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Sustain Your Game
High Performance Keys to Manage Stress, Avoid Stagnation, and Beat Burnout
By Jon Sternfeld
Foreword by Rece Davis
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- Hardcover $29.00 $37.00 CAD
- ebook $15.99 $20.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 12, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The Sports Librarian’s Best of 2022 – Sports Books
Sustain Your Game is built upon a simple premise: each of us will always be under construction, a work in progress, and constantly evolving. The goal is to be moving toward our highest potential, toward making a meaningful contribution, and toward becoming the best version of ourselves.
Based on his years as a successful basketball performance coach—having worked with and alongside superstars like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant—and a keynote speaker to major companies like Pepsi and Amex, Alan Stein Jr. brings you the keys to lasting, unimaginable success. The secret? Sustain Your Game teaches a timeline of short term to medium term to long term because we are always battling all three: stress in the now, stagnation in the present, and burnout in the long term.
Part I—PERFORM is about managing stress in the day-to-day (short term)
Part II—PIVOT is about avoiding stagnation in your current situation (medium term)
Part III—PREVAIL is about beating burnout and making a lasting impact (long term)
This book is for high performers who want to learn practical strategies and action steps on how to sustain their game across all three timelines. It assembles invaluable advice and lessons from successful athletes, entrepreneurs, social scientists, journalists, CEOs, motivational speakers, business coaches, and consultants, as well as Alan’s own personal stories.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I get to make my living working for a wonderful company (ESPN), with people I really enjoy, covering my two favorite sports. Don’t get me wrong: I respect and appreciate all sports, but I love college football and basketball.
So needless to say, I am beyond grateful.
As I reflect on my journey, it’s been quite a ride! I started an internship with the CBS affiliate in Tuscaloosa while still a student at the University of Alabama. At the conclusion of a nine-week internship, they hired me as a reporter, giving me valuable on-air experience. After graduation, I worked on my craft during stints in Columbus, Georgia, and Flint, Michigan, before finally making it to ESPN in 1995.
Actually, I started on ESPN2, which was relatively new at the time. I was host of a show called SportsSmash. Show probably isn’t the right word. It was an update segment within shows, but it helped me establish myself at ESPN. After getting in plenty of reps (and there is no substitute for live reps), I got the opportunity of a lifetime and was put in the rotation to host SportsCenter.
This was a sports journalist’s dream, as I got to work alongside legendary sportscasters like Keith Olbermann, Chris Berman, and Dan Patrick. Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt were also rising stars who became transcendent hosts and set the standard for professional excellence.
After SportsCenter, I spent the next few years improving my craft on a variety of shows—from NASCAR to the NBA—before landing the lead studio host role for college football and college basketball. More than fifteen years of fifteen-hour days at the command center of college football Saturdays thoroughly prepared me for my current role as the host of College GameDay, which, in my judgment, is the best job in television.
What did those experiences teach me?
When you are first starting out and trying to climb the ladder, looking for that next step can feel daunting and overwhelming. It’s easy to get consumed by what’s next and constantly search for what else is out there.
But you should never compromise the job you have pursuing the job you want. Your #1 priority should be to do the absolute best job you can in the moment, wherever you are.
You should work to be genuine and authentic, never veer from your core values, and always stay true to who you are. Know what you do well and find ways to double down on your strengths.
Doing so is a surefire way to set yourself apart, open doors, and create new opportunities.
For me, I’ve always stayed focused on being reliable, being consistent, and being prepared. Before every show, I repeat these words to myself: poise, presence, personality, preparation. Those are things I control.
My current role on GameDay requires a variety of skills. Skills I’ve worked hard to develop over time, and skills I continue refining to this day.
I have to be informed and prepared and have the ability to think and react quickly. I have to know my stuff and be able to improvise and go off the cuff. We don’t use a teleprompter on College GameDay. We didn’t use one for the college football and basketball studio shows. I thoroughly prepare what I want to say. It’s just not completely scripted. You have to be able to react to what your analyst says or something that happens in the crowd.
I have to maintain high levels of energy and enthusiasm. I have to prioritize my self-care and make sure my mental, physical, and emotional buckets are full.
I also have to quickly move on after a mistake. When you do live television, things are going to go wrong. You are going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. The key is staying composed, staying humble, and staying confident. That’s where poise and presence in my “four Ps” come in.
I can’t get distracted or consumed with negativity or criticism. I must continue to believe in myself, put in the work, and run my own race. Everything else will take care of itself.
