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Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning at WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast.
There are many attributes and traits that intrigue me about professional athletes. Throughout my career in the sports media I’ve often found myself interviewing pro athletes and thinking to myself, what makes them different?
I worked hand in hand with NFL MVP Shaun Alexander for a few years and kept asking him questions, probing at his background his development as an athlete, his experience being the absolute best every phase of his life… I asked so many questions I think he got annoyed with me
No that’s not true, Shaun is one of the kindest, most gracious athletes you could ever encounter.
You see, I’m one of those people that looks for patterns. Is it where they grew up? how early they started training? Is it a passion that is born within that can’t be controlled only fostered? Is it purely size and speed? Game intelligence and instincts?
I’d ask Shaun specific questions like, how did you know to cut that direction on a play -- that didn’t look like it was open at all?! and he’d go into a complex discussion of the blocking scheme, but eventually admit, instincts take over. So is that it? Is it born from within?
This would go round and round and round and round. Finally one day, two years into our friendship - he gave me the answer.
As he would explain it -- The baseline qualification is that you have the elite athletic combination - fast, strong, size, weight...that gets you to college. It doesn’t get you beyond that.
To get to the pro’s and potentially elite level, long, award-winning, triumphant career, requires elite competitiveness. The belief that you need to outwork, outsmart, and out manuever everyone else. That when you line up to play, you raise your ability to an entirely new level. That when your season is done, all you can think about is how you will improve for the next turn.
This style of competitiveness cozy’s up, very close, to obsession. Nothing else matters but competing.
This is also why so many elite players struggle with mental health issues during their playing days -- not being quite elite enough, not handling the pressure well enough, not having enough outlets for their anguish.
Imagine being this hardwired to compete on everything, and then having a day where your body just can’t do it anymore. In 2005 Shaun ran for 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns - he won the league MVP award. In 2008, just three years later he carried that ball 11 times for the Washington Football Team and was released.
He was 31 years old.
What do you do with all that competitiveness when your body just can’t do it anymore? How do you transition to a different life and world. The world literally sees you different. YOu couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed before, now you walk down the street and people wonder quietly...is that...nah, can’t be.
This mental adjustment, this transition, is just another obstacle in the journey of being a pro athlete.
Today’s guest Chasity Melvin, played 14 years of professional basketball - she was a WNBA All-Star, NCAA All-american, she broke scoring records previously set by Sheryl Swoopes, which is big time.
And she’s had to go through this same transition. A new life and new challenges. Never one to sit still, she’s written a book, “At the End of the Day” which you can find on Amazon, she’s become a Life Coach, she hosts her own True Sports podcast...and she became the first female coach in the Charlotte hornets organization before her current role as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Mercury.
She’s our All-star now -- here’s a clip from the episode, with Chasity explaining how she went about coaching men, as the first female coach in the Charlotte Hornets organization.
1: Chasity there is so much to talk about over your career as a student-athlete, professional athlete and now as a coach – so thank you so much for being here…
Let’s start with your early days as a student-athlete – we so often talk about work life balance as it pertains to careers, but really that concept of balance is incredibly important for student-athletes, as an All-American basketball player at NC State, how did you find balance between the student part and the athlete part?
2: I’m not always a big fan of looking backward I tend to be the type to push forward, but indulge me, you graduated from NC State in 2000 leading the Wolfpack to their only Final Four and you have a very full trophy case.
As you reflect back on that time, is there anything you would have done differently?
3: Mental health is such an important topic with today’s athletes. We hear athletes at the top of their games, guys like Demar Derozen, Kevin Love, Dak Prescott, admitting to mental health struggles.
As someone who has been through the rigors of being a high-profile athlete – what tools do young student-athletes, and professionals, need to better manage their mental health?
4: As fans we so often hear about athletes who “play ball in college for the love of the game” but when they reach the pro’s it becomes “a business”. Was this your experience?
5: I’m a goal setter. I like to visualize my future and what I want it to look like, and then work backward making steps and plans and strategies to get there. What about you? What has been your process for becoming who you want to be?
6: 12 seasons in the WNBA. All-Star. Leader. When you look back what are you most proud of during your playing career?
7: As a professional athlete you played in the US – but you also played professionally in Italy, Israel, Spain, Poland, Russia, Korea, Turkey and China.
I’m guessing this is largely because of the pay gap for women. You had to play all over the place to leverage the window of your talent – as you see more women fighting for equal pay, whether they are pro athletes or Directors of Marketing, how does that make you feel?
8: In your global travels what did you learn about international fans – are they much different than here in the US? Is there are a different level of interest or passion in other countries?
9: Most athletes I have interviewed tend to ignore the looming end of their career and hold off as long as they can. I respect this, I’d be the same way. When did you start to realize the end is coming whether I like it or not, and start figuring out your post-playing career path?
10: You joined the NBA Player Development Assistant coaches program in 2018 – it’s one thing to be a player, and quite another to teach others how to be a player… did you have any Aha! Moments as you engaged in this learning experience?
11: You became the first female coach in the Charlotte Hornets organization when you became an Assistant for the Greensboro Swarm the Hornets G-League team – so, did game respect game…or was it a bit of a challenge having to prove yourself in the role?
12: One of my favorite quotes lately came from someone you competed against in the WNBA, Kara Lawson who is now the women’s coach at Duke – she talked about the difference between hard work and competing – and I thought it was great.
Is that the part that makes pro athletes different, that innate desire to compete? And how valuable is that skill to you now as an assistant coach?
13: You joined the Phoenix Mercury as an assistant coach this past season – how unique has it been to not only become an assistant coach with a team, but under these really strange circumstances?
14: We’ll finish up with this… you clearly have a positive attitude – it’s infectious and I’m sure it serves you well. We talked about mental health earlier as it relates to the pressure of being a student-athlete, but what about just the everyday need for a positive attitude?
I’ll admit, it’s getting tough to stay positive. There is a lot of bad news out there, and I personally struggle with balancing knowing what is going on in the world, with getting depressed because of what is going on in the world. How do you stay positive and how can others embrace this positivity?