Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! In this episode, Jeff interviews Dana Cavalea, a former member of the strength and conditioning staff for the New York Yankees. Dana started with the Yankees at just 19 years old and was a part of the 2009 World Championship team.
In his time with the Yankees, Dana learned about what it means to be a champion, and today he helps companies and executives reach their goals through professional coaching, group trainings, and public speaking. Tune in to hear Coach explain how you can achieve success, maximize your impact, and make the most of every opportunity.
“Focus patience and discipline is the trifecta for success.”
Early Life and Background
Dana was the son of two teachers and grew up in a middle-class family on Long Island. When he realized that he dreamed of making it to the big leagues, he thought he would make it as a player. But when he went to college at The University of South Florida he assessed my talents and realized that he didn’t have the ability to make it to the next level. Instead, he took his love for training and realized that he could make an impact through coaching. He started out as an assistant with the football team at USF, and was offered an entry-level position with the New York Yankees training staff. Today, he uses his coaching experience to help companies and executives.
“There are no good situations. Every situation is the same. So, we decide what we give life to.”
Q: How would you describe your overall mindset toward your life? Positive? Negative? Neutral? What would it look like for you to decide to look at your situation as an opportunity? How could you control your thoughts to make this a positive reality?
What were the keys to your success?
Dana did not feel like he had strong athletic abilities, so he had to capitalize on the skill that he did have: people skills. He learned that if he could build real, authentic relationships with the players, they would like him. If people know you, like you, and trust you as a person, they will want to work with you and support you. He learned this from one of the equipment guys who told him, “You’re going to build relationships outside of the field. You’d better make sure you go to lunch and dinner with them.” That was taboo at the time because coaches didn’t hang with players, but Dana cites it as one of the most beneficial things he did at the beginning of his tenure.
Dana also tried to look at where the organization could be better and what they were missing. At the time, he saw players’ salaries elevating year over year, but many of them were sitting on the bench or getting injured. So, he developed a player profile that assessed the range of motion and injury history and created a color-coded risk sheet. He presenting the findings to the general manager and ultimately, his profiles changed the way the organization looked at players. That is your role as an employee: find the sliver where you can make an improvement, and deliver value. You should always be asking yourself what is missing, where the problems are, and add value. The first thing you have to realize is that there is an opportunity in the room, you just have to find it.
Work with individuals, not just the team
Individuals make up teams, and people in leadership positions can forget that. We can always make people better, but we have to know the individuals that make up the team. That takes time, and you as the leader, have to take the time to get to know them. What worked last year might not work today, even for the same person.
Q: Have you ever experienced a leader who tried to lead everyone the same way? How did their approach affect your performance? What could that leader have done to avoid that mistake? Alternatively, what can you do when your leader is not taking the time to get to know you?
Improve your weaknesses
Under stress, your weaknesses are what break you. It’s not likely that you will be able to turn your weaknesses into strengths, so the goal is just to make that weak link stronger so that you don’t break under stress.
Becoming a Champion
There’s no such thing as a default champion. Some people think that when they reach a default age, they’ll become a champion, and that’s not true. Becoming a champion is the result of your day to day process. When you put all of that together over time, you become a champion, not by default, but through progressive work. Your process will lead you to your results. It’s your job as a proactive champion to become a champion over time. It’s not one event.
Q: What do you think it means to be a proactive champion? Has success ever fallen in your lap? Based on that experience, do you think it is likely to happen again? Compare that experience to a time when you worked hard for your success.
What is your favorite book? - “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
What leader has had the biggest influence on you? - “First, my parents, and second, Daniel Straus, a successful entrepreneur who taught me how to understand page as it relates to business and your skills.
What was your fondest memory on the Yankees? - “Winning the Championship in 2009.”
What was your biggest setback? - “I tried to launch a business and it did well, but I was managing more than I was coaching, and I tried to expand too fast. I got away from my passions and the business venture tanked.”
What does it mean to be a champion? - “There’s a champion inside each and every one of us, it’s our job and duty to bring that champion to life. You have to know what lies in you and how to bring it to life. For many people, the barrier is belief.”
Write down your three major weaknesses and one situation where that weakness caused you to fall behind on a project or make a major error. Find a book, podcast, or mentor that can help you grow in this area. Additionally, identify one person who is strong in the area where you are weak and make sure that they are available to support you when you face another stressful situation.
How many of your team members have you spent time with outside of work in the last quarter? Schedule time to do lunch, coffee, or dinner with each of your team members over the next quarter.
In the interview, Dana talks about hitting a single every day. At first, it doesn’t seem like it amounts to much, but over time, those singles add up to runs. What could you do to “hit a single” every day to ensure success over time? Put this thing at the top of your to-do list so that you can ensure you are constantly moving forward with your long-term goals.