The 5 People You Need in Your Life
We have certain people in our lives for a reason. If you are an athlete, you may not appreciate the style or intensity of your coach in the moment. In fact, you may finish your career with your coach or trainer and not have many positive things to say about them, but over time, the realization of the constructive impact on your life will become evident.
For every coach I had in my life, through sports and my professional psychology career, each served a different role that was important in that time in my life. If I had dismissed them because their approach or message was not what I was wanting at that time, I would have limited the growth over the extended period of time. My resistance would have limited my growth.
Players and coaches must build a network of people around them who directly and indirectly make them better. You really need the five following people:
"Developing an elite mindset and a heightened performance repertoire is not always about being critiqued and challenged. Praise can often feel good, especially during difficult times. Amazingly enough, however, praise can also be hard for some people to handle."
You want individuals around you who naturally engage the competitive nature of your mind and soul. That may be an intrasquad nemesis or a workout partner with whom you go toe- to-toe, but in any case, it’s someone you really have to work hard against to beat. Competitive mindsets aren’t innate, they have to be fostered, developed, and refined. The best way to do that is to work hard while competing against someone on a regular basis.
A valuable competitor is someone you can measure yourself against on a daily basis. As they raise the bar, you have to raise your level of execution, too. A great competitor is someone who relishes the opportunity to compete and who raises their own level of effort, execution, and commitment simply to beat you. When you’re in that environment, both sides benefit.
How do competitors contribute to your success?
Being in an environment in which you’re driven to compete with another forces you to break your Fishbowl and stretch your comfort zones. I see this happen first-hand with junior academies. When athletes start to become acclimated to the academy nature, the competition ramps up with every drill, intrasquad game, and round. Those who are more engaged in the competition simply pass those who can’t handle the controlled nature of the competitive environment. Competitors feed off each other to improve.
The competitive environment benefits those who are competing against one another. If you look back at the history of sport, those intense rivalries have always raised the level of performance. In the 1980s, the National Basketball Association (NBA) benefited from a competitive rivalry between Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. Every matchup was intensely played, with both players and their teams pushing each other to new levels. There is no doubt that both teams had their rivals in their crosshairs in every practice and offseason training program.
Competitors are healthy if they’re understood properly. In every line of work, business, and sport, an identified rival can help provide needed motivation and intensity. Where the possible struggle of having a competitor may arise is when you abandon the plan and purpose of your own preparation simply to meet the demands of that one competitor and ignore the others who want to beat you. That distraction is common among collegiate and professional teams that have letdowns after rivalry games. To avoid that, use a competitor to push you through a low spot, but maintain a focus on your overall capability and capacity to compete.
This is different than a competitor – it’s a coach or other athlete who can openly challenge your beliefs, training style, and mindsets. What I mean by “challenger” is that this is the person who can call your bullshit and to whom you have to be accountable.
A challenger is hard on you, pushing you and demanding more of you than you ever thought you were capable. A challenger is often someone who has a completely different point of view from yours. If you’re politically liberal, meeting someone who’s conservative can be beneficial – not so you have someone to yell and scream at, but so you have someone to share your individual perspectives with, which in turn will enhance the knowledge and depth of your own perspective. Our opinions in life and sport are often somewhat shallow, and only by challenging and being challenged by others do we better formulate the nature of our work.
Facing a challenger requires preparation and intense training. If you’re a coach, a challenger would be another coach who sees the game completely differently. Sitting down and having an in- depth discussion about the intricate nature of an offense when you come from completely different perspectives can be difficult. Simple answers just don’t cut it.
Several years ago, I was sitting in first class on a long transcontinental flight when a young millennial sat down next to me. He was dressed in designer blue jeans and flip-flops, and carried himself with confidence. As the plane reached cruising altitude, he started talking to me and asking me questions about what I did for a living and where I was going. I normally refrain from airplane conversations, but since we were waiting for our dinner, it was hard to avoid. I’m glad I didn’t avoid the conversation. He told me that he had started a large database company in college and had sold the company in his junior year for a significant amount of money. While still in school, he worked in Congress and spent time with some great business leaders. Eventually he became bored and decided to start a new company, which was now a major international technology firm with offices around the world.
