Stepping Away From Sport
with Anna Hopkin
05 Jul, 2022 · Swimming
Olympic Gold medalist in Tokyo and English swimming star, Anna Hopkin, shares her journey in sports. Anna explains how stepping away from the sport for four years in her teenage years helped her find balance and learn to love swimming again.
Guest: Anna Hopkin
“How Stepping Away from Sport Led to an Olympic Gold”
[00:00:00]Stef Strack: Today's guest is Anna Hopkins, an Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo in the mixed four by 100 meter medley relay and swimming star from the UK. Anna has an incredible collegiate career in both the UK and in the United States at Arkansas university, where she plays second in the NCAA's 100 yard freestyle while winning an Olympic gold medal is an incredible feat on its own, Anna did it after walking away from the sport during her teenage years, this hard decision allowed Anna to prioritize her mental and physical health and have a strong career in the pool when it mattered the most. today, Anna shares with us why this is such an important step in her career and how it allowed her to find balance in her life.
She also shares her Olympic experience and how she managed to continue training through COVID and stay motivated during this tough time. We're so excited to have Anna on the podcast today. We hope you enjoy this conversation. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast, Anna.
[00:01:00]Anna Hopkin: Hi, thanks for having me.
[00:01:02]Stef Strack: I love that you have such an incredible story of starting swimming at such a young age and making it all the way to the Olympics, but there was a break in there. And today we're going to talk about that break and hopefully that break and everything we discussed today will really help so many more young girls who are thinking about.
Their experience and in general, how they're going through their journey in sports. So let's go all the way back to, you know, where you grew up in England. How did you get started in swimming and was that your only sport?
[00:01:31]Anna Hopkin: I started swimming when I was probably about six sort of inland to swim. And my mum was always really keen on sport and obviously wanted me and my brother to learn to swim. And he was a bit older than me. So he joined the local. Probably at age 10 and I just joined with them. I was obviously a little bit younger. I also did other sports. I did ballet and gymnastics I was always a very sporty child, but I guess swimming and gymnastics were the two that I really took off when I was quite
young and had to balance those two against each other, which was quite full on at some point.
[00:02:07]Stef Strack: and when do you remember when your back cause you started when you swimming, when you were at age eight and then you joined a pretty serious swimming club at age 10 and winning your first medal at age 11. Do you remember why you started swimming and like why you loved it back then?
[00:02:24]Anna Hopkin: I think I knew I took to it quite easily. Even before I joined my first club at eight. So before I was really getting competitive. picked up the straits quite quickly. And I remember doing butterfly when I was sort of age seven and the teacher been really surprised. I could kind of pick that up so quickly. and she always said, oh, she's going to be a fly swimmer, which I was when I was younger. And I think I just looked the freedom in the water and also a too. So it was a very social thing for me as well. And yeah, I just love sort of the training and the social. Yeah, it was just a lot of fun. Really. There's just no pressure, mainly racing 25 meters, which was pretty nice at that time as well.
[00:03:10]Stef Strack: And do you think your involvement in those other sports, like
gymnastics ballet, did those have an effect on like who you were as an athlete and how good of a swimmer you became at such an early age?
[00:03:21]Anna Hopkin: yeah, definitely. I would encourage any athletes to. Try an array of sports when they're younger. And even if you take to one particular sport over others, or the sports can help sort of a single sport so much as well, like ballet, just the discipline core control, flexibility. And then gymnastics was
obviously a lot of core as well and flexibility, but also strength and power, which obviously in a different.
Situation, but all of those components are important in swimming as well. So I think it all ties in together. And I think that was a big reason why I was so good at swimming was because I had all of that background from when I was really young as well, which gave me a lot of strength, the power and flexibility, even when I was at such a young age,
[00:04:18]Stef Strack: Yeah, I think it's so important, to be doing different sports and exploring different things when you're, when you're young and my daughter's
eight, my son's six. So I'm trying to get them in everything I possibly can right now. but for you and your Jeremy, you know, you at a pretty young age, started swimming. The national level. So around age 13, you were competing at a national age group. I think that's pretty young obviously to have success in a sport. So do you remember any of those earliest memories of when sport really became something that you would see yourself doing for the rest of your life? Like, was there a moment that you're like, wow I think I have a future in sport here and you started getting really competitive.
[00:05:03]Anna Hopkin: I don't think I ever actually saw myself swimming at an elite level when I was that age. I don't know if it's. It was just so far ahead in the future. It was just so impossible to think I'm still going to be swimming 10 years down the line, or I just never, I just never saw myself as like those elite athletes. But in the moment, I mean, I was always very competitive and I wanted to win any race I had that like motivation and competitive side to me, but didn't, I don't think I really had. The vision of me being like an Olympian or a olympic medalist at that point, which maybe that's a good thing. I didn't sort of pile the pressure on myself age 11 to make it to an Olympics of 12 years down the line. But I obviously knew there's a reason I'm training seven times a week. Like I'm not doing it just. It's a bit of fun. Like I was obviously taking it very seriously and I wanted to Excel in the sport, but I was sort of just taking it one year at a time and just seeing how far I could get each year.
