On a Friday afternoon in a training hall in Mansfield, Texas, a crew of black belts—each multiple medal winners in national competition—sat quietly and nervously in folding chairs just beyond Pinaroc Taekwondo’s mat.
“It’s different,” said Tim Thackrey, nine-time U.S. Taekwondo Team member and coaching and mentoring programmer for the Juice Compound. He folded his arms and a bearded grin slowly appeared.
Two athletes practice a mental exercise on setting intentions.
Mental preparation as an afterthought is a mistake, she said, adding that at the Olympic level, where competitions are lost by miniscule margins, athletes need to dedicate time to prepare for dealing with the pressure.
Athletes paired up for exercises to test the power of setting an intention, and amid giggles of nervousness, some seemed surprised by the results.
“Some people call it grit—resilience,” Cogan said. “You gotta stay tough, no matter what’s happening around you.”
But can athletes completely rid themselves of anxiety?
A Thousand-Dollar Kick
Session 2 began not on a Taekwondo mat—but on a sidewalk.
In the humid night air, Thackrey and Lambdin gathered the athletes on the cement path leading to the school to prepare them for the upcoming sessions. They began with their training history.
“We joke around,” Thackrey acknowledged, but stressed that when it’s time to train, “in order to mimic competition, training must reach a heightened state.”
Lambdin, left, coaches athletes on the art of fighting from the clutch.
Every session of the camp began on time. Day 2 was no different. Again, camp leaders set an intention. Day 2 was going to be physically challenging, filled with brainy, technical movement drills that challenged athletes to think and move fast. Thackrey, who has a comical side, was unrelentingly serious during the morning sessions.
Nine-time USA Taekwondo Team member Tim Thackrey keeps athletes light on their feet during ladder drills.
Lambdin remembers when he tapped Thackrey on the shoulder in 2013 with questions about how to improve his competitive performance. He was the Juice Compound’s first client—before the company officially existed.
At Juice Compound, Thackrey, along with Dr. Jason Han and Antony Graf, offers remote coaching, youth empowerment systems. When they started the company, they came up with a five-point vision:
- To help athletes and ordinary individuals find meaning in their paths;
- To bring passion into working with athletes;
- To provide a platform for athletes to succeed in impactful ways;
- To push the envelope forward with personal and athletic development; and
- To be grateful, and help others live with gratitude as well.
Rolando Marin, 10, of Houston gave up a birthday party to attend Domination Camp.
As the day progressed, Thackrey and Lambdin put athletes through more advanced and challenging drills, making them digest and execute complex movements in real time.
Master of Mobility
Cory Hill, former member of the U.S. Taekwondo team, strode across the mat in gym pants and perfect posture. Hill, a certified trainer for Physicality—GymnasticsBodies in Washington, D.C., was there to help athletes improve strength through mobility.
Athletes who take advantage of Hill's expertise will be ahead of the game, Lambdin said.
Most admitted that they rarely focus on mobility.
“I’ve never done these exercises before,” said Lydia Rosbarsky, 14, daughter of Missoula Taekwondo Center school owner Steve Rosbarsky. “Just to get my hips to open up more…. I felt stronger. It was so helpful.”
Rosbarsky said she's excited to take the mobility exercises back home to her team in Montana.
“I discovered him super late in my career,” Lambdin said, adding, “(Mobility) is a huge advantage.”
Months before his Olympic debut in Rio, Lambdin traveled to the mountains of Poland to meet and train with Wim Hof. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” Hof is famous for using meditation and breathing techniques while sitting in ice baths—consciously hyperventilating to raise his heart rate, adrenaline, and blood alkalinity. The immediate overall goal is to gain mental control over the body to optimize performance. The long game benefits reportedly include more energy, reduced stress levels, and a stronger immune system.
Photo credit: Jeff Pinorac
On Sunday, Rosbarsky submerged slowly into the icy plastic bin.
“(The ice) made your muscles want to tense,” she said later, “but the whole point of the exercise is to breathe through it. You don’t want your muscles to tense.”
Time and competition results will tell whether the camp and its future iterations are a success, Thackrey said. In the meantime, the coaches left the athletes with some last pieces of advice.
Lambdin emphasized three things: