Your Happiness is Not My Responsibility

This week I’m hosting my first WTF Wednesday guest, Robert Nelson. I met Rob in the AAF, where I worked as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Arizona Hotshots. Rob played in the NFL for 4 years prior to signing with the Arizona Hotshots.

Rob stopped by the gym this week and we chopped it up about our professional experience and the intersection of the performance driven environment (producing results) with the professional world (it is now your career to produce results in your specific role). From the jump I could relate to Rob as we both found ourselves misunderstood by our ‘C-level’ superiors – so to speak because of our personal motivational constructs that drive performance.

This WTF Wednesday we’re digging into the mindset of elite performance. It’s challenging as professionals to have motivational strategies that are often stigmatized – these stigmas often affect work-place politics for professional coaches and athletes.

If you only play or hire who you ‘like’ you’ll have a hard time winning.

The disconnect often lies with the person of power; Oftentimes ‘management’ project onto employees and players what they envision as ideal behavioral attributes of the performer.

Unfortunately, human nature tends to project things onto others in an ego-preserving way; that is to say we expect others to act in a way that resonates with us- in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves and promotes our own self-efficacy.

As management, these projections of ‘ideal’ states should instead seek to enhance and support the self-efficacy strategies of the performer(s) him/herself (Vargas-Tonsing & Guan, 2007) rather than validate the ‘happiness’ of management team.  Management personnel must let go of what they project to be a player/performers ideal state and instead seek to understand that the  ‘ideal state’ actually is – ESPECIALLY if  it’s different from the workplace ‘cultural norm’.

It is not the job of the performer to emotionally validate the coach or management. It is the job of the performer to execute the skill set they were hired to do, to the highest ability. And it is the job of management to support affective states that produce the desired results.

Motivational Strategies of Elite Performance

Why do we swear when we hit our thumb with a hammer, step on a lego at 2 am, or stub our pinky toe on the corner of the bed? And why does music affect performance?

Answer: Both swearing and music incite emotional arousal states that help us mange and overcome the cognitive burden of pain.

You would not describe smashing your finger as a happy experience. Less painful yet is stepping on a lego, but you would not describe that as a happy experience either. Nor would you generally describe a max effort training session as a ‘pleasant’ time.

But we often expect performers to act in a way that denies these unpleasantries for what they are: FUCKING UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCES.

So how do you perform a high-level task in a high stress, unpleasant environment?

Well it turns out that emotional states promote self-efficacy just as informational processing strategies do; emotions are coping mechanisms for informational processing in high-stress environments.

Think about it. You were groggy, un-alert and stepped on a lego at 2 AM. The pain of that small inconspicuous object combined with your emotional response and suddenly you have night vision and can see a minefield of 20 of those mutherfuckers between here and the kitchen. You suddenly find yourself a nimble night ninja fully aware of every threat on your way to a midnight snack (victory!).

Emotions are extremely useful in affecting and managing arousal and stress for enhanced performance. This may be especially true for situations of low control (Henderson, Snyder, Gupta, & Banich, 2012), low informational processing (loud stadiums; around machinery or in war scenarios), or in highly skilled performers where automaticity and subconscious execution increases the speed of reaction of the performer (Hart, Green, Casp, & Belger, 2010).

Furthermore, the intensity and type of emotional strategies used by a performer is variable and depends on state x trait x group interactions whereby the degree of emotional response is variable based on the personality of the individual, the social facilitation of the team environment and the degree of the ‘FUCKING UNPLEASENT ENVIRONMENT’ to which he/she is being subjected to.

Coaching/Leadership is both an art and a science; being able to optimally facilitate performance though emotional-regulatory strategies begins by recognizing that not every performer is going to respond the same; Whether you ‘like’ the emotional response of your player or not is ill-relevant. What’s relevant is only how performance is helped or hindered by management’s support (or lack thereof) for differing emotional-regulatory strategies for performance.

If you want elite performance, you must not only accept, but also be facilitative toward the performers emotional strategies for informational processing.

You have to play with emotion. Period.


Vargas-tonsing, T. M., & Guan, J. (2007). Athletes’ preferences for informational and emotional pre-game speech content. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 2(2), 171–181.

Henderson, R. K., Snyder, H. R., Gupta, T., & Banich, M. T. (2012). When does stress help or harm? The effects of stress controllability and subjective stress response on stroop performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(June), 1–15.

Hart, S. J., Green, S. R., Casp, M., & Belger, A. (2010). Emotional priming effects during Stroop task performance. NeuroImage, 49(3), 2662–70.

Kate, MS, CSCS

BECAUSE THE WINS ARE EARNED, NOT GIVEN. #ENGPERFORMANCE Since 2008, Engard Athletics has provided quality, evidence-based training to hundreds of clients and athletes in the Valley. Now, utilizing advanced training techniques and challenging the fitness industry, I’m providing this elite level experience to you online. Our training programs include movement prep, periodized strength training, recovery therapy, performance nutrition plans and motivational strategies that optimize performance outcomes.

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