[00:06:08]Stef Strack: Well, so then what happened, I guess, around age 13, when you decided to put, you know, your mental health first and you made a difficult decision to take a break from competing. and it's obviously a hard choice for athletes, regardless of what age you are. To realize that sometimes you need to take a break and step back from your sport, but for you, can you take us back to that moment where you, you made that decision? Were you just starting to feel a lot of pressure or did you just lose the fun? Like why, why was it at that age that you decided to take a step back?
[00:06:41]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. And I just, I started to resent the training and I would start to look at like all my friends at school and after school, they would all get to go home or. Go shopping or do something like social and I would have to go straight to training and I'd be training five to seven in the morning and then straight to school at school all day and then straight to training again, and then get home and have to go to bed at like eight o'clock because I was up again at four in the morning or something and it just seemed like it.
I just couldn't see an end point to it. And it just seemed like I was like, how do I get out of this cycle? So I think. Obviously, if you enjoy something, it doesn't seem like a chore to get up at ridiculous hours of the morning or be really busy with it because your entire life is that sport and you love it.
Whereas I was starting to wish that I didn't have to do that anymore. So I think it was quite clear to me that I was just not enjoying it so much anymore. And I think also I'd always loved doing so many of the sports and I'd had to stop. Pretty much all of them for swimming. And I started to wish that I could do other sports alongside swimming, but because I was part of quite a serious squad at that point, that wasn't really an option.
It was kind of an all or nothing system, which swimming does typically tend to be. It's a very intense sport from a very young age. And if you are part of that serious environment, you can't really dip in and out as you please. For me, I just felt like I'm either all in or I have to quit, essentially. So, and it wasn't an instant decision.
I'd had a couple moments where I'd spoken to my mom and I was like, oh, I'm not sure. I'm not really enjoying it anymore. And my coach has been great. They'd sort of allowed me to take a bit of a step back and then build it up again. It just kept happening. I just kept getting to this point where I just wasn't enjoying it anymore.
So. I December when I was 12 and I'd spoken to my coach about it. And my mom had said, like, if you want to stop, you need to talk to your coach. You can't expect me to do that for you because obviously it's your decision. You have to take ownership for it. So I don't think she expected for me to talk to my coach because I was quite a shy kid and she probably just thought it was like a bit of a brief, like, you know, oh, she'll come around.
But I was clearly quite at a point where I definitely wanted to stop. So I did talk to my coach and he said, I'll like, see it through to July, do the nationals. And if you still feel the same way, then at least, you know, you definitely want to stop. And for those, like from December to July, I enjoyed it to a point, like I had friends there and that was it, But I was just counting down the months, the weeks, the days until I could stop. So I very much knew at that point I was definitely
done. Like, there was no question that from that point, so it was definitely the right to.
[00:09:54]Stef Strack: and do you think that you got to that point because you were just almost like, over-training and like doing too much of this.
[00:10:03]Anna Hopkin: I think, yeah, in a way if I didn't enjoy it and was happy to do that amount then, which obviously other people in they wanted to do that much. Cause they enjoyed it, but I wasn't enjoying it, but it didn't feel Like, there was an option to do less. I guess, cause I'd already reached that point and I was only 12, 13 could step backwards. Like I could've, you know, gone to a different club and trained less. But because I had done it so intensely for so long, I didn't know if I could just continue the sport, taking such a backseat to it. And I did actually continue swimming after I stopped. I did. Club and I trained a couple of times a week, but I didn't compete. I just did it for fitness. always swam and I liked
it, but I'd never felt like I could just step back to a different club, still try and compete. Cause I just felt like I was just going to get slower or see all the people I used to compete with. Get a lot faster and I'd be left behind. And so. For me, I just wanted to take a step back from the competitive side of it and just do other sports enjoy sort of pursuing sports. I'd had to stop when I was younger because of swimming and then just enjoy like actually having a social life and being able to do other things in life as well.
[00:11:23]Stef Strack: It's just so interesting because you know, you know, now. The Tokyo Olympics and you want a gold medal. And I think it's just, we should just pause and. first say congratulations. Like, that's pretty awesome, but
also just, Hey look, you took a, a four year break basically from competitive sports. in your teenage years, and you still won a gold medal later on in your life. And I think that what you said is so interesting that you didn't feel like there was another option. It had to be like all in, in this specific sort of. Training format club to say that you're serious and you. have this dream, it was sort of almost like all or nothing. And there are so many different ways to achieve your goals.
Right? And it doesn't always have to be like one way or the other. I think it just sends such a strong message to, to everybody in our community that might be listening to this pod.
[00:12:23]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, definitely. I mean, my journey, obviously a bit unconventional. It's not going to be the norm and I would never. Say to people like, oh yeah, the way to do it is to take for your break. Like that was never, I never thought I'll take in this four year break is going to lead me to becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
But obviously you can't. I would never have got to being an Olympic gold medalist if I didn't enjoy what I was doing. And so it was very important for me to do that at that point. And I think my, in my mind, like, way to go about becoming an athlete is to just do a range of different sports.
And obviously when you get to the point where you think it's time to specialize, which I don't think should have been at 11 it could be a lot later. I wouldn't Olympic medal at 25. If I'm maintain that intensity for that long, that's very, very difficult. And that's why a lot of people drop out at age 1516.
