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Expert Contributor: Dr. Timothy Thompson

 

Biography

Dr. Timothy Thompson

Dr. Tim Thompson (Dr. T) is Vice President of Educational Programs for Access Athletes, LLC, and Founder/C.E.O. of the Institute of Applied Human Relations, LLC. Dr. T brings to his work with Access Athletes (the Trusted Athlete Educator) a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication, along with over 35 years of solid experience as a specialist in organizational, human, and media communication processes.

His three-plus decades of experience include 19 years of college-level teaching and 25 years of organizational development leadership experience focused on group dynamics, media management, public relations, organizational training and development, interpersonal communication, and presentation skills.

Dr. T’s special areas of strength specifically include the psychology of organizational behavior and small group dynamics, the maintenance and management of organizational cultures (perception management), the relationship between organizational structures and communication processes, strategic planning, and leadership development. Another major focus of Dr. T’s work is helping individuals and groups to discover their own pathways to inner peace and fulfillment of their life’s purpose.

In addition to his human relations work, Dr. T is a third degree black belt in the Chinese internal martial art of Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist) under Grand Master Dennis Brown, and is the head Tai Chi Chuan instructor at the Lanham campus of the Dennis Brown Shaolin Wu Shu University in the Washington, DC area. Additionally, Dr. T is a Kundalini Reiki practitioner whose counseling/healing work focuses on self-transformation, interpersonal/group dynamics, organizational cultures, team building, and leadership development.

 
 

Most Recent Articles

 
  1. For Sports In America, Authentic Hero Status Is Just A Perspective Shift Away, But Let’s Not Wait Too Long!

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 10-26-2013 04:56 PM Life After Sports

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    I’m about to step out onto a high tree limb here by asserting that so far, sports industry professionals have only scratched the surface on solving the post-playing depression problem. Furthermore, the only thing keeping us from actually solving the problem is that too many people, beginning with the leagues themselves and ending with the fans, don’t believe they can actually do anything about it.

    That’s where they’re mistaken, though. The core causes of the level of post-playing depression that leads to suicide and other extreme negative reactions are sitting there right before our eyes, just waiting to be acknowledged. Somebody just needs to be courageous enough to keep showing sports industry officials the links between players’ career transition woes and the developmental experiences that elite athletes start having long before they turn pro.
     
    If nobody else is willing to go that extra mile, I’ll step up and volunteer to accept the sneers and dismissals of those who firmly believe that athletes everywhere are too arrogant and/or immature to change. 
     
    But before I do that, I want to make sure you understand clearly where I’ll be going with my comments in this third column of my trilogy about self-identity formation and its relationship to the ease with which pro athletes exit their playing careers (voluntarily or otherwise).
     
    In the first of my previous two columns from this trilogy (see Welcome to the New Training Camp: Preparing players for the game of life off the field), I suggested that helping high profile athletes to cultivate more balanced self-identities both before and after they become pros is by far the surest and most practical way to nip post-playing depression in the bud, so to speak.
     
    My second column from this trilogy then focused on a growing movement in the sports industry towards helping players transition into post-athletic careers (see Enter The PLAN and The McCombs Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative: NFL Players can now get real help with changing careers). In that piece, I highlighted an agency and a consulting company that have stepped up to the challenge of helping their athlete clients balance their identities in more practical ways.
     
    So now begins part three of my problem-solving exploration of this subject of how to make post-playing transitions more seamless and less depressing. I’ll start this phase by saying that I’m happy to see so much attention being devoted (since the great Junior Seau killed himself on May 2, 2012) to the unique psychological challenges associated with leaving behind such intense group bonding experiences.
     
    Having said that, however, it’s also time for me to point out that as diverse and extensive as I believe the conversations about pro athletes’ “two deaths” (retirement from playing and eventually physical death) have become, these examinations are still missing a key focus that would enable the problem to be lastingly solved.
     
    Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that more and more NFL, NBA, and players from other pro leagues/environments can get a growing variety of types of assistance with transitioning to post-playing careers. And I’m even grateful that a lot more sports industry folks are studying more seriously the issues that I raised on behalf of Access Athletes in May 2011 (see Athlete Education on the Rise: Get into the Game) and the following month of that year (see Rookie Symposium: You Don’t Miss It Until It’s Gone).
     
    The common theme in both of those columns was and still is an 800-pound gorilla standing in the middle of a room filled with folks who seem reluctant to acknowledge the great beast’s imminently threatening presence among them. Yet the gorilla stands there wearing a sign containing a powerful message written in large bold letters.
     
    What does the message say? It’s simply that the entire sporting infrastructure – within which players are merely the central product – needs to raise its consciousness to a level where a critical mass of league, team, player association, agency, and financial management officials have collectively internalized the understanding that I’m about to explain right now. That understanding is the realization and official acknowledgement that players who are happy with themselves first as human beings (and only then as athletes) are infinitely more valuable in every way to themselves and to everyone else than are the one-trick-pony loose cannons!
     
    Let’s face the truth here. Immature loose cannon players drain valuable resources from their teams’ coffers by carelessly and arrogantly behaving in ways that must be rectified by their employers and other managing representatives. Yet a climate of cynicism that has traditionally surrounded and engulfed the sporting world in our country has left most of our beloved industry‘s key decision makers believing that they somehow need to put up with the sometimes anti-social antics of those same loose cannons because of their great athletic talents.
     
    On a larger scale, the end users of our product – the fans – have also historically been bombarded by a steady stream of sports product marketing messages that equate the admittedly vital traits of mental toughness and fierce competitiveness with the term “character.” Unfortunately, while mental toughness and fierce competitiveness are useful traits in specialized contexts such as sports (and war), they tend to function as destructive forces in most non-athletes’ daily activities. So they don’t transfer particularly well into most types of post-playing careers.
     
    Furthermore, the confusion and devastation resulting from this gross contradiction between the true spirit of the definition of the word character and its common usage by sports industry pros and fans should no longer be underestimated. Specifically, if you look up the word character (the set of qualities that make somebody or something distinctive and/or appealing, especially somebody's qualities of mind and feeling), you’ll find synonyms like charm, appeal, charisma, attractiveness, eccentric, and honor, to name a few. What you won’t see, though, is a dictionary definition of character that emphasizes mental toughness and fierce competitiveness.
     
    Of course, these traits appeal greatly – and appropriately – to warriors and sports fans. That’s perfectly fine, too. The problem with defining the word “character” so narrowly, though, is that for all human beings, our definitions and our emotional attachments to those definitions drive all of our actions at all times. Therefore, the natural outcome of viewing our athletes one-dimensionally is the current design of our sports infrastructure that often traps them on a treadmill of sometimes extreme social and economic developmental imbalances, followed by irresistible temptations to indulge in what they may have lacked earlier in their lives.
     
    In other words, what I refer to as the misdirected and excessive competitiveness that motivates so many of us sports fans leads us to assign special social status to children who demonstrate potentially elite athletic abilities (see ESPN writer Dave Telep’s 4/26/2013 article, The entitlement culture of elite HS hoops and my own 4/3/2009 Access Athletes column, Just Let the Kids Play). Not only do we assign special status to these athletic children; but also along with that special status comes an extended period of enabling them to feel exempted from any responsibility to their communities and supporters beyond entertaining them on the playing surface.
     
    Therefore, the precise moment of special status assignment is also the exact beginning of a potential elite athlete’s entrapment and the set-up for social and financial ruin.
     

     

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  2. Enter The PLAN and The McCombs Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative: NFL Players can now get real help with changing careers

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 06-09-2013 07:03 PM Athlete Career Development | Life After Sports

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    When I welcomed you last April to the metaphoric “New NFL Training Camp” that helps get players in prime condition for the game of life after pro football, I told you two things that you can take to the bank. Just to remind you, that April 2012 article was the inaugural piece of a three-part Access Athletes series about how the process of transitioning out of the NFL can be made relatively seamless to help all eligible players preserve sound physical, mental, and financial health after hanging up their cleats. 
     
    The first “bankable” wisdom nugget that I shared with you in part one is embodied in the following observations that I made: 
     
    "As promising as it has been that some of us have pinpointed the struggling athletes’ core psychological stumbling blocks, though, the real solution to this athletes’ career-transitioning problem is to teach them how to control their own destinies. It’s certainly a step in the right direction to focus on the death-like experience of athletic retirement, but merely discovering the issue of one-dimensional self-identity isn’t nearly enough. Even when we factor in coming from poverty into money along with being coddled from an early age as major contributors to the explanation of poor decision-making behaviors, it’s still not enough.”
     
    Meanwhile, the second sure thing that I told you is that a growing number of sports industry experts share my assessment of and approach to solving this extremely urgent and devastating player career-transitioning problem. The following quoted section of my part-one article reveals the core of the problem-solving action approach that I’m advocating with the full support of the entire Access Athletes team.
     
    "The best way to improve how we utilize the teaching resources that have so far been made available to players is also frighteningly simple. At the college level (and now high school for bona fide blue chippers), and then again at the pro rookie pre-entry stage, athletes must be subjected to intensive ongoing training programs designed to show them how to view themselves in more holistic ways. Such programs must also help the athletes to develop expertise with transferring their athletic thought processes to their off-the-field challenges and obligations.
     
    Who can provide this education for the athletes, many of whom may not yet be ready to listen without what they’d consider to be a compelling incentive? Well, it’s clear to me that forward-thinking agents, colleges, and pro teams, working closely with organizations like Access Athletes to design and implement these programs, could start a revolution of wellness and stellar citizenship in pro sports.” 
     
    One of the sports industry’s rising media stars, who clearly also recognizes both the potential economic and social benefits of agencies building formal career transitioning preparation activities into players’ lives, is Darren Heitner, Esq., a sports attorney who is the Founder of SportsAgentBlog.com and a Forbes contributor specializing in the business of sports. According to Heitner: 
     
    "Many companies understand the significance and importance of providing services to clientele that may not necessarily lead to a direct increase in revenue. Those companies realize that charitable measures are valuable for the end of benefiting society, but also may reap the rewards of being noticed for their efforts, which indirectly leads to an increase in profitability.
     
    Sports agencies would be looking after their own self interests and providing a very valuable (albeit charitable) service to the individuals they represent, if they decide to spend more time, effort and energy in looking after their clients' long term interests. It should not only be about what occurs on the field of play and in conversations with general managers, but also how athletes can transition to careers in differing disciplines once it is time to hand up the jerseys. Some agencies manage this process better than others. In today's day-and-age, it must be an expected and demanded facet of representation.” 
     
    As examples that reflect Heitner’s frank and insightful remarks about the role of sports agencies in helping players to change careers, the remainder of this article (part two) will feature two existing programs that were designed to assist players with that challenging change process. The first program featured here was developed and is run by a prominent agency, while the other was conceived, developed, and is coordinated by a non-agency consulting firm run by a former agency employee.
     
    Check Out The PLAN
    For the last three years, the Chicago- and Los Angeles-based agency called Priority Sports & Entertainment (PSE) has been hosting a learning/networking career-transition conference for its NFL player clients. Last year’s version of the one-day conference, known simply as The PLAN (Preparing for Life After football Now), was held on April 10 at Chicago’s Hotel SAX.
     
    The conference’s general focus and design is refreshingly simple. NFL and NFLPA representatives, financial advisors, life coaches, counselors, and other business professionals who are well thought of in their respective fields were invited to conduct career development workshops and then to get paired up with PSE clients who attended the event.
     
    PSE agent and PLAN event creator Deryk Gilmore (pictured below) explained his employer’s rationale for sponsoring the conference. “As an agency we have always structured the company to make our clients a Priority. When other companies are having Super Bowl parties we had that option but just felt the best way to serve our clients was to structure a program to help them prepare for the future. Because of the relationships with our clients, everyone in our office was on board to make sure we would not read about our clients going broke or having no options when their career was over.”
     
    In keeping with the fact that PSE is a moneymaking player rep agency, built into the PLAN program’s design is a process for measuring its long-term impact on the company’s profitability. According to Gilmore, “The program is about 3 years in place so long term we will chart players who leave the league and we follow what they do when they finish. As players retire we contact them with questions on how can we help. 
     
    “I think this (tracking process) makes us different,” he continued. “When a player comes to an end the value is him having a PLAN in place and knowing we (PSE) did our job.”
     
    Testimonials from several of the players themselves backed up Gilmore’s PLAN self-assessment. Former linebacker J. Leman, who played for several teams including the Oakland Raiders, said “ I recommend going for anyone who played for years, and then you’re not sure what you want to do. It was great to learn about the full spectrum of options after football.” 
     
    Meanwhile, former running back Noah Herron, who also played for several teams including the Green Bay Packers, added, “It was a great, great opportunity to set the stage for the second chapter of our lives. It was a great platform to springboard from.”
     
    But former players weren’t the only PSE clients in attendance at the 2012 PLAN event. Current Detroit Lions defensive End Jason Jones also praised his PLAN experience, saying “This was very beneficial for players. I would get teammates to come in the future. It was a great networking opportunity, and just a really great opportunity to meet people and get their emails and phone numbers.”
     
    As you can see, the fact that an agency like PSE is demonstrating a refreshing foresight and authentic concern for its clients’ well-being by investing in The PLAN program is a huge step toward ushering the sports industry into an enlightened era. What I like most about The PLAN program’s potential impact on the sports industry is that it’s sponsored by an agency, which organically isn’t widely expected to care about anything beyond money. 
     
    And because agencies aren’t generally expected to display charitable motives, any step that such an organization takes in an altruistic direction can potentially send positive shock waves throughout the entire professional sporting landscape. Therefore, simply by institutionalizing the annual PLAN event, it’s clear to me that PSE is providing a major boost to all who strongly agree with Darren Heitner that helping athletes transition to post-playing careers “must be an expected and demanded facet of representation.”
     
    It must be said, of course, that agency-sponsored programs like The PLAN aren’t yet plentiful enough to serve as anything more than prototypical design examples of how agencies and teams might address players’ career transitioning issues in the future. So at this embryonic point in the sports industry’s inevitable-yet-delayed journey toward a more balanced understanding and leveraging of its key role in our society, certain core questions still haven’t been answered on a wide enough scale.
     
    Chief among those core questions is how to peak the interest of young players who’ve had no previous exposure to any kind of training in the fundamentals of business and personal decision-making. Currently, I believe that most sports industry professionals and fans are convinced that most new athletes aren’t mature or smart enough to allow themselves to focus on building their financial and social futures right now. So the question that often gets asked is, “How on earth do you plan to get (this career transitioning and social decision-making knowledge) across to the knuckleheads?”
     
    Truthfully, that’s a fair question, especially in light of the fact that programs like The PLAN work best for individuals who’ve already committed themselves to learning how to transition to new careers. The PLAN is definitely a powerful and useful networking opportunity for its attendees, but it’s understandably designed to appeal specifically to PSE’s clients. Therefore, it’s not even reasonable to expect programs like it to address the issue of expanding career transitioning knowledge throughout the community of NFL players.
     
    On another note, Jack Bechta’s advice in his National Football Post blog that teams should mandate career-change process training for all players would drastically reduce the significance of the players’ maturity question. So if the NFL and its individual teams would simply make financial investments and policy upgrades similar to those suggested by Bechta, pro football’s nightmarish player career transitioning problems could be transformed into a minor annoyance almost overnight. That’s why I also advocate such a change at the team and league levels.
     
    But convincing teams and professional sports leagues to show such concern for their players’ well being isn’t the only way to narrow the knowledge and maturity gap for pro athletes. Marcus D. Sallis, Founder and CEO of The Sallis Consulting Group (SCG), has created another way – and a fully comprehensive one at that.
     