As we talked, he was open and honest about his management style, and I still use many of the lessons I learned that day. The most important thing was the importance of having one to three challengers in your close circle.
Corporate executives often place a challenger on the company’s board to question all decisions. Problems arise, however, when the whole board becomes challengers, which can often happen when the company is struggling or the leader lacks confidence or vision. Good challengers, however, know when to provide feedback and when to challenge. Having a strong member of your team as a challenger can push you to focus on your own philosophy and to find material to support that philosophy. It’s hard to put those people in your life, but they’re critical for success.
The young businessman on the plane told me that he had a clear policy for his company and his board – a few are charged with challenging the direction of the business, while the rest are responsible for implementing the strategy to their fullest potential. Early in his career, he maintained an open e-mail address for suggestions and critiques of the company, but he ended up spending so much time responding to the e-mail suggestions from all levels of the company that he lost focus on the daily job of running the company. Those whose role is to challenge the company aren’t expected to just be contrarian, but rather, to provide solutions in areas that need improvement. He told me that when he began to identify and trust the challengers in his life, his business reached all-time profit levels.
It can be hard to have challengers in your life, but without them, it’s easy to fall back into the habits and safety of mediocrity. Educate the challengers as to why they’re in your life, and demand their honesty and valued solutions. Only then will your game improve.
The critiquer is different than a challenger for one primary reason: His or her job is to be critical of your approach, technique, and effort in significantly greater detail than a challenger. While a challenger is there to challenge each aspect of you from a new and different perspective, a critiquer’s job is to look at how you do things and to review the intricate nature of your approach in great detail.
In the athletic world, a critiquer is usually a coach or support person who may have additional training in the technical or strategic aspect of your game. Many athletes resist as soon as a coach starts to critique their technique or provide directed feedback. In fact, resistance is always the first response to feedback – always. It doesn’t matter who you are or how enlightened you may be – resistance is a natural response to directed, constructive feedback. But great athletes and leaders move past this resistance so that they can evaluate the information and, more importantly, the person providing that feedback. If that person is valued, the information will probably have greater impact. Insecure athletes or those who are deep in the fog of the Learning Cycle may simply listen to anyone with feedback and abandon their plan for the next quick fix. Having appointed and valued critiquers in your life can overcome this challenge.
There are many ways that critiquers can effectively provide constructive feedback, such as through statistical review, video review, or verbal descriptive recollection. Video review can be very instructive for an athlete. In today’s athletic culture, they’re relied on more and more to help identify weaknesses and to show what’s needed to improve.
Several years ago, I was working with an elite college basketball program and had to intervene on a series of problems the coaching staff was having with the team. Resistance from the players was hindering the role of video review and analysis. As the coaching staff’s critiquer was reviewing game film – a common practice after both wins and losses – he began to notice that certain players were laughing throughout the video review. The coach asked me after one particular video session how to handle the disruptive players, and we explored the motivations of the offenders.
What we noticed was surprising. When the review was focused on the troubles of other players, these two or three players would make small jokes and engage in some lighthearted razzing of their teammates. If a teammate had been dunked on, for example, these players would ramp up the jokes for a few minutes, just to make sure that the player in question knew not only that he had embarrassed himself in the game, but that he was now also being shamed by his peers, as well. It was often very easy for the coaching staff and support team to get caught up in the razzing, too, particularly when the players were usually SportsCenter worthy.
The tone and tenor changed, however, when the players who were in charge of the public ridicule were themselves the focus of the review session, and before long a shaming battle between players had erupted. The problem was that with each lighthearted shame attempt, the players missed a good lesson on how to improve. The better players, not surprisingly, didn’t enjoy being the focus of the corrective film sessions, and they managed to eventually get the whole room in an uproar. The more the coach would try to get the film review focused on critical review and improvement, the more the players would resist and act out.
