Ashleigh Johnson has already made history as a 2016 Olympic gold medalist in water polo. Today, the 26-year-old champion goalie is in Tokyo hoping to do it again as a star player on what has been dubbed the “most dominant team at the Games.”
Johnson started in water polo at just nine years old, after learning to swim in her parents’ pool in the suburbs of Miami. She played at Princeton and trained with the national team at the same time, doing her homework on the plane in between. She’s now the first Black woman to play on Team USA.
As young girls leave sports at double the rate of their male counterparts, Johnson feels the importance of her position as a role model. She’s partnered with Secret for “Just #WatchMe,” a campaign to call for increased viewership to support women in sports. “[It’s] has been really cool to use my platform in a positive way to impact the next generation of athletes, ”says Johnson, who has also dedicated some of her free time to write personal responses to messages from young women on social media.
Before Johnson started playing in the Tokyo Olympics, we caught up with her to find out how she stays centered and self-assured amid the consistent pressure of elite athletics.
Create Rituals — With Flexibility
I try not to get stuck into a routine because our team has a pretty good routine built in to ensure a stable mindset before a game. But I like to, as an athlete, journal and meditate, those things keep me centered on a regular basis. I try not to be too firm. I really like flexibility of mind so journaling, meditating, making sure my room is in order, I have a candle lit, those things create the space for me to have a reset. Having a calm space is really important to me. Every Sunday I set out how I want the week to be, how I want to feel, how I did feel and set personal goals in that way.
Set Goals With a Journal
Journaling has really been something that centers me and helps me know where I am. Within journal I of review where I and where I want to be because I’m constantly setting goals and aspiring to meet them but in a kind-to-myself type of way. It helps me stay in the moment and helps me be aware of where I want to go. I have to know what I want and set some structure for myself within the day mentally. Writing things out helps me do that.
Write It Out Before Bed
After a game my adrenaline is pumping, I’m reviewing everything that happened in the game in my mind. I’m reviewing it with my teammates. Going to bed after a game is one of the most difficult things but one of the things that I found that works is writing everything out. Writing the things I want to work on, writing the things I did well, writing the things I’m going to aspire to practice the next day. Getting those things down on paper has been the most game-changing thing for me.
Make Time for Moisturizer
Typically in a week I’ll wash my hair, deeply, 2-3 times and I’ll condition on those days because I’m in the pool twice a day. I use a basic conditioner and sulfate shampoo. In the mornings I use Cerave cream cleanser because my skin gets really dry with being in the sun and the chlorine all day. Then I’ll use Tatcha moisturizer or Tata Harper, I alternate between the two along with Vitamin C and sunscreen. Every time I leave the house, sunscreen always, I use Supergoop! Or Black Girl Sunscreen. At night I’ll use the same cleanser, typically double cleansing, to get off everything from the day. I gua sha my face with some oil followed by a thicker moisturizer and get ready for bed!
I must, must, must have my moisturizer. I need to have my skin moisturized because just being in the pool twice a day every day takes a toll on your hydration. I need my moisturizer and my water bottle, I feel it if I don’t have that.
Listen to Your Body
This past year and a half helped me realize and reprioritize balance in my life and understanding that those rest days don’t mean all or nothing. Exercise and eating well, those things feel really good to me no matter when I’m doing them or how I’m doing them. An off day I’m going to go on a long walk, or stretch, I’m gonna do something that makes me feel good. My work is exercise so when I’m not working, I know how my body responds and I take that time to take care of my body.