Q: A big part of self empowerment is overcoming the circumstances we are born into, and the challenges that life puts on our path. You had more obstacles to navigate than many people. (Can you share a little about your childhood… how and what encouraged you?)
A: When I think back to my childhood, I remember good times, lots of them. I Also remember terrifying times of fear and hopelessness. At the age of ten, my Mother had to share the reason my Father was absent from the home days or months at a time. She had to explain why Christmas gifts would go missing within a week of unwrapping them under the tree or birthdays being left with unfulfilled promises.
My Father was addicted to crack cocaine. The crack epidemic in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s that you see in documentaries was in my home. Once the cat was let out of the bag, my Father decided to use drugs in the house. This led to losing his employment, going in and out of jail, and bringing my sister and I to places no child belongs. I had to know people. I had to seek the quickest exits, make a judgement call on who was “sketch” or who was “safe.” I paid attention to how we navigated a destination in order to understand how to get home if I was left somewhere or had to run in a moment of panic. I’ve seen things and been places grown adults would avoid at all costs before I graduated middle school. Funny though, my Father and I are best friends because he always owned up to his shit. He was honest and that allowed me to make a call on whether or not I would forgive him. I would see the power of this drug and know the vice like grip it had on him. When he wasn’t using or locked up, he was present, keeping me by his side, exposing me to the world and loving me. This burden was shouldered by my Mother who worked countless jobs and did her best to keep food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads with the occasional extras. She did one hell of a job. By all metrics, I’m not supposed to be here today. My Mother gave me, my Father, and my sister the greatest gift anyone can ever receive; unconditional love. She taught me that.
Q: Was there someone in your early life that set you on a different trajectory or was it pure determination on your part?
A: Interestingly, it was my parents and my neighborhood. My parents told me the truth and exposed me to adult life at a young age. They had no choice. Instead of hiding what was happening, they were honest. They gave me a chance to deal with reality. Granted, 10 years old is very young to become an adult, but that was my persona already. By the time I was in Kindergarten imaginary play was of no interest. I lived in the reality of being poor, dealing with addiction and incarceration within my household. Mrs. Kaplow holding up a monkey sock puppet to practice ABCs did not entertain me. It upset me. Why would I speak to a fake puppet when the teacher is here and I can see her mouth moving? That was my thought process. The exposure to real life, the pain and truth of what we were going through let me know what I wanted and what I didn’t want. The truth gave me the opportunity to digest what was happening and make a decision on how I was going to respond appropriately and accordingly. As for my neighborhood, everyone knew who my Father was and didn’t dare entice me into trouble or harass me in any way. Also, they saw my athletic talent and knew I could make it out. So when someone did test the waters, before it could reach my Father, folks from the neighborhood intervened. I am speaking of gang members, drug dealers, violent offenders. They came to my rescue.
Q: You had aspirations of a career in sports was there a major injury that curtailed that life path? (Can you talk about the disappointment, challenges, and the power it took to create new goals and dreams for your future).
A: It was horrible. I was a 4 year NCAA starter, two time All-Conference, and the Grinnell College Freshman Athlete of the Year. I wanted to try my hand at professional sports and I truly believed it was a genuine possibility. I destroyed my knee. And to all the parents out there who say, “See. That’s why you can’t play football.” It was an accident. No one touched me. I tried to defy the laws of Physics and lost! I was casted hip to toe for 9 ½ months, crutching through snow in Iowa to get to class. The football program forgot about me because I was an expendable asset. I went from 205lbs of solid muscle to weighing 155lbs following surgery. I hadn’t been that light since middle school. I remember having to ask my roommate to help me get undressed, tie a black garbage bag around my leg, set a stool in the shower, guide me to the stool and turn on the water for me. Then he had to help me get out. I drank. I did drugs. I drowned myself with whatever vice was easily accessible including people. Athletics have been my entire life. Yes, I knew I was intelligent and I had other interests but I never asked myself the number one philosophical and foundational question anyone can ask… Who am I? I didn’t know who I was without sports and it’s still a struggle to this day, a dream unfulfilled. Yet, without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today and quite frankly, I was dick before my injury. I thought I was Superman and no one could tell me anything because I had got to this point in my life on my own. After that injury, the most humbling experience of my life, I tattooed “humble heart,” around one forearm and “humble soul,” around the other.
Q: You then found fulfillment in coaching? ( please tell us about the interpersonal experience of giving encouragement to the kids and watching them grow and realize their dreams.)
