5 Things Athletes Know That Can Change Your Life For The Better

by Sarah Centrella
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What can a single mom in her mid-30s learn from a college football player?

Just how to change my life, no biggie.

On a chilly January night in 2010, I stood on an Oregon softball field under the buzz of enormous flood lights.

I was watching Kenjon Barner get out of his car and walk across the field toward my son, Kanen, as a giant smile stretched across his face.

I'd never met Kenjon before that night, and was trying to take in the magnitude of what was happening as I watched him give Kanen a hug.

For over an hour, Kenjon played football with my boy, who was too star-struck to even talk. They ran across the field catching long spirals, avoiding tackles and running routes, until Kanen was thoroughly exhausted.

That night changed everything.

At the time, I was a newly single mom, trying desperately to get back on my feet after my husband left me with our three small children and little else.

It was my son's 8th birthday, and I had no money to throw him a party, or even get him a gift. I'd been brainstorming for days how to make it special when I had the idea and reached out to Kenjon.

My son and I are huge Oregon Duck fans, and there was no bigger star in 2010 than Kenjon.

I knew it was a long shot, but what did I have to lose?

So I went on Facebook and sent him a message, asking if there was a chance he'd be willing to come play catch with Kanen for his birthday.

I was totally shocked when he agreed without hesitation.

I knew something special had taken place that night; this was no ordinary college football player.

As time went on and our friendship grew, I realized I could learn a lot about life and success from talking to and observing Kenjon.

I'd pick his brain about how he'd remained steadfast in his dream, even when obstacles threatened to take it way.

I asked him how he kept his mind so focused and positive in the face of difficulty and distraction. I wanted to know how he was accomplishing all the things he said he would and I watched his hustle.

I began incorporating what I learned into my life immediately, thinking if it could work for him in football why couldn't it work for me in the corporate world? Or as a mom? Or as an aspiring writer and coach?

The more I observed and applied these lessons, the faster I achieved my goals.

In the years that followed, I began coaching several college and processional athletes, and even as I helped them sort through the challenges they faced, they were equally helping me shape my philosophy of success.

I watched, I listened, I asked questions and I adapted what I learned from their experiences in sports into my own life.

During this time, I went from a low paying inside sales job to a national sales director and tripled my salary.

I went from food stamps to flying first class and taking my kids on amazing vacations. Ultimately, I wrote a book proving that what I did can also work for YOU.

My #HBRMethod of success has eight steps. Here are five I learned from professional athletes that dramatically changed my life, and will change yours, too:

1. Anthony Tolliver, Detroit Pistons. You have to #dreamit.

If you want to achieve anything in life, you need a clear vision of what you want.

I learned this lesson through working with Anthony, who knew he wanted to play in the NBA since he was 5 years old.

His dream was so clear and so specific that he was manifesting it with almost scary predictive accuracy.

Anthony told me when I interviewed him for my book:

No one expected me to have a career in the NBA. My goal was to say 'I made it' and I played, and that I was a good shooter. Most people expected me to go make some money overseas and call it a day. But that was never my dream.

Having that clear vision is what kept Anthony from giving up each time a team released him, and as a result, he's currently in his eighth season in the NBA.

2. Kenjon Barner, Philadelphia Eagles: #sayit.

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Once you've clearly defined your dream, you need to have the balls to say it out loud.

Owning your dream, being able to talk about it and put it into the universe might seem simple, but believe me, most of my clients really struggle with this step.

Because saying it holds us accountable, and that's scary.

In seventh grade, Kenjon, who had never played football in his life, told his dad, “I'm going to play in the NFL.”

Up to that point, he'd been a basketball star and knew nothing about football.

But when those words came out of his mouth that morning, he knew he was predicting his future.

And his family knew that when Kenjon said something, he would make it a reality.

He told me:

I knew that when I said it, I'd find a way to make it happen.

If you've had a dream but haven't claimed it yet, it's never gonna come true until you can own it with pride. So #sayit already!

3. Lavasier Tuinei, NFL Free Agent: #doit.

You have to actually do it (aka #thehustle).

Be ready and willing to work your ass off to make your dream happen, and no matter what obstacles you face.

I learned the true meaning of #relentlesspursuit from Lavasier.

I'd met him after he'd been selected as the Rose Bowl MVP for the Oregon Ducks.

He entered the draft as a free agent and was at training camp with the Seattle Seahawks. He reached out, knowing I'd coached several of his teammates as they transitioned into the NFL.

But it was watching him get released from team after team that taught me the meaning of “never give up.”

Each time I'd ask him, “Well what are you going to do now?,” assuming he'd be ready to throw in the towel, he'd say, “keep trying.”

Each time, I was astonished at his resilience and lack of bitterness at the process.

He never sulked in disappointment or took it personal.

He just went back to work to get better so he'd be more prepared the next time.

Watching him win in the end is what made me realize that this formula is pretty much foolproof; it just works. If you want it, don't quit till you've got it. It's not rocket science.

4. Todd Washington, NFL Coach, Baltimore Ravens: #believeit.

You can't really believe in your dream if you're surrounded by haters. If you're serious about changing your life then you have to #changeyourcrew.

I met Todd, who serves as an assistant coach, in 2011 when I took my son to a Ravens game in Baltimore. This lesson is one of the major keys to success I've implemented in my life since.

He said:

Make sure you surround yourself with people who have the same goals. You can't afford to be around people who have the potential to be negative around you or bring you down.

5. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers: #liveit.

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So what happens when you've reached your goals and are living your dream? What then?

I learned from Jonathan that in order to truly #liveit, you have to be driven by something more than a specific goal, for success to last.

He told me:

I have joy. Happiness is temporary, but joy lasts forever. I've always let joy guide me. Making sure I keep, and live in joy is what's always been the most important thing to me. That really is my dream at the end of the day, to always have joy, to not worry about the outcomes and to glorify God.

If happiness isn't your true end goal, then what is it all for anyway? What makes you happy?

If that's what guides your dream, your words, your actions and your crew, then happiness will be what you experience along the way.

It will be the thing that makes living your dream oh so worth it.

My Journey

There are 13 professional athletes featured in my book, "Hustle Believe Receive," including Oregon alumni Derrick Malone, Jr., who taught me the importance of #thinkit, and why we control our mind and not the other way around.

There's also Daniel Jacobs, the middleweight boxing world champion, who proves we can overcome any adversity (including the most deadly of them all), if we are determined to do so.

These lessons are quiet literally the key to my success. It was through applying them that I was able to accomplish my ultimate dream of becoming a traditionally published author.

Everyone told me I was crazy, that I'd never make it as a writer, that frankly I sucked and that publishing would never take a chance on a self-help book featuring athletes as the inspiration, written by a nobody/single mom from Oregon.

On January 9, 2016 I stood by the DJ booth at 1 Oak in New York City, holding a microphone and trying to catch my breath between emotions and a flood of tears.

I was trying to tell a packed room of people, who'd flown in from across the country for the VIP launch party for my book, the story of the night Kenjon made my son's birthday wish come true.

But I couldn't tell it without breaking down. Seeing Kenjon sitting there supporting my book, and this six-year journey was a pretty incredible moment, and I know that it's not one I alone deserve the credit for.

Had it not been for what all these athletes have taught me, chances are, that night would have never happened.

Sarah Centrella interviewed a group of over 51, comprised of athletes and other inspirational figures, for her book, "Hustle, Believe, Receive. 

She will be signing copies of her book on Thursday, February 11 in Manhattan, along with a number of her interview subjects. For more info, follow Sarah on Twitter.