The correction wasn’t that hard, but it required an educational session from the head coach. Prior to the next review session, the coach and I stood in front of the team and explained the role of the film session, the importance of critical analysis, and why it was so hard to sit and listen to difficult feedback. We made it clear that not only was a critiquer there to make them better, but it was also evidence of how much the staff really cared for each player. After all, those who are unwilling to share important and constructive feedback because they’re concerned about how it might be received are often more concerned about themselves than about helping others.
From that meeting forward, film sessions were dramatically different. Coach would quickly enlist teammates to share what they saw in each video and ask for constructive teammate input, particularly from older players. That helped create a culture of continuous improvement to which the older players responded, eventually leading the team to the NCAA tournament.
Receiving constructive feedback can help pinpoint a player’s insecurities. Of course, when people are presented with new information that differs from their current perspective, they have a natural tendency to resist. It’s a normal human reaction to put up defenses when faced with critical feedback because it often attacks our self-image and self-confidence.
To find a critiquer, you must first be willing to listen to the feedback. It’s hard to have your heart and soul exposed for others to critique, and understandably difficult to let down your defenses. Nevertheless, accepting and listening to feedback is critical for success.
Second, you should try to find a critiquer who has more knowledge about your particular area of expertise than you do. It can be a mentor or someone who’s walked in the same shoes in the past, but make sure you avoid people who have a limited perspective. It’ll only hurt you in the long run.
Finally, tell them clearly what you’re trying to improve and what their role should be in this improvement. Trust me – giving someone feedback is just as difficult as receiving it. Think about the last time you were with a friend and they had a booger hanging from their nose – it’s hard to point something like that out without potentially hurting their feelings or embarrassing them. Of course, the problem is that saying nothing will probably make things worse, so make sure to establish an environment in which feedback is heard and accepted by you.
A critiquer is probably the most important person you can find for your own development. Take the time to find that person and seek out their expertise. Listen and thank them for their investment in your future. It’s definitely worth it.
4. Confidence Builders
Developing an elite mindset and a heightened performance repertoire is not always about being critiqued and challenged. Praise can often feel good, especially during difficult times. Amazingly enough, however, praise can also be hard for some people to handle.
Work on surrounding yourself with people who help build your confidence. Ultimately, no one can really build your confidence but you, but having supportive people around you who are willing to give you a little pat on the back for your successes can be beneficial. On every successful coaching staff, there is usually one coach who’s easy for the players to talk to and who serves as a positive resource. The reason for this is simple: It helps build a positive buffer from the challenges of competition, coaching, and the pursuit of greatness.
This is a great role for parents, especially when their children progress past them in coaching or technical competence. Parents can serve such a positive influence over their athletic children, but it can also be a high-risk environment unless it’s managed successfully. In fact, a poorly managed parent-athlete relationship can be devastating to the athlete’s long-term success.
When my oldest daughter was playing junior and high school golf, I fell into the same dangerous waters in which so many parents find themselves. My daughter was a good golfer, but she was very cognizant of my actions while I was watching. As I walked and followed her group, I often stood with my arms crossed, occasionally biting my fingernails, and I was apparently unaware of the facial expressions I was making behind my sunglasses. On more than one occasion, my daughter would look over to me and ask what was wrong. Nothing was, but it was obvious that I wasn’t helping her or being a supportive confidence builder.
I later learned that while it was comfortable to stand with my arms crossed, my body language made it look to my daughter as though I was constantly angry or disappointed. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. After we had a discussion one night, she told me how I made her feel while she was playing, and I felt terrible. From that point on, I started to chew on sunflower seeds at her matches instead of biting my fingernails, and I also started listening to music on my earphones, which actually changed my facial expressions. The results were instantaneous. She played fantastically well for the rest of her senior year.
