Interview with Eric Stevenson – The Newest Addition to the Complete Performance Team

Interview with Coach Eric Stevenson

Coach Rebecca: Hi everyone.  I’m coach Rebecca, and I have a special guest on the podcast today.  We have Coach Eric Stevenson here, and I am thrilled to have just added him to the Complete Performance Coaching squad.  As most of you know, our team is made up awesome experts with sports psychology resources for you, your kids, and the kids you coach.

Today I’m going to dive in with Eric so we can get to know him a little bit better – to get to know his philosophy, his background, and then you can decide if he is somebody that you want to be able to reach out to with questions or to work with your athlete.

Rebecca: Hi Eric.  Welcome to the show.

Eric: Hello Rebecca.  Thanks for having me.  I’m very excited to talk about myself and really dig in maybe even deeper than I want to.  Maybe I’ll get to know a little bit about myself as well as everybody gets to know about me.

Rebecca: Exactly.  So let’s start with your background.  Tell us a little bit about your sport history, maybe your family, how you were as an athlete, and then what brought you to sports psychology.

Eric:  Sure.  So, sports was always a big part of my life, and for my family as well.  My mom ran triathlons and my dad was a minor league football player.  I have an older brother who’s five years older than me and he was always involved in sports, so of course, you know, as a young kid, I just wanted to follow in their footsteps.

I grew up on the outskirts of the city in Chicago, and if it was the summer and it was warm outside, if the sun was up, I was outside.  I was in the park, I was playing football, basketball, baseball, roller hockey; whatever it was you could find me in the middle of it, participating.

I would watch sports with my family.  I went to some games and I just really, really loved it and it was a lot of fun.  I thought, “Okay, well I definitely want to start.”  So I got enrolled in tee ball, started playing some basketball, and got into a football league as well.  It kind of just took off from there. I figured out I liked baseball a little bit more than the other ones.  I was better at it, but I still loved playing the other sports.  As long as my friends were involved I wanted to be involved as well.

So, I’m in high school and I’m still actually a three sport athlete playing football, basketball, and baseball.  I actually had some advice to not specialize too early, which was amazing to get back in 2008, nine, 10 when it really wasn’t happening that much. It was just beginning to happen. But, I talked to some people said baseball is my focus.

Maybe I just want to play baseball.  A couple of my friends went that route, and fortunately enough, I was able to get some good advice of, “You know, stick with football, stick with basketball.  You’re going to develop certain skills in those sports and you’re going to learn certain things to even better your baseball,” which I was thankful for because throwing a baseball six, twelve months of the year, it’s pretty stressful on your arm and everything else.

So I was lucky enough to or thankful enough to take a few months off of baseball each each year and get into the other sports.  So my junior and senior year of high school, I just played football and baseball.  I loved both.  I was pretty good at both.  I actually was fortunate enough to have a college scholarships to play both as well.

I did love football a lot and I thought about maybe playing both.  I knew it would have been a lot, but I did have a couple of head injuries when I was a junior and some memory loss happened in there and it was real scary for me.  I was like, “Oh man, in college they’re just getting bigger and faster and stronger and they’re going to hit me even harder,” and I just didn’t think it was worth it. And this was before the movie with Will Smith and the CTE and everything coming out with the NFL.

I’m pretty glad I made that decision, too, because my brother had three concussions in high school that ended his football career.  My Dad actually had a major concussion when he was playing semi-pro and that ended his.  So, I thought, “I’m so far down the line that it doesn’t look promising for me in this field.”  So I enjoyed it while I played it and I hung up the cleats after my senior year.

Everything I learned from football was just incredible, but I decided to just go to college and play baseball.

So here I am now.  I went to a school, a small division three school outside of Chicago, because I knew I wanted to be able to play right away.  You know, maybe I could have had a couple division one offers, division two, but chances of me starting as a freshman probably weren’t very likely at that level.  I knew I loved the game, and I didn’t want to go somewhere and sit on the bench and just say I go there and just have all the cool gear equipment.

