Year in Review

athletes coaches coaching mental skill parents performance review training Dec 30, 2019

Welcome to the last Mindset Monday of 2019....and the decade for that matter. 

This has been an amazing year for me, both personally and professionally. 

I wrote a book that was published by Columbia University Pressstood up a four-year leadership institute at Seton Hall University, completed a 4-month ICF-certified program to become a leadership coach, and became a featured certified mindset coach and a visualization specialist through Positive Performance Training.

But the #1 thing was my decision to start Top Mental Game. After years of talking and dreaming about it, and months of doing it pro bono, I made the decision to open up my own business. 

It "officially” started on Feb 6, 2019 - when I was one of three featured speakers at Seton Hall’s annual leadership forum. In front of all of Seton Hall’s Division-I coaches and athletes, I offered to work with any individual or team on their mental game. I wanted to test whether I had what it took to start Top Mental Game.

After the panel, a few players from various sports expressed interest, as did the women’s golf coach, Coach Natalie Desjardins. Coach D and I met soon thereafter and decided to do three team sessions to see how it went. 

So there I was. I found myself with a shot to put up or shut up. To fall flat on my face or show that I could really help the team with their mental game. I used what I had learned as an athlete and coach working with the Center for Enhanced Performance at West Point. I used what I knew from my graduate training in sports psychology, from my own experience as a Division-I athlete and coach, and from what I had learned from Lindsey Wilson and the community at Positive Performance Training.

And guess what? It was awesome. The best validation came after my first team session. I told the golfers that I’d be happy to work with them individually, not knowing if any of them would be up for it.

I was super pumped when one of the golfers reached out to meet. After a session or two working with that particular athlete, another golfer reached out, and another, and another until I was meeting individually with every golfer on the team that Spring.

Although I knew I had only scratched the surface in terms of what was possible working with Seton Hall’s athletes, my experiences gave me enough confidence to know that what I was doing was working, and that I could help other athletes. 

So I decided to open Top Mental Game. Thinking that my clients would be mostly athletes in the Jersey Shore area, I rented an office in my home town of Sea Girt. 

Much to my surprise, I received an email from a mother in Nevada who had two elite high school golfers looking to improve their mental game. “Would you be willing to work with them remotely?” she asked. Fighting back my own limiting beliefs telling me that I had never worked remotely with athletes like this before, I said sure. The best part? She had found out about my services when one of her daughters was being recruited from Seton Hall. That felt good. I’ve been working with each of these golfers over the past 6 months - one is on golf scholarship at another Big East school, and her sister is one of the top golfers in the state of Nevada. Working with those two athletes has been an amazing experience - but I’m not sure who’s learned more in the end - them or me!

Next was Lauren Rios. I had played baseball with her father at West Point, and he had seen my announcement about Top Mental Game on Facebook.  His daughter was an elite high school golfer in Texas who was also interested in working on her mental game. Like all of my athletes, Lauren experienced tremendous success after working on her mental game, putting up a career best 69 and winning several tournaments. Working with her has been a true blessing - she has SO much potential and you will definitely be reading her headlines in the years to come. I was also extremely fortunate that my work with Lauren led to word-of-mouth referrals to work with other athletes in Texas. 

Then came a phone call from Coach Rob Sheppard, the baseball coach from Seton Hall. He had heard about my work with the women’s golf team, and wondered if I’d be interested in working with his team this Fall. I said, “hey coach, where were you in February when I spoke at the Leadership Forum?!?” “We were on a Spring Training trip.” Ahh, that explains it! So similar to my work with the women’s golf team, I started out with four team sessions, then individual players started coming to me, and I’m proud to announce that I’ll be working with the team again in the Spring. 

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with an organization called Victory Road to speak about the mental game to various top-level high schools in the NY/NJ area. I’m talking about the area’s ELITE programs - St. Benedict’s Prep, Mountain Lakes, Cardinal Hayes (NY), Bergen Catholic, Curtis (NY), New Providence, Holmdel, West Deptford, Mount Olive, and Seton Hall Prep. The investments these schools make in their athletes and the type of training they get is impressive, and it should come as no surprise that these investments translate into top-tier programs producing championships and elite student athletes. I’ve really enjoyed my talks with these schools.

Perhaps the coolest experience was returning home to my alma mater, Manasquan High School, winner of a Shore Conference record 12 state football titles (I was there for 3 of them!). I gave eight total sessions over four days to the entire team on various aspects of the mental game - goal-setting, team culture, self-talk, and visualization/imagery exercises. Awesome experience.

Then I had the pleasure of working with a pair of younger athletes - one in soccer and one in swimming. My soccer player was suffering from a lot of pre-competition anxiety and the pressure that comes along with playing for an elite Development Academy. After working on his mental game, he became a different player - more relaxed, more focused, and according to his mom, happier. And now he has the tools and coping mechanisms he can employ in other areas of his life. 

And more recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a local 11-year old swimmer. She is an elite talent who puts a lot of self-imposed pressure on herself to perform at her best. Although I’ve only begun working with her over the past month, I am so excited to see her grow in 2020. She has a scary combination of talent, drive, and work ethic, and when she is able to make her mental game work FOR her instead of AGAINST her... look out world. 