And I think if more people are keeping that variety up until sort of maybe 14, 15, and then pursuing an individual sport more intensely, if that's what they want to do, then I think there will be more longevity. Different sports. And even in my break, I was probably just as busy with sports. I did about five Different sports. but the variety was just, just a mental break.
Like I, sometimes I was running for an hour and then my mom would pick me up and take me to cheerleading. And I do cheerleading for an hour, but like, it was just all so much fun. There was always so much going on, but I obviously still had. The endurance and the flexibility I did gymnastics. I helped start the strength and the came together when I did eventually get back into the sport. And I think that shows that you can take a lot from doing other sports and when you do decide to specialize, it's still there and you can build.
[00:14:25]Stef Strack: Yeah, I think it's so inspiring and such a, such a great message to share to young athletes today. So, I am curious, if, when you take a step back and look at that time period where you, those four years. Where you really tried various sports again, and you kind of led with like what's fun and, you know, being with your friends, all of those things, what did you, what did you learn? Like what lessons did you learn from from those four years of kind of about the importance of putting your mental health at the forefront of your decision? Yeah.
[00:14:59]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, I think it just showed me that if you don't enjoy what you're doing, then you're never going to achieve what you want to, whether it's in a sport or in a job or in a relationship or anything. If you're not enjoying it, then you know, you can't, you're not going to achieve what you want to achieve and you have to find ways to make it enjoyable.
And I just, anything that I thought, oh, I'd quite like to try that I'd picked up trumpet leaning. I picked up gymnastics again. I never expected from any of them to be the best at any of those sports. And obviously picking up gymnastics again when you're sort of 1450 and. That's quite old in that particular sport to be picking it up again.
But I just love trying new tricks and learning new things and meeting new people. And if I missed a session because I have something with friends or it didn't matter because it wasn't like so intense,
I just, you know, could prioritize different things. And I think that was really refreshing. Kind of balanced my life, the way that I wanted to, rather than being dictated by a sport, which obviously now I'm an elite athlete. Like sport is my life and it comes first, but when you're 13, 14 years old and you want to go to your friend's party, but you can't because you swam or you do another sport. It was just so refreshing to just be like, actually, I can do that if I want to.
[00:16:39]Stef Strack: Yeah, it's hard. Right? Cause I
think a lot of, a lot of coaches And storytelling is talks about like the sacrifices you have to make along the way to become great. Right. But at what point. You know, how do you balance those things? Because you don't want to be sacrificing so many things that bring you joy that are outside your sport to continue your sport.
And so how do you balance that? Like how would you know, cause of course you're going to have to miss some things to do other things, right. And keep thinking about all the, all of the amazing young girls in our community, right there, they're balancing so many things. And you have to ultimately make decisions on. Okay, what are you going to. prioritize? So how do you think about that now, knowing what you went through when you were younger? And now as an elite athlete, like what about this concept of sacrifice? Like, and how much do you sacrifice?
[00:17:32]Anna Hopkin: I actually think when I look back at, when I did it, when I was younger, I actually feel like there's so much more understanding when I swim now about life balance. And I don't know if that's just the sort of people I worked with at that time versus the people I work with now. But like my coach now obviously post Olympics, we didn't have that much of a break because we had other competitions coming up.
But my coach basically said until December, if, if there's a weekend where you want to go away, Visit family, visit friends, and you want to take a long weekend so you can have the Saturday morning off, then just let me know, and we can do that. And she understands that we have other stuff going on our lives as well.
And so say if one particular weekend I had, I don't know, a friend's wedding or a family wedding or a family occasion, I could bring that up to her. And she. Just say we'll work the week around so that you can do an extra session earlier in the week, and then you can take the Saturday morning off and you can go do that with your family.
Cause that's obviously important. And so I think there is a lot of understanding now that you can't always make sacrifices. Like obviously my family and friends are very understanding that I can't always just be available at the drop of a hat. There's only so much that you can sacrifice or sport.
And so I think at least in my situation now, and the coaches that I work with there is that understanding that if you know, there was a really important event that you need to go to, then there is flexibility.
[00:19:13]Stef Strack: I think it's, it's great to hear that even at the elite level that you're, you're making those sacrifices sometimes choosing, it sounds like your friends and family first and other times choosing your sport first. And it doesn't have to always be one or the other.
[00:19:29]Anna Hopkin: Yeah. definitely. And I think that's really important as well for like, you know, sometimes just having that weekend away with family, it's a mental break and it's refreshing and you come back the following week to training and. You actually feel like you can push harder and training because you've had that weekend break.
[00:19:48]Stef Strack: Absolutely. It's just like being an entrepreneur. It's like, if you don't take a few days off, you're going to be like, you're going to be exhausted. So I think that really is applicable to a lot of different things. Well, I want to ask, like, what advice would you have for a young girl who might be feeling like you felt when you were 12 and 13? meet, wanting to take a step back, but not sure how to approach the conversation with their coach. Or their parents. What advice would you have for her?
