Leo Frincu knows motivation.
Growing up in poverty in the final days of communist Romania, he managed to become a world champion wrestler by the time he was 18 years old.
Frincu completely started over to chase the dream of freedom in the United States, quitting his job on the national team. Eventually, he opened up his own training facility and has quickly built up a solid reputation working with athletes in combat sports, particularly UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
The recent author of Chasing Freedom spoke to MMAmania.com about some of the themes of his book, how he motivates high level athletes and the particulars of mental training in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with some themes from your book. Despite how oppressive things were in communist Romania, you were still able to become a world champion wrestler. Do you feel that going through that adversity motivated you harder than the people who had things easier?
Leo Frincu: Yeah. You do things sometimes and you don't know why you're really doing it. I'm just fortunate enough to be so intrigued by my own story and I look back and I realized that the reason I worked so hard and why I was so dedicated to wrestling and why I ended up winning the world championship was my motivation to get out of that environment.
I realized ever since I was a little boy that I wanted to escape. That's always something, I wanted to leave, get a job, live a normal life. I was exceptional and I realized my avenue for this was to have success in sports because that was one of the only ways you'd be able to travel all over the world. That was the main reason I did what I did, to get out of there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you have to put an athlete in a similar situation mentally to get those types of results?
Leo Frincu: People make choices, take different directions. Every person is different. I don't know if you'd have put any athlete in my situation, how many would have had the same result. Some people do well when they face adversity, others do better when they have support. For me, it was the perfect scenario, I was always in the zone with this almost subconscious drive I had pushing me forward. That freedom I was always chasing was what made me committed to my goals.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Was it all worth it?
Leo Frincu: Oh my god yes. I wouldn't have done anything different. Most of us, we transition from place to place, but I was fortunate enough to have a purpose my whole life. Once you have a purpose, once you believe in something, there's no greater satisfaction than finding a way to fulfill it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now for people who grew up in more privileged countries like America, perhaps they don't have quite the drive you had. How do you get your athletes to that same level you were at? Do you have to approach it from different ways?
Leo Frincu: Yes, yes and that's exactly what I'm doing right now. A lot of people have goals but they don't know exactly how to accomplish them. What I do is I try to help people understand why they aren't getting the results they want and help them make the necessary adjustments to succeed. The opportunities are there, but people sometimes refuse to take them. When I'm with a client, I say, "Listen. You know what you need to do, now let's find out why you don't want to do it." You can't hide that. You can't run away and that's what's going on with you. Instead of first working to accomplish something, we start with why they weren't doing it in the first place and that's something I'm very interested in doing right now. The first enemy my clients need to conquer is themselves, that fear they have. Some take longer than others, but that's the first big challenge, learning how to manage themselves better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your motivation techniques are very interesting. I watched a recent video of yours where you mentioned that a loss is something very important for someone to use as motivation. But one of your most famous clients is Ronda Rousey, who's unbeaten in mixed martial arts and never even been threatened that much. How do you push her, what do you have her fall back on?
Leo Frincu: Yes, I call it the high performance mentality training system. Ronda doesn't have a loss to motivate her, something for her not to want to feel again, so you create an entity, something better than yourself, better than you for you to aspire to. It helps you seek perfection. When nothing is wrong, everything is going right, it's very easy to plateau and settle, which helps your opposition catch up to you. But in life, you can always improve.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How did you initially begin working with Ronda?
Leo Frincu: Well I work with a wide assortment of athletes in judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA and one day one of my associates told me they had someone they wanted to transition to MMA and they asked if they could bring her over. I said, "Sure, I'll take a look at her," and after two training sessions, it only took me an hour of working with her to realize she was going to be the best MMA fighter in the world. Not only the best, but the most popular. I said that a long time ago. I told her everyone would know her name and she could make a career out of that. We had a meeting with her mother to give her one year to dedicate to the sport and in that one year she ended up winning the Strikeforce championship belt.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What draws you to working almost exclusively with combat sports athletes?
Leo Frincu: Well my philosophy in training is all about taking responsibility and the best environment to take full responsibility for your success or failure is in a one on one or individual sport. You have no one to count on but yourself and I love that. Being a former champion wrestler, I feel combat sports are more pure, a human being against a human being, you can't get more pure competition then that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think your rules, your approach to the mental game can motivate people to do anything, not just athletics?
Leo Frincu: Absolutely. If you're a great athlete, say you've mastered your skill in the cage, but at the same time you're lacking in personal relationships with your family or whatever the case may be. You have to think about it. How can you only be successful in one area? The same brain makes the same decisions. How can you explain that the same brain makes bad decisions in a different area? If you're passionate about something, you're doing the best you can and you acknowledge it. That same command center covers everything. It's all the same and you just have to realize it. That's what I'm doing. I'm taking an individual and expose them to what they do in order to move forward.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This last question concerns a theme you brought up in your book. You said it was fun when you were pursuing your wrestling as a hobby and that helped you become a champion but once you became a member of the national team and got paid for it, it felt like work and became a grind. Do you have any advice for people to keep it fun once they've made their decision for a career and are pursuing their goals once the luster has started to wear off?
Leo Frincu: That's one of the hardest part. A famous quote is, "If you want to kill a passion, turn it into a business." I'll take myself as an example. I see people's needs and I try to help them see what they need themselves and get what they need. Almost all of the people who ended up firing me, it was because they weren't getting what they want. You walk a fine line between needs and wants. I try to give people what they need but with wants, it's like having a Ferrari and only driving it 40 miles per hour. You've got to take that to the race track and push your limits when you're at work. I have the opportunity to do that but it doesn't always happen.
My best advice to keep it fun is to constantly challenge yourself. Keep it fun, whether it's work, personal life, whatever. Always give yourself room to grow and have goals. Once you have that, you'll find the fun.