Engine Presents: Tom Daley

Engine Presents: Tom Daley.

Welcome to Engine Presents, our series of talks where we break out of the bubble and chat to folks who can give us a fresh perspective, new ways of thinking and provoke creative solutions. In this edition we speak to Olympic medallist Tom Daley.

Since competing in the Australian Youth Olympics at the age of 12 Tom’s grown up in the public eye. As a country we’ve watched him compete at the highest level of athletics, cope with the loss of his father and become an ambassador for mental health and LGBT rights. 

His new memoir Coming Up For Air deeply dives into what has made him the man he is today and we were lucky enough to spend an hour with Tom to find out what he’s learned about resilience, adversity and of course, knitting.

Perseverance

Tom attributes much of his success to perseverance, a determination to succeed no matter the obstacle he’s facing. It’s a mindset that’s carried him through his entire career and looking back at where it all started, when Tom talks about his earliest days in the pool it’s not exactly what you’d expect. It was a heady mix of excitement and fear that drove him to continue. By learning to work through his fear, to stop listening to some of the internal negativity, that’s when the magic truly happened and told us “It was an exponential thing. I learned so much, so quickly”.

Marginal gains

In sport, as in business, small changes can lead to monumental change. They may not be the most exciting part of any career but Tom believes the constant hunt for those 1% changes were key to him finally achieving that gold medal. Paying attention to small details and repeating them until they are second nature might seem tedious at the time but “those little 1%s are going to add up and could be the edge you need to do better than the rest of the competition”. But they aren’t the only pieces to the puzzle.

Mental Health

The level Tom works at comes with unimaginable pressure “you've put your life and soul into something for years to get it right on that one day, one time, with no retakes.” Talking about his experience at the Rio Olympics Tom knew the stress he’d put himself under wasn’t going to lead to the outcome he wanted, “I was in the best form physically and mentally to do the job on that day but what ended up happening was, I put so much pressure on myself, on doing the best I could they everything became so overwhelming.”

This was a watershed moment for Tom. He realised that mentally punishing himself after a dive that didn’t go well, or creating too much stress beforehand was not the route to success. Things had to change. He needed to be able to see himself as a winner not just put pressure on himself to become one. To adjust his thinking away from seeing winning only as a result of another competitor’s short comings and instead believe that he was the one to beat.

Now Tom has an Olympic gold to add to his already impressive medals haul, so he’s clearly doing something right.

Beyond diving

Reflecting on getting married and having a child Tom shared “I realised that I'm more than just a diver, I'm more than just what I do in the pool, there’s so much more to me. No matter what I do here in my sport, I am going to go home to a family that loves me.’ “This change from constantly putting pressure on himself to achieve one goal to seeing all of his achievements as a holistic whole is another way Tom has relieved some pressure away from that one perfect moment with ‘no retakes.’

It’s not just in the pool that Tom has become an inspiration. When Tom decided to come out in 2013 he instantly became a role model to queer people across the globe. At the time he was only one of a handful of athletes to be openly gay and was advised by his then management team not to take the step. Tom’s reasoning for making the decision to be open with the world about who he is speaks to his constant light touch confidence ‘at the end of the day, if people don't like it, they can lump it.’

Resilience isn’t always about being tough

Resilience helps us to cope with those unexpected challenges that life throws at us and in his diving career Tom has faced many of these. Early on in his career, if things didn't go right, Tom said he was never kind to himself. “I know you normally say resilience is about just being tough but you know but there are other ways to be resilient.” He realised over time that there were also benefits to cutting himself some slack, “to know I worked my butt off to get here and I've tried my absolute best”.

Now for the knitting

This leads us onto the bit you’ve been waiting for, Tom and his knitting. It was after a suggestion from his husband after seeing actors on set knitting squares that Tom took it up. It turned out to be the perfect distraction away from his phone, a way of being both present whilst distracting and soothing the mind. He could knit at competitions and it was an activity that was easy to stop when he needed to watch a competitor’s dive and then zone out of the noise again until the next person took to the board. Although we didn’t get any sneak peaks of what Tom is currently creating he did let us know that he’s we should watch this space for Tom Daley design kits on shelves soon.

Tom is now taking a well deserved break from diving, his new book Coming Up For Air is on shelves and in digital stores now. We’d highly recommend listening to our full chat with Tom where he touches on his experience with the twistys, how he learned to be different to succeed and his philosophy for the future. We also want to thank Tom for taking time to talk to us and everyone else that made this happen.