LEADING THROUGH RETIREMENT -- Bringing Awareness to Post Athletic Depression

Post athletic depression is a common struggle among athletes, and for me this is no surprise. Ask any collegiate athlete to introduce themselves, and they will mention their sport in the first three sentences (just behind their name and where they are from) as in “Hi, my name is Toni, I am from Baltimore, MD and I am a swimmer.” In fact, the sport of swimming even has a term dedicated to retired athletes, swammer, which is weird because many of us participate in masters swimming.

Our athletic experiences and achievements defined us during our formative years, and because of this, it will never leave our identity. My confidence came from swimming, my value system came from swimming, my moral compass was developed through my athletic experiences, and my first/second/third boyfriend were swimmers. Athletes will never fully transition away from their identity as a college athlete because it made us who we are today, and this is why the uncertainty of life after your sport is so terrifying and difficult. How can you be all those things when you are no longer participating in your sport?

Here are some other reasons why retirement is so difficult:
1. It is rare for athletes to end their career on a high note so many athletes leave the sport in disappointment
2. Our sport has defined much of our identity for our entire lives
3. Our sports advocated for self care and without the structure of the sport our self care lacks directly correlating to our mental health
4. We lose our tribe and for the first time need to deal with a solo identity, which makes us feel left out and alone.

But you are not alone, and should not ever suffer alone.

To Athletes: Reach out to your teammates and coaches to stay connected, and get help from your university whether that be the counseling center or sports psychologist. Schedule something to fill this new gap in your schedule—and make it all about self care and connecting with friends. Stay on top of your nutrition and a daily exercise routine (these are directly correlated to mental health) and be prepared to redefine your fitness level, however that may be. I will never be in as great of shape as I was as a collegiate swimmer, but I also don’t want to because they would require more than 4 hours a day of exercise and I would rather do something else with that time.

To Coaches: Your seniors need you now more than ever. Reach out, check in, and make sure your athletes know that you are their mentor and support system forever. Tell them that you value them for who they are and not just as a number on the roster (don’t assume they already know this). Let them know that they matter, that this process is hard, that they are not alone, and that there are resources available to them.

To All: Talk about post retirement depression. Bring awareness to this struggle, and share your story. Together we can help make this transition smoother.


Article: Women Do Like to Compete -- Against Themselves

This is an interesting article from Feb 2017 in the New York Times about Women and Competition. It talks about a research project they did between women and men, and their summary was that women preferred competition against themselves, while men preferred competition with one another. The author doesn’t get into whether they think this is culturally developed or just part of the female DNA, but at the end of the day, athletic competition IS competition against others. If this is true, then it is no wonder women struggle with racing sports where they train and compete against teammates.

I do believe that women need to be taught to be competitive and can be taught that competition against others IS good, but it needs to be done in a very intentional way.

Men seem to be more innately competitive with one another and they often become inspired by other’s successes (it is further evidence that they too will be fast), where women tend to feel more threatened by the successes of others—especially teammates. I think this theme is a throwback to the glass ceiling and the token female in the professional world, but unfortunately this thought process still needs to work its way out of our culture. (Of course there are always outliers and this isn’t true about ALL women, but that is another conversation for another day. For now, I’d like to focus on teaching those who prefer internal competition to be more outwardly competitive).

So, how can we teach a culture of competition in female athletes without damaging their relationships and self-confidence? Here is my list thus far:
1. Teach them how to find self-confidence through valuing their personal gifts (the controllables).
2. Teach them self love and compassion for their flaws.
3. Create a culture of self improvement-- IE sets with specific personal goals.
4. Facilitate more single gendered practices and competitions (and camouflage it as fun, because most women do not want to sacrifice fun for success).
5. Facilitate a sisterhood and a culture of support through competition (you being better makes me better).

It is too easy for female athletes of a coed program to get lost or feel inadequate when all the male athletes are leading the lanes and winning the competitions. If what this article is saying is true (and females do prefer internal competition over external), then it only increases the importance of single gendered practices. Coaches, take the time to develop your women based on their needs and give them an opportunity to create a sisterhood and identify separate from the men’s program.

What are your thoughts? Comment below:

How to Connect with Millennials

I share a story from a recent graduate about their first experience in the work force.  To keep with their wish for anonymity, he/she is their pronoun.

This grad found that very few coworkers seem to care about him/her other than in job related issues.  Very few smiled when greeting them, and few even looked up in passing.   He/she feels that labeling as a "millennial or generation y" creates a disconnect in the work place. They found very few role models or mentors, as "everyone was just into THEIR own thing".  The recent grad went on the say, "I want to make it work, and so I hang in there, but it is tough when many seem they just don't care.   Wow!   