    Introducing The McCombs Professional Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative
    For the last 12 years, former Iowa State University scholar athlete (football) Marcus Sallis has been running the unique business consulting organization that bears his last name. And unique is definitely an apt descriptor of the business model that drives The Sallis Consulting Group, as the excerpt below from its Mission Statement explains: 
     
    "The SCG is not a team of financial advisors and Investment Managers. The goal of our company is to consult directly with athletes on their business transactions, off-the-field business ventures, and long-term planning and positioning for a thriving career once the playing days are over. The Sallis Consulting Group will fully understand your business aspirations and put a strategic and long-term professional structure in place to ensure the client understands these critical decisions and receive the proper insight prior to making these life-altering financial decisions.” 
     
    As you can see, SCG’s primary business focus is to earn its money by training its athlete clients in financial decision-making and strategic planning, along with providing transaction-by-transaction project review and advisement. The true uniqueness of the Sallis company’s business model rests in the fact that the better informed its clients are about how to make sound financial decisions, the more lucrative it gets for SCG.
     
    In short, Sallis has pioneered the creation of a sports industry business model featuring a built-in financial and social balancing motive that contrasts dramatically against the existing dominant approach. Specifically, rather than confining itself to earning commissions from negotiating playing and endorsement contracts while keeping clients’ personal affairs at arms length, SCG is instead set up to thrive best from helping its clients become savvy investors and strategists on their own behalf. With the spreading of a model like this, the ugly post-NFL and post-NBA stats that have alarmed so many people will now have a chance to finally become a thing of the past.

     

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  3. Welcome to the New Training Camp: Preparing players for the game of life off the field

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 07-16-2012 10:11 PM Life After Sports | Human Relations

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    Thankfully, nowadays it’s easy to find articles in sports information publications that focus genuine attention on sticky questions about how to create a soft landing pad for pro athletes whose high-flying playing days have ended. But that conversation topic hasn’t always been so popular, though.

    In fact, as easy as it has now become to join in on public dialogues about pro athletes’ career transitioning traumas, it’s just as easy to conclude that before May 2, 2012, far too few sports writers and pro teams demonstrated any authentic caring about what causes athletes’ retirement woes. 
     
    May 2 is when we found out about NFL great Junior Seau’s shocking suicide. Since that sad day, perhaps the best news relating to Seau’s death is that all of the top sports publications and most of the major pro sports leagues have been trying hard to figure out why pro athletes struggle so badly with life outside of playing their beloved sports.
     
    For example, in ESPN NASCAR analyst Marty Smith’s May 11, 2012 ESPN.com article entitled “How do you cope when it’s over?” renowned sports author John Feinstein was quoted as summarizing the problem faced by transitioning out of playing in the following way: “Athletes die twice.” Feinstein was referring to the shock that athletes experience once they have to leave the cocoon-like social world that they’ve been nestled in for most of their lives, and their corresponding struggles to adjust to the same life challenges faced by the rest of us.
     
    Feinstein’s analysis definitely shows great insight into some of the core causal elements that are ultimately responsible for so many former pro athletes going broke shortly after they’ve stopped playing. And Jack Bechta, National Football Post contributor and sports agent, has taken this insight to the next level, particularly in his May 9, 2012 post entitled “NFL is in need of a better exit plan for its players.”
     
    In that solution-oriented piece, Bechta listed four specific action steps that he believes would help the NFL to smooth out its players’ transitions from celebrity to Average Joe status. I’ve summarized his well-justified ideas for you here:
    1. The league should make year-round life skills classes and programs mandatory for the first three years of a player’s career.
    2. The NFL should form a committee of retired players and professionals (who don’t have an axe to grind), who can help develop a transitional program out of the league and in to a stable life.
    3. Team owners should give retired players (who maybe played for 5 years or more) greater access to club facilities and get them involved in team activities, similar to what colleges do.
    4. Each team should allocate perhaps $500,000 per year towards building life skills platforms, hiring more support staff, and creating more self-actualization information resources for current players. 
    As you can plainly see, this conversation topic is extremely vital for the future of sports in the U.S., and we’re surely off to a good start. But those of us who’ve dedicated ourselves to helping high-profile athletes reach self-actualized status in all aspects of their lives are painfully aware that we still have many miles to go before we’ve accomplished that lofty goal.
     
    In that light, we at Access Athletes are pleased to offer you a three-part series of columns – of which this piece, which will steer us all to a sure way to actually solve the problem, is the first installment.
     
    Expanding high profile athletes’ identity formation
     
    After having completed extensive research at Marquette University for his doctoral dissertation focusing on the mental and physical effects of playing pro football, one of former NFL linebacker George Koonce, Jr.’s main conclusions matches John Feinstein’s.  Like Feinstein, Koonce insists that leaving a professional athletic career behind is metaphorically like dying. In fact, Koonce, whose doctoral research was actually focused specifically on the NFL, refers to life after a player’s retirement as the “afterlife.”
     

