An Olympian swimmer with the Swiss National Team and ACC champion with the UVA Swim Team, David Karasek graduated from the Commerce School prepared for a lifelong career in finance. But his game plan changed.
After his time at McIntire, he spent more than five years working in wealth management and banking firms in Zürich. The result of those experiences convinced him that he wanted to be his own boss and focus his energy and passion on his own pursuits.
Launching a one-man venture as an online mindset coach, the Founder and CEO of Tribe of Athletes supports his athlete clients by helping them to strengthen their minds—arguably the most overlooked aspect of leveling up their game. That appreciation about the power of collaboration dates back to his four years on Grounds, when he says his perspective shifted.
“Swimming is not necessarily an individual sport,” Karasek says. “You race alone in your lane, that’s true. But all the hard work is done within the team.” He points to the many hours teammates spend in the water training, lifting in the weight room together, and because of the scoring system in the ACC and NCAA, striving as a group to acquire as many points for UVA as possible. “That was a wonderful change for me, because in Switzerland, I was very much on my own.”
Though Karasek says that having mental toughness can allow athletes to “create a wonderful training environment everywhere,” he acknowledges that early on in his swimming career, he didn’t have the necessary skills to develop that resilience for himself.
A Support System
Cultivating those kinds of mental strategies forms the foundation of what Tribe of Athletes does. Karasek recalls a particular need for help among sporting professionals that prompted him to become a mindset coach and create his company.
“When I looked around, I saw that even the best athletes in the world often don’t have an effective support system to grow their mindset on a consistent basis,” he says, noting that ultimately, consistency remains paramount and a key ingredient of long-term success. “We become what we do every day. And I absolutely know that even the best athletes need accountability and support; even the best athletes need direction. They all know how important the mental game is and will often tell me that 90% of it is in their head. When I ask them what they do every day to upgrade their mindset, usually there’s a long pause,” Karasek says.
“And that’s when I knew that there was a huge gap in the market. That really excites me.”
In founding the company—and overcoming all of the challenges that come with the undertaking—Karasek says he’s adopted what he calls a “die-hard, no-fail rule” for himself. He explains that he considers failure to be solely the result of holding an expectation higher than the level of his current skill set.
“Of course, things don’t always go as planned—I’d actually say things often don’t go as planned,” he admits. “Sometimes I’m disappointed, but it only matters to me for a few moments, sometimes a day, and then I move on and see what I can learn going forward. I take full responsibility for everything that I think, say, and do. We’re all human, and I try to be understanding of everything.”
He’s motivated by the fun he has in pursuing his mission to empower athletes with the mental skills that they need for a fulfilling sports career. “It’s easy and feels natural. I now finally know what it feels like when they say work doesn’t feel like work anymore.”
As athletes often have to adjust to handle high-pressure situations, one piece of advice that has made a difference in both Karasek’s mindset and what he imparts to his clients approaching difficult scenarios concerns a person’s sense of self.
“Everything—and I mean everything—depends on the self-image that you hold about yourself,” he says. “If your self-image is outdated and not serving you because it’s old, and probably from your childhood, then it’s going to be difficult to create lasting change,” Karasek says, stressing the importance of being completely sure about who we want to be and what we want to accomplish to become the person we envision.
“You have to see the image and feel the emotions of what you want to accomplish first; then these things, people, and opportunities will come to you automatically,” he says, insisting that the universe operates by a law of attraction that functions regardless of anyone’s decision to believe in it or not. “Just like gravity.”
He says that being prepared and ready to perform at peak levels requires that unwavering connection to a positive self-image based on brief but transformative thought. “My advice is to learn to master it, and your life will change beyond what you can imagine right now.”
Continuing Commerce Impact
Though he veered from a career in finance, McIntire has guided Karasek with some essential lessons that made a positive impact.
He says one class that provided a plethora of great memories that stay with him was Professor Rob Patterson’s Public Speaking.
“You have to understand, when I was at UVA, my English wasn’t the best, and I had a shy Swiss mentality when it came to standing in front of an audience and delivering a speech,” he says, crediting Patterson with his ability to reach and support his students in a way that allowed him to overcome his fear of addressing a crowd.
“Rob had such a motivating, kind, and fun way of teaching how to own the floor that I really started to shine in that class,” he says, recalling the final project in which students delivered a speech in the public library. Though unable to recall the quality of the speech he recited, but sure that he was elated and “shining on the inside,” he says it was “a wonderful experience and a great final project.”
Karasek’s other favorite Commerce School memories exemplify the push-pull balancing act that many student-athletes face.
One such moment involves falling asleep in class and his professor leaving him to it. “That really showed me how much the UVA faculty members love sports and how understanding they were,” he says, remembering how his professors would ask how meets went over the weekends, and some even coming to the pool to cheer the team on. “That was a feeling that I never had back in Switzerland,” he says.
Another memory that stays top of mind for Karasek is an academic challenge that once again relays the power of teamwork: turning in the group project from the Integrated Core Experience.
“That thing was a struggle. The pain was real,” he says. “But there was so much learning involved: not just theory, but how to work together as a team, and make things happen.”
Now with Tribe of Athletes, the mindset coach is helping others to make things happen for themselves—and for himself.