OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — From the age of seven, Akin Akman would wake up at 4am to run "suicides" — gruelling relay runs — on the tennis court at the prestigious IMG Academy for sports in Miami. Training to be a world class tennis star, Akman would then do lightweight training, until curriculum classes began at 8:30am. Athletic training began again for five hours after lunch everyday. For 10 years, Akman religiously lived his life by this routine, until a back injury prevented him from being able to walk properly for a year and changed his career trajectory forever.
“My back injury wasn’t a failure; me not becoming a tennis player was not a failure. This was a stepping stone to this new life that I created using those skills,” said the famed SoulCycle instructor on stage at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers. He discussed the idea of the champion’s mindset, and how important adaptability is in achieving long-term success. “Tennis players train their whole lives, what differentiates them is their mindset," he said. "It’s about being flexible in your approach to things.”
Akman started teaching at SoulCycle in 2009 after moving to New York from Turkey, where he was raised, to model. Initially, Akman was reluctant to take on the role of coach. “I wanted to be a number one athlete, the star — not the coach, and I saw that as a negative thing,” he said. “But I had to take advantage of all of these skills I had worked towards my whole life, it started building so organically that I was teaching things I had been [since I was a child].”
But Akman soon turned the role of fitness instructor into athletic influencer, with over 41,000 followers on Instagram and a legion of dedicated fans that call themselves Akin’s Army, with merchandise to match. “I subbed this class in Miami, and all of the members of the class started following me around," he said. "In New York, the same thing happened. They said, ‘Put it on Facebook so we know which classes you are taking.' They said, 'Call us Akin’s Army... make clothes'… it just went from there.”
The key to success is not only adaptability, but endurance. “It doesn't have to happen all at once," he said. "You don’t have to always win with that one perfect match, I [was always] so hard on myself [with tennis]."
Indeed, being open to change freed him to find another career path. "It’s a whole mental maturity you have to go through to understand why everything is happening for you," he said, referring to his injury. "I’m teaching classes 34 times a week. It’s become such a fulfilling job [that] it’s not a job. But it didn’t happen overnight... People want the end of what happens but they don’t want to put in all the work.”
So, what does the future hold for Akin’s Army? “It’s limitless, it can be anything,” he said. Adaptable indeed.