Words of "Wisdom"

Behind the Scenes at SAPT

Hi there, everyone. Man, it has been a LONG time since I last wrote a post for our blog. In fact, I think it's been several years since I last posted regularly. Some of you reading this will have no idea who I am or what I'm doing intruding on the great content of SAPTstrength.com. Others of you will be wondering where-in-the-hell I've been hiding. Either of those are great concerns and I'm here to (re)introduce myself and, most importantly, let you all know what's been going on behind the scenes at SAPT for the last couple of years and some of the new initiatives we're embarking upon to ensure our vision is reached.

Buckle-up, this may get bumpy (or long-winded).

First things first: My name is Sarah Walls and I founded SAPT in 2007 and continue to act in the role of president of the company.

Now, for the meat. I'd like to tell you what's been going on behind the scenes at SAPT, starting off with myself: Over the past 5 years I've become a mother (two times over), I officially concluded my career as a college strength coach (2 years ago) to focus solely on my businesses, we added a second SAPT "satellite" location in Tysons (1.5 years ago), and I (this is a soft I) have both developed and started a software company that focuses on improving the work-life balance of those in the fitness industry by providing some killer business-grade solutions.

I had a feeling that it would be tough - maybe impossible - to build software. Something we knew NOTHING about. Really, nothing. Plus, SAPT isn't some mega-corp with cash flowing in hand-over-fist. From the get-go, I knew that our staff would be stretched beyond what is reasonable to expect. I also knew our financial resources would be completely tapped by this project. But, I had confidence in both myself and my staff to have the ability to defy all reason with our capacity for conquering any challenge. We'd been defying logic for years already!

For the sake of cutting-to-the-chase, we did it! Concentric Brain is a reality. A reality that is awesome and that is solving problems for fitness professionals all over the country (soon to be world). Along the way, there were many more barriers than I expected or had ever experienced. We're still going through them, in fact!

But, I was anxious to begin pouring effort back into SAPT to repair the cracks that developed from pushing so hard for over a year. As the development wrapped, I began that process. It began with hiring more full-time coaches (Charlie & Jarrett). And that accelerated focus is continuing with what I will lay out for you below.

My own professional development has become the biggest - and most important - challenge I can tackle. I have a goal of making SAPT (and Concentric Brain) synonymous with the idea of the best experiences in the world. This starts with my staff. Over the past few months I have challenged myself to rise to the occasion of running two companies with 8 full-time employees, plus our amazing part-time staff, and many contractors. On a small scale, SAPT coaches have always been quite the satisfied bunch, professionally speaking. My challenge is to learn how to scale that!

On this "adventure" of self-education I have made some amazing discoveries, had incredible experiences, and - most importantly - I think I'm actually starting to do a decent job in developing both companies. How can I tell? Well, just take a look at what we've got planned and what we have already executed.

 

  • FACILITY: Now we're preparing to take several big steps forward! We're more than doubling our training floor space at our current Fairfax location. We've also secured marked, dedicated parking for SAPT clientele. The new space will be cavernous, to say the least, with plenty of room for amazing training sessions, community events, athlete lounge, practice rentals, classroom sessions, and anything else we can think of to enhance our clients' experiences with us!
  • SCHEDULE: We recently expanded to open on Sundays! Wow, we've been getting requests for Sundays for years. And, the first couple weeks has not disappointed! Sundays are a pilot for us right now, so please, gobble them up so we can make the easy decision to keep offering them as we move into the summer months.

 

  • CONTESTS: To kick off our celebration of defining what we're best in the world at - client experience - we'd like to announce our first two competitions! 
  • COACH UPDATES: Our coaches are simply amazing. Check out the bio page to get more info.

 

  • COMMUNITY: We've got an entire year of events planned to enhance the experience the local community has with SAPT and to enhance the experience our clients have. Please check out our new Events page for more information. Our next event will be Kettlebells, One Piece of Equipment: Unlimited Conditioning Potential.
  • INNOVATION: As we continue to find new innovative and fun ways to serve others and show the community why "SAPT Cares the Most" you can expect to see an increasing number of opportunities to engage with us. If you have ideas on how to make this happen or how we can serve you better, please let me know directly!