Confidence builders and parents play a major role in a young athlete’s success. It’s a great responsibility to remain positive and supportive even when the player has a bad day, so make sure you choose confidence builders who can temper their own emotions and put yours first. It’s a tough job.
Colleagues are the final piece of your support network. These are the people who share the same experiences with you. They’ve been there and walked the same walk. But even though they have similar experiences, colleagues may have different perspectives that can help you.
Most great organizations and teams try to pair younger athletes with more senior mentors for exactly this reason. Colleagues understand first hand, the challenges you face, and they can help you avert some of the mistakes that they made.
You can often share first-hand experiences with colleagues and ask them questions. The person could be someone who was drafted in the same round as you were, someone who has recently gone through contract negotiation, or someone who recently completed the college recruiting process. Their knowledge will be invaluable if you’re willing to listen and learn.
Colleagues can often serve as effective mentors, too. Identifying those individuals in your life who can support you from a different psychological level – such as a colleague who’s invested in your good and bad experiences – will facilitate a healthy growth platform. Finding someone who can be a mentor and a colleague, however, can be difficult.
Early in my career, I tried to reach out to business leaders from different industries and learn as much as I could from them. I’d offer to take them to lunch or meet at a local coffee shop, and I’d sit and ask them questions about learning, business, and organizational growth. I was completely transparent with them about the reason for the invitation, but I desperately wanted to learn from those who had walked similar paths before me.
What I took from those meetings was that by listening to the valuable lessons that those mentors had to offer, I could provide better perspectives into what I was about to experience or painful lessons from my past. Many of the lessons I learned in sports, business, and life are associated with painful experiences. But as happens when you’re trying to overcome an illness, if you have the perspective from an expert about how your recovery is likely to progress, it makes the struggle somewhat easier.
One such colleague for me was a gentleman who played baseball at LSU several years before me. He was a local player like me, and after his playing days were over, he stayed around the program. He was also busy building a financial services organization and made frequent presentations to the baseball team on the topic of financial stewardship. I got to know Pete Bush on a number of different levels, but after I was finished playing, he remained a significant colleague for me, even though he may not realize it to this day. When I need some professional advice or suggestions about things that he’s gone through in his life, I reach out to him. He always responds, and I greatly value our time together. The lessons that I’ve learned from him have been invaluable.
When I was in graduate school and my wife was pregnant with our first child, I ran into Pete at a local restaurant. He was running in from his office and grabbing something from the takeout window, but he saw me eating alone and walked over for a brief chat. Thanks to the pleasantries of a random meeting in a busy restaurant, he provided me with some insight into his life that I never forgot. He was going through a divorce, a fact that I didn’t know at that time, and he simply said: “Your work isn’t so important that you can’t be home with your family for dinners and on weekends.”
It was a powerful statement and one that I had heard many times. My mother and father always tried to be home for dinner, and if we couldn’t manage that, we’d try to meet somewhere for a quick meal together before going our separate ways. Pete knew that I was pushing to succeed and that my wife and I were expecting our first child. I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice, and when I’m sitting in the office working and dinner is approaching, I think back to that conversation in the restaurant. It usually makes me stop what I’m doing and head home to my family.
A mentor or colleague doesn’t have to wear a name tag or even know that you see them as filling such a role. It definitely helps deepen the relationship, but whether they know or not, I encourage you to develop colleagues and mentors in your life. It will pay significant dividends.
Remember, one of the drives of life is social acceptance, but that can cloud the impact that the five people in your life have on you. Look beyond your immediate needs and understand the developmental impact that these people can have on your sport and life. Through their guidance, mentoring, and coaching, your success can be pushed to new levels. As an athlete, try to surround yourself only with those who will make you better. There is no sense in wasting time on people who simply drain your energy.
If you’re questioning the value of a person in your life, ask yourself if they fall into one of the five categories. In sport, you’re dealing with hundredths of seconds between first and second place. If they’re not helping you gain an advantage, they’re merely causing you to perform below your abilities.