[00:20:21]Anna Hopkin: Obviously communication's incredibly important. And I think, like I sort of spoke to my mom about it first because that was who I felt most comfortable talking to. And hopefully other girls feel like they can talk to their moms or their dads or a sibling or another family member about it first and just like.
I think initially saying something when it's kind of building up inside you and you're like, I really don't like this anymore, but everyone's expected me to carry on just saying it is really helpful to anyone. And so, and then that person you talk to, you can obviously help you decide how to approach it with your coach and. If you need like a parent or family situation a bit easier. But I think that initial, just like telling anyone that you're not sport, just it's like, a sense of freedom. You're like okay. It's not just me anymore, like in my head all the time. so, I think that's important. and then obviously from that point on, you've got someone who can
help you approach how to take the next step kind of thing.
[00:21:32]Stef Strack: Yeah, that's great advice. Well, let's talk about your return then specifically for you. How did you come back? What was that decision to return to competing? Because you did end up going on to your undergraduate degree at university of bath in the UK, and then on to two years at the university of arkansas. You know, you had a pretty astonishing career in such a short time. So what was that return like for you and was there a specific moment? was it like, oh, a light bought like a light bulb went off and you're like on that curve, is this like gradual realization that you found your loving love, again, enjoy in this sport.
[00:22:09]Anna Hopkin: of when, so I quit like the squad moved into the club and train that twice a week just for fitness, just as another of And didn't really think about getting into competing for a few years. And then I had a really great coach there who He obviously, because I was only training a few times a week. I didn't have I would usually do. I did 200 bucks to fly a hundred bucks to fly. So we were just focusing on sprinting, which I found a lot more fun to train. And he introduced me to, I'd never done weights in the gym before. He was an ex bodybuilder, so he introduced me to the gym and he obviously knew all the correct lifting techniques So, yeah. He sort of got me started in the gym. And then we also did some boxing and did a lot of like land conditioning stuff. And then when I was in the pool, which obviously still wasn't very much, but we kind of, it was just a lot of just sprint training, which I really, really enjoyed. It was just very short and intense and.
And then it was 2014 where the British champs were in Glasgow and it was qualification for the Glasgow Commonwealth games. And obviously, you know, I was never expecting to go in 2014 when I hadn't competed for years, but he just said, oh, wouldn't It be cool to go to the Commonwealth trials? and.
so I thought actually, yeah, that would be quite cool. And I'd done them. I done a couple of races at that point, just the 50 fly for my college. And the times I done would have champs. So okay, I'll, I'll just get a, like a qualified Cline time in the window And then hopefully go to brush champs, not just be quite cool to say I've been to the the Commonwealth trials and.
And I was also at that point looking to start in 2014, and I did want to be part of a sport at university. I wanted to compete for the university, but obviously wasn't looking to take it seriously as I do used to. And so for me, like qualifying for that British trials some times on the board and
speak to the university coach and show him that, you know, a hundred and a lot of training. There was potential there to compete for the universities. So that was kind of the main, like couple of reasons for getting back into competing really. And it just took off from that really?
[00:24:36]Stef Strack: So your driving force is really to think about. How to get on a team for college? Like how do you kind of, was there a component of like paying for your scholarship and trying to get to the U S or was that not a thought? And you were just like, I just want to compete for my team.
[00:24:53]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, I mean, I had never considered going to the U S at that point and I was at bath for four years And I just thought I'd quite like to be. Sports team. I can, I knew no one going to university, which is obviously often the case when you And I just thought, you know, I've got my course and my, my accommodation, and I'd quite like to have a couple sports going on as well, where I can meet people.
It was all just about like meeting people. And I thought we were quite called to compete for the university, but it was never like a huge major aspiration. Like I want to take it really seriously again. Anything, you know, I wanted to enjoy university life. I don't want to be training at 5:00 AM every morning again.
So I guess the main reason was just more of a social, like being part of a team and a group again. And we don't really have the same system as America, like anything. So it was never really like, I need to go certain time to get a scholarship for the UK or anything.
And I hadn't thought about beyond. Being a university in the UK. I didn't think I would still be swimming beyond that to even consider going to the states afterwards.
So yeah, it was all just about enjoyment and social. Really? I guess
[00:26:06]Stef Strack: And so what was the, I guess, the driving force for going to the university of Arkansas and what was that experience like as an international student in the U S what were some of those challenges that maybe other girls should should know if they're going to consider going to a school in another country?
[00:26:24]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, I think for me, it was quite a nice situation because I was coming towards the end of my time at bath. And I was obviously on an upward trajectory with my swimming, but wasn't at the point where I could be ex expect to get into a national center, like what I'm in now or get on funding for the UK.
And so I was kind of a bit of a sticking point where once I left university. I would need to get a job, but I also still wanted to keep swimming cause I was still improving, but obviously having a job alongside swimming isn't that easy. And then the opportunity to go to Arkansas came through and Neil, the coach there he's British and had contacted a coach I had in the UK and I was kind of at the point where I just had nothing to lose really.
Like I didn't have plans. I didn't have a job. I didn't know how I was going to balance a job with swimming and then this opportunity to go out to Arkansas, to continue swimming for two more years and do my masters. Like I've always been really into education. I've always wanted to sort of get a really good education.
