Specialize, Don't Generalize
Over the past couple months I’ve had this question come up more often than not, “Are you a sports psychologist?” I can appreciate where the misunderstanding comes into play, I’m sure there are a lot of cross overs between the two. However, regardless of how often I try and educate my population about what I do there are still some who think that I can replace the work of a sports psychologist, or vice versa. These people could not be more wrong; on a positive note they have inspired a blog post for the week, along with a fellow colleague who will be mentioned in the article below.
To start off I want to create a clear vision of what it is I do exactly; I am a performance mindset and mental resiliency coach. I am not a sports psychologist as I do not deal with the past emotions/psyche of a competitor, nor am I a specialist in coping mechanisms (after all, I never studied in the field of sports psychology; I minored in general psychology with my undergraduate being kinesiology, however I did not pursue further credits for it, and do not practice it). Instead, I work with helping athletes find their mental resiliency and performance mindset (commonly, I refer to this as the alter ego) to help them: gain or maintain confidence, increase their focus during performances, and find their “extra gear" to finish the fight with their opponents.
I focus on the lifestyle patterns that my athletes display to be a mentally resilient competitor: are they setting their goals?; are they able to separate their personal and work life?; have they been following the nutritional plan that they’ve been provided in order to keep their weight healthy and performance high?; are they completing all of the work needed during the week, physically and psychologically, to give themselves the best possible chance to have the best possible performance? All of these are possible questions that I ask myself when I’m getting ready to give my final pregame, or “pre-presentation” (for my business clients), talk to my clients.
If you’ve realized, I don’t practice half of the performance aspects that I listed in my questions; I’m by no means a nutritionist, and I only specialize conditioning certain athletes (I’m a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist for athletes under the National Strength and Conditioning Association). I’m great at strengthening athletes of all kinds, however I only specialize in conditioning anaerobic athletes, and soccer players (due to my background of being an ex-professional soccer player). I can make an athlete explosive in 90 days (I created a program called Explosive Longevity that helps explosive athletes add inches on to their vertical and become more explosive overall) and decrease their risk of injury. However, for the jobs I do not specialize in I out source the work to professionals that I trust, and ones that I know will do an outstanding job because they take pride in their work.
When viewing the total performance of an athlete, professionals in my field really need to grasp the idea that it is about the athlete finding success, not the coach trying to be the “jack of all trades.” I say this for a couple reasons; first and foremost why be something, or someone that you’re not? I’m a firm believer that if you’re not passionate about your practice, you shouldn’t pursue it. Reason being - more often than not when someone isn’t passionate about what they’re doing they usually don’t put forth their best effort. And in the long run, they end up coming up short because they can't stand what it is they’re doing for a living. It’s one thing to understand a particular concept, but it’s another to be passionate about it; just because you understand a concept doesn't mean that you must practice it day in, day out (unless it’s part of your craft). It’s why I don’t try and sell supplements to my clients; yes I understand nutrition and how to get my body down to a healthy body fat percentage, but I wouldn't try to personally create meal plans for my athletes. Instead I outsource the nutritional portion to a trusted colleague (sports nutritionist) and reinforce the total plan to the athlete who is using my workouts, and the nutritionists meal plan (again, it’s part of the lifestyle aspect that I focus on with my clients).
The second main reason I do not try to practice out of my skill-set is because usually the result is an average job. And once an athlete starts receiving average care, their performances become average, which then results in your reputation becoming just, well, average. As a colleague of mine, Ewell E. Gordon III (LinkedIn profile here) explained so simply to me (this was also a big contribution to my inspiration to write this article), “Coaches have to view the development, and performance, of an athlete like they’re layering them with clothes. You must constantly be adding new layers of performance enhancement, from various different coaches, so the athlete can get the best resources possible, resulting in the best performances possible. Basically if you want the best for your athletes/clients you will work with those who have an expertise that you do not. It doesn't mean you don't have any knowledge of these things or even how to train them, it just means that it is not what you have focused your practice on, but others have. None of us, no m
atter experience or age, is an expert at everything that an athlete requires to be successful at a high level. The biggest problem in our field right now is that trainers are not able to drop their ego and out source work to other experts.”
Ewell couldn't be more right; why try and provide a service that you’re not an expert in? In my opinion that’s a recipe for failure in regards to athletic performance. And if you need to look at it in a more self-beneficial way, why would you ever want to tie your reputation together with the word, “average?” It only discredits the possibly great work you could be doing because you decided that your ego was too big to admit you needed to out source the job. I always say this to my athletes, “It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that you need help, but on the contrary it is a sign of weakness when you can’t admit that you need help.” Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew; yes, there are times when you do need to, “fake it ’til you make it,” (like when you’re trying to replicate the business style of a high performing business because you want your business to grow), but in terms of athletic performance there is no room for this.
Know what you’re great at and stick to it, in fact go all in on it; add it to one of the layers that your athletes have. However, don’t try and claim to be an expert at something that you’re not; athletes see through this via the results they experience during performance. And from my observations and experience thus far, there is no room for “average,” when you’re trying to compete at the most elite level possible.