Steve Frew, Commonwealth Gold medallist and business coach
In 2002, Steve Frew became the first Scottish gymnast to win a Commonwealth gold medal at the Games in Manchester. Now he uses the traits that brought Scotland gold to inspire and motivate staff in the corporate world. Here’s his story…
My story began in a small town in Scotland. I was quite a hyperactive, energetic little kid. I always enjoyed doing acrobatics, gymnastics, climbing, running, jumping, and I think I wanted to use that energy for a purpose. I remember watching TV and I was inspired by movies and superheroes. I used to be really into Marvel comics, I still am, and I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to find a place where I could learn the skills to be a superhero.
My local park happened to have a little set of parallel bars, and I used to run down to these parallel bars and lift, and climb, and balance. I wanted to see what I could do with my body, and I used to pretend I was at the Olympics when I was on these little parallel bars. I joined a gymnastics club when I was four and a half. I was in this magical place where I could learn all these superhero skills that led me to be part of the National Team as well. I won my first medal when I was six years old, which was exciting. I was very creative, very purposeful, and I always liked to see how far I could go.
This inspired me to push further, dream bigger, and to see what you could achieve if you put your mind to it. I always wanted to see how far I could jump, how high I could climb. I think I also wanted to be the Hulk, and I used to use my body in different positions to see how far I could do things. I think the feeling of success and that satisfaction of finally achieving something inspired me to keep going.
I remember being completely inspired by watching older gymnasts doing things that I would only wish I could do. I suppose that was a motivation for me, watching people do things that I wanted to do. That gave me an energy and inspiration to go back to my little club, and practise and be determined to learn all these new skills. My mindset was really focused to try and achieve them.
I was probably one of the lucky ones because sport gave me that guidance. On a normal school day I'd be a typical kid, then on the weekend I'd be abroad and performing for the country. As a child I had a lot of pressure being a young athlete. Sports is a life skill, you've got to plan ahead, be organised, and have a goal. You become resilient, which is relevant in your adult life. However, I was very fortunate to get it as a youngster through sport. I think as a kid you take it all for granted, so for me it was kind of normal to be on a plane travelling, representing your country.
Actually the first time I was on a plane, I was more excited about flying than actually representing my country. So it was an exciting time and I suppose I was very fortunate to do it all through sport. It's been quite a journey from being a regular club athlete, national athlete, to actually winning the first ever gold.
How did I get there? I would say lots of hard work, perseverance and having a really positive mindset. I never gave up, and always believed in myself. I think as a youngster you've got to take the knocks, you've got to fail many times before you pick yourself back up again, and then finally get to your goal.
I'm sure that everybody who is focusing towards a goal will have had knocks and setbacks and things that prevent them from achieving all their dreams. As an athlete I've had many experiences of that, falling off the horse, hitting your head on the bar, things that don't quite go to plan, but you've got to reflect, pick yourself back up, and I think sport is a great framework to enable people to do that on a regular basis.
As an athlete and human being, there have been many challenges along the way to being successful. I can look back to when I was a kid at six years old. I was standing on the edge of the runway, and I had to perform for a backflip for the first time, and I remember the previous time I'd tried it before, it didn't quite go to plan. So I was standing there, my heart was pumping, I was nervous, but I had to deliver under pressure. I put one step forward and I went for it, and I managed to achieve it. I think that taught me that you've just got to be courageous, you've got to take risks, and if you put your mind to it, then anything is possible. I just remember the feeling of being successful, achieving my goal, and walking on air, I thought I could do anything at that point in time.
It’s been quite a journey. At the start, I probably trained twice a week, and that increased as the demands got tougher. The coaches always set deadlines for us and competitions, so we always had a goal to stay committed to, and we always had to find a way to deliver it. It was an amazing learning experience, lots of planning, preparation, and organisation, and lots of failures. You know when you try and get your hand on that pommel horse, and it slips. You're destined to fail, but I suppose as an athlete it's almost like an open story where we learn from our failure. And you have to pick yourself back up again, get back on the horse and keep going.
So after years of triumph and failure, and eventually the Commonwealth Games were my ultimate target. I wasn't quite expecting gold. I didn’t aim for it, but what I did aim for was to position myself to be the best that I could be. And that was through preparation, training, organisation, and the wider team around me as well. When I finally won the gold medal I felt like I'd won the lottery. It was a bit like getting that degree; you know you finally had a mark of achievement that you'd been working for a long, long time. Standing on the podium knowing I had finally got there was a blessing.
There have been many times when I felt like giving up. I suppose as a gymnast when you fall off the horse, or you're having a bad day, you just want to throw in the towel and quit. But I think sport gives you motivation, inspires you to keep going even at times when you just want to give up.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
I work with various organisations that place athletes into corporate environments to inspire the workforce. I think sport and business have a great marriage, and it's all about connecting people with the right mindset for business life. A lot of athletes have stories of perseverance, resilience, success, and failure, and I think combining these skills to inspire corporate staff is very beneficial. So we now work in a company where we are coaches and it has been great sharing the journey and story with corporate companies and workforces out there.
People appreciate a human story of triumph against adversity, or of perseverance or resilience. A lot of staff can relate to that, so our purpose is to connect with them, uplift them, and inspire them to be better employees and people as well.
My purpose as an athlete going into business is to influence employees to develop the mindset of an athlete and to help them to be better individuals. There are so many challenges within the workplace, like delivering on time, performing under pressure, being the best that you can be, all while balancing your work and life schedule.
It’s almost like finding the athlete in you. That's our phrase, and it's about finding the athlete in each of the employees in the workplace as well. The challenges people face; failure, adaptability, flexibility, strength, balance, they’re all very similar to gymnastics.
I am very blessed to have won Scotland's very first ever gold medal in gymnastics at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. I finished my gymnastic career about 10 years ago, so having something fresh and new has been a great challenge as an athlete. Even now I love to challenge myself with new pursuits.
I think having the mind-set of an entrepreneur is all about finding the next thing, the new thing. Finding something that you can attain or aspire to fits really well with what I’ve been working on. I wasn't sure how I was going to, but just like when I was six and did my first backflip, I decided to give it a go.
In Good Company
See more amazing stories here on our hub
Show Me More