I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable.

Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Kerri Walsh-Jennings. She is one of the GOATs–greatest of all time–in women’s volleyball. This description opens up an existential question: “greatest” implies the one and only, but in my humble opinion, there can be multiple greatests…but I digress.

Kerri is a five-time Olympian and a three-time gold medalist. She holds the record for tournament victories, both domestically and internationally.

Together with her partner Misty May-Treanor, another GOAT, she has won 21 consecutive Olympic matches, and they only lost one set during their 11-year run.

Kerri graduated from Stanford with a degree in American studies. She was the second player in NCAA history to be named First-Team All-American in all four seasons.

In the next hour, we are going to cover:

  • The right reasons to participate in youth sports
  • How to channel doubt into action (yes, Kerri Walsh Jennings has doubts, I was surprised too)
  • What she thinks of athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka taking time off
  • The sexualization, or lack of sexualization, of women’s sports
  • And, of course, what it takes to be a GOAT

Please enjoy this remarkable episode with Kerri Walsh-Jennings!

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Kerri Walsh-Jennings

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We're in a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Kerri Walsh Jennings.
She is one of the GOATs, greatest of all time, in women's volleyball. This description opens up an existential question, greatest implies the one and only, but in my humble opinion there can be multiple greatest, but I digress.
Kerri is a five time Olympian and three-time gold medalist.
She holds the record for tournament victories both domestically and internationally.
Together with our partner Misty May-Treanor, who is another GOAT, she has won twenty-one consecutive Olympic matches and they only lost one set during their eleven year run.
Kerri graduated from Stanford with a degree in American Studies. She was the second player in NCAA history to be named First Team All American in all four seasons.
In the next hour, we are going to cover the right reasons to participate in youth sports, how to channel doubt into action, yes, Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings has doubts, I was surprised too, what she thinks of athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka taking time, off the sexualization or lack of sexualization of women's sports and of course, what it takes to be a GOAT.
I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People.
And now here is the remarkable Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings.
So we've had Ronnie Lott, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brandi Chastain and now Kerri Walsh Jennings. So we're moving down and getting them alls.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I love that.
Guy Kawasaki:
But we've also had people like Jane Goodall, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Wozniak. So you're in good company, okay?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, I've been paying attention. You've had amazing guests. Your podcast is wonderful. So thank you for the service that you're providing. I'm always on the lookout for inspiration and I feel like you do that so well.
But with regard to the athletes that you've interviewed, I noticed a trend there. They're all Bay Area athletes and Brandi and I actually went to the same high school. We weren't there at the same time, but we went to the same high school.
Guy Kawasaki:
Archbishop Mitty.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
Funny you should mention her name because last night I told her that I was interviewing and I said to Brandi, "What should I ask her?" And she told me to ask you how your life turned out differently from what you anticipated when you were at Archbishop Middy.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
That's hilarious. So Archbishop Middy is a high school in San Jose, and I was never a very forward thinker. And I'm still the same.
I'm just in the moment. My life keeps unfolding in ways that make sense. So I think I expected to work for a beautiful fulfilling life that would be full of sports and family and faith.
And I guess without thinking about the specifics, when I was in high school, that's what I'm living right now, a full beautiful life based on family and faith and sports.
Guy Kawasaki:
So things went as planned.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I guess so. I guess it wasn't a plan, I guess it was a hope and a dream and co-creating with God. But yes, I would say so.
I think that you get what you expect in life because your expectations dictate your energy, your optimism, your pursuit, your resiliency.
I've always had high expectations. My parents always had high expectations, and I think that just is momentum that's carried me through.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, great. Now I need to ask you a volleyball question.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
This may be the only volleyball question. I want to know how you feel about the let serve.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, it drives me nuts. I just think it's so ridiculous.
Rule changes in general are really hard. Change is hard in life, but when you're used to a rule and then it changes and it changes in a way that dumbs down the game, I'm not a fan.
So for me it just dumbs down the game, but it is what it is. So there's opportunity there.
Guy Kawasaki:
So could you explain how it dumbs down the game for people who are not familiar with volleyball?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Before they change the rule, when you would serve the ball, if it hit the net, it was an error and the other team would get the chance to serve. But now if it hits the net and goes over to opponent's side of the court, it's playable.
And usually when a serve hits the net, it's a point. It's almost a guaranteed point if it goes over the net.
So to me, initially you're rewarding bad skill, you're rewarding a chance of luck.
But now since it's been the rule for so long now, people are training serving like a millimeter over the net for those chances that it'll go over and get the point.
Again, there's opportunity, everything, but I don't know, I'm kind of a traditionalist. I like things pure and clean and the net just gets in the way.
Guy Kawasaki:
Let's go back to your upbringing here in California and how did you begin to play sports? What was the beginning?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, I was born into a family of insane competitors. Like insane, I can't even begin to tell you.
So you're in Santa Cruz. So I grew up in Scotts Valley, California, which is right down the road from you, which is nestled in the Redwoods. My mother is one of eight, my father is one of four.
All of their siblings are very good athletes. Their parents are very good athletes. I assume my great-grandparents were athletes. I don't know my lineage, I should, so I was born into competition and people who loved sports with all their hearts.
I was born in the Bay Area, which means that you were surrounded by greatness with the Niners and the Giants and the Warriors.