So what can we do to work more effectively with one another?


1)  Communicate--When there is a lack of communication to the new employee, they will fill the time with their own narrative and perception of reality.  This is usually negative.

2) Take time out to reach out to a young employee.  In addition to sharing the team or company vision, care about them.  Help them to see what it takes to "walk the walk" as a "teammate' and as a person.  This is what the new generation is looking for in a mentor or role model.

3) Try to understand that, while each generation will be challenging, everyone has a gift.  Reach out and let them know how important their gift is for team success.  When they see that their gift is valued for the overall good of the team, they will thrive.

4)  Do not label.  Just because some of us are in our 60's does not mean we are dinosaurs (or no longer contribute).....think of us as WISE, not old :)  .....labeling a gen y or millennial as lazy clumps one into a catagory and causes immediate disconnect.  Always ask, What is their gift ?


We must find a way to work effectively with all generations!!!!  I repeat, A good start is to look at those with experience as Wise, not old......and to work hard to inspiring the "newbies" to find their gifts.


In this Ted Talk, Four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military.  How the only difference between different generations is their experiences. He discusses how building a sense of shared purpose is by listening and learning -- and addressing the possibility of failure. Remember our post from last week?

Mutual Purpose + Mutual Respect = Positive Crucial Conversations = Goal Achievement

Joseph Grenny's Mastering The Art of Crucial Conversations

Joseph Grenny is a four-time New York Times bestselling co-author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance.  He co-founded the company Vital Smarts, which teaches business leadership through online training classes, conferences, and webinars all based on the philosophies of his four books.  The speech we've decided to write about (video linked below) is based on his first book "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High."

In this speech, Grenny asks the question, "What behavior if changed would make the biggest difference in the world?"  His answer:  the method with which we communicate during conflict of ideas, perspectives, and problems.  According to the philosophy, conflict is inevitably achieved during the pursuit of every goal causing emotions to run high.  It is during these intense "crucial conversations" where most people fall short of inspiring change.

Grenny explains that the cost of avoiding "crucial conversation" means to either strive for a meaningless life and career, or to "act out" the conflict (IE physical manifestations of anger and disrespect).  He argues that silence isn't truly silent because it will show up in accelerated and unhealthy ways in the future.  Conflict is not a pit or obstacle to avoid, but stairs to creation.  So, how can we handle these conversations in a way that creates positive growth instead of a growing conflict?  

As a leader, how can you make sure that your message is heard properly, that your intention is received positively, and the follower is self motivated to make the changes you desire?  How do you receive crucial conversations that are begun by those around you?  How can you react to these conversations more effectively?  

Grenny ultimately explains the importance of connecting emotionally with the people around you.  That people never become defensive about what you're saying, they become defensive because of why they think you're saying it.  Don't run from it, don't sugarcoat it, just be candid, honest, and respectful.  

Positive intention requires:
1. Mutual Purpose - Sharing a common goal
2. Mutual Respect - The Continuance of knowing that I care about you

What crucial conversations have you experienced recently? Were they life changing or did they fall flat?  How can you strengthen the relationships with those around you so that next time it makes more progress?

Love, Fear, and Leadership

This article is an oldie but a goodie from the Harvard Business Review back in 2013 titled "Connect, then Lead."  It debates the effectiveness of leading through fear, love, or a balance between the two.  Spoiler alert, confident and compassionate leadership wins. This struck a chord with its statistics, eye opening arguments, and "how to" tips.  The old Machiavelli style of leading through fear is, at best, outdated.  For most it never worked!

The leader-follower connection helps to dictate an environment where the follower feels valued; the leader is respected; energy flows both ways; and both are able to make sense out of what they are working towards (have a greater sense of purpose).

Years ago, coaches led by what they did (science), and what they asked their athletes to do.  Then there was a combination of the science and art (how to be more effective at the skill, flow, drills, etc).  Now the leadership is about the why (does it make sense) of the what and how.  In essence, there must be a connection to reach the Silver Bullet, or the "All-In" Culture.  

Invest in people's lives and you both shall find joy and success.


Are Leaders Born or Made?

Psychologytoday.com has some intriguing statistics about whether or not leaders are born or made.  According to this article, published in Feb. 2015, research indicated that leadership is only 30% genetic. The odds don't seem in anyone's favor to just leave team culture and leadership up to chance.  This is why Baltimore Leadership Guides was founded.  Leadership is a lifelong journey of development, growth, and collaboration with those around you.