I wanted to play it.  That’s the reason I’m playing the game.  So I did make the right decision and I did start as a freshman, and I was doing okay and everything was going great.  Before I knew it, I was just putting way too much pressure on myself to perform.

You know, coming from my senior year of high school, I was kind of one of the captains, I was the oldest guy on the team.  Everybody kind of looked up to me and I had a lot of confidence for that.  I didn’t have to prove myself to anybody.  But as a freshmen in college, I was just 18 years old and I had to prove all these 22 year old seniors that I did belong playing as a freshman and I needed to help the team as much as possible.  I didn’t want to let them down.

So I was always putting all this extra pressure on myself to perform well,  to come through in the clutch moments, and to not lose my spot as a freshman.  From there, unfortunately, all that pressure caved in on me and, and I kind of lost it, lost my, whatever you want to call it – my talent, my mojo, my confidence, and I lost my starting position.

I didn’t play the rest of my freshman year.  I came in sophomore year, I started again, and sure enough, after two or three weeks, I lost my starting spot again.  I wasn’t playing and this was hurting because it was like, “Well, what’s going wrong?  Where did my talent go?  I’m better than this, I know I’m better than I’m playing,” but I couldn’t figure it out.

So I was spending extra time in any cages and spending extra time in the gym.  I was going to all these hitting coaches and it was helping and it was giving me confidence, but I just still wasn’t seeing the results that I was hoping for.

Come my junior year, I took an elective course during the winter – Sports Psychology.  It was just an intro to Sports Psych, and I was reading through the chapters, and going to classes and I was just amazed, thinking to myself, “Whoa, this is me in a nutshell.”  Talking about the pressure, the stress, talking about staying to the process, not thinking about results.  And I’m saying, “Well, so far I’m doing everything I’m saying not to do.”

I’m thinking, “Okay, well maybe there’s something there.  Maybe there’s something to this.”  So I talked to the professor after class.  I said, “I’m on the baseball team here at school.  I’m going through some tough times.  I’m not playing very well, but the team, the coach, and I know that I am better than I am playing.”

We talked for 15, 20 minutes after class; we talked about what I was facing, what I was thinking in the box, what I was thinking on the field, and just completely reframed that.  I was so results oriented, so focused on my own self, my own outcome, me trying to force that outcome, and it wasn’t right.  Baseball’s a hard enough sport at is as it is.

A baseball’s coming at you 90 miles an hour, you only have so much time to think.  If your mind is cluttered with, “I want to do this” and “I’m trying to do this”, and you’re not just reacting, then chances are you’re probably not going to succeed.

So I was able to learn how to calm my mind, calm my process, and narrow it – I had all these thoughts of my elbow, my feet, my eyes, all this, and narrowed it to just one simple thought – just hit the ball back up the middle.  Just focus on one spot on the pitcher’s arm.  Those two things.  Whatever else happens, happens, right?  I could just take my mind out of it and let that athleticism that I built throughout all those years of playing baseball, kind of come back, and just started reacting to the sport and not trying to force results and to play the sport.

Sure enough it was almost like the light switch just flipped on and all of a sudden, I’m getting hits and I’m seeing great results.  But also knowing that that’s not what’s important, because if I started getting too confident with those results, I knew I would have went right back down the path that I came from.

So I said, “I don’t care if I hit a home run, I don’t care if I strike out.  I’m going to go up there with the same mindset, same attitude, same approach every time.”  When I was able to really commit to that, I was able to get the results, and I was able to be that talented baseball player that I knew I was.  So just then and there, I thought, “Wow, this is incredible.”

Now, I was learning this as a 21 year old athlete.  If I learned things like that when I was maybe just 14, 15, maybe younger, where could my potential have gotten me?  It had me thinking, “Why did I have to go out of my way to find this answer?  Why didn’t a coach to suggest this for me or parents or anybody?”  It was just kind of like the answer was there the whole time, but nobody suggested it to me.