So getting a master's seemed like a great idea for me. And then be able to swim without worrying about having to have a job as get to experience America, which I just thought. You know, an amazing opportunity. And I guess it's a bit different for me than other potential international students.
There's a lot of like looking around and visiting different places. Whereas I just kind of like went to Arkansas, liked it, and really got on with Neil. And he, I felt like he could do a lot for my swimming. And so I just kind of went there and it worked out really well. So obviously I would say. Oh, the people who are avidly, like I want to go to America, obviously do a lot of research kind of speak to all the people who were there.
Don't just take it at research, speak to people outside of, you know, the coaches who were there because obviously they're going to want to get either. so if you talk to the athletes, make sure it's what you want. And I guess, yeah, just. Do you for you? But I mean, as a UK athlete going to the U S I mean, the incredible and like everything that's available to you and the support available was just immense, like ridiculous compared to UK universities, just because of like the money that's available from obviously American football and things. So for me, it was just like eyeopening.
[00:28:55]Stef Strack: Did you notice anything different about the culture, like the sporting culture, not like american culture outside of sport, but specifically the sporting culture between, you? know, England swimming and swimming in the U s was there a difference or was there, were there a lot of the same, I guess, positive things, but also challenging things.
[00:29:15]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, I think because of seeing America, you are often going on at scholarship or. If you are going into like a team, especially like in division one or like I was in the sec. So that's a pretty big conference to be a part of. So if you
are a student at. You are expect that is, is that is your life really? and it's expected to be your life, which obviously makes sense. I mean, they're putting a lot of money into you. They're expecting you to be very professional and invest all of your time and effort into that sport, which I think was perfect for me at the time. I where I like was like I'm ready to really take this very seriously again.
And so I was you know, more than happy to fully sort of. invest all my time and effort into just swimming. All the resources and facilities are kind of geared to allow you to do that with and the student athletes study center. And you can get tutors available just for student athletes and you have like a team room and your own physios and nutritionists.
And it's just amazing that that's available to athletes. I think at the UK, it's a bit more, you're not really a student athlete. You're a student. Is also an athlete. It's not like, I feel like in America you're kind of in this little student athlete bubble and all the student athletes kind of hung out together and you're kind of like wear your gear and you have your student athlete rucksack, and everyone knows your student athlete. And it's like, oh my god, that's really cool in the
UK. You're just like, everyone's the same. And you just do a lot of swimming at the same time. So I think like the culture is very different.
[00:30:52]Stef Strack: Well in your first year, you took second place overall at the NCAA women's swimming and diving championships with a program record in the 100 yard freestyle, and you earned all American honors with the fourth fastest time. in the NCAA. So with a total of 17 first place finishes and nine second and seven third places you are predicted to become the first Arkansas swimmer to win a national championship when COVID hit and then cut your season short.
Can you talk us through how you found out that your Caesar senior season would not be happening? And what was your initial reaction and how did you work through that moment?
[00:31:33]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, it was quite, I want to say traumatic, like obviously it wasn't traumatic, but it all just happened so quick. And until it actually got announced, the NCA's were canceled. I don't think any of us really thought it was going to, like obviously we'd heard things about COVID, but it just didn't really seem to be affecting us at that point.
And then suddenly like NCA's were just canceled and like, it just, we just, none of us thought it was going to happen, but then I also had Olympic trials coming up. And I needed to get back to the UK I didn't want to miss them because I mean, a half thought they were going to, be canceled anyway, but I also needed to get back to make sure I was there.
If they did go ahead and borders between the U S and the UK was starting to close And we were sort of scrambling to get through. home. Because obviously everything was closing down anyway. I may as well get Back home. And so it was finding out NCA's were canceled.
And then two days just having all my stuff packed up. And going back to the UK so, and like saying bye to everyone. And it was, it was quite a hard weekend, really. But I guess like in my mind, I was just. Oh, my gosh, we just need to get back. parents were out at the time cause they were going to watch me NCAA.
So at least had them like to support me and like help me with all my cases because I had so much stuff. So we all flew back together. And then I had a week where I was training in the UK, got locked down anyway. so, trials were canceled and then obviously after that Olympics canceled too.
So yeah. Yeah, it was quite eventful. And obviously then I had to figure out like where I was going to train in the UK and like change programs and finish out my degree, but obviously online and having a time difference as well. so that was quite difficult. But yeah, I think it makes you a tougher person.
[00:33:22]Stef Strack: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's so much and so much change, you know, that you just discussed, on so many facets of your life. And I know that this is very relatable to a lot of, athletes, because there were a lot people who were in the same boat. And when you reflect back on that experience and sort of where you are now, what is the mindset that you carry, you know, after going through that experience that will help you sort of with like that next. Unpredictable moment that I'm sure will happen. It happens in our lives all the time, but what's that mindset you now carry? After going through that experience.
[00:33:57]Anna Hopkin: I think it's taught me. A very I mean, I've already, I've always been told I'm a very level person, and I think I can react to unexpected situations or changes quite calmly. Like I'm quite good at not suddenly reacting. I'm good at kind of processing first and then planning and kind of deciding how to approach the situation.