     

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  4. While Working Hard on How You Play, Don’t Forget Why

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 06-01-2012 09:13 PM Human Relations | Athlete Career Development | Athlete Advice

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    This year’s Masters golf tournament winner, Bubba Watson, hasn’t had golf lessons since he was 10 years old, according to an April 9, 2012 ESPN Golf online news article entitled “Bubba Watson wins Masters.” Yet the originator of “Bubba golf” still manages to be regarded by his pro circuit peers as one of the game’s most creative shot-making wizards. And now he has the hardware, prize money, and green jacket to show for it by winning golf’s most prestigious tournament, powered by a jaw dropping shot from the woods that miraculously held off a late playoff charge by a surging Louis Oosthuizen.
     
    Meanwhile, on the opposite pole of the sports spectrum (opposite because golf is best in warm weather while skiing is best in the cold), 2010 Olympic women’s skiing champion Lindsey Vonn posted the most dominant overall performance of her storied career despite facing major turbulence in her personal life at the same time. This according to an April 8, 2012 New York Times article entitled “For Lindsey Vonn, Professional Triumph and Personal Turmoil.”
     
    Although their life circumstances and their sports differ dramatically from each other, both of these champions have pulled off mind-blowing victories on the largest stages against top competition because of a single quality that’s necessary for success in any area of life. That vital core quality is what I call “passionate inner drive,” which is really nothing more than self-generated love for doing a particular thing.
     
    While neither champ used the passionate inner drive phrase in their explanations of what propelled them, what they did say attributed their success to it nonetheless. Vonn, for example, told reporters, “I realized for the first time in my life I was skiing for myself. I had always had a lot of people helping me — my dad when I was younger, then Thomas (her estranged husband, manager and coach), and my sponsors. And sometimes, I think I skied for those other people.
     
    “This year, I realized that I’m the only one in the start gate and I’m the only one deciding what line to ski and how fast. That was really empowering. It was kind of like being a kid again, skiing for yourself and having fun with it.”
     
    Meanwhile, for Watson, this self-driven way of approaching his golfing is nothing new. In fact, the only news for him is that it has finally propelled him to victory in the world’s greatest golf tournament. 

     

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  5. The Dangers of an Alter Ego: How to keep your head on straight when fame hits

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 04-03-2012 11:26 PM Human Relations

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    "I think a lot of guys get too preoccupied and overwhelmed with being a superstar. They think of that iconic image of Superman. In my opinion, they need to realize that not enough respect is paid to the alter ego: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers. Those are the real guys. That’s who Superman is. He’s Clark Kent.

    “I’m real big on being an average Joe. A lot of people, especially in today’s society, want to throw too much praise at the character and not at the real person.”

    These aren’t the words of some average Joe who’s caught up in his own specially created fantasy world and can’t distinguish between real people and comic book characters. Rather, the speaker in this case is none other than World Extreme Cagefighting former 155-pound champion Benson Henderson, who, despite already being viewed as a future Cage Fighting hall of famer, continues to impress fight fans with his still-growing arsenal of skills.
     
    Henderson’s comments appeared in sportswriter Kevin Iole’s February 23, 2012 Yahoo! Sports article entitled "Lightweight contender Benson Henderson’s Clark Kent image might soon become Superman." In Iole’s article, Henderson was explaining how he keeps his focus firmly on the pursuit of ultimate perfection, and therefore keeps building on his already amazing level of fighting skills. According to Iole, because of Henderson’s practice of honestly assessing his abilities and pushing himself beyond his self-imposed limitations, the electrifying fighter actually “gets to be Superman by not being overly impressed by himself.”
     
    The balanced life perspective that Henderson displays is particularly impressive since resisting the strong urge to become overly impressed with ourselves in the face of constant public praise can be one of our most daunting off-the-field challenges. That’s why we should all heed Henderson’s success formula.
     
    It’s especially hard to resist hiding behind your brand image if you’ve created a heroic public persona to help you cope with the “virtual fantasy world” occupied by celebrities in general, as former NBA star Gilbert Arenas did with his Agent Zero “disguise.” In a February 20, 2012 SI.com article by Sam Amick entitled "Arenas opens up after lengthy hiatus from league, media (Pt. 1)", Arenas candidly explained why he struggled to stay level-headed, and how he allowed his public and private selves to blend too closely together, ultimately distorting his personal decision-making to a self-destructive degree.
     

     

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  6. Stephen Howard proves there’s abundant life after playing pro sports

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 02-20-2012 03:14 PM Athlete Career Development | Life After Sports | Athlete Interviews

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    As an athlete and/or sports fan, you’re probably hard-wired to zero your attention right in on the kinds of examples that your favorite playing icons set for how top athletes should conduct their lives off the court or field. That’s understandable too, since everybody seems to love focusing on the biggest stars. 
     
    But guys like former NBA sub Stephen Howard may just have more to teach you about how to transition from playing professional basketball to a mainstream career than Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, or even Ray Allen can. 
     
    Sure, those veteran master basketball superstars have proven their staying power in the NBA. But they’re also used to being among the most important players on their teams, which means that they’ve never had to worry about losing their jobs as much as players do who are lower on the pecking order. And for some of them, that status may translate more easily into front office, broadcasting, or even unrelated entrepreneurial opportunities later on because of the recognizability of their names.
     
    Lesser-known players, however, can never allow themselves the luxury of getting comfortable on a player roster. Because of the extreme lack of job stability for pro athletes everywhere, players who aren’t in a team’s regular rotation have a more urgent need than superstars do to prepare themselves for post-athletic careers.
     