So I thought, there’s no way I’m going let that happen.  I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to talk to all the baseball players I can – high school, college, even younger, and let them know that there are people out there that can help.  Sometimes it isn’t your swing is bad or your timing’s bad.  Sometimes it it is in your head.  We do get in our own way sometimes.

Baseball is a failure sport.  If you’ve failed three out of 10 times, you’re successful.  Being a kid or being a competitive athlete, if you’re failing most of the time, it’s pretty easy to lose your confidence.  So most baseball players I see and work with, or even my teammates, almost everybody didn’t have that much confidence because they’re failing more often than succeeding.  So that’s the trick with baseball – we know we’re going to fail more often than succeed, but how do we stay confident at the same time?

So that’s kind of my journey now, to share what I’ve learned, what I’ve went through and kind of provide that which is not often provided at schools.  I know some big division one schools have it, of course, Major League baseball teams have it, but I think I think it’s even more important and crucial to develop these mental skills at a younger age.

Rebecca: When you’re 12, you’re open to, “Make me better baseball player.  Let’s do it.”  When you’re 19, you’re like, “I’m supposed to have this figured out so I’m not going to really reach out for help, because then I’m going to look weak, and where goes my playing time if I’m looking weak?”  Do you ever notice that with the guys you work with?  That you get resistance once you know they’re already supposed to have it figured out?

Eric: Oh, absolutely.  You know, they say they’ve gotten to wherever they are, college, high school, they think they just got there for one reason and they don’t want to change that reason, right?  And it’s incredible to see how stubborn some of the older athletes that I work with, the less likely they are to want to make that change, even though they might be going through it just as much or even more so than a younger athlete, which is just funny to me, but it’s definitely makes sense.

Rebecca: What do you think made you open to it?

Eric: Honestly, I would say that I kind of had nowhere left to go.  You know, I had a key to the gym and I was there at midnight.  I was there at 6:00 in the morning.  I was talking to all these coaches, I was talking to my teammates – any suggestions, what can I do?  And I really had nowhere left to turn.

Of course I was that stubborn athlete, I realize it’s had to be my work ethic.  I just needed to work harder or hit more baseballs.  I didn’t understand that going to the batting cage and just hitting the 20 mile an hour pitch didn’t really correlate to now seeing 85 mile an hour curve balls, which…  I wasn’t even practicing what I was struggling with.  So of course, now it makes sense to me why that didn’t help me as much as it should have. Um, but I just haven’t.

Rebecca: It’s amazing how much you hear, “If they’d only try harder” or “If I only, if I just try harder”  or “The effort isn’t there.  Why is his effort not there anymore?” And on your end, was there any influence from coaches or parents that you know who would say, “Come on, work harder, try harder, get it together.”  What was the influence? Positive, negative, or otherwise that was coming at you.

Eric: I mean, that’s just in our society or in the culture of America, and especially of sports.  If the results aren’t there, you’re not working hard enough.  It’s just, “Oh, you’ll get your results if you work hard.”  Sure, there’s a time and a place for hard work.  I mean, if college athletes or all these athletes are really serious about their sport, I think we’re all kind of working as hard as we can.

It’s funny because they tell you to work harder, just work on this, or try to work on this drill, try to do x, Y and Z.  When you’ve done it all and you’re still not getting the result that you kind of looked for,or were hoping for, then you start thinking to yourself, “Well, maybe I’m just not that good.  Maybe I’m just not as good as I thought I was.”  And once you start getting into that cycle and mindset, that’s when you really start getting in trouble because you’ll lose your confidence.  You’ll lose your focus when you just second guess now everything that you’re doing as an athlete, which is definitely not the tunnel you want to be headed down.

