Laura Ludwig is the best at what she does: Together with her former partner Kira Walkenhorst, she dominated the beach volleyball scene, winning Olympic and World golds, as well as four European and seven national championships. She knows what success looks like.
The past year, however, has been a period of transition for the German: taking time off to have her first child, parting ways with her long-term beach volleyball partner, and joining forces with her new teammate Margareta Kozuch (Maggie).
Laura has had to adapt to changes and with the challenges that come with being a new mum and professional athlete. Now in the process of a comeback – and with her hopes set on Tokyo 2021 – Laura sat down with me to share her insights on teambuilding, mental strength and how to balance motherhood and gold medal ambitions.
On finding her perfect teammate
When I set about looking for my new beach volleyball partner following my return to the sport, I was looking for someone with talent and skill of course, but I was also looking for so much more.
Maggie is such a passionate person, she has so much fire and passion for what she does. It was clear to me that she was a fighter. She was a successful indoor volleyball player already and I thought it would be interesting for her to transition into beach volleyball and build up a new team for us.
She also seemed like a really quick learner, someone who I could perform at top level with and that was really important to me. I know that it won’t be the same as when I played with Kira, but Maggie is an exciting project and teammate.
On building the foundations for collaboration
I think it is important to be as authentic and honest as possible so that you can really share your thoughts with your teammates and collaborate with them successfully.
I sometimes struggle when people do things differently to how I do them. But often that doesn’t mean what they’re doing is wrong, in fact a lot of the time different perspectives show you a better way of achieving something. You have to set aside your own ideas and be open to your teammates.
On supporting your teammates
When I am feeling demotivated or I haven’t performed as well as I’ve wanted to, I feel it’s really important to have a good team around me. Especially in the case of Maggie and me, as a new team we are going through a period of transition and so it’s really vital for us to develop, learn and work together. We’re having to learn what we need as individuals in order to grow as a team.
You have to be honest with each other and speak up when you need space, whether that’s from your teammate or a stressful situation. But maybe at the same time, your teammates are very different and they need to be pushed and challenged. That’s something you have to figure out separately but implement together. Then you can help each other out. The key is to talk out your feelings and worries.
On overcoming self-doubt
Doubt can have a huge impact on my game. When I feel fear or doubt, I’m out. I can’t win.
It’s important to talk about those kinds of emotions, or at least develop routines that you can rely on to push them aside. It comes down to self-confidence, which seems like a simple phrase, but is not that easy to develop. Self-confidence doesn’t just happen, it comes in waves and can depend on the situation you find yourself in. In any case, it can be hard to talk about.
On finding mental strength
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The first step to finding mental strength is authenticity and being yourself whether at home, at work, or with friends. You have to take what other people think of you and try and fade it out. Concentrate on your own needs and really speak about how you feel. You shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t understand’.
My sports psychologist has really helped me to open up and speak about the things that I didn’t think anyone else could help me with. The truth is that even just speaking about fears or doubts can help you to let go of them a little. It helps me feel stronger mentally and physically.
On protecting your mental wellbeing
The best advice I could give anyone is to take 10-15 minutes a day to do the things that make you feel better. Maybe that means doing a bit of exercise when you get out of bed in the morning, or just taking some time to sit and focus on your body and breathing. Sometimes, when you have kids, work and all those other things life throws at you, it’s easy just to fall into bed at night without really focusing on yourself.
You really feel like you don’t have time for yourself. That’s no excuse. You have to plan time for yourself. Ten minutes isn’t that much.
On her winning mentality
That is something that drives me every day, especially now that I am part of a new team with Maggie. I love to win, and I hate to lose, so when I’m training that is something I focus on to keep me going.
On her changing perspective
When I was still playing with my former teammate Kira (and before pregnancy) I was successful. Then, when I came back to the sport after childbirth, I joined a new team. It felt as if I’d gone back to starting from scratch. This was frustrating for me and I had to learn and trust in the path that was now ahead of me. It was really very difficult for me. But it also taught me patience and that if you set a new goal, you have to trust in your experience and what has worked in the past and just keep going, even if you have setbacks.
On being a working mum
My sports psychologists helped me a lot to deal with stress and worry around what the future would hold and what being a mum would be like.
When you’re pregnant and you know you are going to have a baby, you look forward to something so much, but you also don’t really know what to expect. That not knowing grows and the feeling of uncertainty about whether you are doing right by your kid also grows.
I soon started to understand that it was ok to want to get back to my career and back to my life as it was before.
I get a lot of help and I have a great support system. My family backs me and my husband backs me, which allows me to train as hard as I do. That has helped me to understand that there is room for my career in our lives.