So many of my blog entries have come through experiences and insights while I travel. And this one definitely fits into that category. And instead of using clients as background models, this time I am the one I am writing about. I have been a teacher for roughly 24 years, a coach for nearly 35, and a practicing CMPC (i.e. sport psych) for nearly 8. In all this time, I have tried to embrace “being” what ask of my athletes, students, and clients. To be open to experience, challenge, and the bumpy road of growth.  And that is the underlying motivation of this blog.

Similar to many aspiring sport psychology professionals, I have spent time pondering what it is like to work at the highest levels. With equal parts desire and curiosity, I have worked to make connections to find access to as much information as possible. In my quest I have been met with openness, passive recognition (read “glad handing”), and outright disregard. This past fall I took a chance during casual conversation at a conference with one of the open individuals I have been lucky to connect with. In doing so, he politely offered to host me if I could make it down to their facility. To avoid looking like a kid seeking an autograph at a game, I thanked him and locked it into my brain to hold him to that in the next few weeks with an email.

Being a fairly strong introvert, what came next was a monumental step. I wrote my colleague a simple email asking if the offer was still good with a proposed date. Doing so was all about risk taking. Would I be rejected? What would happen if my full-time employer realized I was using sick-days for personal exploration? Was what I was attempting to do worth the difficulty it would create in making sure my professional responsibilities as a teacher were met? Could I afford to block out my schedule and not take clients for several days? In short, was the chance to explore and grow worth the multiple opportunities of struggle and potential failure? With all these questions, he got back to me with an affirmative and open response. I was about to swim in the deep end of the pool, not knowing how good I can actually swim.  And as the date of my departure approached, things became even more complicated.

No doubt, I was stressed about all the things listed above. And then the Corona Virus (i.e. Covid 19) began to make its march around the planet. What started as a “newsworthy” incident in China quickly became a pandemic. In fact, my host sent an email the day prior to my departure wondering if I was still willing to travel with all of the panic beginning to set in across America about travel and exposure. I assured him, I was all in. And then the craziness set in. One by one, schools, NCAA Championships, conferences, seasons, and professional leagues all began to declare “closures”. Worse yet, I was only afforded one day inside the training facility of a Major League Baseball club before they too announced a close to Spring Training and a delay to the start of the season. But before I could count the trip as a lost endeavor, my host reached out to a colleague at the reputable IMG Academy and scheduled a day visit for me. What became apparent to me within my first day was the notion that success was in what I was open to learn, not the outcome of the trip.

By outlining my trip, I hope to connect with you on what many of us experience when we are focused on the outcomes, rather than on being open to learn while taking a risk. And this can be addressed with the simple question, “what holds us back?” The answer can be boiled down to the core issue of rejection. These are usually evidenced in the internal questions we struggle with, “Am I good enough?”, “Will I make it?”, “Will somebody think I’m stupid?”, or worse “What if I fail?” And that is precisely the point. YOU DON’T KNOW. What you are really struggling with is fear & doubt, and this is normal. But rather than be stuck (the freeze response), the only way to get through this is to take the risk and brave the unknowns. For it is in being brave enough to fail that we find the greatest growth.

How do I know? Because as I write this while sitting in the airport to catch a flight home, I am overwhelmed by the personal treasures I am taking home. The nuggets of knowledge, as well as the insights to how hard and rewarding this work is as a CMPC. And all of this is captured in what my host taught me within my first 15 minutes in the door; taking on the “White Belt Mentality”. As I tagged along for the day, key elements of this mentality became clear. First, have the humility to always learn. To prove his point, in reviewing an upcoming meeting with one of his mental coaches, I was invited to give a few thoughts. I was floored. Here I am, sitting with two professionals at the top of the heap, and they are open to outside ideas. THAT is humility in action so as to learn and grow. 

Not only was the intention to grow an obvious element of their culture, but so too was the importance of the method in growth. This group’s approach is focused on valuing those they work with as human beings first, and athletes second. And as I watched them interact with coaches and athletes, the effort they gave in doing this was reciprocated throughout the camp. This allowed their professional skills and knowledge to become assets within the collective, rather than a wielding of power and confrontation over others.  Like dojo masters, there was a clear confidence in what they had mastered, but a modesty in the approach toward the goal of helping athletes and coaches get better at their own craft. The white belt mentality was about trying to grow in their own practice, as they took a risk in using their own skills to help others. It’s always about growth.

So here I sit, in the terminal, waiting for my plane, pondering the entirety of the trip. And all I keep thinking is, “it was so damn worth it!” The rewards lingered as I made professional notes this morning. I leave feeling as though I have found another person to add to my short list of authentic mentors. And as we shared stories and experiences, I had a growing sense of confidence in my own knowledge & practice. The core of our science is constant, while the art of application requires hard work and being open to the experience. At the same time, I walk away with new knowledge and insights of ways to improve on the work I do. And perhaps one of the greatest rewards is that I walk away having unveiled the mysteries of what is happening at the top of the mountain. It is real people, doing hard work, to become the best they can possibly be in pursuit of meaningful goals. Every step they take is about growing themselves, each other, and the people they work with. Regardless of the arena you work in, could there be a greater sense of value to what you do?

And this is my encouragement to you. While you pursue your own goals, stay grounded in the processes. With a blend of humility about what you have yet to learn, and confidence in what skills you have mastered to get here, be open in the experience. Value the connection you can make with others, with recognition that if done well your relationship can be interdependent. And once you’ve climbed your own mountain, look for another one that’s higher. Because it’s ALWAYS about growth. Should you find yourself needing more help in this area, why wait? Make the call, bring in an expert (who is trying to grow with you).

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