Rebecca: And if you’ve got that kind of downward spiral of thought going on, how do you pull yourself out of it?  How do you help somebody get out of that?  Where they’re like, “Maybe it’s just me.”  I mean, I hear that all the time with, with gymnasts, with fear. b  It’s like they used to be able to do it.  Now they can’t do it.  And parents especially say, “Maybe we just need to quit.  Maybe it’s time to quit.  When do we just throw in the towel?  This is not for you.”  But the kid is like, “But I love this.”

What sorts of, what sorts of skills do you like to teach people, or what specifically worked for you that helped kind of break that identity like “I am not ok” or  “I’m not good” that comes from this underperforming.

Eric: Absolutely.  So kind of a quick story here for you.  When I heard you mention “If you’re not good you might as well just quit.”  Right.  So, when I was a junior, this was like the beginning of our junior year.  At the beginning of year we go to Florida, California, a couple of warm places to play to start our season off.  We’re in Florida on our first week of games and I’m not playing again.  Come junior year my, coach kind of figured it out.  “Alright.  He’s just not that good.  Unless he earned a starting spot, he’s just not going to play.”  So I sit the first game, the second game, and the coach says, “Oh well, we have a jv game and you’re going to play in that.”

I was a former starter, now I’m a junior and I’m playing in the JV game.  That’s like a shot to my ego.  And I’m like, “Oh man, I don’t want to play in the JV game.  I’m better than that.  JV should be for freshmen or guys on the team that really weren’t expected to be one of the best players.”

So I get into the JV game and I’m just like, “Alright, you know, I’ll just see what happens.”  My confidence level is super low and I strike out four times in a row.  I am 20 now and I had to go to collect myself.  I had to really think about, “What am I doing now?  Have I lost the love and passion for this game?”

And I just can’t dig myself out of this hole.  In my head, I said, “When we land back in Chicago, I’m going to talk to the team and my coach and kind of just tell them I can’t do this.  I’m just getting too angry.  I’m getting frustrated and it’s not fair to my teammates to have somebody on this team that’s just not performing and can’t perform.”

I’ve lost all hope at this point.  I was basically at the point where I committed to quitting.  This was a mentally weak time of my athletic career, as you can tell.

Funny enough, we had a varsity game that night and one of the varsity players, I’m not sure, I can’t remember what happened, but he got in trouble.  He was probably doing something he wasn’t supposed to, but he got in trouble.  I’m at the hotel and he wasn’t going play that game, and the guy behind him was hurt.  So who is left at that position?  Me.  The coach goes, “Hey, yeah, you’re going to play,” and I’m like, “You’re going to play me?  I just struck out four times in a JV game.”

It was amazing because it was like he had confidence in me before I could get confidence in me. He’s like, “I recruited you in high school for a reason.  You were doing things in high school that led me to believe you were going to be one of the best players at this school.  There’s no way that just disappears. I know that’s in you and that it’s there.”  He said, “You’re just going through a hard time.  I’m going to keep giving you the chances until you can pull yourself out of it.”

So now I’m in this “I have nothing to lose” point of my life.  I said, “Wow.  All my teammates must think coaches crazy for playing me.”  They know I’m in a really bad spot right now, so I get out there. It’s now a Varsity game and I’m playing and I’m just like, “Alright, well I guess anything goes.  I can’t do any worse than I just did.  There’s really no expectations here.”

I went three for four with a home run and a double and I’m like, “Wait, what is going on?  Where did that come from?”  It was just amazing.  I was like, “Wait, okay.  The talent is there.”  I was confident at the plate and I was confident on the field.

Now, kind of relaying back to your question of what did we do?  I think when you’re giving it your all and you’re not getting the results where you used to be able to do something and now you can’t do it – for me, from personal experience and also from research, is kind of just having the grit to stick it out.  When can you stay in it long enough to start to get results that gives you confidence?

