Mike Lewis on IMG, Mental Conditioning and the Black Athlete

Mike Lewis is a former Mental Conditioning, Athletic & Personal Development Coach at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL.  He recently transitioned into his private practice at Breakthrough Performance Consulting in the Atlanta GA metro area.  He is provisionally certified as a Sports Psychology Consultant through the Association of Applied Sports Psychology.

IMG Academy is the world-leading provider of academic, athletic and personal development programs. With expert instruction, a proven training methodology, professional-grade facilities and a challenging and motivating learning environment that brings together individuals of all ages and backgrounds, IMG Academy provides the ultimate foundation for future success.  We were fortunate to catch up with Mr. Lewis to learn about his experience working for IMG, issues concerning the Black athlete, personal player development and much more.

 

Dr. Mark: How was your experience at IMG working in an elite level environment?

Mr. Lewis: My experience at IMG Academy was nothing short of phenomenal!  I went to IMG as a summer staff employee in 2014.  At the time I was at the tail-end of my graduate degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology from Argosy University.  My primary purpose in going to IMG was to gain applied experience and network with individuals who are leading the field in sports psychology.  Toward the end of my summer there I was asked to interview for a full-time position, which I was successful in earning.  As a Mental Conditioning Coach, my role was to support the mental performance of the Academy athletes in Football, Track & Field, and our Post Graduate programs in Baseball and Men’s Basketball.  In addition to the Academy athletes, I also worked extensively with the NFL Combine, NBA Pre-Draft, MLB Pre-Draft, and Elite/Olympic Track & Field Athletes in supporting them through the anticipated mental and psychological challenges they were soon to face in their journey to becoming a pro.  As well as provide the particular mindset training needed to be successful.

There are very few places in the country or even the world where someone in the sports psychology field can work with numerous athletes in various sports, from different backgrounds, and a variety of athletic ability.  The facilities at IMG are world-class, and the staff at IMG are truly experts in their chosen field.  They perform at a professional level consistently day in and day out.  Be it the grounds people maintaining the fields or one of the former Olympic medalists in the track & field program working with an athlete who is attending camp.  Everyone at IMG strives to become more, perform better, grow, and lead.  This was clearly evident to me when I arrived two years ago and for those reasons I choose to become part of the IMG family.

Today’s black athlete is from varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds that have shaped their identities.  It takes a skilled individual or team of people to appeal to such diversity.

Mike Lewis from Breakthrough Performance Consulting

 

Dr. Mark: Is it important to establish a personal development framework with athletes before delivering mental conditioning services?

Mr. Lewis: It Depends.  Certain factors such as the size of the group or team, the athlete’s experience level, and what is the mission or ultimate goal of the program may determine whether or not a personal development framework is needed before delivering mental conditioning services.  For instance, at a U10 recreational youth level soccer program, instituting mental conditioning sessions right away may be very beneficial for the kids.  Many times the focus in youth athletics is on skill development and learning the game.  Although at the professional level or perhaps within the military performance world, the Mental Conditioning Coach’s approach may be to subtlety create an awareness of who they are, and how they can help, under the umbrella of “personal development”.

As a mental conditioning coach, much of my education and training is founded on counseling theory and the use of cognitive behavioral therapy.  Also, much of my life experiences are rooted in being an athlete.  That being said, I typically do not stick to a standardized personal development framework.  Each athlete I work with is uniquely different from his or her peer.  I enjoy teaching mental skills to athletes who have never been taught mental skills or spent time with a sports psychology professional.  I have found that to deliver mental conditioning services successfully it is essential to remember, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care!”

 

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Dr. Mark: Is personal player development necessary for the Black athlete?

Mr. Lewis: Personal development is needed for all athletes. Participating in sports opens the door for development both athletically and personally.  Although, when referring specifically to black athletes, I think the larger question is:  “Who is the best person that can personally develop ‘this’ black athlete?”  In today’s world, the black athlete comes from Italy, Compton, Bermuda, Panama, Canada, the Netherlands, Ghana, France, South West Atlanta, and countless other areas around the globe.  Today’s black athlete is from varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds that have shaped their identities.  It takes a skilled individual or team of people to appeal to such diversity.  During an athlete’s career, there are numerous challenges they will be faced with, and there are certainly a unique set of challenges a black athlete will be faced with.

In America right now, specifically young African-American male black athletes, despite his socio-economic status, sport, level of achievement, or accolades earned is likely to encounter or hear of an interaction in which he asks himself “Did that just happen because I’m or he is black or an athlete or both?”  It may come in the form of a sports reporter’s question, a traffic stop by police, an awkward interaction in an elevator, or simply a freebie at the local market.   The athlete who has developed personally and has a strong sense of self-identity and has had the opportunity to rehearse and or role-play such interactions can be better prepared.  A program that focuses on such development can be the difference between, graduation or non-graduation, arrest or non-arrest, a $250K contract or a  $2.5 Million Contract with a $2Million Signing Bonus.

 

Dr. Mark: Why aren’t we witnessing diversity training and programming with an emphasis on the personal player development of the Black athlete?

 

Mr. Lewis: I believe there are some programs and organizations, namely the NCAA, that have teams or departments that are focused on diversity and inclusion, leadership, character, and personal development. I’m interested to know of more programs that specifically emphasize the development of black athletes.  Perhaps a reason why we don’t see a prevalence of this type of programming is that conversations centered around ethnicity are uncomfortable for many people. Also, sport in most cases is the ultimate “level playing field”.  Within a game or competition, the better athlete at that moment wins, regardless of race, gender, or background.  Creating diversity in the development of an athlete via socially, intellectually, spiritually, and physically is an enormous commitment.  A university or high school that is willing to focus development of its staff and athletes on the challenges faced by one group of athletes must be ready to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.  As I mentioned earlier the larger question is “Who is best qualified to deliver the programming?”

I think fans of sport enjoy top-level human performance.  When the lights go dim, and the confetti cannons stop, there is another reality that exists. This reality occupies the majority of an athlete or organization’s time. This reality comes with a host of obstacles and opportunities.  The athletes and organizations that create environments to mentally and socially prepare their athletes stand a greater chance of developing awesome people.

You can reach Mike Lewis through the following;

Twitter @thementalmike

 

 

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