I grew up in the eighties and so the Niners in the eighties. I know you've had Ronnie Lott on this podcast. There was no better team maybe in history of NFL than those guys and the legacy they made. And so I was in this environment where sports were important and sports were really fun and joyful and also brought out the beast in you.
And my parents modeled that for me. Every weekend, I can't remember the park, but it's when you go down Granite Creek Road before you get to the Mystery Spot, it's not DeLaveaga, but there's a park over there. And they would play the most intense high level co-ed softball. And they never lost. Guy, they never lost.
And they were just so intense and I loved watching them compete. And so anyhow, I watched them growing up. They played until I was in my teens and then I started playing a normal T-ball. And then in fifth grade I found volleyball that changed my life.
Guy Kawasaki:
And when you started volleyball, did you just focus on volleyball from then?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No. Goodness, no. And I wouldn't have wanted to. Volleyball, it's a fall sport and I just loved it so much. But I loved playing basketball, I loved playing baseball. I played baseball until I was in the eighth grade with my brother.
I played basketball all throughout high school and we were one of those families where whatever was in season we were playing. And that was really fun for me. I started playing club when I was ten years old, which is normal these days, but it wasn't intense.
It got intense in high school. Whereas now it's just a bummer of the way things are.
People are picking one sport starting when they're ten. And to me it's just such a disservice. There's a book called Range that talks about just the benefits of trying multiple sports and just the qualities and the skills and the capabilities it gives you.
And I feel like I'm a product of that. I played everything growing up and I was able to play with my brother and his friends who are bigger, stronger, and who treated me one of them. So I feel like that helped me as well.
Guy Kawasaki:
Brandi said much the same thing, that she did all kinds of sports growing up.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Yeah. It makes sense. First of all, I wish I would've played soccer longer because I feel like if you could play soccer, you can do anything because that footwork is so important.
But yeah, I listened to a lot of coaching podcasts or interviews and talking to the top athletes and so many of them who have long successful careers were multi-sport athletes for as long as possible.
And at some point they had to pick. But Tom Brady, another Bay Area guy, obviously you need to have him on this podcast, he was recruited more heavily for baseball and he chose football. And it's just really worth thinking about big picture when you're raising children in sports today.
Because we all want the short term to be comfortable and to feel like we're on the right path, but sometimes you have to step back and be like, in ten years, do I want my child to have a diverse range of capabilities or do I want them to be super specialized?
Guy Kawasaki:
And in this sports career that you've had, what kind of barriers have you faced?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
You're looking at her. Just me. I have been so fortunate. Title IX passed before I was born. And again, my aunt is in the Pepperdine Hall of Fame for basketball.
I had these pioneers before me who just showed me the way and every door has been open and I haven't had too many barriers.
My only barriers are just my own self-doubt, my own insecurities. Obviously in my sport there's not a lot of money and so my goal is to take us to the next level so the pro athletes can actually be pros and make a living, but to me it's just so much more than just the money or the sport itself. It's about the lifestyle.
It's about the person I'm becoming while competing. And so anyhow, the barriers are my own and I want to master myself and I feel if I can master myself and live in the highest sense of myself, then things get easier. But I like to get in my own way a lot.
Guy Kawasaki:
You don't feel like the media covers men's sports much too much and all these men are making decisions about how much to pay women and there's lack of equality and compensation. You don't see that as a barrier or barriers?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I never want to say you have too much takeaway and give me more. I don't believe in that. I think the men have the right amount of media coverage. I think that demand is there. I think women deserve more and I think we shouldn't wait for someone to realize that and I think we should do it on our own.
But there's a lot of amazing startups coming out, Just Women's Sports, to name, On Her Turf, to name two, that are stepping up to fill the void with women in sports and they're at the early stages. So I think coming on your podcast and talking about that, I think that's important because we need to drive awareness and education of where we can see women's sports.
But then the compensation thing, I know we're trending in the right direction, but again, I just have a tough time saying you have too much. I really believe in abundance. I really believe in the value of women's sports.
I believe one thing we've gotten wrong is that we've compared ourselves to the men where we are inherently different beasts and there's beautiful parts of our game that can even touch the guys game and vice versa. And so I think we just need to start celebrating what each of us are and will attract the sponsors.
The market will realize that we are an asset that they should invest in and we can grow together. I know we're on that track, but I know we all want it right now as well.
Our time is here and we just have to keep creating, keep partnering and being strategic in how we show ourselves. We can't settle, that's for sure.
Guy Kawasaki:
Man, you are the most positive guest we've had on Remarkable People.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
That's saying something.
Guy Kawasaki:
That is saying something. I've had a lot of positive guests-
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Well, I think you're positive.
Guy Kawasaki:
So what are your insights on the impact of Title IX?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
It's such a beautiful piece of legislation that changed generations of lives, like it has to start somewhere. And for the Nixon administration to take that initiative, because they're hated for many reasons.
But in learning about Title IX and we're celebrating fifty years, learning that President Nixon's wife was a huge proponent of women's sports and women's equality and education and they took that and they just were not going to be stopped.
And they got a team together and they passed this legislation and this one piece of legislation opened up the doors of opportunity for all these young women professionals and young ladies, teens just growing up, giving them opportunities. It just opens up people's worlds.
