Interviewer’s Note:

Ken is one of the most direct people I’ve ever met! There’s no hiding when it comes to interacting with him… he has you sussed out with one look and is pretty accurate! I’ll assume this comes from his background and extensive service in the intensive and people centric world of the British military.

I get the impression that he’s also very self-aware. He knows his shortcomings and achievements and acknowledges that this has come through a full suite of life experiences. I first met Ken in my twenties (30 years ago!!) and continue to be a relatively dedicated (not necessarily punctual) client of his son Dan.

Dan now runs the fitness centre originally run by Ken at the Marsa Sports Club in Malta! To this day, Ken combines strict discipline with variety and a combination of what some would consider to be ‘different’ training methods — all in search of excellence at the gym. The quote which really stuck out for me during our discussions about Ken and his experiences with sport and performance is ‘I wish I had done more of it! This perhaps shows why Ken is still down at the gym, taking clients through their paces to this very day……


Rapid Fire Q & A’s:

Zodiac sign? Aries

What one or two words best describe you? Dedicated

Favourite sporting movie or book? Rocky 1. It’s a brutally realistic film. Not so impressed with the follow ups. And I read many sporting bios.

Favourite sports quote? ‘Mind over matter’ is the saying that I have adapted for sport and life.

Are you a better coach or player? As a youngster, I was extremely mentally and physically dedicated to sport, to an extent that I have not seen in anyone I have coached to date. For this reason, I consider myself to be a better player than coach.

Ken Lake in Best Boxer Deal Championship — 1971

What’s your proudest personal sporting moment or achievement as a coach or a player?

Winning the Middleweight boxing title and best boxer award at the Royal Marines depot training camp 1971.

Representing East Berks County at under-14 football in 1968.

Winning the European 60–69 Indoor rowing championships in Gyor Hungary 2016.

Getting a Maltese team on the podium at the Giochi Sensa Frontieri games in Milan 1995, which was watched by an audience of nearly 100 million and screened on Saturday primetime around Europe.

What distinguishes these moments amongst others as a player/sportsman? All four achievements were earned through hundreds of hours of dedicated practice, overcoming many disappointments and understanding the fruition of desire. It was about creating plans and executing them.

Who inspired you as a young athlete? Mike Hailwood (Motorcycle and F1 racer), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, and Bobby Moore. (Note: Bobby Moore overcame testicular cancer and was operated on at the age of 23. He kept it secret and went on to captain the England football team during their world cup win.) My father was the catalyst for me starting sport.


What was your favourite routine prior to a game of your chosen sport? Is there a favourite food, a favourite mantra, any visual cues?

I always chewed on a banana with peanut butter 20 minutes before a sporting performance. On match day I always did some inner spiritual reflection prior to performing.

If I was anxious, I focused on difficult incidents or emotional times to put into perspective the reality of the moment. Sometimes I would reflect on disabled or unfortunate people and/or personal incidents that made me angry enough to override the anxiety.

Occasionally, I would write myself a personal message relating to an incident that would create inspiration.

Did you have a favourite coach? Who was he or she and why were they your favourite?

My gymnastics and movement coach, Miss Morland, noticed my physical energy during P/E lessons and started coaching me and a few other 9-year-olds for after school training. Eventually, I performed solo to the school. She really believed in my abilities and inspired in me a love of sporting disciplines and the feeling of reward.

Also, Brian Walters, my boxing coach in my hometown. He was never fazed or emotional, which created a calm and balanced mood. Despite being a former pro boxer, he never spoke about his career and never punched a bag or performed any boxing skills. He saw ability in me that others bypassed. He gave me total confidence in myself. I may have continued boxing with him as a coach if I hadn’t joined HM forces.

What, in your mind, are the top three qualities for a successful coach in your area?

First, getting the athlete to totally commit to a goal and the passage to achieving it — allowing room for disappointment and setbacks but always recovering strongly.

Then consistently changing physical and mental programs to keep sessions totally unpredictable, but always progressive.

And also a sense of justice or fairness. I think I developed a sense of fairness as an individual early in life after experiencing how the same kids were always picked last when we used to play football.

If I were to talk to you about ‘mindset’ in the context of sporting or every day performance, what thoughts does that word trigger for you?

Total. ‘I wish I had done more of it!.

