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The determination of Shaun White

Unlocking greatness in the face of failures and obstacles



There is very little that sheer determination cannot overcome. It can power you past physical ailments and emotional setbacks. It can push you beyond crushing defeat and into the glow of victory.

Just ask Shaun White. Millions instantly connect his name with dazzling international success – after all, he has three Olympic gold medals and holds the record for most X Games gold medals won by a snowboarder. But few people who see his victories know how much work Shaun put into getting to where he is today, or how many challenges he faced along the way.

In this first episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast Peak Performance season, you’ll have a front-row seat as Shaun talks about his lifelong journey to becoming one of the most successful snowboarders in history, the uphill battle back from a devastating injury and a massive loss at Sochi, and the ultimate redemption at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. They delve into what it means to embrace risk, the importance of mental and physical fitness and why a single decision can lead you down the path to greatness.

Who is Shaun White?

Shaun White is an American snowboarder who has won three Olympic gold medals and 15 X Games gold medals, a world record. He also holds the record for the highest score in the Olympic men’s halfpipe and competed at four Winter Olympics – and he isn’t done yet. He continues training and could be the oldest half-pipe competitor of all time at the 2022 Olympics.

Shaun is best-known for snowboarding, but he’s also an accomplished skateboarder and is considered a pioneer in that sport as well. He was the first to medal at both the Winter and Summer X Games and remains the only skateboarder who has ever landed a frontside heelflip 540 body varial. There’s no doubt Shaun achieves everything he puts his mind to – and it’s a very determined mind.

Crushing life’s roadblocks

Shaun was an unlikely athlete. Born with an actual hole in his heart, he went through several operations when he was just a child. He had asthma and was supposed to live a relatively inactive life. He even admits that he hated the cold. But none of this slowed him down.

He was skateboarding by five years old and snowboarding soon after. By 13 he went pro, and began competing in everything from halfpipe to slopestyle, making a name for himself in the X Games. He’s had a champion’s mindset from a young age, saying, “From the get go, I believed I could do it. It seemed so real to me. I saw the pros and I knew I could get to that point.”

He learned early on that he needed to put in the work to reach the competitive levels he desired – and that is exactly what he did. He pushed past his health issues and began to understand what impact his state of mind had on his athletic performances. That’s how Shaun has turned would-be roadblocks into minor stops along his path to success.

The drive to win

When you think about Shaun White, snowboarding and his absolute dominance of the sport is what immediately comes to mind. That dominance and the competitive spirit that powered it started with his brother, who was seven years older than Shaun and, in Shaun’s words, “beat me at everything.”

Constant defeat might have disheartened other children, but not Shaun. His failures drove him to work harder and keep challenging his brother. He honed that drive over the years, turning it into multiple gold medals, sponsorships and the athletic acclaim he’d always wanted. This drive propelled him into the Olympics – where the highs and lows not only took a toll, but ultimately helped Shaun become the athlete and man he was truly meant to be.

Limiting beliefs and the Sochi Olympics

Tony often talks about limiting beliefs and how damaging they can be. Shaun experienced this firsthand at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where he failed to win any medals. “I had never been to the Olympics and lost before,” he remarked, adding that the loss prompted him to do a lot of self-reflection.

He compared how he had treated the run-up to the Sochi events to his prior Olympics, and realized that somewhere between the two his mindset underwent a dramatic shift. In the previous Games, he arrived on the slopes full of confidence and convinced that he was going to win, and he followed that mindset into victory. At Sochi, though, he thought, “I’m not gonna win. This is awful.”

Through hindsight, he realized those limiting beliefs are what doomed him. “Well, you got what you were projecting,” he said, comparing the loss to a scar from an accident – something that never quite fades away. In the weeks and months after Sochi, he treated the loss like he would treat an actual scar.

But then he realized something that changed his life – that every great moment in his life was preceded and followed by a bad moment. Sochi was his bad moment, which meant good things lay ahead. In that way, every failure drove him to additional success. Once the tears had dried up, he said to himself, “I’m gonna turn this into the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.” 

Shaun regained his confidence. He ended up overcoming injury and tackling the slopes in 2018 – and walking away with gold once again. After you listen to this podcast, you won’t be surprised at all the things Shaun has accomplished. You’ll understand that it’s all about the power of his mindset

Shaun White has learned some hard-won lessons about what it takes to achieve everything you’ve ever wanted in life – and he shares them with you here. Know what you want and focus on it completely. Embrace risk and failure, and use it to drive you. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. And use the two-millimeter rule to stay a step ahead of the competition, because as he says, “It’s the little things that can push it over the edge.” No one knows that better than Shaun himself.

Show Notes

[01:10] Season introduction
[02:30] Episode introduction
[03:55] Welcome home Shaun
[04:15] Why Shaun is unique
[04:30] Sponsored at seven years old
[05:05] Most wins in X-Games history
[05:20] Skating kept him interested in snowboarding
[06:40] His psychology and mindset as a kid
[07:20] An unlikely candidate for snowboarding
[07:50] The most influential people
[09:20] The relationship with his half-brother today
[10:00] Recovering from Sochi
[11:20] His mindset during Sochi
[12:40] The early days in snowboarding
[14:10] Different Olympic games – different experiences
[15:30] His first real injury
[16:25] How Shaun shifted his mental and physical game
[17:25] Great moments come from profound upsets
[19:00] Where did the drive come from?
[21:20] The New Zealand accident
[22:30] Making necessary changes
[22:50] Reconnecting with family
[23:50] How his coach helped drive him
[25:30] The accident
[26:30] Being willing to take the risk
[27:30] The third run at the Olympics
[29:00] Scoring 100
[33:00] Coming back from behind
[37:00] Approaching the run
[39:20] The culmination of emotion
[40:10] The small things add up
[40:50] What makes a champion?
[42:30] There’s no such thing as a mistake
[43:10] If you want a change, make a decision
[43:30] Planning the future

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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