And when someone's world is opened, their identity can shift and grow and become more. I think that it was just with lack of opportunity you're just kept in a little box and then once the opportunities open up, the world is yours.
So I think Title IX was just that. It was the world opening up to young women that has changed the world in so many beautiful ways.
Guy Kawasaki:
So some of the negative predictions about Title IX mostly made by men certainly did not come true. It's not like all of a sudden college sports, all these great programs for men were cast aside because now you had to take care of women too. It's been a rising tide for everyone, yes.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I think so. I think that if there's any kind of knock on Title IX, but this doesn't need to come because of Title IX, but the smaller niche sports for men like volleyball, like wrestling, gymnastics, since they're not football or baseball or basketball, they tend to get ignored.
And if a school is struggling financially, those are the sports that get cut. And people always point to Title IX because it has to be equal. And so since football takes up so much of the scholarship space, we need to include so many women's sports to make up that space to create equality.
But again, I think things are how you frame it, just because Title IX exists and equality needs to do this does not mean that the niche sports for men can't exist. They just need to come at it from a different angle.
Maybe they need to fundraise more, maybe they need you to go on their own instead of waiting for these institutions to be like, here, we're going to fund you. Go and take the initiative.
Guy Kawasaki:
Our alumni, Stanford, has this decision about men's sports, wrestling and volleyball. And I don't know if they blame Title IX, but Stanford with his sixty billion endowment can't have a wrestling program. What am I missing there?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Nutty. Interestingly. So Bernard is the AD and he's incredible and I just felt so much for him when all that was going on and I called him and I was like, "Bernard, what's going on? This seems insane to me. These programs are vital to the culture and to the health of the school."
And he said, "Kerri, what people don't realize is that our sixty million billion endowment," I don't know what the number is, "Does not even touch athletics. So the athletic endowment is completely different than the university endowment."
And I was just like, "There was some awareness around that. I have no doubt that the sports boosters and the alumni associations for Stanford athletics would step up."
But I have a lot of friends who pushed really hard, specifically on the men's volleyball team that pushed hard to get that overturned and it worked out. So I think it was a beautiful thing because it rallied the community.
Guy Kawasaki:
It really did. I know people who were on the Stanford wrestling team, one of whom rose to the top of social media, believe it or not. And I have to say, if you were a wrestler or volleyball player, you didn't do it for the money like basketball or football.
So you had all the pressure, all the dedication, all the pain, all the suffering, all the sacrifice. And at the end you get a wrestling letter. So those people have grit. Those are the kind of people you want to have in your company.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Absolutely. Well, now with the change with NIL and college athletes can get paid maybe it's a little bit different, but I think just the honor of playing for your university was enough.
Unless you play golf or tennis or your top in NFL or MLB, you're not making a lot of money. You're really not.
I was talking to my cousin who played soccer and golf at Stanford. She's incredible. Her name is Marsha and now she's in the Web3, NFT space.
And she was telling me, she's like, "Kerri, unless you're one of the top thirty golfers in the world, you're breaking even because golf is expensive. You have to pay for your caddy, travel, all these things."
I was like, "God, that's crazy because the perception is you're made. If your top a hundred, your life is made." And she goes, "No, reality is a little bit different." So I think sports, I'll play it for the love of it truly. And then the money comes in and then you start comparing and it gets exhausting.
But if we can keep it pure, I think it's a beautiful thing. But it's hard as you go because you need to make a living, when you're blessed with this talent and you don't want to lose your purity, you don't want to play for an agenda, but you also want to push for more.
Guy Kawasaki:
So I think it's still true that far more girls and women drop out of sports than men. So several questions around this.
First, does it matter? Second, why do they drop out? And third, what can be done?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Let's go one at a time because I already forgot the last two. So I think it matters for sure and I think it matters because we have to ask ourselves, what is driving these kids to stop by the time they're thirteen?
I think it's like an 80 percent dropout rate by the time you're thirteen or fourteen. And I'm not sure if it's a gender bias or not, but regardless, that's too many children dropping out of sports.
And again, sports is not about being good at kicking or hitting, it's about developing yourself and working in the team concept and becoming great, feeling progress and improvement in your life, which is more important than winning gold medals. The pursuit and the growth is most valuable.
And so I think the problem is that sports used to be about playing and now it's about training and becoming perfect and training when you're thirteen for that college scholarship that may or may not come in four years. And that's exhausting.
I think my life, anytime I've played for an end result, life has become miserable and stressful. And it's just like I'm never in the present moment. And so I feel like we've just created these structures around youth sports that is not about living in the moment, it's not about development of character and of your all around skills.
It's about being great at this one thing, performing when needed. And if you don't, then you're out. And that's terrible. And it's expensive and it's constant. These kids have no breaks.
Guy Kawasaki:
And what can we do to reduce the number of girls and women dropping out?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I think we got to bring fun back into sports. I was talking to my trainer the other day and I was like, "Gosh, training has been so hard these days."
She's like, "Kerri, stop calling it training, say I'm going to play." I'm like, "Oh my God, that already helps." Little things like that, I think how we frame it is so important.
So my daughter right now is playing AYSO soccer and then a very early on club team soccer.
And she much prefers AYSO because it's just a little bit more playful and her coach is really high level, so it's not like it's really dumbed down, but they allow themselves to be a little bit more free.
