Jay Furniss, Professional Ironman, on the Difference Mental Performance Training Has on Him

May 18, 2023


Jay Furniss, professional IronMan athlete, and I sat down for a chat as we wrapped up our first season working together. In this interview, Jay shares his journey, from struggling with consistency to finding mental strength. We delved into the mental performance strategies Jay adopted this season that changed the game for him, including:

  • The importance of believing in yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone
  • How collaboration in using these strategies with his other coaches and support crew can lead to remarkable progress.
  • Through exercises like visualisation and journaling, Jay gained trust in the process. 

Jay also encourages young athletes to tap into mental training early for consistent results.


Interview Transcript:

Dave: So, first of all, thanks very much for agreeing to have a bit of a chat with me. It's the end of our first season of working together, so what I wanted to do was give other athletes a little bit of a perspective on your journey, how you ended up here working with me and what you got from that. So if you could kind of just let people know exactly who you are and what you do.

Jay: I'm Jay Furniss. I am a professional Ironman competing in the Nutri-Grain IronMan series. I'm competing in Surf Life Saving, and my home club is Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. So I have ended up here with Dave. Being in the professional IronMan series really requires a lot of fitness, but it also requires you to be mentally tough and strong. And so finding those little one percenters to help me become better, I ended up with Dave through a recommendation from Mark Simpson. So that's helped me massively this season.

Dave: All right, thanks. So how would you summarise your competitive life before this?

Jay: I've always been competitive, wanting to win, wanting to get to the front. I've always wanted to do well, but I've never had that killer instinct or wanting to tap into that more. So I've definitely found that more, but I've always wanted to win, but I've never actually knew how to specifically get there until I met you.

Dave: Okay, so how would that show itself on race days for you, historically?

Jay: It was very inconsistent on race day. I would never know how I had achieved that or just something would have to trigger me to get there, and I never knew how that triggered me. So I was really unsure of how that was achieved.

Dave: So when we first met, we did a couple of exercises, first of all. So we did the grid ball on the floor, and we worked out how you learned.

Jay: Yeah.

Dave: What did you get from that? What was your first impressions of our first meeting?

Jay: Our first meeting, I guess I never really trust myself or trusted myself or back myself, and I never knew by doing that ball, subconsciously tapping into that side of the brain to back myself, I guess. And that's one thing I learnt. And then by doing those activities, such as bounce, I learned that there's a process, and I just trust that process and stay on the train track. So by doing that, it helped me massively in my racing.

Dave: So when we first met, it was quite a few months before the actual competitive season started, and we did a lot of foundational work looking at predominantly your frameworks, how you prepare both session wise and mentally. So we recognised there were some inconsistencies in how you prepared, and that was what was showing up in race days. What out of those first exercises that we did were the ones that you kind of adopted straight away, without any kind of resistance.

Jay: Yeah, for sure. And I think that was one area that I needed work in, is being consistent in my racing and following a process that I know works, and again comes back to the trusting and believing in myself to know what works. So I got to race day and knew exactly what I had done was working, and I was ready to race.

Dave: When we first started, there was a bit of resistance, right?

Jay: Yeah, for sure.

Dave: Why is that? As an athlete, I guess we would put you down as a mature athlete. Where did that resistance come from?

Jay: I guess you've always got, as being a human, maybe insecurities about yourself as a person. So I guess tapping into that insecurity about finding some weaknesses and some places that I needed to work on. And like you said, being an older athlete, you tend to not know it all, but you tend to be set in your own way at times. So I guess tapping into that and being exposed is a bit daunting. So being put out of your comfort zone, it's not easy, but it's something that I think needs to be done, and it's helped me massively.

Dave: So what broke down the resistance? Because for me, there was definitely a tipping point.

Jay: Yeah.

Dave: And there was that resistance, resistance, resistance and all of a sudden, it was like, Okay, what's next?

Jay: Yeah.

Dave: For you, can you remember what that tipping point was?

Jay: By doing that funnel process, I think I actually believed, okay, I trust this process now. I can go out and race hard after I know that this funnel works. Obviously, there's a lot of refining to do and layering, but I know by trusting that and believing in it, seeing it actually works, I guess turned me around in believing in the process.

Dave: Okay. So that created a huge amount of momentum. And once we broke through that resistance and you started to create the momentum, it escalated really quickly, didn't it?

Jay: Yeah.

Dave: You're a teacher, so your day job is as a teacher. What do you say as a cross-platforming of what you do as an IronMan to how you teach your students?

