May 8, 2017
Becoming an entrepreneur is akin to those who seek thrills or who typically seek new challenges. They take on new projects, push their mental and physical limits, and along the journey discover meaningful solutions. However, in many cases these journeys are not traveled entirely alone. Solopreneur or with cofounders, an entrepreneur’s journey will be filled with various teams, each contributing to their success through teamwork.
For Nick Folker, cofounder of BridgeAthletic, former Olympic swimmer, and former swim coach for Cal, Berkeley, he not only set out to develop a new platform to support teams, he lived and breathed the ideology that led to its creation. BridgeAthletic is designed to provide coaches and athletes tools and training programs to take performance to the next level. It bridges the gap between the two, or even just an athlete, to improve communication and better prepare someone for most competitive sports.
The platform is cofounded by Michael Sharf, a pro water polo player, and former athlete under Folker while at Cal. The duo paired up while Sharf was an assistant coach and was tasked with creating a program to improve strength and correct the team’s imbalances, which led him to work with Nick. To date, Nick has coached more than 50 Olympic athletes with over 30 medals to their name, further proving his coaching skills, which can be found throughout the platform they co-created. However, Nick is more than just an olympian and coach, he first had to overcome his own set of physical challenges.
Before Nick became an entrepreneur or even an olympic swimmer, he started just as everyone else did, but with one major challenge, asthma. Swimming is a sport that requires fluid movement, strength, balance, and most importantly, the ability to maintain lung capacity.
“I was a very bad asthmatic as kid. I had a choice between alternative therapy to help, or being hooked up to a life support machine. My mom picked swimming,” said Folker. “I had a love-hate relationship with swimming, but really enjoyed the challenge. Finding improvements, it’s a great thing. It’s quantitative. The effort you put in, you see the results. Very soon after swimming became my number one focus.”
At first Nick couldn’t keep up with anyone else, and when comparing his age to other swimmers, he was considered late to the game. Due to his asthma he also only had around 80 percent of the lung capacity of everyone else, which caused him to struggle in keeping up with the other athletes. After working at it and training hard, Nick began to love the sport as he started to see results and that the effort being put in was being rewarded.
Swimming not only improved Nick’s quality of life against asthma, it created an opportunity for him to move from South Africa where he lived on a farm to learning in America. With a potential scholarship to learn in the US, swimming took on a whole other level of focus for Nick.
“You gotta jump in the deep end,” said Folker. “If you never tried something you’ll never know. I’d hate to say at the end of my life… if only. I don’t want any of those. For someone that wants to try something new, you will never know. I hate the what ifs. Do your research, follow your heart, that is the only way you’re going to find out.”
“Teamwork makes the dream work,” said Folker.
BridgeAthletic is not just about training, but supporting athletes no matter where they are through teamwork. According to Folker, if everyone is putting in a little extra, it shows in results for the entire team. The same mentality in sports goes for a team that is building a business. That’s why when the duo began to expand they ensured each team member had that quality in their DNA.
“By the time they come in, it’s expected that everyone hits the ground running. Looking around you can see the grind and hustle, and work ethic going,” said Folker.
When asked if there are correlations between how Folker trains himself, trains others, and leads a business, he said that feedback and communication are incredibly important to teamwork, especially feedback.
“Coming from a coaching background, coaching is typically very one-sided,” said Folker. “We want feedback from both sides.”
Looking back at a past example of training a primarily remote athlete in Singapore, Nick wishes he had a platform like BridgeAthletic so that not only communication flowed both ways, but both coach and athlete could look back on swim form videos from three or six months prior, and comparing how it has changed.
“They may not be able to swim as much, but the dry land aspect is more supported (training, education, and consuming it). There are a lot of added communications,” he said.
In the past, the coaching experience felt more like a to-do list. A coach imports a video, checks it off, and that was that. With their platform both the coach and athlete are getting data and communication back. As in coaching and in business, it’s this flow of communication that led to the creating of BridgeAthletic, and it can be seen in how the organization is growing.
As a swimmer, Folker started the platform there, and gradually added more athletic programs like water polo, triathlons, football, and even general athletics. Their goal was simple: to improve communication and thus build stronger teams.
“At the time Mike and I came together, I was coaching Mike in water polo, and then went on to pro level in Spain. When Mike would come in and train, he showed me an excel sheet.”
Whether it’s Excel or a paper journal, this is all too common for athletes and those in strength training. With countless solutions on the market, most of them only simplify or templatize the approach, but don’t really focus on the team dynamics and need for communication.
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