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How to achieve your goals with The Backwards Plan: Kerri Pottharst, Gold Olympian

by Yvette Maurice

Kerri Pottharst, triple Olympian & Gold Medal winner, speaks with Open Colleges about setting goals, achieving your personal best, how to set a winning mindset & how to gain confidence for your study & career goals.

Kerri Pottharst is good at setting goals. She is one of Australia’s best known sportswomen, famous for playing indoor and beach volleyball. She is a triple Olympian with two Olympic medals. Now she is turning her hand to inspiring the corporate sector, using techniques she learned on the sports field, in the boardroom.

Setting your goals, with an athlete’s mindset

After 25 years of playing sport – with 20 of those years at an elite level – I realised that I had something more to give. Having played a sport that was quite low-profile in this country, I had something to say. Volleyball comes up against more high-profile female sports and the male arena with football and cricket.

The battle for attention

I was always battling for funding and for sponsorship with my team partner, Natalie Cook. I realised I had the skill to earn an income while continuing to play. I set about writing about the business side of sport.

I wanted to talk to people about how to set their goals and achievements, and to focus on teaching people the mindset that’s needed to achieve their goals. My book The Business of Being an Athlete is not just for athletes, it’s for people in small business, or for anyone who is looking for some motivation. It basically provides some strategies on how to reach your goals.


Kerri playing a shot during her beach volleyball days

My three keys to success are:

Passion: You have to be really passionate about what you do to enable yourself to be successful. You have to love what you do to get out of bed each morning.

Preparation: You have to put in lots of hard work; the business side of things, from sponsorship through to time management. Business networking and keeping records is also important.

Belief in yourself: This is perhaps the most important thing of all. I talk about the mindset that you will need to get there. I cover building your self-confidence, using positive self-talk, dealing with fear and doubt, dealing with the hard times, building resilience and being able to bounce back.

Market yourself as a brand

I had to deal with quite a lot as a woman in a low-profile sport. I needed to find a way to stand out. Having a brand and an idea about what you represent is really important. These days I am rebranding all the time. I never sit still, I am always thinking, “What can I do next?”

Brand is important if you want to stand out and get noticed. You need to think outside the box and do things that other people aren’t doing in order to get to the next level.

Keep yourself focused and motivated

The most important thing is to have a goal in mind. You need to have something to aim towards. It’s really easy to “mosey along” but if you really want to achieve something you need to have a really clear vision of where you are heading.

I used to live my life in four year blocks, preparing for each Olympic Games. Now, I am never content with where I am – I am always aiming to improve.

The “Backwards Plan”

Often, I like to look at a goal and ask, “Now how do I get there?” For the Olympics, we did what I called a “backwards plan”. We played backwards from the moment we wanted to win gold. We planned out every step and that gave us confidence.

This works for all sorts of objectives, whether it’s finishing your study, or finding the dream job – think backwards from, “What do I need to do to get the dream job?” or, “What score do I need to achieve in my studies to get there?” So plan backwards.

Some people might argue, “But I don’t know the steps – I have no idea what to do to get there!” In that case, I tell them to plan their first step. Research; find out what you need to do.


Kerri’s Olympic medals with her book The Business of Being an Athlete

When life throws a curveball at you

Often, we make plans with certain steps in mind but then life throws a curveball. Sometimes you can’t quite reach that step. Or, you reach a step that you had planned for the future, a lot earlier. So just change those steps.

Don’t set your steps in cement. They are flexible but give you motivation and something to focus on. Then do the little things day by day, while keeping that vision strongly in mind.

Picking yourself up when you “fail”

In my sport, we play multiple amounts of points to win a set, then many sets to win a match, then many matches to win a tournament; then I’ve played many tournaments throughout my career. I had many “fails”.

“How can I make it better?” became my slogan throughout. It’s about not focusing on the failure longer than you need to, to work out, “What can I do better next time?”

The power of mindset to achieve your goals

Our success is determined by the thoughts we have. Whatever you are thinking about, that’s who you are. If you think negative, sad thoughts, you’ll be a negative, sad person!

When things happen that are “not good” (and yes, they always happen) it’s about working it out. I will allow myself to grieve, to be upset, to be angry and frustrated for a small amount of time. That time can be short and well spent, rather than moping.

My next aim: getting the corporate sector healthy

I plan to move into health and wellness coaching. I don’t just want to help coach and motivate my corporate clients; I also want to help them with their health and wellness, getting them to think more like athletes.

It’s a career that works well with being a mum and a wife. Today, the fast-paced lives that we lead mean that we tend to forget about our health and wellbeing. As an athlete, I learnt so much in my career; I want to help corporates think more like athletes. Not just in their mindset but to look at their eating and hydration, and also incidental movement. I also teach my clients about recovery which enables them to reach the next level.

My study goals

I’ve just signed up to do a Health and Wellness course to learn a little bit more about the scientific side of things (editor’s note: Kerri is not studying a course with Open Colleges). I’ll put that together with my experiences, I’ll add that into my keynote presentation and I am developing programs and doing some one-on-one coaching. I haven’t studied for about 25 years or more!

Want to find out more about Kerri?

For more information, head to Kerri’s official website to find out about her coaching sessions, her book The Business of Being an Athlete and her corporate speaking.

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