A podcast fueled by professionals bridging the gap between Sports and Business. Enjoy as guests share stories & experiences from the playing field to the board room.
008 - Hard Work Pays Off with Mahdi Al-Own
Meet Mahdi Al-Own
Mahdi is the Host and Founder of the podcast The Project Kuwait. He started off his career by playing all sports and gaining experience in different fields - baseball, gymnastics, swimming, basketball, bodybuilding and most recently crossfit. He is an established baseball coach in Kuwait and personal trainer certified by Exos as a performance specialist and strength condition and coaching. He has been in the fitness and sports industry for over 20 year. In addition, he holds a Masters in business administrations with a Minor in Psychology. He is a loving, proud dad and owner of the account The Dad Project aiming to better dads everywhere.
So, where exactly are you from?
Some people might pick up a Boston accent - that’s because my mom is originally from Boston. My dad is Kuwaiti. So I traveled back and forth. When I first went to play baseball in the States, I think I was like nine or 10 years old, I was visiting during the summer and in Kuwait we didn’t have baseball like you guys have in the States. So growing up I was probably the top level ballplayer here, but in the States I was far from the top. But I lived the best and the worst of two worlds.
How are youth sports structured differently in Kuwait compared to the United States?
How I see it, in America there is a grassroots dig deep mentality within the society of America. Kids find their way out of their small towns to the big stage and the brightest lights and that’s what they’re told to work for. And that mentality is celebrated in a way. Here in Kuwait, I would say, we’re not the most athletic people - our body types are relatively small. The average height is anywhere between 5’7” to 5’10”. I’m considered a big guy in Kuwait, but when I’m in the States, I’m the smallest guy in the room. So when I look at that, there’s already a big gap between the United States and Kuwait. And then there are the various levels and leagues - I can think of a ton of different baseball leagues. There’s also the various soccer leagues, basketball, hockey - so all year round kids are playing sports. Here in Kuwait, from May or June all the way until September, kids can’t even go outside because it’s so hot out. But even during the time when they can play, in my experience as a baseball coach, parents emphasize the study routine - more education than playing sports. In my perspective, sports can be a really important piece of the developmental puzzle. Time management is a big one. Sometimes those skills that they’re not developing on the field, they lose when they get into the business world later on in life.
What are some of those other traits that you as a baseball player and coach can attribute to baseball?
I think there's so much in life that I learned from baseball - work ethic and calculating decisions. I was a catcher so part of my job behind the plate was figuring out which pitches to throw, who’s running where and really thinking multiple batters ahead of my pitcher. But I can’t give all my props to baseball. I was a gymnast before I was a baseball player. And then I was a diver. But the first time I tried out for baseball, I was 12 years old after really discovering baseball in Boston and finding out there was a league in Kuwait. I decided baseball would be my focus. So I get placed on a team with all 16- to 18-year olds and that was the first time I learned that I had to work harder than everyone else because I developed a little slower, obviously being younger and smaller than everyone else. That first year I learned so much that I still take with me to this day.
How has your story with your brother changed you and your life?
I had an older brother who passed away in 2005, it was right after the Red Sox won the World Series. And at the time I was headed down a dark path in my life, I was getting into trouble, going job to job with really no direction in my life at the time. I dropped out of college and it just wasn’t a good time in my life. When my brother passed away, it kind of hit me. I picked up the pieces and it really reshaped the rest of my life. To this day, I believe my brother’s death was a message to me and really him saving my life.
What’s something that yourself today would have told your 22-year-old self when you were going through some of your toughest times?
If I could go back and give perspective on my life I would. I’m pretty proud of my life now as a father, businessman, podcaster - before the show I told you that I run one of, possibly the leading podcasts in Kuwait and it’s been built on hard work and nothing easy. At 22 I wish I knew the value of hard work and work ethic. Just working smart and trying to get things done the proper way and not procrastinating.
What do you wish I would have asked you about?
I think we covered some great topics, Will. It’s just sports and kids - I think it’s such a foundational pillar in our society. I think we’re starting to neglect to see how important it is that kids are exposed to multiple sports versus just sitting around in front of an iPad or a TV. Yes, technology is the future, but at the same time if you aren’t a well-rounded individual you’re going to be screwed. I’ve coached kids that have gone on to Ivy League schools, and they all have just worked hard. I think parents can teach their kids that work ethic is important and coaches can make sports all about the kids and teach them that as long as they’re striving to succeed they eventually will.
And so much more...