    Of course, every player on a pro roster has dedicated years of physical and emotional sacrifice to don one of the official uniforms of his or her sport. So whether the player is the team MVP or the last one off the bench, the ritual-dependent warrior life of a professional athlete is so physically and emotionally taxing that making the transition to another career after one’s playing days are over can be a hugely traumatic life change.
     
    According to Howard, who is an entrepreneur, as well as a studio analyst for the NBA’s OKC Thunder and a college basketball analyst for ESPN, “I think most players don’t realize the true depth of that transition [from playing pro basketball to another career] and what it will entail once they get done playing. So that’s really what makes it so difficult when they leave the sport. It’s a definite process that you have to go through. It’s almost like a death, and you’re mourning it. You’ve been doing that work for so long.”
     
    Howard spent 15 years playing professional basketball internationally and domestically, including three seasons with the Utah Jazz, one season with the Seattle SuperSonics, and a brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs, between 1992 and 1998. He retired from playing oversees about five years ago. 
     
    Even though Howard was never an NBA starter, and played the remainder of his 15-year pro basketball career overseas after 1998, he explained that the rigid ritualistic behavior patterns and constant competitive focus needed by pro athletes are so unique, that any career that follows it is likely to be experienced by the athlete as culture shock. 
     
    “I even see it with myself,” said Howard, referring to the feeling of loss that accompanied his retirement. “I’m still transitioning after five years to not playing. For more than 15 years, I was playing basketball, and then for 15 years I was doing it professionally. So literally I could set my clock on what I was doing at any certain time of the year, month, or day. It was a routine. When you lose that routine, then you basically have to develop a whole new routine later on in life. And that’s a very difficult transition, mentally, to go through.”
     
    Recalling the factors that helped to prepare him for accepting the challenge of transitioning into a whole different way of earning a living, Howard explained, “Playing 15 years on a 1-year contract, I didn’t have any years where I could just rest and kind of chill. I was auditioning every day, every month, every shot, and every game for my next team that I would play for in the next year.
     
    “People really don’t realize the difficult nature of being a professional athlete. But I think just as difficult as it is to become a professional athlete, it’s more difficult to leave that profession because, literally you’re living in a world that’s totally different from the real world just because of the money that you’re making, access that you have, and the different things that you do.”
     
    So What’s a Retired Pro Baller to Do?
     
    Given the intense and regimented nature of a pro athlete’s life, leaving your mournful feelings about the end of your playing career unresolved isn’t an option. Howard offers the following four tips to help pro athletes move through the inevitable mourning stages without falling into a debilitating depression.

     

     

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  7. Derrick Rose Is Still Adding MVP Social Status to His Game

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 02-04-2012 02:43 PM Sports Psychology | Human Relations | Trusted Athlete Educator

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    Derrick Rose appears to be a rare breed of superstar athlete who prefers to play his sport rather than allowing it to play him. At a time when even marginal players are inundated by media and other public appearances while they must watch every step they make in those appearances and in social media for the sake of protecting their brands, there’s certainly a refreshing side to the fact that the player known as “Pooh” to his family is uncomfortable about being viewed as a celebrity in his old neighborhood.
     
    In a December 30, 2011 Yahoo! Sports article written by Marc J. Spears, the author explained, “Rose has accepted his fame, and he’s worked the past two seasons to show more of his personality to the public.   But . . . the only time he seems comfortable opening up is around his family and long-time friends.” What Spears was referring to was Rose’s remarks about his emotional reaction to being treated differently than when he wasn’t a Chicago Bulls superstar.  Rose explained, “The worst part is the attention. I hate attention like that.” 
     
    Rose went further in describing his feelings about the dramatic changes in the way basketball fans started treating him once he became an NBA star, saying, “I can’t even go outside to eat at places without having a hood on or walking with my head down. I’m not used to that. It’s weird, but hopefully it’s something I can get through.”
     
    The refreshing part of all this is that Rose is demonstrating a willingness to keep from letting fame and fortune turn him into an arrogant celebrity snob.  And if he can successfully complete his adjustments to the social requirements of being a celebrity athlete, he’ll have accomplished something that many of his colleagues could not.

     

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  8. Ken Harvey: A Hero Some More

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 09-01-2011 11:57 PM Athlete Interviews

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    Ken Harvey’s fascinating rags-to-riches journey through football and life is a shining example of the importance of getting the full story before drawing conclusions and acting on them. 

    The former All-Pro linebacker retired from the NFL in 1999 and was selected in 2002 as one of the 70 all-time greatest Washington Redskins. Harvey currently runs his own sports marketing business, is an accomplished children’s book author who has just completed his first novel (entitled Xavier: A Hero No More), and currently serves as the Washington Redskins’ Director of Responsibility.
     
    But life wasn’t always so charmed for Harvey. If he hadn’t taken a hard look in the mirror during his teen years, the main theme of his life story almost certainly would have been a tale of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.” 
     
    Nowadays, whenever he gets a chance to inspire business clients, current NFL players, or groups of youngsters, Harvey is quick to share the fact that he dropped out of high school at a time in his life when he hadn’t yet discovered anything to be passionate about. 
     