I’ve been in this business for over thirty years and I’ve observed firsthand how to sustain high performance from brilliant colleagues like Jay Bilas and Kirk Herbstreit; from Hall of Fame coaches like Nick Saban, Mike Krzyzewski, and John Calipari; and from pop culture icons like Matthew McConaughey and Keegan-Michael Key.
In a similar fashion, I’ve had a chance to spend time with Alan on the GameDay sets for Duke basketball and Penn State football and really respect and appreciate his perspective on how to not only Raise Your Game but how to sustain it as well.
Regardless of your experience or vocation, I’m confident you’ll benefit from Alan’s stories and strategies on managing stress, avoiding stagnation, and beating burnout.
I congratulate you on investing in this book and wish you well in your pursuit of sustaining excellence, optimizing performance, and living a truly fulfilled life.
Host of ESPN College GameDay
Though it’s been years since I’ve worked directly with athletes, I still consider myself a coach. And though my primary area of focus is no longer in sports, I still teach the principles, lessons, and strategies that apply to the court and the field. Sports are elemental. They’re about performing in pressure moments, managing your emotions through adversity, communicating with others toward a collective goal, and staying disciplined when others don’t. I think of these as fundamentals, and no matter your domain, your ability to do them will distinguish you from everyone else—even those who may have more opportunity, natural talent, or intelligence. I’ve never believed that what you have is most important, but rather what you do with what you have. That’s what matters most.
The highest performers in all walks of life have taken full ownership of themselves, their work, and their choices. They got to where they are—and have stayed there—because they have chosen to establish, refine, and repeat the habits that serve them best. These men and women understand that you can’t be selective when it comes to excellence: how we do anything is how we do everything.
I’ve worked with the likes of NBA stars Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo when they were young and watched superstars like Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry in their private routines. I’ve sat across from Mark Cuban and Jesse Itzler as they talked about how they built their empires and interviewed Jay Bilas and Jay Williams about how mental toughness creates success. In sports or business or anything else, the best aren’t the best by accident, genetics, or good fortune. They are at the top because of their commitment to the fundamentals. True superstars never get bored with the basics, and they never underestimate their importance. My primary job is to inspire, guide, and coach people on the fundamental building blocks of high performance (both individually and organizationally). I think of my role as one who works to inspire, motivate, and instruct people in the ways of the basics.
“Nobody wins all the time,” mental performance coach Brian Levenson told me. Levenson works in both business and athletics, recognizing the natural bridge that exists between the two. “And I think it’s one of the values in sports. The value of learning that losing is possible.”
I agree 100 percent. Losing, failure, and obstacles are real and there’s not a sport in the world that doesn’t have those ideas baked in. A game literally doesn’t make sense without them. Pro athletes, even successful ones, lose. Sometimes constantly. Athletes are also well versed in making mistakes—dropping passes, missing shots, and stepping out of bounds. There’s a reason our everyday language has absorbed the terms from sports to mean errors: fumble, strikeout, choke.
For athletes, the failure and the requisite feedback are constant. If they don’t absorb and make use of that feedback, they won’t be playing very long. Because of this, sports are a wonderful way to study improvement, success, and adaptation. Jerry Seinfeld, one of the all-time great comedians, once said, “If you could take your experiences and ask to trade them in, the last ones I would trade would be the failures. Those are the most valuable ones.” He’s not the best in spite of those failures. He’s the best because of them. And he’s the best because he knows this.
This work is my calling. I am passionate about serving, impacting, influencing, and connecting with people. Experience has taught me that success is a choice, and I want to inspire and empower people and organizations to make that choice. I’ve turned a successful basketball performance coaching career into a professional speaking business. Now, major companies from all over the world hire me to teach, train, and consult on effective leadership, performance, and teamwork.
My time as a coach with top high school players led me to opportunities with pros, so I’ve seen both sides of the coin—what it takes to get there and what it takes to remain there. My last book, Raise Your Game, was all about bringing your A game to your job, your relationships, and your life. But that is really only half the battle. Keeping it up is even harder. The commitment to raising your game—in any area of life—is no easy feat. But the commitment to sustaining your game is even more challenging. An athlete has to execute—on the play, for the season, and for a career. In business, publishing, or whatever your field, succeeding along these three timelines is equally important: the moment (short term), the stretch (medium term), and the long haul (long term).
Sustain Your Game is about succeeding in all three, looking at the particular challenges of all three timelines:
• In the moment, we have to battle stress.