A lot of athletes come up to me at high schools or middle school and they say, “Hey coach Eric, I’m really struggling and I don’t know if I really want to participate anymore.  And I tell them, “I’m not here to tell you one way or the other.  I’m not here to convince you why you shouldn’t stop playing.  I’m not here to convince you why you should stop playing.  That’s completely up to you.  You’re old enough to make this decision about what you want to do or not.  Just know that whatever may happen, if you stay, whatever  there could be great possibilities.  If you quit, you’ll never realize what those actually are.  But if you stick it out, there’s that slim chance, whether it happens or not, there’s that slim chance that things will turn around and do turn around, kind of like they did for me.”

So now, down the road in the middle of the season, I’m playing everyday and I’m like, “Whoa, I can’t believe I almost quit.  What was I thinking?  I love this game.”  I was just in a really dark time of my athletic career and I just didn’t have anybody to talk to.  I just thought quitting was the answer because I had no other answers for myself.  It was amazing that I just kind of stuck it out.  I got the chance, and slowly enough, certainly enough, my confidence started building back when I was just kind of just gritting it out as the season went on.

Rebecca: What do you tell the parent?  I often get from the parent, “When do we just throw in the towel?”  What were your parents doing while you crash and burn?  Were they involved in?  What do you say to that parent who has just had enough of watching their child suffer?

Eric:  As a parent, they can feel the pain with their athlete.  If they see their child not performing, not enjoying the sport, not being happy, that kind of makes the parents depressed as well.  My parents, they were really supportive, which was great and super helpful, but they knew I was going through a really tough time, and they’ve been at every game probably since tee-ball.  They saw all the excellent plays, made all the excellent games I had, and they had more confidence than I did.

So it’s kind of saying the parent always has to be that confidence, the safety net, like a kid’s going to lose confidence, it’s going to happen at some point.  Whether they don’t get the results, whether they have bad games, that performances, whatever it may be, the parent always has to be that optimistic individual, the shoulders that the kid can stand on.

I would come home or be on the phone with my parents on the way back from the game.  Maybe it wasn’t a great game or I didn’t play well or I lost a bunch of confidence, and they’d say,  “You’re going to be fine. We know you’ve done it before, you just keep going.  It’ll eventually turn around for you.”

In every sport there are stretches of really bad and really good.  Sticking it out is what mentally tough athletes do.  For parents especially, it can be really tough if it’s been a long time and the kid doesn’t look like they’re enjoying the sport or the results just aren’t there.  You just have to refocus their mind frame. It’s going to turn around or it can turn around.  You just always have to be the optimistic person for your athlete.

The athlete kind of mirrors what their parents are like – in the stands, whatever they talked about in the car on the phone, whatever it may be.  If I’m on the phone with my parents and they’re constantly optimistic and telling me to keep my head up and all this, as a kid I’m like, yeah, whatever, shut up.  You don’t know what I’m going through.  But in the end, but really in the back of my mind, I’m like, okay, maybe.  I know a couple days later I’m like, “Maybe I should keep my head up a little better or stay confident.”

Rebecca: That makes me think of this as example of a confidence piggy bank where you’re putting quarters in every time somebody says, “Hey, you’re doing great.”  Even if you don’t believe it, they’re putting quarters in your bank and if you have a great game, you’re putting dollars in.  If you have a horrible downward spiral, you’re making withdrawals.  Even if the kid is rolling their eyes, the compliments still makes a little deposit whether they like it or not.  And the same goes for coaches.  You have this wonderful experience where your coach brought you up, your parents brought you up, you were the one beating yourself down, but your coaches are bringing you up.  There are a lot of kids out there who are not in that same situation where their parents are sick of the expense, they are tired, they don’t want to do it, the coach is jaded or old school or just mean.  How do you then help that kid?

Eric: If I’m working with them personally, I have to be that frame for them.  There have been athletes that I’ve worked with where there seems like there’s almost no support from anyone.  It’s no shocker to me that this kid wants to quit or give up or has no confidence in themselves.  One of my questions I’ll ask them is, “When you’re confident, where does that come from?  They’ll say, “Oh, it’s from performing well or doing well and making my parents happy, making my coach happy.”   And I thought, “Well what happens when you don’t perform well?”  They say, “Well then then my mom or dad is not happy and my coaches aren’t happy and then therefore I’m not happy.”  That’s the issue right there.