And my husband right now, he's coaching the local high school team volleyball. It's amazing. And these girls, they're not Olympians, it's not in their future, but he is reminding them that you have greatness in you and you have the chance to improve and you matter.
And so I just feel if we can focus on those messages, then the athletes will want to be there.
But if we focus on, again, just winning and that's your competition, they're the devil and pitting us against each other, that doesn't go far. Kids are here to play, to love everyone and to learn through experience. And I just think that the experience has become so convoluted and so just focused on the wrong thing that it's not fun anymore.
Guy Kawasaki:
And why did it come to this?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I think probably money. Everything is paid to play. Everyone has to make a living. God bless, I wish everyone was as wealthy as they wanted to be.
I just think that money drives the institutions. They need to stay relevant, they need to keep growing. And there's not a lot of people advocating for kids.
They keep piling on and they make everything seem important. And if you miss this tournament or if you miss this clinic, your future is over. And I think we as parents and as adults need to see through that fearful programming and be like, "No, your grandma is turning eighty this weekend, we go to that. We miss this game” and you give your coach a heads up.
You know what I'm saying? I just feel like the culture has become just driven by the wrong things, by winning at all costs, by being perfect and by money. And those things, they are all driven by fear and lack. And I just think fear and lack are the opposite of what reality is, but you have to just know that you resourceful and life is more than that.
Guy Kawasaki:
My eldest son was a very good hockey player, so he participated in travel hockey and some of the other sort of attitudes towards even travel hockey was just insane. If you think about it, how many people really make a living playing professional hockey? I don't know, a thousand?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
And what's the probability?
So a million kids are trying, a thousand are going to play in the NHL. Meanwhile, Google has a quarter million programmers making a quarter million dollars a year. It's crazy.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
It's crazy, but it's interesting because people keep pursuing it and they're willing to take on the stress and the anxiety because it's such a beautiful dream.
And so if we can just marry the beauty and maybe the unrealistic vision of living that dream to reality and just make it a friendlier journey, people won't burn out. Burnout sucks. It's just too much.
We have seasons in life for a reason. I was listening to a podcast with Tim Ferriss and Kevin Costner a couple years ago and it changed my life. Kevin Costner was like, "Look, I'm a man of seasons. I have my hunting season, I have my baseball season, I have my movie making season." And it was just like, you're right.
It can't be summer all year round. Things will burn up. We won't renew and regenerate.
And so kids need seasons and parents need to advocate for that. And if the institutions and structures that we're putting our kids into don't allow for that, the parents need to make a choice.
And my hope is that the parents realize and maybe talk with their children, “What kind of life do you want to live? Is this too much for you? Are you cool playing three months of the season, taking a little break and then joining again?”
These are all beautiful conversations to have.
Guy Kawasaki:
Maybe I shouldn't tell you that I surf every day.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No, I love that.
Guy Kawasaki:
I need to have an off season from surfing maybe.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No, I don't think so. I don't think you need an off season if you're doing it for the right reasons and if it fills you up.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm not doing it for money, that's for sure.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Yeah. Well, you should call Kelly Slater and get a lesson. I think that's beautiful.
Guy Kawasaki:
It's that easy. Yeah.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Yeah. Laird Hamilton is a friend and he's one of my biggest inspirations and he doesn't compete. Yet he is known as maybe the greatest big wave surfer of all time. I'm not quite sure, but he's just legendary.
And he chose to not compete because he did, well, I don't want to mess up his words, but competing wasn't for him. He didn't like who it made him or how he responded to it or how he felt internally. And so he did his own thing. And so I think learning from people like that and he just follows his curiosity and his potential.
I think that's beautiful. We all don't need to be in the same system. I love that you surf every day. That's a meditation. You're in mother nature that's healing. You're not competing every day.
Guy Kawasaki:
To continue the story with my son, he went to Australia and he played semi-pro hockey there and he obviously never played in the NHL, but to this day he plays hockey several times a week and he loves it. And it's the purest form of hockey because at best they're doing it for beers.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
That's pretty good. I like that. I love hearing that.
And that's the goal of you sports, is to get kids to fall in love with their bodies and expressing through their movement.
And again, I think when you take out the play or you take out that priority, it just makes it about the technique instead of, look, I can jump. Look, I can run. This feels so good.
Guy Kawasaki:
Can I ask you, so let's say there are kids or parents listening to this and they're saying, “I want to be the greatest of all time” just like Kelly Slater or just like Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Let's take it as a given that you are greatest of all time, all right? Just don't even debate that.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
All right.
Guy Kawasaki:
But now I want you to answer the question. What's it take to be at your level?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
It takes a lot of love. You have to love what you're doing because you're going to suffer for it. It's like any good marriage, you have to love them so much because you know there's going to be ups and downs and trials and growth is painful.
For me, love has been my greatest fuel for sure.
When things get hardest and darkest, when I always have that moment of wrecking, I look in my mirror, “Kerri, do you want it bad enough?” “Yes, I love this.”
So that's what I come down to. Focus and clarity of your pursuit.
For me, if I'm clear in my goal, I don't care how I get there, I'm just going to be relentless forward motion toward my goal and consistency. The remarkable people in the world are consistent at a very high level. They show up on purpose. They don't take days off, they don't half-ass things.
