The acquisition of knowledge is what separates us from animals. We learn, grow, and continue to learn as we grow. Sometimes after a period of tremendous growth, we forget that we still need to keep learning. This occurs when your ego gets in your way and tells you that you've arrived or that you've finally made it. This can happen to anyone, and I know from personal experience it has happened to me. This is called “being humbled," and boy there have been times where I have been humbled with the best of them. It’s easy to get caught in the ego trap. You spend the first part of your career busting your butt to get to a certain level, and then once you reach that level you feel as though everything you have done is justified. Furthermore, from my own personal experience, you get some success in that new “justified level” and the ego starts sneaking into your ear.

"You just came off a C-USA championship. A guy with 15 years of experience handpicked you to be his right hand man. You’re now the head strength coach.”

Ego has definitely gotten into my ear before. And it’s okay to start feeling yourself. I mean, you worked hard for what you have — you earned this! But where the danger lies is when you start hanging around in the opinions and the persuasions, and stop remembering your convictions. The danger arises when training your athletes is important, but what’s urgent to you is your philosophy or your title. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a head guy or having a philosophy that you are grounded in; what’s wrong is when those things fall to the forefront of your mind.

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So what was my humbling moment? A conversation with my fellow assistant Jeff Ward. Jeff has some great, grounding motivation, and when we talk it’s usually about holistic views on life. One of these talks led to three circles. Inside the first circle were our convictions. The convictions, for us, are our athletes. The next circle around convictions includes persuasions. Persuasions are things like title and money. The final circle is opinions. These are things like your philosophy. The circles go from selfless to selfish wants and desires. There’s nothing wrong with having money or having a philosophy, but what many get caught in is just the money or just the philosophy. And if you’re not honest with yourself, you may think you're operating on a conviction level, when in reality you have been stuck in the opinion level. It’s okay to have an opinion but know that while you’re focused on opinions, convictions are taking a backseat.

strength coach ego

See, I was sitting with ego in the driver’s seat. Prior to being a head guy, I didn’t have any real opinions. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and persuasions of being a head guy seemed years and years away. So what did I have other than my convictions? Nothing. I read to enhance my knowledge to share with my athletes. I trained to gather some opinions to give to my boss for our athletes. In fact, my version of the tier system is what we used at Buffalo post-spring and summer. When my boss came to me and asked what we could do better, the better was rooted in persuasions. It wasn’t rooted in my opinions, because I didn’t have many opinions at all. I didn’t know how a weight room should be designed, how meals should be distributed the day before a game, or how a nutrition budget should be set. These are all opinions. They aren't bad opinions to have; I just didn’t have them because I hadn’t done them yet.

Flash forward a bit and my good friend ego is sitting next to me, patting me on the back. I had gotten new flooring, the nutrition handled, and I had done a lot of things successfully that I had never even dreamed of doing. Of course, I didn’t do these things by myself; I had great assistants. Without them, I couldn’t have done a third of what I was able to do. But ego was sitting there whispering to me, “Don, look at what you’ve accomplished. Look at what you did. You took over and enhanced this program.” And like a fool I replied, “Yes, ego. I did.” As time went on and I went into another job, I was still feeling myself, still allowing ego to pat me on the back. I looked at things and I was caught up still thinking of the persuasions and opinions I had now gathered. Ego was in the driver's seat even though I thought I was focused only on convictions. I realized there had been a shift in me. I didn’t let ego speak for me, but ego did speak to me on a daily basis.

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Thankfully, I had Coach Ward there to humble me. We sat down and he drew the three circles: convictions, persuasions, and opinions. Being 100% truthful with myself, I knew persuasions weren’t operating me, but I did feel like I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of my convictions. Why was this? Because I was stuck in opinions. I was thinking too much about other possibilities. I was on the outer ring without even realizing it. I thought my opinions were helping my convictions, but they weren't. Jeff helped me realized I was reading to feed my opinions as opposed to reading to feed my convictions like I used to. For a guy who has made a career by developing relationships and helping my athletes, this was a truly humbling moment. We sat down and realigned my convictions. I rediscovered the guy I am, hidden underneath ego. I had to have the tough conversation with myself that at Buffalo, I didn’t accomplish anything. My assistants were the best in the nation, my players were willing to work past their old maxes, and my mentors were willing to help me every step of the way.

After these talks with Coach Ward, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had rediscovered who I was. My convictions got a thousand times better and my personal health, in turn, grew tremendously. And now I am able to write an article that my ego would have never let me write seven months ago, with the hope of helping others who may be currently stuck outside their convictions without even realizing it. To say I was humbled is an understatement; I was shaken to my core. But that’s an amazing thing because I got better because of it. Again, there’s nothing wrong with opinions. My opinions will help me one day down the line. Persuasions, to me, are goals, and we all have to have goals. But convictions are what get us up in the morning. Convictions are the reason I come in on Saturday and help anyone who wants to do extra mobility work. Convictions are the reason my guys feel comfortable coming to me for advice outside of football. If all I focused on were opinions and persuasions, I wouldn’t have the relationships I have (and this industry is a relational one). Do I still have opinions and persuasions? Of course, I do, but I don’t allow them to misalign me from my convictions.

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