Life. Peak Performance for Sports and Life, which features personal stories and motivational advice from Tseng to help readers perform their best. She knew her training left her physically ready to compete in the Mexican nationals, but she needed some help to get an extra mental edge.
Treviño Hayek is the first woman in 48 years to compete in the Olympic long jump event for Mexico. Getting to the summer games is no easy task, especially without other Olympic female long jumpers from her country to learn from or emulate.
While her other coaches, including 10-time gold medal Olympian Carl Lewis, are helping her with form, technique and fitness, Tseng is helping her with focus, motivation and stress reduction.
“What I do is very different than traditional mental coaches and sports psychiatrists in that I teach people how their minds work and where their feelings and experiences come from, and as a byproduct they perform to their potential,” Tseng said.
Tseng takes a more relaxed approach to mental fitness coaching. Rather than using older methods—techniques to “retrain the brain” for example—he uses a foundation that works from the inside out.
“Every feeling we have—every experience we have—comes from within us, so our thinking creates our experience,” Tseng said. “When people realize that we feel what we think and we’re not feeling what’s outside of us, like the world or a big crowd, then people are more empowered and more relaxed and therefore run faster and jump farther.”
The sessions Tseng has with his clients are often informal, casual conversations. It may seem simple, but Tseng said that’s the point.
“We just have to understand how our minds work, and the rest takes cares of itself pretty easily,” he said.
Tseng has always been fascinated by how the mind can improve physical performance. After a decade of teaching tennis pros—he was named the United States Tennis Association/New Jersey District Pro of the Year in 2005—he felt he could no longer grow within his career. Tseng decided to launch his own company dedicated to helping people reaching peak performance through mental fitness.
“You ask any athlete or coach what percent of their [performance] was mental and you’ll get anything from 70 to 100 percent,” he said.
Tseng began researching mental fitness and drew on his own experiences and background in tennis to help him better understand peak performance and the human mind.
Tseng believes we are entering a new era in the mental game where more people are starting to better understand how our thinking influences what we’re feeling. Humans are all born mentally tough, and Tseng said we just have to learn how to tap into that potential.
On a Runified podcast, Treviño Hayek discussed how Tseng’s approach helped her remain calm and confident during the Mexican nationals. The day before the meet, she and Tseng discussed how she could adapt her mindset to fit any circumstance that might arise. This was the last chance she had to qualify for Rio, and it was important to her to be ready to handle anything that might come her way.
Treviño Hayek went on to qualify for the Olympics with a 6.70 meter long jump—a Mexican record.
Tseng had mixed emotions when Treviño Hayek qualified for the Olympics.
“I like to think I played a big part, but a part of me is like I basically just helped reveal what was already inside of her because I truly believe we’re all born mentally tough, it’s just that we block our performance sometimes.”
Tseng never doubted Treviño Hayek’s ability to reach her full potential and qualify for the Olympics. Tseng’s wife Sarah, who is fluent in Spanish and occasionally translates their conversations, recalls the confidence he had in Treviño Hayek after just one phone call.
“When we initially got the call and her husband had explained she was trying to qualify for the Olympics, Ed looked at me and said ‘she is going to do it, Sarah.’ He believed in her from the very first day, and he still does,” Sarah said.
She added that Tseng’s ability to relate to all of his clients and his faith in them is one of the biggest aspects of his success as a coach.
The Tsengs have two children, Ava, 3, and Max, who is just 14 months old, and two dogs. Sarah said she can sometimes be her husband’s toughest client, calling him up when things at home get a little crazy.
“Especially in moments when I feel like I’m very overwhelmed,” she said “He is just this calm presence and his positivity is incredible… Just five minutes on the phone he calms me down, and I’m just like ‘I can handle this again.”
While Sarah said her husband is the most zen, calm person she knows, Tseng has dealt with his fair share of adversity. He failed out of Rider College twice while studying computer programming. His father was a programmer, but Tseng himself couldn’t invest himself in his studies. Not while his heart was still invested in tennis.
Tseng first discovered tennis back in high school when his cousin introduced him to the sport. He fell in love with the one-on-one aspect, that it was all on him, win or lose. Throughout his high school career, he kept that passion for tennis with him, and after he failed out of college the second time he knew he had to make a choice.
“After a little soul searching I said, ‘you know what? I can either continue my degree somewhere else or I can follow my passion.’ Something inside me said if I don’t follow my passion one day I’m going to regret it.”
Tseng followed his dream and enrolled Ferris State University and earned a degree in marketing and professional tennis management. Now, Tseng’s goal is to help as many people as possible, through lectures, online courses or discussions, reach their own dreams.
Despite his background in athletics, Tseng helps anyone who is seeking to better their mental mindset. He gave a lecture at Princeton Library’s TEDx talk, works with business professionals and speaks at addiction treatment centers. No matter where he’s speaking, Tseng treats every conversation the same.
“People recovering from addiction, I see them the same as world champions,” he said. “We all get stuck in our own heads sometimes, and it doesn’t matter if you’re addicted to something or you’re a world class athlete, we’re all human.”
Now, for the first time in his career, Tseng is an Olympic coach, but competing at the world’s biggest sporting event hasn’t changed his calm demeanour.
“Everything boils down to being in the moment and responding in the moment,” he said, adding that whether Treviño Hayek is nervous or excited, she will be ready to become a champion.
The women’s long jump qualifications will air live on NBC on Aug. 16 starting at 8:05 p.m. For more information about Ed Tseng visit edtseng.com.