They take meaningful days off to recharge and to regenerate and to get their spirit high again, but I guess they take nothing for granted. And so for me, I'm a pretty confident person, but I have very decent insecurities as well.
My insecurities drive me, they don't minimize me anymore. Now where I lack, I see potential and that drives me more than anything, more than any fear, more than anything.
So love and the potential within has really driven me. I think consistency is a huge part of being great.
Guy Kawasaki:
Just out of curiosity, what kind of insecurity does Kerri Walsh Jennings possibly have?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Well, how much time do we have?
Guy Kawasaki:
I got a big hard disc here. I can go for hours.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Well, I'm not a fan of complaining or being a victim, so I don't need to share too much, but just normal stuff. Like right now in a transition in my life and being in the middle of something is always the most uncomfortable because it's for me, once I know what I'm working with, I can handle anything.
I just need to know what I'm aiming at and then I can hit it eventually. And so for me, my insecurities, just the self-doubt. “Can I do it? Do I have what it takes? These types of things. Do my thoughts matter?”
For me, I'm an athlete and for so-
Guy Kawasaki:
Wait, I'm having a little bit of an out of body experience here.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, please. Well, what are your insecurities?
Guy Kawasaki:
You have doubts about your abilities?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Of course, I do. And they drive me crazy, but they also drive me to work hard. And ultimately when I sit with my doubts, it's just pointing me on areas of my life where I'm neglecting and where I can develop more and where I probably need to spend more time.
Because for me, if I'm prepared, if I feel like I've covered myself 360 head to toe, I feel like I'm pretty unstoppable.
Life being what it is some things get in the way and sometimes you just focus too much on your strengths and then you get a little glimpse of a chink in your armor, then you're like, oh god. And that that little thing can become this huge thing if you allow it.
Yeah, I think self-doubt is okay. I think it serves a purpose. I don't want to live there. I think the same thing with fear, but anything born of fear just creates more fear.
So I always want to live and my truth in just the optimism that I'm here, I'm a great learner, I love learning, and I'm willing to put in the work, and that usually solves most problems.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now can you go very specifically and say, I'm now training for a summer Olympics. What does that involve? Let's say you win a gold medal in the previous Olympics, so the next day you're back at training for four years later. How does this work to be at your level?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, man. Usually after the Olympics, you go on that media tour and you go hang out with amazing humans and you tell your story and you try to share the light that you just experience with the world. But generally, yeah, it starts right away.
I remember after Beijing, Misty and I had repeated and I was just like, “I want it. I want it again.”
Literally right after we win, after all those medals and all those Olympics, I'm like, “I want it again.”
It's an immediate thought. And then obviously again you need seasons. You need an off season. For sure, you need two weeks off period after.
Guy Kawasaki:
Two weeks?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Two weeks, right. Doesn't seem like much maybe, but it's so fun to feel good in your body. When to move and to be free and to be strong. And now the older I get, I feel like if I took two weeks off I might just freeze into stone.
So I got to keep things moving. But it takes everything.
It takes every day. And again, every day doesn't mean you're running through walls every day and every day is not the most intense, but it means you're being mindful every day. It means that every choice is leading you toward what you want or away from what you want.
There's momentum in every thought, every action, everything you choose to do and don't do. And so I think it starts right away. The journey is a four year journey. It's a lifetime journey. But again, the expressions of you pursuing your best are different.
Some days I'm meditating more and I'm recovering and I'm napping.
Some days I'm going after it, three workouts a day with my trusted trainers. I'm eating on point consistently and I'm kicking. It's just different.
Guy Kawasaki:
Let's take your most intense training day. Can you just give us a little, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, what happens on an intense day?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Okay. So we're going to really dramatize this, but this is real.
So I would say my most intense day, okay, and this hasn't happened since before COVID. I didn't make the last Olympics, so this was a normal, I'd say, Tuesday on a day before training for the Olympics.
Wake up, probably around 4:30 AM.
I make my hot drink, I meditate, I journal. Those to me, that's all part of my training, that's all part of my lifestyle because I want to be a high performer. I want sustained excellence. So my mind and my spirit are very important to me.
So wake up at 4:30 AM, I would have a training session at 6:00 AM with my coach Eric Walden. And I would work on creating space in my body so my body can move freely and I would strengthen my pillars and my hips and my ankles and my neck and work on these things.
I would have practice at 8:00 AM. Practice is usually two, two and a half hours. Practice can be with just my partner and I and two coaches or practice can be my partner and I against another team or another couple teams. And we do live drills for about two and a half hours start to finish.
After that I would have a strength training session with my trainer Tommy Knox in Orange County who is my, I don't really believe in having heroes, but if I had one it would be him. He's just incredible. And I would go do fast twitch training. So basically it's strength training and really develop my ability to produce force and be a dynamic.
And then after that I would drive back up to the South Bay, about an hour drive and I would work out with my girl Carrie and do either an in studio Pilate session or I would be on the beach doing cardio agility and Pilates on the beach with her.
And then all of this, when I'm doing this, my goal is to be done between the time my kids start and end school. So around 3:00 PM my goal is to get all of that in.
That's a lot to get in with driving and with just the output and you have to eat here and there. So that was my gnarliest day probably.
And then be mommy after that and be a wife after that. And to be honest with you, I'm still working on this, I need to do better at giving the energy to my family that I give to my dreams because it's so easy you take it for granted.