I think all of that. Change and disruption kind of showed me that that is probably one of my strengths is, you know, you find out what the situation is. And obviously initially, you know, you emotional or whatever about it, but then it's kind of like, okay, so what's the next step? move on from this?
What, what happens next? Like obviously, you know, when things like that. happen, it's just not helpful to dwell on it too much. You can't Change it now. So the only really thing you can do is just look forward and work out kind of put you, in a better situation or deal with that situation that you've been put in.
So I feel like I actually thrived kind of through that situation and came out of it in a better place.
[00:35:13]Stef Strack: Well, I'd like to bottle up all your calm energy and like I can hand it out to like everybody including myself. I think that's, that's a great, tool to have in your toolkit. Well, before we move on to kind of your post-collegiate. Career, I do want to reflect back just to like how busy and crazy it can be as a student athlete in the U S you know, balancing your schoolwork and also balancing, you know, the work that you have in the pool, in the gym with your team. So how did you find that balance? And those demands. And not get to another point where you were going to burn out. Because I often hear from, from girls in our community, just like that, they're feeling burnt out and sometimes it's more mental than physical, but it kind of is I feel like a pretty common challenge that student athletes face in college.
What advice would you give to the, to the girls that are still in it right now? And you want to prevent that burnout?
[00:36:15]Anna Hopkin: I think for me, I just felt so different when I was older swimming, because I think the most important thing is to have a good relationship with like your coach. And I had a really good relationship with all my coaches kind of when I came back into I felt more confident in myself to kind of speak up and also.
I felt like I had more input in how I trained. And I think when obviously when you're younger, you just kind of do what you're told, mainly because you don't know enough to know what you need or how you train or anything like that. But I think when you're older and at college, you can take a bit more ownership for your training.
And I think obviously it works both ways. Coaches need to be responsive to things you say, like, You know, Neil would get my input all the time on what sets I enjoyed and what I felt worked well for me, what made me feel fast and everything like that. So I think that helped me a lot, knowing that if something didn't feel right, I could talk to him about it and he would sort of take it on and take on the feedback and not take it in a negative way and then kind of adjust things.
And so obviously you can only do. You have a good relationship with your coach. And I think that works with, you know, being respectful and being invested in the sport and being open to listening and, taking and things. And obviously it works both ways. So I think that is also a big component of making sure you, if you are going up to us or choosing a college, thinking about who the coaches and can you get on with them? can you. Talk to them. do. You trust them? Everything
like that. And that makes the journey a lot easier.
[00:38:09]Stef Strack: Absolutely. Well, And you
want to surround yourself with,
people who also motivate you right? Your coach is one of them, but Your teammates are
another. and certainly you want to be happy.
So just paying attention to, where is it that. I will be living and, and will I be happy in that environment? all of those things are important to consider when you're choosing a college, or even just thinking about where you want to set yourself up to be a pro athlete. So for you, you know, you kind of got. All the impact to the uK very quickly because of COVID. but I do want to transition and talk about then like your journey to the Olympics, because it's so incredible what you achieved at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. You were the anchor of the British mixed four by 100 medley relay and.
World record with a 52 second freestyle split, earn a gold medal in the event. So pretty incredible accomplishment. And you must be so proud, but how did you stay motivated on your way to the Olympics? When so many things were impacted and you didn't know when it was going to start and it got postponed, and I think this motivation. Conversation around motivations really important because a lot of girls, whether they're going to the Olympics or not are, have been impacted by COVID and in some are still like, they still can't really do their normal training. So let's talk about motivation. How do you stay motivated? What tools do you have and do you use.
[00:39:34]Anna Hopkin: 10 weeks out the water, which is obviously I know a lot less than a lot of people had to deal with, but I obviously came back to the UK and I was based, I just went back to my for the 10 weeks I was there. We obviously doing a lot of dry land a lot of times doing gym workouts and sort of recovery and go out on runs and on the call with me and, she'd be doing a run stuff like that, but I think obviously we spent a lot of time on zoom, which I think generally as a whole people, if they got a bit sick of zoom, but having your team that on zoom whilst you're doing a gym workout, and obviously you've got your headphones in and you're getting on with your, your lifting or whatever.
And then you kind of hear your other teammates, like doing their workout or asking questions or making jokes, or it just kind of helped it feel a bit more normal. Obviously, I think everyone struggled a bit during that period just to know when it was going to end. And I think the coaches were pretty good at kind of trying to give us a general of when we could expect to be back in the watch. and that gives you kind of an end point to focus on and like push towards. But I actually, I got a lot from that lockdown period, just being at home family. My parents live in quite a bit. Part of the country. And being able to try different things take up new hobbies. And sort of run out the door and go on a run and it's actually really refreshing to do sports, which I guess I've experienced before.
When I stopped swimming, I really enjoyed actually, I don't know if. terms of how I processed it, but I
just took it as an opportunity to learn new things and better myself in other ways, outside of the water, which I've see, you don't get the opportunity to do very much.
So I think I just tried not to think about
how long it was going to take me to get back
to where I want it to be. I just focused on kind of what I was doing in that moment and enjoying trying new
things and spending time with family. And I think. Actually very refreshing.