    It’s perfect that Harvey’s so willing to share his unpleasant memories along with the pleasant ones, because the lessons he’s learned from seeking the full story about himself and others make him a poster boy for changing our lives against all odds. Along the way, he learned that no positive change can occur in our lives unless we stop running from our personal truths. 
     
    “You know, looking at myself in the mirror is still affecting my life,” Harvey told Access Athletes. “I was just telling my business partner the other day that the hardest thing is to look at yourself in the mirror. A lot of times we’re so busy that we run past the mirror without seeing ourselves. It’s hard to look directly at yourself and say ‘This is what I need.’”
     
    Harvey added: “And sometimes we don’t even know. Sometimes it has to be pointed out by somebody else. But when you’re alone and everything else seems to go bad around you, if you can stop and look and say ‘okay, what am I doing, what have I been doing all my life, and why isn’t what I’m doing working?’, then you can start to say ‘well maybe I need to tweak this, and maybe I need to tweak that.’” 
     
    Building the courage to face our inner demons and negative feelings is the key for us to learn from Harvey’s example and finally take full control of our lives. It’s also any athlete’s greatest challenge. But he insists that we can succeed in changing our lives simply by using a sensible, systematic approach. 
     
    One of the hardest things Harvey says is to identify what you need to work on, or the root of your problem.
     
    “Sometimes we think ‘I don’t have any money’ and that the root of this lack of money is because I can’t get a good job. But the root may be what’s inside of you. Somebody may have told you, ‘Well you need to clean up your resume. It’s okay but it’s not as good as it could be.’ But you say, ‘I don’t need to clean up my resume because it’s about the type of people you know.’ So the root in that example may be pride.
     
    “This can become a real problem when you get so prideful that you can’t listen when somebody’s giving you advice, but you think it’s because there are no jobs out there. You’re claiming that as the root, but the change that may have to come is that you’ve got to work on your pride. You may not think those two things go together, but they may go together.”
     
    After identifying what needs to be changed, Harvey says you must stretch yourself. But he cautions that it isn’t always as simple as it seems because people develop habits along the way that make change more difficult.
     
    “It’s hard to break those habits. But that’s where you’ve got to have people around you that can point out things and help you make adjustments.” 
     

     

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  9. Rookie Symposium: You Don't Miss It Until It's Gone

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 06-15-2011 12:29 AM Human Relations | Education | Athlete Career Development

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    I hope New York Giants rookie offensive tackle James Brewer's opinion about the cancelled NFL Rookie Symposium isn't shared by many other new NFL draftees. In a May 26, 2011 New York Post Online article, author Paul Schwartz reported that Brewer told him, "That's probably one thing I'm not going to say I'll miss, going to [Ohio] for three days or so of pretty much a freshman orientation. Kind of letting you know what not to do. I feel I have pretty good common sense, so I think I'll be OK. I don't think I need someone to tell me not to hit women and stuff like that.  I think I kind of know that already."

    But two days earlier on May 24, 2011, an ESPN NFL website article entitled "NFL rookie symposium called off" had explained that the symposium is much more multifaceted than how Brewer has chosen to perceive it. The ESPN.com article quoted a league spokesperson who explained that "the symposium is a large, complex event involving many professionals and others. In fairness, we could not continue to keep their commitment on hold."
     
    The article went on to say that "the symposium, which was to begin in Canton, Ohio, on June 26, is designed to teach rookies life lessons on dealing with football, finances and their new lifestyle. Many players who have been through the symposium have said it has been a positive first step in their transition to the NFL."

     

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  10. Athlete Education on the Rise: Get into the Game

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 05-19-2011 11:59 PM Human Relations | Education | Athlete Career Development | Finance

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    In a May 10, 2011 Yahoo! Sports website article entitled Fighter summit educates about finances, author Kevin Iole showed his readers that athlete education about a variety of subject areas that are closely related to the athlete's professional status is on the rise. Iole's article explained how the recent third annual Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fighter Summit focused much of its attention on teaching the pro fighters how to apply their training discipline to the management of their money, as well as to other important life decisions.

    I regard this as a highly encouraging sign that there's a real growing market among some athletes for learning how to be smart about leveraging their influential social roles to achieve lasting benefits for themselves, their families, and their communities. And the more this market of life-long learners grows, the bigger the part pro athletes will be poised to play in inspiring young people to develop the kinds of multi-dimensional decision-making skills that will help our country's future leaders to respond effectively to the new and different challenges that we're all facing.

    Whenever I read stories about guys like all-pro tight end Tony Gonzalez or former all-pro linebacker Lavar Arrington, among others, making the most of their life opportunities beyond pro football, I get an increasingly hopeful feeling that the stage is being set for pro athletes to show others how to get and stay in "the zone" off the field as well as on it. After all, the holistic thinking, precise mental focus, and painstakingly consistent ritualistic performance preparation behaviors that all highly tuned athletes must sustain can easily translate to any type of human activity. Therefore, all a pro athlete really needs in order to taste similar success outside of his or her sport is a strong desire to make it happen and effectively conveyed guiding information that emphasizes practical how-to tools and techniques.

     

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  11. The Limits of Loyalty: How Far Should Friendship Go for Pro Athletes?