I'm home, I'm going to plop on the couch, come hug me, but they want to play. They want to engage. They need more energy from me. So that's forever what I'm working on.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now don't you think that a male athlete with a similar schedule would not be playing daddy so much at night?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No, I don't know. I don't know those male athletes. I know my husband who's a male athlete and he plays daddy like a champion.
I don't know. I know so many amazing fathers and I know so many amazing just parents who do the juggle and they make it all work because they want to.
Listening to Kobe talk about his days and he would wake up before the sun would rise. So going to work out and come home, take his kids to school, get another workout in, pick his kids up from school, get another workout in. You can make it all work. You have to know your priorities.
And for me, my priorities in life are very simple. But I've said this so many times, but if I'm ever feeling off kilter or I'm in a funk, I go back to my priorities. And my priority is my faith, my family and my personal career.
And so if I'm ever feeling wonky, usually what's happened, I'm just putting everything into my career and I'm not paying attention to the other two or one of the other two.
And those things fill me up because I'm doing my career in part to help support my family and to be an inspiration to my children and to model these things. I don't know. I don't know.
Guy Kawasaki:
What do you believe an Olympic athlete owes her country?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
To give it her best, period.
Guy Kawasaki:
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
And what does a country owe an Olympic athlete?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I don't know what to say to that. What would you expect? I'm trying to think of how to think about this, but in my life, I don't know if I've trained myself or if this is just an inherent belief, but I don't feel like I'm owed anything. I feel like I have responsibilities.
So it's like, I'm a US Olympian, it's my duty, my honor, my privilege, my responsibility to show up with the best of me, period. That's what I owe the honor of wearing this flag on my heart.
So maybe that's a philosophical thing, but on the flip side, I don't feel like I'm owed much except for perhaps the opportunity to try to chase my dream.
Guy Kawasaki:
So when a Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka needs a mental break, how do you view that?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I feel that as very human. I view that as a symptom of we're doing it wrong and maybe they need more support. And I feel like the learning is for them.
And Simone is there to win, to kick ass and take names.
Can you imagine having to make that decision? I literally have the yes, I don't know where I am in space and I'm doing these crazy things. Yes, stop.
Don't put yourself in jeopardy, but you're twenty years old. Don't do that. This is bigger than that. I just think that it's a beautiful opportunity for them to learn. Maybe Simone would do things differently and Naomi would do things differently and pre-pave the road where they felt more mentally supported or maybe they would take more breaks or maybe they would build in more life into the pursuit.
I think those things are all very valuable even though they sound very soft and then it shifts the conversation. Young kids are being taught that it's okay to be anxious and that's normal and there's help out there for you.
So I think sometimes it has to get so bad and one of our heroes need to raise their hand for everyone to be like, oh, okay, this is a real thing.
So I was so proud of them for doing that. I cannot imagine how hard that is. Losing is hard enough, like on the world stage.
There's so much shame and it's such a bummer where you feel like you let the whole world down, but to pull back and be like, “I need this for myself”, that to me is very courageous and it deserves people to be thoughtful about it. Not a knee jerk reaction of how selfish and how ridiculous they're because that's not the truth.
Guy Kawasaki:
Did you ever come close to that kind of moment that they did?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No. No. After April and I won bronze in Rio, I played in doubt for maybe even through the entire qualification leaving in Tokyo. And that's miserable.
And I think that's probably closest because playing in fear and doubt, it's like having a chronic injury. There's this undercurrent of toxicity in you at all times.
That's not sustainable, that's not peak performance, that's the opposite of that.
So I think that's the closest I came. But my response to that is, I don't know if it's he or not, is just to train more and to get better and to keep looking at myself in the mirror and keep developing myself. But it never became overwhelming to me.
But I do have a great support system and the older I've gotten, the more I realized how essential it is to lean on them. It's one thing to have them, it's another thing to lean on them. I think a lot of high performers have this conception that you're weak if you need help.
But for me, I have a coach for every single thing in my life. Why wouldn't I have a mental coach? Mike Gervay has saved my marriage and he is saved my psyche as a volleyball player. He's incredible.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'll be your podcasting coach.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, do I need one? I do need one.
Guy Kawasaki:
No, but that's like saying do you need those other coaches because of some shortcoming.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, how cute. Yeah. And I think the answer is yes. If I do have a podcast, I need to coach. It's so fun. Sitting with wonderful people is always a treat, but I really appreciate how you listen and how you're prepared.
Because to me, I talk so fast, my brain is eighteen steps ahead and all I want to be is in the moment. And it seems like maybe it's all the surfing, you're very much in the moment, which is great. That's where greatness is anyway.
Guy Kawasaki:
Thank you. So I read somewhere that you were warned not to get pregnant.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
So first of all, who the hell would have the nerve to say that? And can you just describe what happened in that situation?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Yeah, I will never name names obviously because I think they were well meaning people.
But I had two gentlemen in my life who right after Misty and I won our second gold, I had just gotten married and I had a miscarriage leading up to the Olympics and I was just so feeding to have a baby.
And these were two business people in my life. They say, "Kerri, don't do it. You're going to ruin your hips. You're at your peak right now. You're going to take yourself out of the mainstream. Your sponsors will go away, blah blah, blah."