But before I share what I’ve learned and what is next for Top Mental Game, let’s end where we started - with the Seton Hall women’s golf team. This has truly been one of my best experiences and the ultimate validation of what mental skills/performance training can do when you have buy-in from coaches and players.

I’ve worked with them since last February, but I was so pumped when all of the golfers started scheduling weekly sessions with me after they came back from summer break. I didn’t prompt them. Their coaches didn’t prompt them. They did it on their own. Why? Because they believed that this type of training can help them be the best they can be. 

And it wasn’t just the players - I met regularly with Coach D before and after tournaments. I felt like I had become a valued member of the team. 

And guess what? The team had an absolutely epic Fall season, the best in program history. They shattered multiple team and individual records. The team is poised to have a monster Spring, and I can’t wait to be a part of their journey. I’ve already been invited by Coach D to travel with the team in one of their Florida tournaments - I know, rough life right?!?!

(Some of) What I’ve Learned

1a. I absolutely love working with athletes to become the best versions of themselves. It reminds me of the same feelings I had when working with my soldiers to become the best versions of themselves. So rewarding.

1b. There is a dire need for performance coaching and mental skills training for today’s athletes.  We are putting more and more pressure on kids at younger ages, and yet we are not equipping them with the tools to cope with this pressure. The best in the world are already doing it. The top colleges are already doing it. This type of training will be ubiquitous in 10 years at every college and most high schools. Better to be on the front-side of this curve than behind it.

2. Visualization/imagery exercises work. I’m not just a promoter of them, I’ve used them. For my athletes who have invested time in doing these exercises, this type of training has been game-changing.

3. Similar to how we are not equipping today’s athletes with the requisite mental skills to succeed, many of today’s coaches don’t have these skills either or know how to teach them to their teams. Same with parents. Just like athletes, the best ones are seeking advice from performance coaches like me to obtain them. The best part of mental skills training and performance coaching is that the skills learned are useful in every area of your life - not just in sports. In business, relationships, your personal life, test-taking, public speaking, etc. 

4. Something really powerful happens when the coach, their athletes, and someone like myself are all on the same page. I have seen this in my work with Seton Hall’s golf and baseball teams. Doing team sessions establishes a baseline understanding and a foundation of mental skills that everybody understands. These sessions build a common vocabulary and a lexicon between coach and player that can then be used throughout the season. Although I always respect coach-coachee confidentiality, I’m also able to have conversations about overall trends, challenges, and opportunities with coaches and players that wouldn’t be happening otherwise. I’m an honest broker (who also happens to have experience as a D-I athlete and coach) who can help coaches and athletes see perspectives from the other side. I increase trust, communication, and understanding. I’m there during the highs, and I’m there during the lows. I’m a resource. It’s been really powerful...and personally rewarding. I’ve learned a lot.

5. “You don’t have to be sick to get better.” I love this phrase and it reminds me of the athletes I’ve gotten a chance to work with. There is a misconception that only those having “problems” should work on their mental game - wow, is that wrong. Although having problems is (unfortunately) often the impetus for going to see a performance coach, I’ve worked with elite level athletes who just want to get better. And they, too, see the results. It’s why Michael Phelps, Russell Wilson, the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, and countless others have bought into it. If you’re average, working on your mental game can make you good. If you’re good, it can make you great. If you’re great, it can make you legendary. But I don’t care what level you’re at - working on your mental game will make you BETTER!

What’s Next For Top Mental Game in 2020?

1. I want to expand my client base in the NJ area. Being the only one in my area is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because nobody is doing this type of training, meaning there is a gap I can exploit. But the fact that nobody is doing this in my area is also a curse because people don’t understand what I do. I need to do a better job of articulating the need for this type of training and the value I can bring. 

2. I’m going to work with a university (or universities) in my area to bring performance coaching and mental skills training to the program-level. I hope this is Seton Hall for obvious reasons, but if they don’t bite, I know there are others in the area (Princeton, Rutgers, other Big East schools) that will jump at this. I’m really excited for this phase of Top Mental Game.

3. I want to write several books on mental toughness - one for athletes, one for coaches, and one for parents. I’m not sure which I’m going to do first, but I’m excited.

4. I’d like to create online courses based on my process that can be used by elite teams and clubs outside of my area. I think it would also be attractive to athletes, coaches, and parents who might find it intimidating or cost prohibitive to work one-on-one with a coach like me. I know I would have been hesitant when I was an athlete because I was too self-conscious. 

To all of my parents, athletes, and coaches who I’ve worked with in 2019....thank you. Thank you for believing in performance coaching and mental skills training. Thank you for believing in yourselves. And thank you for believing in me.

I can assure you - I’ve learned more from you than you have learned from me. 

If you know of an athlete, coach, or parent who you think would benefit from working with Top Mental Game, please let me know and I’ll reach out. 

Thanks again, and here’s to a fantastic 2020!


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