[00:41:41]Stef Strack: Yeah. I wonder if that had something to do with how you then showed up to totally dominate in this event when you got to Tokyo, bring us back to
that moment. When you guys won, what did that moment mean to you?
[00:41:55]Anna Hopkin: Yeah, it was such a, big moment for me of see, I'd had a few like ups and downs and not sort of 20, 21 year, because obviously we hadn't competed much, no one had really competed much. And so when we did get back into our first long course competent. I'd set my expectations very high. I wanted to be right back where I was before lockdown. Just to give myself the confidence that I could make the Olympic team and I didn't quite get that sort of confidence I needed. Like my swims were okay, but just not where I wanted to be. And so I think for a lot of. Those weeks kind of going into the Olympic trials.
I didn't have a lot of confidence in where I was. And so just making the team at that point was a big deal for me. It was a big weight of my shoulders and a big relief. And especially when I was in such a good place in 2020, obviously going into the NCAAs, you know, I wanted to win and I'd done some really good long course times.
I felt really good about making the team. And so a whole year later to. You know, I don't want to blow my shot. Like I felt like I was definitely going to make the team the year before. And then suddenly a year later I had a lot of doubts about it. So I think just getting on the team was a huge deal for me.
And then that just boosted my confidence. And every time I swam after that, I just got more and more confident and my times were getting better and better. So by the time we got to the Olympics, I felt really good in myself. And obviously. You know, we have some good freestyle sprinters in Britain and there was competition just to be on that relay team. And I think everyone knew that relay team had a really good chance gold. And we'd already gotten very close to the world record at Europeans only a month before. So it was almost like if you're on that team, you could win an Olympic medal. And so a big part of just the Olympic week. Proving myself to be the person that they should put on that team. Obviously when it came to it and I was the one on the team, suddenly you're like, oh my gosh, we could win an Olympic medal. And I'm going to be the one finishing the race. This is actually quite scary, but obviously also really exciting.
And I just reminded myself that I'd been swimming really well a week. There was no reason why I couldn't swim while in the final. And so just took a lot of confidence from that. And I think it's also really helpful when you've got three other swimmers with you doing the relay who can sort of help motivate you or take away your anxiety and remind you.
It's not all on you, even though sometimes when you're the anchor, it feels like you're the winner or the loser and it's all on your shoulders. It's obviously a team event and it was kind of important to remind ourselves.
[00:44:36]Stef Strack: Well, congratulations because you crushed it as the anchor, which is pretty exciting. What, how do you.
for a moment like
that? I mean, clearly with all
of that you just described, there was definitely pressure. So can you describe your. Pre-meet
routine. Did you do anything differently heading up to that
moment or did you stick to kind of like your routine and if so, what does that look like to get up there and just knock it out of the park and still remain calm?
[00:45:05]Anna Hopkin: I think as a whole like British swimming at the Olympics had a really good culture atmosphere. And like, I traveled to the pool with Kathleen who was the other girl on the mixed relay. Flat together as well, sort of in the village. So we watched some of the Olympics in the morning and the mixed triathlete relay GB also won a gold medal that morning.
So I guess that kind of boosters a little bit and traveled to the pool together. And then, you know, we get to our prep area and our sort of coaching stuff. And just so, like, what be. They're not trying to put pressure on you. They're just trying to keep everything lighthearted, playing music, just generally being chilled and relaxed and funny.
And just trying to make you laugh and just keep you calm. And also having like James Guy and Adam who are very experienced and they know how to deal with these situations. They were very calm and like helped me and Kathleen a lot as well. It was just really helpful. That whole team atmosphere with you.
Obviously then walking up to the call room, you still got three other people with you. to kind of race. I actually, like, I don't remember feeling under a lot of pressure, which I know I was, but I think I managed to just forget about that and just focus on swimming, my race. I remember before we walked in. James just said, whatever stroke it's you've done it five times already this week. Just do it again. Like you do it all the time. It's no different. Just swim it. How you would usually swim it.
And so I think that helped a lot, like, obviously just ignore what's going on around you.
[00:46:45]Stef Strack: I love that. Do you have any like mantras or self-talk kind of quotes that you use consistently, you know, heading
into these moment?
[00:46:53]Anna Hopkin: just, trying to stay relaxed and calm and just focusing on the first 50, because I think as soon as you start to think about the second 50, then you're thinking about like finishing and the time and the position and. My main thing is just focusing on staying calm in the first 50, because as a sprinter and as a 50 freestyler as well, my biggest thing is not going out too fast because I will die a lot at the end.
So my biggest focus before any race is just to try and stay calm in the first 50. And obviously you are going fast. Keep something for the second 50. So as far as I'm concerned, like so long as I can stay calm in that first 50,
[00:47:34]Stef Strack: Well, it's so
empowering to just hear
and just know how strong you
guess, even as a young
girl to kind of own your feelings, like own how you were
feeling about the sport, take a step
back and then find your way back To the sport,
in a way that was right
you. And I think it's just
such a powerful,
story. So thank you for sharing it today. I also can't wait to see what you're going to
do next. What is the next three to four years look like for you? What are your topical.