Finally, we have been working very hard on taking our internal culture to the next level. Here are a couple tidbits as it relates to our clients and how we conduct business:

Our Promise to You is that every decision we make will directly be measured against client experience. We believe we can provide a world-class client experience and are doing everything to make sure that alignment occurs.

SAPT's Core Values (the nexus of which makes us so darn special):

  1. We care the most: no rock is left unturned to ensure every last detail is addressed.
  2. Innovation: one of our main drivers is the focus on continuous innovation.
  3. Have fun: Seriously. We ALL do this because it is awesome. Fun is a serious focus.

Alright, well I'm going to leave it a that. Hopefully, this post has helped shed some light on what we've been up to the past couple years, in particular.

If you have any questions or comments for me, let me hear 'em!

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5 Not-So-Common Tips on Finding and Cultivating a Mentorship

  When pursuing excellence in a particular discipline - athletics, business, academics, music, “life” in general, you name it - finding and procuring a mentor to guide and sharpen you is not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

I’m not going to delve into the why of the matter, however, as I believe you already know the why.

Besides, if the one and only Gandalf had mentors during his time on Middle-earth, then you and I both need them during our time on Regular-earth. The equation is simple.

Now, while the why may be simple, the how is a different matter entirely.

Many individuals recognize the supreme value of mentorship, but often feel stymied in their attempts to actually make it happen. This could be due to a variety of factors: lack of direction (“where do I even begin?”), fear of being turned down, or, quite frankly, laziness.

In my own life, while walking down the path of attempting to identify suitable mentors and enter into fruitful relationships with them, I’ve made no small number of mistakes. Fortunately, these mistakes have birthed many valuable lessons and insights which have enabled me to, eventually, experience some pretty amazing and invaluable mentorships that I am forever grateful for.

Here are a few fundamental principles and essential ground rules that I’ve picked up during my own personal journey.

1. It’s not necessary to find the highest-level expert in the field

Say what?

This statement may catch you by surprise. After all, why wouldn’t you want an unrivaled expert in your field of interest to be the very one who personally teaches you, nurtures you, guides you, challenges you during the process of honing a specific skill set or discipline?

There are many answers to that question, but one of the most important is this: they may not be the best teacher.

[As an aside: while mentor and teacher are not synonymous, all mentors are teachers to some degree, which is why I raise this point.]

The interesting thing about true masters of a specific domain, is that they’ve been so deeply intertwined with the subject for so long that the fundamentals, the critical information that a beginner must learn during the early stages of skill acquisition, have become so deeply internalized that these basic principles are now seamlessly integrated into their actions without even having to think about them.

As Josh Waitzkin aptly put it, the foundational steps are no longer consciously considered, but lived.

“Very strong chess players will rarely speak of the fundamentals, but these beacons are the building blocks of their mastery. Similarly, a great pianist or violinist does not think about individual notes, but hits them all perfectly in a virtuoso performance. In fact, thinking about a “C” while playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony could be a real hitch because the flow might be lost.”

~Josh Waitzkin (8-time national chess champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt)

What’s the point to all that? Well, this can make it very difficult for a well-seasoned maven to dig back down into the depths of their mind, in order to extricate, section out, and then teach the basal yet essential principles they learned long ago but now employ unconsciously.

It’s not that they can’t teach or mentor a student in the ways of their craft, but they may not be able to do so as well as others in the field. There’s a large difference knowing and teaching. For example, I’m sure many of you can recall a prior physics or math teacher, or sport instructor, who may have been brilliant within their craft but yet you had a difficult time learning while under their tutelage.

This concept even carries over to reading books. As I’ve sought to improve my chess game, I’ve actually found it quite helpful to not exclusively buy books written by Grandmasters (the highest achievable title in chess). You would think that a Grandmaster would be the best person to learn chess from, but, for reasons mentioned above, this isn’t always the case. For example, I have found treasure troves of insight within the works of Jeremy Silman, an International Master (one step below Grandmaster) who has built a strong reputation for his ability to teach beginners, despite the very fact that he is not a Grandmaster. It’s his knowledge of the game, in concert with his gift of teaching, that makes him shine, not the standalone fact that he’s a highly ranked chess player.