If the kid is only getting their confidence with their happiness from performance based then it’s almost likely that at some point, it’s always going to fall apart because nobody is ever going to perform perfectly or up to their expectations every time.  There’s going to be down times, there’s going to be bad performances, and it’s staying confident through those times where it keeps important and it stays important.

So, something that I did was I talked to myself, I said, “Okay, what are some things that I can do when I’m not confident to kind of help boost my own confidence,” and one thing I asked myself was, “Okay, why do I play this sport to begin with?  What is it about the sport?  Why did I start playing?”

I thought about it and I said, “Okay, well this is the reason x, y, and Z,” and then I say,”Well, what do I love about this sport?  Is it the competition?  Is it the performance?”  Sometimes kids play sports just for the uniform because it looks cool, whatever it may be.  There’s no right or wrong.

So you ask, “Why do you actually play the sport?”  It’s just kind of amazing at what they can start once they become self aware of that and what the sport has given back to them as well.  For baseball, I asked myself at that point, “Well, I have my best friends, my roommates, I was able to get a little scholarship to college to play and I want to quit this sport,” but then I’m thinking, “This sport has given me so much in return, I shouldn’t turn my back on this because look at everything it’s given me and everything I’ve gotten from it in the past.”  It just kind of reframes it and starts from the basics of why do I play, what do I love, and what have I gotten from this in the past?  And that can really start turning around someone’s excitement level, effort level, and motivation again, when it’s all kind of at its lowest point.

Rebecca: It makes so much sense, especially along your story, that you start because you love it.  You keep going because you love it.  You get good because you kept going because you love it.  You get expectations because you got good, and then it falls apart because you lost track of what you were doing it for to begin with because you start to feel like, “I do this because I’m good at it and if I’m not good at it then what’s the point?  And people are only happy with me because I’m good at it and I am only okay if I’m good at it.”

And these stories get piled on top of each other for these young athletes.  It’s like you have a performance mistake that then becomes this crisis of identity.  Did you have to struggle with that?

I did.  When you talk about identity, I identified first as a baseball player before anything else.  “I’m Eric Stevenson, I’m a baseball player.  That’s the most important to me.  This is what I’ve always been my whole life.  This is what I know.”  And when that wasn’t there for me or when I was almost embarrassed to talk about my baseball game or my career, it hurt, and there were some really dark times.  I know there were times when we would have a game on a Friday and I would have a really bad game and there’d be a party or guys inviting somebody over.  They would want to go out to dinner and I would just make an excuse on why I couldn’t go because I just wanted to stay home.

I didn’t want to show my face in front of all my teammates.  I just let them all down and I didn’t deserve to be happy because I wasn’t performing great.  It was almost like my happiness was directly correlated with my performance, which was awful.  If I didn’t perform great, I didn’t deserve to be happy or enjoy things and vice versa – I needed to perform good If I want to enjoy the weekend or if I wanted to enjoy time off with my teammates.

That got real dangerous because when I wasn’t performing great, come springtime I was in a state of depression for four, five, six months because I wasn’t playing well.  And when the season was over, summer rolls around, fall comes and I’m happy.  I’m super happy again because it’s the farthest time away from the season possible.  Then season rolls around again and it just kind of fell into that same  darkness.

Rebecca: So for somebody out there, for that 15 year old guy who is having a slump, how do you flip that switch?  How do you get out of the hole?

Eric: For me it was support system.  It was talking to my teammates or talking to my coach.  Even my parents had said, “Alright, well who’s going to have your back no matter what?”  A lot of times as males and as older males especially, we want to figure it all out on our own.  We want to be strong.  We’re men, we’re supposed to be strong.  We’ll figure it out, we’ll deal with it on our own.  Then we just kind of stay to ourselves and don’t really talk about what we’re going through or ask how we can get help.  If we don’t ask, if we don’t try and reach out, usually there’s nowhere to go.