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 02-04-2011 12:52 AM Image Branding | Human Relations | Athlete Career Development | Trusted Athlete Educator

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    The Oregonian columnist John Canzano raised an important point in his January 5 piece about a New Year’s Eve murder allegedly committed by one of former Portland Trailblazer Zach Randolph’s running buddies (at least while Randolph was with that team). Although nothing links Randolph to the murder, for Canzano the incident raises serious questions about which kinds of personal demons a professional sports franchise should accommodate and which ones should be deal breakers. 

    My understanding of the columnist’s main answer to that question is that he believes sports teams should consider the types of people in a player’s inner circle as a major clue about the player’s true character. Canzano goes further to suggest that the Portland Trail Blazers and all other professional sports teams should stay away from signing any player who hangs around with people who are likely to be involved in criminal activities, despite how talented such a player might be.

     

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  12. Rampant Infidelity Amongst Pro Athletes Is No Surprise

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 12-07-2010 12:49 AM Trusted Athlete Educator | Human Relations

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    I want to begin this commentary with a big shout-out to Elizabeth Merrill and Amy K. Nelson, the authors of a (yet another) great piece about the trials and tribulations of being married to a professional athlete. Now that all kinds of people’s “dirty laundry” is airing out in this new age of transparency, it looks like we’re going to be hearing a lot more about these kinds of personal issues in the athletic world from now on. 
     
    What I find so fascinating about the subject of athletes’ infidelities is that people continue to seem surprised by the seemingly endless stories about this admittedly juicy subject. Yes, of course I fully understand that we tend to love a good soap opera and all. But what fascinates me most of all is that so many of the women who get romantically involved with high-profile athletes actually appear to believe that it’s realistic to expect their widely adored and sought-after spouses to shun everyone else’s sexual advances under all circumstances. After all, it’s one thing to remain optimistically hopeful that we’ll experience true romantic love at least once in our lives. However, it’s another matter entirely to project that hope onto an athlete without having seriously observed his capacity to resist the steady flow of temptations that come with his job.   

     

     

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  13. LeBron James' "What Should I Do?" Nike Commercial

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 11-03-2010 01:06 AM Sports Psychology | Sports Business | Image Branding | Human Relations | Athlete Career Development | Public Relations

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    I see nothing wrong with this message from LeBron James, especially since he appears to be answering the critics whose perspective was championed by Charles Barkley. I strongly disagree with what Barkley and his supporters were saying about the future implications of LeBron’s team selection, and I believe Charles’ reasoning was historically irrational and misguided. Essentially, Charles said LeBron should have chosen to stay with the Cavaliers primarily because that would’ve allowed him to be the undisputed leader rather than just a super cog. Furthermore, Charles argued that by not staying in Cleveland, LeBron was somehow dishonoring the cultural status of NBA basketball by rejecting the notion of competing with superstars like D-Wade for the top NBA dog spot. According to Charles, this was the true effect of LeBron joining a team that already featured another player of roughly equal star status. Never mind that Charles, who never won an NBA championship, was thinking about his own ego needs, and wasn’t really speaking from first-hand knowledge of what makes LeBron tick.

     

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  14. It's Really About NBA Brand Imaging; Not LeBron

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 08-03-2010 12:44 AM Sports Business | Public Relations | Image Branding

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    Focusing on LeBron James' human imperfections may make us feel better, but it doesn't help NBA fans to understand what we're really dealing with.

     

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  15. Athlete Chat: Rachid El-Khalifi

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 06-02-2010 12:36 AM Athlete Interviews

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    We caught up to Dutch Midfielder/Forward, Rachid El-Khalifi, before he left Real Salt Lake after one season to apply his trade outside the U.S.

     

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  16. Give the guy a chance for redemption

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 08-21-2009 09:40 PM Athlete Career Development | Trusted Athlete Educator

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    As sports fans and participants, we all need to be more realistic about the kinds of life choices that we expect top athletes to make. If the athlete wasn't already receiving character coaching, of course we should expect mistakes (both big and small).

     

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  17. Should Active Top Athletes Get Married?

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 07-17-2009 05:03 PM Human Relations | Trusted Athlete Educator

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    Top athletes at the college and pro levels may feel obligated to commit to a partner, but they may be setting themselves and the partner up for devastating heartache.

     

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  18. Just Let the Kids Play

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 04-03-2009 02:00 AM Trusted Athlete Educator | Human Relations | Recruiting | Sports Psychology

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    We're investing more and more heavily in trying to find the next big sports phenom, but all we're really doing is threatening to kill the joy of playing sports. Instead, Let's help talented kids develop their love for sports.

     

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  19. Dialing up True Love while Temptation is on the Other Line

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 04-18-2008 02:00 AM Sports Psychology | Human Relations | Trusted Athlete Educator

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    As you already know, your first hurdle as a celebrity (like I said in my blog about making friends) is to figure out who loves you for who you are inside, rather than for how much money and fame they can get from being with you.

     

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  20. Making New Friends: How can you discover who's really in your corner?

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 03-23-2008 02:00 AM Trusted Athlete Educator | Human Relations | Sports Psychology

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    As hard as it is for people with faces that aren't widely recognizable to figure out who their real friends are, the fact that you're a high-profile athlete means you need to be even more careful than they do about who you invite into your inner circle.

     

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  21. Preparing Yourself for the Human Side of Stardom

    by Dr. Timothy Thompson 03-12-2008 02:00 AM Human Relations | Sports Psychology

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    The social and business implications of being a professional athlete

     

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