And I've had six shoulder surgeries. They're like, "Your shoulder is going to be hurt because you're going to carry the baby." And it's just like, what are you guys talking about? That is just so nonsensical to me. And they told me not to change my last name.
They're like, "You're Kerri Walsh. That's your brand. Don't add Jennings. People will forget who you are."
And I listened to that one. I didn't listen to the baby one. And I hate that I listened to that one because I am my husband's girl. I chose this relationship.
I am a very proud Jennings, very proud Walsh forever, but I want to be what my kids are. My kids are Jennings's, I don't want to be a Walsh to the public. And so these things are just, it's so silly. And again, coming from a place of lack and scarcity that I don't believe in.
Guy Kawasaki:
And can you describe the toll, if it is a toll, that's a negative term, on a family when the mom or dad is an athlete preparing for an Olympics or a professional? What happens to the family?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Ideally the family is part of the team and they feel part of the team and they feel connected to the goals. That to me is the highest expression of that. And so the connection remains consistent even if you're traveling around the world, but you're still very connected and everyone feels like they're important and heard and seen.
So I've lived that part of the journey. That's amazing. That's heaven on earth. I love it. But I've also lived a part where I've been so focused on qualifying or winning that I took for granted my people and I would say all the words and write all the love letters, but in action I wasn't giving my full self.
If I was with them then I was like, "Okay, I want to be training. Not that I don't love you, I love you more than anything, but I have somewhere else I'd rather be because I have this itch." And so I've lived that as well and that led me to almost losing my marriage.
And so to me, I feel like the antidote to much of life's anxiety, too much of life's disconnection is just to train yourself, to love yourself into the moment. Because five minutes of time, like one on one time where you're so focused on where you're at, where you're 100 percent where you are, that feels like hours.
And a sincere conversation or a sincere hug or sincere moments with your children, even if your workload is way heavier than your time to be with them. Sincere and present living with your people go a long way because then they feel you and they know you care and they know they're a priority.
And so to me, you can have both. You have to be selfish if you're going to be the best in the world, you have to sleep on time, you have to eat well, you have to say no to a lot of things, you have to be very mindful. To me, those aren't sacrifices, that's just the way.
But on the flip side, if you just take for granted that your people are with you and that they feel loved and they feel like they're important to you, that's not going to go well. They need proof of it. They need the tangibility of it. And so I learned that the hard way.
Guy Kawasaki:
Did you experience objectification as a woman? Which is to say, could you play as well, but not in a bikini? You play in a particularly revealing sport, shall I say.
So any reaction to that that beach volleyball is sexualized?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I think our world is sexualized. I don't think it's just beach volleyball when I think that you can probably go on some web forums and see women and men talking about how hot the tight uniforms are in the NFL and baseball. I think it's everywhere, but to your point, our sport is next level sexy.
You're running around performing at the highest level and we're all in shape. These bodies are beautiful bodies, inherently are beautiful.
You're wearing a bikini or board shorts and you're on display. And so for me though, the way the sport was invented was in bikinis and board shorts.
I have never felt objectified because I don't see myself that way and I don't see the sport that way.
And I work really hard with my partners to create performance bikinis. Some people their performance is very sexy and it's a smaller top and it's a smaller bottom and that's their comfort level.
And with that, they'll have to come with the criticism and the objectification, but if they don't feel that way, then I don't know what to say. I have more power to you.
Truly, I feel like we all have different expressions of these things. The last thing I am is sexy. I would love to be sexy, but I'm just not.
So I don't live in that world, but I choose a bikini. When it's cold we wear tight leggings and tight long sleeves. I don't want baggy. I have almost broken my toe multiple times when I do wear sweats to practice, because you get caught up in it. I've almost broken my thumbs in pockets.
So you want to be streamlined. And when you're competing in Tokyo or Paris in August or China or Brazil and it's ninety degrees with 95 percent humidity, you don't want to be wearing anything else.
So I think if you're an athlete and you feel objectified by the uniform, you have to find your solution. And I feel like the world is more open to that these days.
And on the AVP, if you look at our domestic tour, people are wearing long biker shorts or they're wearing those golf skirts, which is interesting to me, but you have to find your own way.
But to me, my uniform is performance and I love that our sport is sexy. It's like sexy and wholesome at the same time and I think that's a really powerful combo. It's hard to find.
Guy Kawasaki:
What was with the whole mask drama?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Oh, with me?
Guy Kawasaki:
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I shared my opinion and it didn't go over well. I don't even know. The bummer of all that is that it was so sincere. Who alive today has lived through a global pandemic? I don't know too many people that were alive in the Spanish flu of 1918. It's just a different world.
And so for me, what I learned through that experience of me expressing that we need to be mindful of being mandated to do certain things. So to me it's a slippery slope.
And to me, freedom is everything. And bodily autonomy is everything.
And my experience in my life with pharmaceuticals, with interventions medically and my knowledge that I've gained over forty-four years now of living in my life, my immune system, the way I respond to things, having been sick and gotten healed, I know that I'm always a solution.
I never want something outside of myself to be a solution unless it's catastrophic, unless I need it. And so for me, I didn't believe that was a solution.
I don't think you mask up healthy people and that was my point, but my point more than that even was like, do what makes you comfortable. God bless you. Stay safe, stay well.
We need to be mindful of our freedoms because once you give away freedom, it's really hard to come back and history tells us that. And so that's where I came from and people did not like that. And that's okay. And a lot of people understood it.