So I was able to get help by going to that class.  Then I was able to get help by being open enough to talk to my teammates and talk to my parents.  Once I was starting to share, “I’m really sad and I’m really depressed when I perform poorly and I’m getting frustrated and I can’t figure it out.”  Once I started sharing this with other people, I was sharing it with myself as well.  I stopped fighting that thought that was saying, “I’m just being a Debbie Downer.  I’ll get over it.  I need to be fine.”  And I wasn’t, so when I, when I said, “Okay, enough’s enough.  I’m just going to tell everybody how I feel, share what I’m going through.”

Ask, ask, ask, ask.  Ask a bunch of questions – how did you get through this, how are you, how can I get through this?  And having that and just being completely open, I took the pressure off myself because now everybody knew.  They knew that I was putting so much pressure on myself and knew that I was so unhappy with the results.  So then when I was at practice or game, I started getting some support from my coach and getting support from the teammates because they knew.  They went out of their way to boost my ego, boost my motivation, and helped me turn around.  It’s very difficult to do it alone, so it was very nice to have people that help – a support system.

Rebecca: Great advice.  When you’re in one of those lows, it feels so isolating.  If you’re coming back from injury or any kind of setback, you get isolated and depressed and then you kind of get snippy with people.  People are like, “I don’t want to help that guy.  He’s in a bad mood.  Don’t talk to Eric in the dugout.”

Eric: Oh yeah, I was not the one to talk to if I wasn’t having a good game, that’s for sure.

Rebecca: And then how are you going to get any help or suggestions?  So that’s such good advice.  I think we forget about it as humans, we just want to figure it out, figure it out, figure it out, figure it out. I’ve been doing this for 12 years, why can’t I figure this out?

Another irony that I noticed is a lot of the time the parents of athletes I work with were athletes, so they’re saying, “We can figure this out, we can figure this out,” and they’re not asking for help and they’re in this, “We should just quit,” and it’s this like toxic family thing that happens where everybody’s just like, “Well, you don’t need any help,” and it’s broken.

Like you mentioned that, there can be this stigma around asking for help, especially in sports.  You don’t want to lose your playing in time if your coach thinks you’re weak, but do you feel like that’s shifting in your experience?

Eric: Oh, 100 percent. Back when I was middle school, high school, nobody talked to anybody.  There was no sports psychologist, especially at that level, and if you did, you were a crazy person.  You would hear the rumors of, “Oh yeah, they’re seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  They must be laying on a couch looking at ink blots or something.”  Even today when I go in to a school or to work with teams, it’s amazing the openness that I get from it.  It almost seems like because of the push for working with counselors, the push for going to see somebody talk to somebody, the coaches I think are the first stepping stone in that.  Let me give you an example. There have been teams where I went in and (it’s a funny example), I walked into the locker room and the coach goes, “Hey, this is coach Eric.  If you’re having problems with your head, go see him.”  Guess how many of those kids came to see me?

Rebecca: Yeah, how many of those kids raised their hands and  jumped up at that chance.

Eric: Exactly.  So that was example one.  For another example, a different coach.  He spent 15 minutes talking about his own battle and how much he wished he worked with the sports psychologist and how much he wishes he was more open and then the benefits you can get from it.  He said, “We’re very lucky to have coach Eric here,  please use his resource,” and I had 10, 15 kids waiting in line after practice to come talk to me.  So you know, when they’re role models or mentors, when they help them and allow them to be accepting of it, that’s all it takes.  Its a matter of, “Oh, well if he’s going to do it then I can do it,” and so on and so forth.