A: Coaching is beyond fulfilling. There are only three experiences that bring me to tears; my kids succeeding in anything, my athletes sharing that they know they are loved by me beyond the sport, and cheesy moments in movies and commercials involving sports and kids. I have had two players, on two different occasions, stand up at an all team and family banquet and sob as they expressed to an auditorium full of people how I served as a second father to them, while their actual father was in the room. That can be scary though because you never know how men will take those types of statements. Luckily, both fathers came to me in tears later in the night to express their gratitude. That meant the world to me because Coach Tom Fry was that for me, especially my senior year when my Father was incarcerated and missed my most touted season in high school. I don’t get that anymore being retired (retired after this past season from 15 years of dedication), but I will never forget it. Nowadays, the clients I coach and the athletes I coach in Virtual Reality have overfilled my cup of gratitude. I get messages about how something has changed their life or how I helped them get through a trying time that they didn’t think was going to end well. It always humbles me because I never believe I am doing anything special. I am simply passing on the love and encouragement I received that lifted me to new heights. Someone cared enough to care about me, so why shouldn’t I do the same for others? It’s just a pretty cool perk to receive appreciation in return.
Q: Can you speak to the building of self confidence and empowerment that a coach inspires? (Do
you feel that being part of a team makes a difference in our children’s lives, beyond the field… something they carry with them through life… the bonding experience of being part of a team for example).
A: A true coach can take anyone, from anywhere, and get an athlete / client to believe in themselves and pull something out of themselves they didn’t even know existed. The only way for that to be possible is to know your athlete / client. A coach can know all the X’s and O’s or have a million degrees in anatomy, kinesiology, and experience in every training regimen, every life hack, and life coaching skill in the book but if you don’t know your athletes / clients, you will never maximize their potential. I always say that some of my players need a kick in the ass, some need a pat on the back, others need to be left alone, and some need a combination of the three. You have to know who you are coaching. You have to understand who they are as human beings, an individual who deals with life, before you can ever get the best from them. If you can do that, your job is fairly easy because they then expect it for themselves. I would tell my football players that my goal, come game time, was to have them so mentally, physically and emotionally prepared that I don’t even have to call plays. They know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and I’m just there for support. They do it for each other and I simply fade into the background.
Q: Difficult experiences and disappointment closed you down emotionally, and there was a period in your life where you didn’t let anyone get close. You were unable to be vulnerable. How did you overcome this fear and let people in?
A: I overcame this tough time by taking the risk to share bits and pieces of myself with others. I knew I had to take that leap of faith or risk growing into a bitter, cynical, and unpleasant old man. I was careful about who I let in and focused on those I believed would not hurt me or judge me. I hedged my bets in that regard and it turned out to be a good one. It opened new worlds for me and that allowed me to explore and discover life. It is only by doing the thing can anyone overcome the fear of the thing.
Q: You have chosen to be hopeful despite everything to the contrary, what fuels your positive outlook?
A: Pretty simple… Why would anyone choose the alternative? Don’t get me wrong, I have my days but I get to decide how I feel.
Q: Despite being told the outcome of your choices might be impossible or unfavourable you trusted your instincts… where does that confidence and self awareness come from?
A: That confidence comes from my parents, my sports background, and a history of evidence where I did the thing I was told I couldn’t. My parents always told me they thought I was special. My Nana (maternal grandmother) would always speak to the fact that I was born at 3:33 am and how it was a sign of the Angels. They instilled a confidence in me that is unwavering in the face of adversity. I’m not arrogant to think I can do anything without hard work and preparation but I am confident enough to wholeheartedly believe, if I say I will do something, it will happen, because of my effort to make it happen. That confidence my parents instilled easily translated into athletics where I also had coaches that believed in my abilities and work ethic. There comes a moment in every athlete’s career where they pause and are baffled at what they just did. There is no other feeling like it and it breeds the desire for more. Receiving the praise of coaches and strangers, crowds of fans cheering and the opponents fans verbally assaulting is a booster shot of adrenaline and confidence. It is the most addictive thing I have ever experienced. You wrap that up with all of the hardships I have faced as a youth and you get something interesting. From those hardships, I made it out bruised and battered but not defeated, and that’s a clear cut recipe for self-awareness. It may not be the best recipe but the end product is just as good as any other.
Q: Having spent a significant amount of time and energy to remake yourself multiple times, can you speak to the consequence of being misunderstood during those critical turning points in your life? Do you, or did you care what others thought of you, or your choices? Did it causes any doubt or were you decisive and sure of your direction?
A: I was and am constantly unsure of my direction but that’s okay. I do a lot of things and all of them I enjoy. I have noticed that all of my endeavors usually amount to being there for other people. I would struggle all the time with my perceived thoughts and assumptions of what others thought of me. It was one of my biggest issues. I constantly thought someone was passing judgement on me, whether a close friend or a random stranger in the grocery store. In turning inward, I realized no one is thinking about me or you. They simply aren’t. No one cares about what you’re doing. They are dealing with their own life problems and struggles and if they are thinking of you, especially in a negative light, it is none of your business. That is a burden for them to carry, not you. Life is hard enough without the judgement of others. Still, I do run into situations where people judge me because of my looks or stature, where I come from and how I maneuver but I only know because they vocalize their opinion and judgement. The most interesting thing is the assumption that I am intimidating, in general, or not collegial enough in an employment setting. The consequences to these assumptions were loss of friends, colleagues, leaving jobs, and simply telling people to go fuck themselves! (if i can’t curse, you can make that last line, “simply telling people they don’t deserve me) But, I am not intimidating, they’re just intimidated. I am collegial, they just fear my power and influence. There is nothing I can do about that. If they choose to allow that fear to impede them from getting to know me, well, again, it’s none of my damn business.