Ergo, when you seek mentorship from someone: they don’t have to be the absolute best; in fact, it may very well be optimal if they are not. You don’t need to head straight to the tip-top of the skill pyramid. Often you can find someone who is still extremely proficient (way more so than you), who will be able to instruct you and augment your learning process in a manner much more effective than even the “best” within that discipline.

Find a great teacher. Not necessarily the unparalleled expert.

2. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal, official arrangement

Probably one of the worst things you could do upon discovering a prospective mentor is to call them up and ask, “Hey, do you want to mentor me?” This is tantamount to you calling and saying, “Hey, do you want to take on an unpaid, part-time job?”

While I’d be remiss to assert that no successful mentorship has ever been started this way, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an odd way of asking. Even if they do say yes, it puts them in the awkward position of feeling like they need to plan out regimented meetings and send out a syllabus or something.

Here’s one of the most important things to know about mentors: a mentor is anyone you can learn from, who can impart wisdom upon you, who can directly or indirectly help to guide the decisions you make and actions you take. He or she can be a family member, a coworker, someone you already interact with quite regularly, or perhaps someone you only speak to on a quarterly basis. It also helps to ensure this individual is not a fool.

Some of my best and most fruitful experiences with mentors have risen out of informal relationships. From time to time, usually without it being planned in advance, they’ll provide me with a gem of seminal insight, or a particularly profound nugget of wisdom, which permanently alters my course for the better.

Should some mentorships be formal? Absolutely. But more often than not - at least during the beginning stages - it’s best to just let mentorship “happen.”

Don’t be the weirdo who comes right out and asks for it. That would be like my clumsy, ill-fated attempts to date a few women I fancied back in high school and college; rather than allowing our relationship to nurture and grow for a bit, and giving them subtle yet clear context clues of my interest, I just came straight out and asked, “Hey, would you like to be my girlfriend?”

Yeah, that rarely ended well.

3. Take a break and do something else together

Talk about things and do random crap that don’t at all pertain to your usual subject of study. Enjoy sarcastic banter and making fun of one another; grab a beer together; play a video game or chess; go on a bike ride; travel or go cliff jumping; play a sport; go see a movie or simply take a walk around town.

This accomplishes a couple things. First, it will help you connect to one another as human beings. It’s not rocket science: the more you get to know them, laugh together, and share a broad spectrum of experiences, the more you’ll be able to dismantle any personal barriers that you - often unintentionally - assemble and put up between you and other people. Within the context of mentorship, these personal barriers serve nothing other than to ultimately impede the learning process that could otherwise flourish unhindered between the two of you.

Second, and I can’t overstate this enough: it will nurture your creative processes in a profound way. Oddly enough, remaining singularly fixated on only the subject of study is not the optimal approach, even if your only goal is to learn that specific subject!

Steve Jobs knew this very fact, and summed it up well in an interview with Wired back in 1996:

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”

~Steve Jobs

Broaden your experiences, not just as an individual but also with your mentor. It may seem like a waste of time, especially if you’re someone who becomes intensely obsessive with that one thing you’re trying to master or accomplish, but it will be more than worth it.

4. Remember they are not infallible beings

When you highly esteem someone, heavily admire their work, and love receiving advice from them, it can be easy to arrive at the subconscious conclusion that this person is without error or character flaws, to elevate them to something of a deity and hang on every word they speak or write as if it were inerrent ideology.

Then, when they inevitably crack (or shatter) the standard of perfection you’ve set for them - say, by making a mistake, or by slighting you in some way - it’s as if the ground crumbles beneath your very feet as the world comes crashing down around you. You either become pissed off at them and write off anything they ever said as fraudulent and worthless, or stew in despair and disbelief because the person who you believed would never mess up or upset you, just did.

Like anything in this world, when you make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it becomes an idol that will eventually enslave you, let you down, or both.

