Better Never Stops Series: An Interview with Taekwondo Olympian Rebecca McGowan

Better Never Stops Series: An Interview with Taekwondo Olympian Rebecca McGowan

Kristin Kennedy-Brown - April 04, 2024

“Mental strength is the most important thing we have. If I have 7 arrows I need to make sure each one hits. Every second, every fight, every kick - I demand improvement."

“I have to remember why I do what I do. I remember the dream. I remember the sacrifices. I remember the goal. I want to end Paris with the Olympic gold medal around my neck."

Relentless in drive and resilient in training, Scottish-Born Taekwondo practitioner, Rebecca McGowan first began her cadet profession in 2012. 

Since then, she has dominated the women's Taekwondo space, currently standing as a two-time medalist battling for an olympic gold medal, this year.  

Precision movements meet high-energy performance with Rebecca’s relentless training regime, combining a mixture of balance training in juxtaposition with precision kicks and fast paced movements. 

So, What is Taekwondo?

Originally founded in Korea, Taekwondo is a diverse traditional Martial Art and Olympic combat sport - involving a mixture of punching and kicking techniques. 

As part of our Better Never Stops series, we chatted with Taekwondo Olympian Rebecca McGowan - the face of our womenswear Apex Collection. During the interview, we gained insight into how Rebecca employs mental resilience and focus within her training regime. As well as what product qualities she looks for within her training garments. 

Read on to learn more. 

What sparked your interest in Taekwondo?

I was really competitive growing up and my friend who lived across from me practised taekwondo. I thought taekwondo gave him the upper hand, so I decided to start it to do better than him and I ended up falling in love with the sport. 

What does a typical week of training look like for you?

My training consists of a variety of technical and tactical training which helps me to progress both physically and mentally when I'm in the ring. Physically is by getting fitter and stronger, and mentally is by pushing myself through the sessions, psyching myself up for a heavy lift of problem solving in training.

We have different phases within our training depending on how close we are from a competition. In general preparation, we focus more on the technical elements in taekwondo training. This includes; building power and explosiveness, adapting a wider range of weapons, and working on the basis and fundamentals of our game. In strength training, we focus on more of a general strength prep, so building power and muscle, lifting heavy and building strength. In conditioning, we work on building a good aerobic base - during this time, we do small sessions of anaerobic training but the main focus is building the aerobic system, as this is the basis of the training we do.

In the application phase, training becomes more sports specific. When I reach the comp phase in taekwondo, all of our work becomes sparring based and focused on competitive situations. The sessions become shorter but the work is a lot higher intensity. Strength work becomes purely sports specific, working a lot on plyometrics and speed training. Conditioning becomes mainly taekwondo focused - combined with hard bouts of anaerobic or alactic work.

How important is mindset in training?

Mindset and mental strength is the most important thing we have. I've had training periods for competitions where I either haven't been able to train or have had minimal prep, but being mentally strong allowed me to perform the best I ever have!

Every session I am in, I aim to make it my best, this is how I ensure improvement. My training and my competition prep is based around mental strength. I would say out of all my abilities this is my best. 

In your training regime, how do you specifically address the mental aspects of preparation? 

So, myself and my coach focus on visualisation, re-creating situations that are going to happen in a fight over and over. Because we do that so often and we practise it so much, when I go into a fight I don’t have to think about it. That really helps me to stay relaxed and not worry about what’s going to happen and what’s going to come. That’s a massive part of our mental preparation. 

Can you share any techniques or strategies you employ to strengthen your mental resilience and focus?

Over the years having had so many niggles and injuries going into competitions, it's kind of forced me to be in that situation and realise that I am not always going to be able to fight the way I want to. My mindset approach to every competition and every training session is to work with what I have. I always say if I have 7 arrows, I am going to use them 100 percent, and if I’ve got 7 kicks they are going to score. That's the metaphor I lived by for the past 3 years. This helps me to stay focused in every second of a fight. 

Can you elaborate on the factors that influence your decision-making process and how they contribute to your overall training experience?

In terms of decision making in training, we focus on hidden situations. We are put in a sparring situation, and we don’t know what the opponent is going to do. Whatever they do, we need to react fast. During this time, we have to make fast decisions of how we are going to react to the situation. Once one action is finished - we have to review how it went, we will discuss what we are going to change and what we need to implement into the next one. 

How do you stay motivated?

My main tactic to staying motivated is to remember why I do what I do. I want to end Paris with the Olympic gold medal around my neck. I remember the 5 Year old girl who fell in love with

the sport and where the dream began. I remember all of the sacrifices not only I made, but that my mum and dad and my coaches made to get me to where I am. I remember that I am not only doing it for me. Each match l want to finish knowing that I did my best. If I do that I can finish and look back on my hopefully long career with my head held high. That's my motivation.

I think the fact that I am so invested in what I do helps me a lot. I think when you love what you do it makes everything that bit easier, to make those sacrifices, to leave home at 16, to train that extra bit harder. When you love doing it, they don't feel like sacrifices. They feel like part of the journey.

Can you share the philosophy or mindset that drives you forward and influences your approach to training and competition?

The forefront of our training is the Olympics - competing is the main reason we are doing what we are doing and the reason we are putting our bodies through what we are putting them through. We want to become Olympic champions. I make sure I set myself goals - goals I can tick off every month or every few weeks. That keeps my motivation going and my focus going. 

It’s been four years, and we are nearly at the Olympics, so it makes the process easier, quicker and faster. 

What is your advice for women starting out in their Taekwondo careers?

Martial arts are more looked on as a male dominated sport but what I have found since joining GB is that our female team has been one of if not the most dominant in the world. We have a really strong female team that we are surrounded by each day. 

My advice would be to put any stereotypes aside and give it a go, even if it's just to try it out or to learn self defence which is the main purpose of taekwondo. Give it a try because you may just fall in love with it yourself or realise you have a natural calling to it! Push on and work hard!

When selecting training products or gear, what specific qualities or features are most important to you? 

I always look for stretchiness, I don’t like if something is too tight. We obviously kick to the head so much, so our legs have got to be above our head most of the time, so stretchiness and freedom of movement is so important - I don’t like to feel restricted. 

What does Better Never Stops mean to you?

 No matter what happens, no matter what challenges you have, or what you are facing, you put that aside and you come in and you do what you can do. You give a hundred percent of what you’ve got on that day. I am not going to let other factors stop me from reaching my final goal.

I am going to do whatever I can on that day. 

What is your end goal?

My focus for 2024/2025 is to become Olympic champion. That's my whole focus in taekwondo. I'm not looking past Paris yet. That's where my entire focus is going right now. Life wise, I will hopefully have finished my Physiotherapy degree at Salford University and be a qualified physio. After the Olympics, I will be coming home to complete the remainder of my placements which will entail me doing the placements in different NHS departments to get a full body of experience!

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