But again, I've lived such a life in the medical field and a lot of bad things have happened to me because I had blind faith and trust because the solution that worked for someone was supposed to work for me, didn't, and took me the other way.
And so I don't think there's a blanket prescription for everybody is my point. And I think healthy living and all these things, and God made us with these immune systems that are so powerful that we've reinforced them, largely will be good.
But I think that we've taken for granted our health. We're disconnected from ourselves, from nature, from each other.
And that makes you sick alone, let alone the anxiety and the traffic and the toxicity from everywhere and the fake food. It's a very deep conversation, but I've edited myself since then, not because of anything other than the fact that my actions hurt other people. They hurt my partners in business and they were getting threats, which is crazy to me.
And so this is bigger than me. I don't want someone to come after my kids because they disagree with me. And it felt like that was a very real possibility.
And so now for me, I just want to live and be the example that I want to see in the world. That cliche, I think that's the most powerful way to lead anyway.
Guy Kawasaki:
What other sport, I guess there's doubles in tennis-
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Guy Kawasaki:
... but to me a lot of it is partner selections. How do you select a partner and extrapolate that to life?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
Sure. I just want to point out one difference between tennis partners pairs and volleyball pairs. So in tennis, you're not setting up your partner, you're responding to the ball that's coming at you. In volleyball, you're setting up your partner.
And so to me that requires another level of connection and rhythm and harmony. And that to me is the most powerful thing ever. I love it.
Because when I'm in sync with my partners, I am dancing. And for the first time in my life, I'm a good dancer, but it's like the most beautiful thing.
So for me, picking the partnership is everything. You said, what does it take to be successful? Partnership and the relationships are most important to me. That's number one.
But for me it's all about the intangibles, because at the highest level, everyone can play volleyball, they can jump well, they can pass well, they can do the skills.
So for me, it's like the intangibles of do they have a beginner's mind? Are they always picking at their potential? Are they excited by their potential? Do they talk about winning? Are they brave? When things get hard, am I able to stick with them and not run in different directions?
These things that are so valuable that make a marriage work. Misty and I, we were so different in so many ways, but we are so similar in so many ways. And when things got hard, we would come together and that was our commitment. But had I not had the trust in Misty or we didn't have that team trust, we wouldn't have been that great.
So I think fundamentally it's like the heart, it's the dedication, it's the way they show up.
Energy is very important to me. If everything is heavy to someone and it like Eor, like everything's gray, I've learned that I can't handle that.
So I need a partner that, not that they have to be sunshine all the time. I'm sunshine enough for all of us, but that they're excited about life. They want to train hard when they express that, but the intangibles are everything to me. It's a small pool I know, know who everyone is. I've played against everybody.
I admire everyone I compete against, but there's some people that make you think differently because the way they celebrate in the game, the way they express themselves in the game and by the way they handle things when things get hard. I think that shows a lot.
Guy Kawasaki:
And just out of pure ignorance though, as you say, “It's a small pool.”
So is it like doggy dog is, I'm going to go get her because she's a great setter and break her up from her partner, or how does it work at this level?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I think some people probably look at it that way. I just feel like if you want something, you respectfully go after it.
If I want to play with a girl and she has a partner and they're doing pretty well, I can't think about that. Respectfully it's her choice. I'm not forcing anything.
So if I make a call to the girl and be like, "Hey, I think we'd be great together, A, B and C, do you want to do this?" She has that choice and that's up to her, but some people, yes, breakups are part of it. There's not a lot of singles out there that are the best in the world, usually they're all partnered up.
And so you're going to have to have the humility and the vulnerability and the courage at the same time to make the call because you could be rejected and that's ouchie. And a lot of people don't handle breakups well. They text or they have someone else tell. It's silly how immature the makeup breakup world is in volleyball.
It makes life so hard. But I can proudly say that anytime I've had to break up with someone, which is once, I feel like I did it to the best of my ability and I was very mindful of their heart and their dedication and it was not easy, but for me it was I had to do it because it was how I felt.
Guy Kawasaki:
Kerri Walsh Jennings, it's been a remarkable hour with you. Thank you so much.
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
I just appreciate your time and your twinkly eyes and your thoughtful questions.
And I need to dig deeper into you because you have this timelessness about you that I think sustained excellence is like-
Guy Kawasaki:
Are you saying I'm old?
Kerri Walsh Jennings:
No, I think you're wonderful. No, you're so young and youthful. I just know your experience and you've been through it and you've lived it.
And I think it's really special when you meet someone with such a pure, happy spirit. I think that's important. It gives me permission to have that.
Guy Kawasaki:
So now you know what it takes to be the GOAT, or a GOAT in your field. Thanks to Kerri Walsh Jennings for providing us this insight into what it takes to be such a dominant athlete.
And there's more people to thank. First, Terri Mayall. Terri Mayall introduced me to Kerri Walsh Jennings effectively being the person that made this interview possible. Thank you Terry.
And then there's the Remarkable team, Peg Fitzpatrick, Jeff Sieh, Shannon Hernandez, Louis Magana, Alexis Nishimura and the Drop-In Queen of Santa Cruz, Madisun Nuismer.
Until next time, may your serves clear the net and be unreturnable. Mahalo and aloha.