Jay: So I guess teaching requires a lot of reflection, I guess, like what worked in that lesson, what didn't, what can I do differently next time? And I guess transferring... I've always been a reflective person, but never to the sense that, what can I do better? And I think being reflecting on what can I do better that I've learnt through you is something that's just layering that 4% each time to get better and better. And that's what I've taken not only in my sport, but in my personal life as well. And it's helped me across all areas of my life, like with balance, with work and family life and sport as well. So it's helped me across everything. So that's my biggest thing that I'm grateful for.

Dave: So it's been a good season, we've had some good results and there's been a lot of progression in you as an athlete, and especially on competition day for you. What does that look like, moving forward?

Jay: Having that debrief with you recently, I need to be more consistent moving forward. So we've set this foundation now, that I've got it in place, I just need to keep layering and be more consistent. And we've identified that. So by being more consistent across all areas, physically and mentally, I know that I will succeed and improve and get to where I need to be.

Dave: What would you tell a younger Jay?

Jay: See you earlier. 100%. There's kids out there, and I was one of these kids that are breaking into the series and being professional and they've got nothing to lose. They go out there, a bull at a gate and they recover quick. They've got a lot of testosterone with their growing bodies. So one thing I would do differently, and I've looked back on this and I've said it to my training partner, is tap into the mental side of things because it's so important and you set up your foundations. Your career is not that long in hindsight, so just tap into that earlier.

Dave: Awesome. All right, so, for you as an athlete, we've recognised there's some key things to work on. You've got a bit of a break now. What do you do in the break? How do you relax? Gardening at the moment?

Jay: Yeah, gardening. My kind of recharge is to just be with friends, family, just enjoy time and kind of do the things that I don't really get to do, like come home from work and walk the dog or, I'm not going to say cook dinner, but no, I like to spend time with family and friends and enjoy my time a bit. Go surfing, do stuff that I don't really get to do. Not that my life is a nightmare by doing this, but it's just, sometimes you've got to sacrifice things, which is part of life. Just enjoy the moment.

Dave: So is there anything with what you've learned from me that just becomes a non negotiable? You do it when you're not competing, you're doing it in times of relaxation. Is there any of those exercises that do truly cross over everything that you do?

Jay: Yeah, for sure. I know I reflect a lot. What can I do better? Always.

Dave: So is that structured journaling, like we talk about?

Jay: Yeah, structured journaling. I do journal quite a bit. I write down a lot. What worked, what didn't, what can I do better? And also, I schedule a lot because being a teacher, family, all that stuff, life's pretty hectic, so I find that scheduling really breaks it down. You know exactly what you need to do. So I find that makes me a bit more relaxed and calm and I can go out there and do what I need to do and not make it up on the spot.

Dave: Okay. When we've done a lot of exercises over this season, I'm sure a lot of that stuff you've never done before, from bouncing balls to the visualisation, was there one exercise you've kind of gone, this is a little bit crackers.

Jay: Yeah, it's hard.

Dave: There's a few of them.

Jay: When you start visualisation, you're like, what am I doing? So it took me a few goes and I've spoken to you a few times about it, how to actually do it properly. So it's hard, but once you find out, I still have probably got a lot to improve on, but there's always that one's a bit of a tough one to crack. And just knowing, I guess the 'what if' part in visualisation is hard. I think, if I fall over. You don't want to think you fall over if you're running into the water. So I guess picking out all the things that may go wrong in a race and rectifying it in a visual sense is pretty tough. But I'm getting there.

Dave: Okay, that's good. So is there anything you'd say to other athletes? If someone had said to you, you've just been on this journey for mental performance, is it for me? What would you say to them?

Jay: You've just got to trust the process, I guess. I found it worked for me. You've got to believe in yourself. You've got to put yourself out there and put yourself in the uncomfortable positions. And no matter, I've done this and I've still had bad results, but you've got to keep improving on it. And I guess those setbacks are always going to happen, but you've got to keep pushing forward and it will come. And that's why I keep going around again and again, because I know it will come. And, yeah, I'm glad I worked with you, Dave, because I can say now that I know what I need to do and I trust it. And that's what I would say to them. They need to tap into this and they need to do it because it's a massive help.

Dave: That's really cool. I think it's important that young athletes hear these kind of things from the likes of you. People who have been through the whole gamut of being a professional athlete from those tough times, those years where it hasn't gone the way you wanted it to go. And there's been some huge highs as well. So that inconsistent result can sometimes make it very difficult for an athlete to do something different. They kind of hope that, just do the old way and it will come back again.