I had the captain of one of the teams come talk to me first and as soon as all of his teammates saw him talking to me, well it all started being really open – sharing at practice, sharing with me individually, talking to me on the phone, calling me for anything.  So I definitely think the stigma is shifting to be more open as, not as much as the old school, but the newer school coaches as well are more open to it, and once they’re open to it, it allows their athletes to be much more open to it as well.

Rebecca: Absolutely.  Then it starts to feel like the secret weapon.  I have a handful of coaches who are like, “Go see Rebecca, go to Rebecca, please go talk to Rebecca, and then we’ll get you back out there.”

It’s not that we’re making crazy kids normal. We’re making kids awesome, sharp, excited and happy.  I mean, my whole community is the PerformHappy community.  I don’t know about you, but I was happy I performed well and when I was not happy I did not perform well.  So what are your top tips for helping athletes perform happy?

Eric:  For performing happy, first one would probably be self awareness.  I try to help the kid or athlete really get to know themselves.  What does make them happy?  Even helping understand what makes the unhappy.  To know both, to have that awareness in understanding can really help them create that foundation of, “Okay, this what makes me happy, this is how I can start to be happy,” and really start to build on their confidence that way.

The second thing is having fun.  I know that if your sport’s not fun, it’s almost impossible.  It’s almost possible to have fun and be happy playing it.  We were talking about it earlier – why did we play the sport to begin with.  It was fun, right?  And then like you said, here come the expectations.  If we don’t meet those expectations, we get unhappy, we get depressed, whatever it may be.  So having fun, but at the same time kind of letting go of all expectations and teaching them how to let go of the expectation, because if you’re just out there competing and you’re with your friends or you’re improving, that’s what it’s all about.

So when I played in my summer ball leagues and when I played in my fall ball leagues, there was no expectation of seeing results. Those stats weren’t going into a book.  There was no pressure on you.  It was just show up, relax, have fun.  And of course during those seasons I was amazing.  I was incredible. So that right there told me the talent’s there.  When I’m happy and just show up and there’s no pressure, I can do it.  Now here comes the spring season and I put all this pressure on myself and I’m worried about everything.  Worried about myself, worried about my team, worried about the coach.  I lost that fun and wasn’t happy as well.

Rebecca: This is important, therefore, I’m going to be so tense and do everything differently than how I do it in practice because it’s so important and then I’m going to fall apart and be mad at myself.  Why is that the natural thing that humans do?

Eric: And a third one I was thinking of is when I talk to younger athletes, I talk about having a little swagger out there.  Have that confidence.  It’s funny because if you don’t have it, if you look like you do, you eventually you’re going to start getting it right.  I said, “Walk with your chest up, walk with your head high, have a little swagger to you.  Of course, put in the work to earn it, but, but come game time, have an edge to you,” and it’s amazing how much that can turnaround.  If you go to a little league game or you go to just watch any sport with kids, you’ll see.  I can walk into a gym and know how a kid’s performing even if they’re not even out there, just by their body language.  If their head is slumped over, if their shoulders are slumped over, if they’re, if they’re looking around for their parents, they’re just not into it.

But if they have that almost swagger to them, that  super confidence, it’s amazing at how much more fun they’ll have and then how much more happier they’re going to be because they’re having fun.

Like we said, how do we get them away from result.  Good results make you happy, right?  That just cannot be the case because obviously good results are what we looking for, but if they’re not there, how can we still be happy enjoying our sport?  If we can be performing poorly but still be confident and still be happy that turnaround is going to happen a lot sooner and later for sure.

Rebecca: Awesome.  So much good stuff, Eric.  This has been so great and I think a lot of families are going to really benefit from this.  So if somebody wants to schedule consultation with Eric, you can grab a 20 minute consultation by going over to completeperformancecoaching.com/schedule.  Sign up.  You get 20 minutes with this awesome guy.  You can always reach out to Eric at completeperformancecoaching.com if you have questions.

Thank you so much for being here and I can’t wait to hear more from you in the PerformHappy community and on the complete performance coaching facebook page.

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