Nobody is perfect, and the privilege of being mentored by someone you highly respect is always an extremely delicate balance of trusting their wisdom and yet continually remembering they are nothing more than human; at the end of the day, they are prone to the very same pitfalls and character flaws as you. If they screw up, or irritate you in some way, just relax. Take a few deep breaths, forgive them, get over it, and get back on course.

5. Your personal network: don’t ignore the power of it, and don’t neglect to broaden it

While the maxim “it’s not what you know, but who you know” may be a cliche, that doesn’t make it untrue.

Everything from crucial internships, to the job I currently hold and love, to incredible opportunities I’ve experienced, to being connected with some crazy awesome and widely-respected mentors, have all been fruit I was able to pluck and enjoy as a result of seeds planted long ago in the form of interpersonal relationships.

This is one of the many reasons it’s imperative not only to refrain from burning bridges, but also to form as many as possible. You just never know how a friend, a prior coworker, or even an acquaintance, may be able to help connect you with a reputable individual who would otherwise be all but inaccessible. You can never have a network that is broad enough.

In fact - and I’m sure I speak for my fellow introverts when I say this - keeping in mind the above sentence is one of the primary tonics that keeps me going during formal social gatherings and conventions. You know, those dreaded events which require one to endure that insufferable affliction otherwise known as small talk. I would rather swallow a live hand grenade than spend a few hours small talking with strangers who I’ll probably never see again. But again, you really never know what may come as a result of it - they may be able to help you, or you may be able to assist them, in remarkable ways.

While by no means exhaustive, I hope the above points provide a small window of clarity into the often cloudy and undefined realm of mentorships.

Agree? Disagree? I’d be curious to hear anything you’ve found helpful, be it with the actual finding of mentors, or nurturing the relationship once it’s already formed.

Spurs Seven Virtues

Today we have a fantastic guest post brought to you by mental coach, Brian Levenson. Brian is a phenomenal coach who has helped/is currently helping countless different people from all walks of life to improve their mental game. He primarily works with athletes ranging from the youth to the professional level, but he also mentors business owners and even Jedi Masters, too. I think you'll really enjoy his post for today.

Spurs Seven Virtues

It’s been a week since the San Antonio Spurs were crowned champions of the NBA.  Since then, they have been celebrated as one of the best, most selfless teams in history.  Personally, I have never cheered for a team whom I had no allegiance/ties to, like I did for the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs.  It wasn’t that I fell in love with the way one guy played, or marveled at the sheer talent of the players on the floor, instead I found myself grossly enamored with seven virtues that the team possessed.  As I dissect each virtue, think about your organization and how you may benefit from the Spurs way.

Virtue #1:  Can>Can’t

Of all the people in the Spurs organization, RC Buford may be the most underrated.  Buford is the architect behind a roster chalk full of what ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called “heart guys”.  They are guys who are willing to dive on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, and be gritty enough to keep playing hard even when they are struggling.  When selecting those “heart” players the Spurs choose to look at what guys can do rather than what they can’t do.  As Buford reflects in this article about their draft process: “We get everybody in a room, and ask each other, ‘What can we do to help this player?’”  This not only crystallizes their decision making process, as they better understand a player’s potential, but it also helps them create an action plan to give that player the best opportunity for success.

Take a player like Kawhi Leonard, the recent MVP of the NBA finals, who was passed up by all the teams in the lottery, selected by Indiana at 15, and then had his rights traded to the Spurs.  The biggest knock on Leonard was that he couldn’t shoot.

From the well-respected NBA draft website, Draftexpress:

“Leonard is not only an average ball-handler, but he also struggles to make shots consistently from beyond the arc. His 0.743 points per shots on jumpers ranks 16th of 17 in the class, where he shot an abysmal 31% from the field. His struggles extend both to his catch and shoot jumpers (32%) and pull-ups (28%).”

But teams were forgetting one of the most important characteristics to acquire a new skill, Leonard was coachable; and the Spurs had just the coach to help him acquire the skill of shooting.  Chip Engelland is considered one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA, and he happens to be an assistant coach with the Spurs.  The Spurs paired Leonard with Engelland and the rest is history.

Spurs take can’t and turn it into can.