Jay: Exactly. And I think, like we said, the consistency, if I'm not consistent in my training and my mental training as well, I'm not going to have consistent results. So that's one thing I need to work on. And I know I can be up here with my results, but I need to make sure that I'm consistent to stay there. Yeah, I think that's one area that I've identified with you. And I know a lot of young athletes have a lot of up and down races and performances, so I guess tapping into that and being consistent with you would be a game changer.

Dave: So over the season, I've got to ask you a whole heap of questions and probe into how you do what you do. Do you have any questions for me?

Jay: What made you want to get into sports psychology? I know you were a gymnast, you're a teacher, you've done probably a lot of things in between, but what's made you want to do this?

Dave: When I was an athlete, I was really inconsistent. So when you've talked about being inconsistent and the frustration that comes with that, that was my journey. I think you and I have been on a very similar journey in that we've both been teachers, we've both been educators, and we've both tried to balance that with our sporting backgrounds. So that frustration that came from the inconsistency, growing up in the 70s and 80s and competing in those eras, I just tried to do more and all that had done was give me more injuries. And so I thought it was a huge issue that was me. So then when I became a coach and I started seeing those same traits in other athletes, I recognised it wasn't technical, it wasn't physical, but it was definitely psychological. And I just became really hungry about finding out the why. I guess for me, that's always been my driving force, probably to the frustration of my coaches over the years, where I've always wanted, but tell me why, I want to know why. Give me the reason why I'm doing this or I'm not doing this. So I just got really curious about that why, and I started digging into the psychology and realising for me, it was a place that I could make the biggest impact. And educating both athletes like yourself, educating coaches, that they can do it differently, I think that gives a way bigger bang for buck. Like, I can help you. And we've made a great stride forward in how you do what you do. But we've been very fortunate to have Simmo, who's also very bought into this. And you say the ripple effect of that, where you've got a coach who's bought in, and not only are they working with you on the psychology of how you perform, but every one of their athletes are seeing that same continuity in how they're coaching. So that's why I kind of got into it. I saw that there was an area that us as a coaching fraternity weren't focusing on, and plus, I love to understand why. So, yeah, that was my springboard into doing this, really. And I recognise the more I know about this, the less I know about humans, and there's a lot more to uncover.

Jay: Yeah, definitely. And that's one thing that being such a professional sport in one sense, and then the amateur sport in another sense, you've got coaches that volunteer their time, and they've got families and they've got other jobs. So I guess having coaches on this journey with me and them understanding the importance of it and little key words to say, the psychology and the science behind that and how important it is, them saying that as well is great for not only me, but my clubmates and my training partners and all that. So it's such an important part because a lot of people don't know. They just think you've got to train hard and head down, bum up kind of thing. So it's so important.

Dave: That's an interesting thing you raise, because how have your coaches responded? And when they've responded to, okay, what are you doing? What do you need from me? How have you been able to communicate that?

Jay: I've been direct with my coaches saying that I need this. Usually I'm a person that expects them to read between the lines, and a lot of the time they'll persuade me to not do that, but I found that by being direct, and they've accepted that, and they go, okay, well, he knows his body best, and this is what he must need. So they've accepted that. And also, with the key words on race day or competition day, they just know what needs to be said and what doesn't need to be said.

Dave: That's great, because I think not only do you share a legacy of what you're doing out there in the ocean, but you're helping to educate coaches, too, and showing them that the passion they've got for their sport, they can do that smarter, too.

Jay: Yeah. And being in a leadership role in Cronulla, potentially, later on down the track, I can hopefully be a coach one day. That's why I'm a teacher, because I want to help educate people. I want to see them succeed as well. So that's why I'm a teacher. That's why I'm passionate about this sport, a leader in the surf club. And yeah, I just want not only myself to succeed, but my teammates and my coaches as well. That's why I'm passionate about this.

Dave: That's awesome. Well, I really appreciate you sharing your journey. I know that it's only been our first season, so this is really just the top layer of what you can achieve. I've been incredibly impressed with how you've taken on board this season and implemented that.

Jay: Yes.

Dave: There was a little resistance at the start. You overcame that really quickly.

Jay: Yeah.

Dave: And you've utilised these skillsets really well. Yeah, I look forward to what we can achieve in the future. Very exciting. I'm looking forward to next season.

Jay: Thank you very much. Looking forward to it.

Dave: My pleasure. Thank you.

Jay: Thank you, mate. Thank you.



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