Habits of a Champion
By Greg Bach
Mariano Rivera recently made baseball history, becoming the first unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
A lethal late-inning performer, he saved a Major League record 652 games during his spectacular career and helped the New York Yankees win five World Series titles.
And coaches of young athletes can learn a lot from Rivera’s approach, says Dana Cavalea, who spent 12 years with the Yankees, much of that time as Director of Strength and Conditioning and Performance Enhancement.
Cavalea is the author of Habits of a Champion, which features 15 lessons about what it takes to become a champion. He shares stories and insights from some of the world’s top performers in sports, life and business.
We caught up with Cavalea to discuss coaching kids, molding mindsets, and more. Check out what he had to say:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is a conversation you had with an athlete that stands out?
CAVALEA: Mariano Rivera gets a lot of credit for his cutter, but the reality is that his strength came from his conviction and his overall mindset. A couple years back we were talking about mindset and what it takes. I asked him how he did it when the game was on the line and he looked at me and said he does a few things: ‘No. 1, I slow everything down; No. 2, I quiet the noise; and No. 3, I throw one pitch at a time. Those are the three steps that I take to focus myself.’ And then I asked him about all the big games, the playoffs and the World Series, and he said to me ‘there are no big games, they are only big in our own minds. We decide what we make big and what we don’t. But everything is the same.’ So when I teach kids, or when I teach companies, it’s what are you focusing on? And that stems from that conversation.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is a common roadblock that stops young athletes from finding success and getting to the next level?
CAVALEA: I believe, based just on what I see when I work with young athletes, it’s just a lack of confidence. They don’t believe in themselves. They feel embarrassed if they fail and they never want to make a mistake. Going back to Mariano, he gave up the game-winning hit in the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks and I said to him, ‘Mo, what would you do differently?’ And he said ‘Nothing; I would throw the same exact pitch in the same exact place – I don’t doubt what I did at all.’ And when you work with a lot of young athletes and kids, they don’t have that level of conviction and authority in their own decision-making process. And I think that comes from parents always making decisions for their kids.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Being around so many great players during your work with the Yankees what is an attribute they shared that helped them attain such great success?
CAVALEA: The big thing is they schedule everything. They have a daily routine and they never miss on it, that’s what it comes down to. And it’s just over and over. You watch a long-time professional, a guy with 10-plus years in the league, and they keep it really simple. They’re not doing flashy things or quirky things that are found on the Internet. They find what works for them and they do it – but they do it every single day. They don’t say, ‘well, it’s snowing out today, or it’s raining today or the weather is too cold’ – they just execute with incredible consistency.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Baseball is a hard sport, with lots of failure involved, so what’s your message for volunteer coaches working with children to help them deal with the disappointment?
CAVALEA: What I always say is nobody bats a thousand, so stop trying to, because I think that hurts a lot of kids. They set up false expectations for themselves where they think they can be perfect. Kids are going to fail and they should embrace failure. With failure comes success. Derek Jeter always used to say that the more he didn’t hit the closer he was to getting a hit – because after a slump he knew he would go on a tear.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
CAVALEA: I just want them to take away that they have control of themselves and it’s important that they realize that and that your strength comes from the inside and you can’t let the outside world affect the inside world too much or else you’ll be in big trouble. People over 40 today grew up in a way where tough love worked. Today, you have to have a combination of a little bit of tough love and a lot of empowerment, and a lot of positive push toward these kids. You can’t be afraid to get on them a little bit, but there’s a balance between the two and you have to know what the kids respond to and what type of coaching they respond to. You have to know your kids.
Dr. Jennifer Etnier, professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of Coaching for the Love of the Game, on helping volunteer coaches be positive difference makers for young athletes
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