Q: What does it take to gather the courage to remake yourself when others tell you it isn’t possible?
A: It requires being comfortable with being alone. Not everyone is meant to be on your journey and when you’re working on yourself, it can be a lonely process. You can lose loved ones and you can lose yourself. That is a scary thing for people. With so many distractions available to us, many people have lost the ability to be alone, to be silent, and to be okay with that. I love that and carve out time daily for this purpose. I sit with self and allow myself to get to know me. It was commonplace to have such a skill but now, it is something that has to be trained and practiced, especially if you live in a big city where you constantly have a computer with access to everything in your pocket. Sadhguru said it best, “If you’re going to be alone, you might as well be in good company.” I’m in good company.
Q: What inspired you toward a degree in behavior analysis?
A: When I came home from college to continue physical therapy, I was working as a full time second grade teacher, a bouncer at a club on the weekends, and worked 3 nights a week graveyard shift as a front desk receptionist at a gym. The money was a focus but I also was lost and had no idea what to do with myself. I called a professor from undergrad and asked his opinion on applying for graduate school. He shared the Science of Behavior Analysis. I looked into it and it simply made sense. The science made sense and it made sense for me. At this time, I was also expecting my first son and I wanted a better life for my children than I had.
Q: You now utilize the Science of Human Behavior to help others reach their full potential and unleash their inner Warrior through self-discipline. This is an accumulation of knowledge you have gained through education and experience, can you speak about your personal insights that led you on this path.
A: It wasn’t until I completed my first year of graduate training that I realized the survival skills I acquired as a child had morphed into a love of people watching and made me adept at understanding human behavior. You see, many people only associate Behavior Analysis with Autism therapy but they are inaccurate. That just happens to be the niche the field found and has cemented their line of research and professional practice, but Behavior Analysis is the philosophy of a science of human behavior, which goes beyond Autism. Behavior Analysis applications and interventions are everywhere, including the schedules in which people receive their paychecks to sport skills to gambling and addiction. You name it! If behavior is occurring, the science can be applied at an individual, group, or systematic level. For me, it’s wellness, health, sports, and fitness. My favorite aspect of application of the science is self-monitoring which produces self-discipline. In utilizing the science personally to help foster self-discipline, I realized I was behaving as a Warrior would; preparing and training daily to sharpen my skills emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, in hopes that I die with honor, never having to exude skills that would harm another. And guess what, I love it! I try to get others to see that the Warrior lives within them as well. When people ask me for my “elevator pitch” of who I am, I simply share a quote / paraphrase of a Chinese proverb (last one, I promise!). “It’s better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.”
Q: What means or tools do you use now to encourage and empower others? (You can talk about your speaking gigs, podcasts, YouTube, and supernatural for example).
A: There are a plethora of ways I try to hold the mirror up for others to self-discover. Currently, I give talks all over the nation regarding wellness and human behavior and take on individuals, as well as groups of clients, and facilitate discussions for employees of large corporations and organizations. I share my process of self-awareness and the revelations I encounter on my podcast, Doc’s Daily Dose, and am planning another series for my YouTube channel called Doc After Dark where more personal and intimate discussions will occur. I also love to share epiphany moments, in the moment, on my social media channels (you can find me on all platforms as @onecoachdoc). One of the more interesting avenues includes being a Virtual Reality Fitness Coach and Brand Ambassador for the VR application Supernatural, where I coach “flow” and “boxing” sessions, write and record guided meditations, and hold full body stretch sessions. Though I no longer coach high school football, I am present to provide support for my children and their teammates in youth sports. I teach graduate school and mentor young Behavior Analysts who want to pursue careers outside the typical niche of Behavior Analysis and provide parent training and wellness checks for an Autism agency. In addition to the above activities, I have a website with inspirational clothing, jewelry, accessories, and a 100-day challenge journal I created. Lastly, I am working on three projects that I hope to release in 2023. The projects include two books, an application, and a way to help mentor young boys of single mother homes. The books will focus on my Father’s story and another that provides daily inspiration and thought provoking prose for every day of the year. The app will be an all encompassing wellness app that provides meditations, at home-workouts, coaching, wellness products, and access to the journals and books in audio and written format. I guess this is a long winded way of saying, I seek and explore all opportunities and options to encourage and empower others.