In your estimation, what percentage of ‘total sporting ability’ is based on mindset? (And by mindset, I mean the relationship between meaning and performance.)

60 percent.

From a coaching perspective, do you consider an athlete’s ‘headspace’ to be important in determining the outcome of a performance?

Yes absolutely.

Irish Indoor Rowing Championships

Do you use any particular techniques in your coaching to improve the mindset or the headspace of your athletes?

  • Illustrate the rewards of success, which can be life changing.
  • Dig out low points in life or unfortunate incidents and relate how other athletes had overcome incredible obstacles to become successful.
  • Explain how important it is to give maximum effort every time and have zero regrets afterwards. Never be sorry that something was left out during the training, which led to a weakened performance or created failure. Worry only about the things they can control.

What are your thoughts about the importance of an athlete’s ability to perform under pressure at a given time?

  • It’s vitally important for an athlete to accept pressure, but this must come with dedicated self-belief and being totally positive about the outcome.
  • The ability to focus on the NOW and not on the PREVIOUS. Work to understand each athlete’s Achilles heel and then create a psychological shield to puncture the pressure it can cause.
  • And use their desire as bait when they’re under pressure.

What do you find are the main differences in performance between more experienced athletes vs rookie athletes you have coached?

Not very much! I believe that you cannot teach desire no matter how experienced the athlete is. Although some experienced athletes may be encouraged to use previous failure as a weapon to move forward.

Rookies, in my experience, do best when taken through different stages of the desire process, beginning with small steps that get larger depending on their attitude. During this process, creating small setbacks is vital in understanding the mindset and the ability to overcome.

Some experienced athletes can have bad habits picked up through bad attitude or bad coaching. Getting an experienced athlete like this on track can be challenging, but if they see improvement in their ability, they can overcome it.

How can you tell someone has the right mindset?

It’s body language and seeing the drive in their eyes. Every time.

European Indoor Rowing Championship (Hungary) 2016

Looking Forward and Back

How do you deal/have you dealt with failure?

  • Failure takes time to heal, maybe years, and in some cases never. But even when failure is buried deep inside the psyche, I believe burning desire will eventually decipher and overcome it.
  • Failure is very necessary in the process of development. It will completely determine the desire factor. You can never really win without experiencing some type of failure. I always used failure as a huge tool to succeed.

Are there any other questions you would like to be asked to emphasise any learning for the reader?

Yes, questions like how many different sports I’ve played or been involved with, and the different coaches. These experiences were brilliant help in understanding athletes.

Often, the sports and disciplines I was involved with were at an official level with an audience in attendance. The audience factor always changed my mindset. I was always afraid to fail in front of an audience and put huge pressure on myself to give absolutely everything, every time.

What would you say to your younger self just starting out in sport, based on your life experience to date?

Try as many sports as possible first. Then, assuming you’ve been through the first steps of each sport, specialise as early as you can.

Have a good think about individual versus team sports and see what would suit your character best.

And finally, go with the best coach you can find!

Bonus Material

Ken tells an interesting story about his time in the army where his ability as a boxer was noticed early on in his career and he was asked to enter a ‘milling’ competition. As a young and somewhat raw recruit, he was initially paired with a tough Welshman who, in Ken’s words, ’didn’t lay a hand on me’.

This got him noticed, and he went on through successive victories to win the Royal Marines Boxing Championship in 1971.

Unfortunately, boxing took its toll on Ken and because of a series of injuries he was ‘back squadded’ to a new troop to continue his training. At one stage in the training, Ken and a few other recruits were told that they ‘had failed’ and to ‘get new bodies’. This was typical of the language used by PTI’s at the time to convey feedback on one’s performance!

At this stage in his career, he was at a bit of a crossroads; one route leading him out of the army and another to ‘gritting his teeth’ and carrying on. He recalls that what happened next was a bit of a turning point for him.

A fellow recruit who seemed on the surface to be much less capable than a lot of the other recruits and hence more likely to fail, managed to beat the odds and pass selection for the Royal Marines in 1972.

As Ken was scanning the sea of faces of recruits that had passed through Royal Marines selection, he saw the face of this individual who was well on his way to a successful and well-earned career.

He heard himself say, ‘if he can do it, then I can do it’ and that turned out to be a defining moment for the rest of his life!