[00:48:05]Anna Hopkin: Obviously the next big ultimate goal is Paris 2024. You know, I'd love to win another Olympic medal. It'd be amazing if I could win an individual Olympic medal and Bobsy, we've got quite a lot of competitions coming up before that. And this year in particular is a pretty big year. We've got well championships, Commonwealth games and European championships all in the space of three months.
So I think for me, that's quite, it's going to be a good learning curve just getting. International racing under my belt and sort of getting the opportunity to race against different people at that. high level. And then obviously with two years into Paris after that it's been a shorter cycle this year. All this time, because it's only three years to Paris.
[00:48:52]Stef Strack: Well, I hope to be there in Paris
I think it's going to be an amazing moment
and , let's hope we're there together celebrating, Well
Take a look back at your whole career and you
think about your younger self, what is one single piece of advice you
would tell your younger self in sports?
[00:49:11]Anna Hopkin: say two. Find something that brings you joy and enjoyment. And obviously you have a lot of influences when you're
younger and it's sometimes hard to know
if what your feeling is correct. Often you're
told by parents or friends
or coaches that, you shouldn't feel like that this is how you should feel, but just kind of knowing that.
Nobody knows you better than you and kind of owning how you feel and that's okay.
And if you need to find another way to find joy that's okay.
[00:49:49]Stef Strack: Such a strong message. Well, a lot about what we're trying to do at voice and sport and you're part of this community. So thank you. Is trying to keep girls in sport. Right. But make sure that the journey is healthy. and sometimes that does
taking a break and sometimes it does mean calling out, you know what I'm,
okay. really leaning on your support system,
know, to get yourself back to a place where you
are healthy. So, I really
appreciate just you sharing with us, your whole
story. it's super inspiring and I'd like to end the podcast just on your thoughts on the future of women's sports. When it comes to swimming, I'd love to know what is one thing that you would love to see changed for the future of the swimming world.
[00:50:33]Anna Hopkin: I think it's really important that all females within the sport feel like they have someone that they can talk to within the support staff of that club or team or whatever. It's the same in a lot of sports, but, I know obviously swimming well, but the support staff, coaching, staff, leadership staff, it is predominantly male. females at a younger age who were going through, changes and relationships and school and everything. Sometimes you don't want to talk to a a male coach about it. you want to talk to a female who understands. And so I think there just needs to be more female presence within swimming at those levels. Obviously coaches or support staff, or even bringing in a specific who is a sort of lifestyle type person who can help with those balances or just. Girls are going through at that age. And I think that's important to have someone that understands obviously a female in sport.
And sometimes obviously talking to parents or friends, you get that, you know, you can talk about what you're going through, but they may not understand the sport side of it or vice versa. If you talk to a male coach, they understand the sports side, but
not the female side of it. So I think it's important to have someone that
[00:51:50]Stef Strack: Absolutely. And that's why we built this community, right? So more and more
girls can access women in this field because it is unfortunate.
We, the, a lot of the sports are still very male dominated in terms
of the supports. From coaches to, to, owners, to
the sports psychs and the nutritionist. And
so I think that
I would love to see that changed, you know, for the sport
swimming, but also the same thing sort of happens in running.
And it's also pretty much similar in the sport of soccer. So while we work on building that future I'm really passionate about making sure that these young girls have a place to come. At voice and sport, so they can access those role models now. So getting time with you as a mentor, getting time with the sports psychologist or the nutritionist, there's so many people, part of our community that can help, can help these girls.
If you don't have it directly in your support staff today. And I think it's just going to take time, right? It's going to take time to build. More diverse teams and more diverse supports staff across the industry, but we're all here to hopefully make that change happen faster.
[00:53:02]Anna Hopkin: Yeah. I think it's such an important. Thing to access, obviously, if you don't have it on your doorstep, just having the ability to talk to people who know what you're going through even just to talk, there might not be a solution, but it's a starting point and it's helpful. So hopefully it's going in the right direction.
[00:53:17]Stef Strack: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for spending your afternoon with me, Anna. It's always great to talk to you and I'm super excited to see what you do next. Hopefully see you in Paris.
[00:53:29]Anna Hopkin: Well, thank you for having me. It's been really great to talk.
[00:53:32]Stef Strack: this week's episode was produced and edited by vis creator, Sidney SPEL, a softball player from Northwestern university. Anna's story shows us that balancing sport and outside life is critical in order to have a long career and not burn out. As women athletes, we often struggle with feeling the need to commit to one sport at such a young age, and then go all out in training.
But Anna's most invaluable piece of advice to younger girls is to play an array of sports and listen to your body when it tells you to take a break. We are all beyond grateful that Anna shared her story and lessons here with us today, along the way. And we're so excited to see all the incredible things she will achieve in swimming and life.
Outside the pool. You can follow Anna on Instagram and Twitter at. Anna underscore Hopkins, or you can find her on voice and sport.com as a VIS league mentor, head to our feed on voice and sport and filter by journey or swimming and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at VIS.
You can also check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with incredible vis league mentors like Anna. Please click the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy the conversation. You might also wanna check out our other episodes featuring Olympic swimmers, like Emma Weyant and Lydia Jacoby.
See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.