Virtue #2:  Honesty

Each player on the Spurs knows their strengths and weaknesses.  They are honest with who they are and are open to feedback from their lead general, Coach Pop.  Pop’s brutal honesty led to him writing, “DNP-Old” last year to describe why Tim Duncan wasn’t playing, admitting that during timeouts sometimes “I’ll say I’ve got nothing” as his players look to him for answers, and is part of the reason that he has the most brief in-game interviews with side-line reporters.

The honesty that Pop displays leads to accountability, which enables each Spur to get the most out of their potential.

Virtue #3:  Empowerment

The Spurs empower each of their players to step up and produce.  This was most evident in last year’s NBA Finals when Tony Parker walked up to Pop during a timeout to interject his opinion.  Pop gave Parker the keys to the timeout huddle and Parker started explaining to his teammates what he saw.  That empowerment to step up and make a difference is a hallmark of every player on the Spurs.

Pop explained the interaction in a press conference, "That’s not a rarity. While the coaches are out talking on the court, we do that so that the players can communicate and talk to each other because most of the time they know more what's going on than we do.  There will be times when Timmy will sit in that chair or Manu will sit there or Tony will sit there and they'll talk to the team if they have something they want to get across. That's just how we do things.”

Spurs don’t put people in their place; instead they empower each other.

Virtue #4:  Share

San Antonio had 1771 passes in the NBA finals compared to Miami’s 1299.  That’s 472 more passes, or about 95 more passes per game.  Pretty remarkable.  Pop constantly tells his guys that the ball can’t “stick”; meaning ball movement is paramount.

The players bought in to the sharing concept as well.  As Manu Ginobili pointed out in this article, “I think it can potentially be a game-changer, for other teams that don’t have as much talent to give (an individual) the ball and let them create like Kobe or Durant or LeBron. It kind of showed the way in the sense … if you don’t have as much talent, you still can do it. You can move the ball and put a lot of pressure on the defense."

Then, there are the salaries that each player makes.  The Spurs "big 3" all took less money to stay in San Antonio.  Parker made 12.5 million, Duncan made 10.4 million, and Ginobili made 7 million.  Those salaries combined are less than what Kobe Bryant’s salary was this year (30.5 million).

Sharing is a non-negotiable for Spurs.

Virtue #5:  Process Focus

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”  --Jacob Riis

That quote has been at the heart of the Spurs culture for years.  “Pound the Rock” has become the rallying cry for one of the best organizations in sports.  It’s become so popular that there is even a popular blog named after it (www.poundingtherock.com).  It didn’t matter if they had lost game 2, or were down 22-6 in game 5, the Spurs were always focused on executing and playing the right way for 48 minutes.

Regardless of the score, Spurs continue to chisel away at their opponents until eventually they break.

Virtue #6:  Something to Prove

The Spurs are filled with guys who have had something to prove throughout their career.  They are an eclectic, diverse group, highlighted by 8 international players, which led the league in that category.  Each player on the Spurs has had a different journey to the NBA, but only one of them (Duncan) was selected in the NBA Draft lottery.  The rest of the team is filled with late 1st and 2nd round picks, guys who were passed over because of weaknesses.  They are a resilient, gritty group of guys who constantly have to prove they belong.

Nothing has been given to the Spurs and that’s why so much has been earned.

Virtue #7:  Best Friends

Teams often talk about how there needs to be a mutual respect amongst each other, but that they don’t have to be “best friends” with their teammates.  Yet, as Patty Mills grabbed the microphone during the Spurs celebration ceremony, he introduced his teammates as his “best friends”.    He went on to talk about each and every player and how they brought something unique to the team.  He was genuine, funny, and comfortable talking about the guys he sweated with all year.  He mentioned their quirks, how they were better people than players, and how much he loved each of them.

It’s not good enough to just be a teammate, Spurs must love each other like best friends.

The word “virtue” has many different definitions, but the one that sticks out is “a good or useful quality or thing.”  When it comes to the 2014 NBA Champions there are plenty of good qualities to go around, and those champion qualities should be celebrated, admired, and duplicated by us all.