• In the stretch, we have to fight stagnation.
• In the long haul, we have to beat burnout.
This book is for high performers who want to learn practical strategies and actionable tools for how to sustain their game across all three timelines. It will distill advice and lessons from successful athletes, entrepreneurs, social scientists, journalists, CEOs, motivational speakers, business coaches, and consultants, as well as my own personal stories.
Succeeding along each of the three timelines requires discipline. And discipline is doing what you said you would do long after the mood you said it in has faded. Most people refer to me as a motivational speaker, but that’s not really what I do. I’m there to stimulate change. I’m there to encourage, empower, and guide the audience to think, feel, and act differently. To change their perspective and to change their behavior. I believe in motivation, but I never confuse it with discipline. I meditate every day whether I’m motivated or not. I make my bed whether I’m motivated or not. I don’t always want to get up early, work out, travel for work, but I do it with or without the motivation. I do it because I’m disciplined.
Discipline has a negative connotation and is often associated with punishment. But I think of discipline as the opposite: it is the foundation of freedom. Do what’s hard now so things get easier later. Mental coach and entrepreneur Todd Herman told me that “most people want the noun without the verb,” which is a great way to put it: they want the result without doing what it takes to get there. It’s a common misconception that you need to be motivated before you act, when oftentimes we have it backward: acting first will end up motivating you.
My goal is not perfection; it’s progress. Am I closer to where I want to be than I was yesterday? That’s my measurement.
When I was young, I got advice that I have carried with me to this day: Find something you love to do, find something you’re good at, and find where those two intersect. That’s your strength zone, and the more you can stay there, the more you can engage with that space, the more fulfilled you will be. As you grow, continue to be self-aware and reflect on what has changed because that point of intersection is going to move.
Sustain Your Game will give you the tools to perform your best in your arena, wherever that may be. It will help you manage stress, wherever it shows up; fend off stagnation, however it presents itself; and beat burnout, whenever it rears its head.
I am not speaking from a place of mastery. Like everyone else, I am under construction, a work in progress. Coming off a successful first book, I understand the challenge of continuing to perform at a high level and navigating the obstacles along the way. In essence, this book is a manifestation of the very thing I am writing about, a perfect marriage of author and subject, form and content. I am sustaining my game by helping others sustain theirs.
Thank you for joining me on the ride.
How This Book Is Organized
The goal of my first book, Raise Your Game, was to help readers achieve high performance in whatever they do. The goal of Sustain Your Game is to get them thinking about the next step: remaining there. The book is organized along a timeline of short term to medium term to long term because we are always battling all three: stress in the now, stagnation in the present, and burnout in the long term. I think of stress as a “too much” problem, stagnation as a “too little” problem, and burnout as a combination: “too much of too little.” Since I believe that an easily decipherable structure is the best way to retain knowledge, I’ve designed this book into three parallel sections:
Part I—PERFORM is about managing stress in the day-to-day (short term)
Part II—PIVOT is about avoiding stagnation in your current situation (medium term)
Part III—PREVAIL is about beating burnout and making a lasting impact (long term)
When Diane Van Deren was in her twenties, the epilepsy that she experienced as a child came back with a vengeance. Though she tried various treatments and interventions, she found only one thing stopped the seizures: running. She would leave her sneakers by the front door and whenever she felt an aura (the sense that a seizure was coming on), she’d lace up her shoes and take off for a long-distance run through the national park near her house.
At thirty-seven Diane had brain surgery to remove “a golf ball–size portion of her brain,” which left her entirely seizure-free. However, it came with a strange side effect: she no longer has any short-term memory. It causes struggles in her daily life, and it makes it difficult for her to follow trails, but there’s an upside. In distance running, where obstacles are both physiological and psychological, having no short-term memory is a gift. It’s better than big lungs or strong calves. Because she is always focused on the present moment, Diane is never dragged down by thoughts about where she is, how far she’s come, or where she’s going. She can run farther and longer than anyone else.
Diane can’t “keep track of where she is on a course, she doesn’t focus on the challenge ahead of her,” writes Alex Hutchinson in Endure. “She has no choice but to focus on the immediate task of forward motion, taking one more step, and then another.” Though I can’t assume Diane’s regular life is very easy, I imagine her lack of memory is an asset in the long-distance running world, where she has excelled. She has a superpower that very few have: she is always focused on the present moment.
Be where your feet are. It’s so simple yet increasingly difficult in our modern world. We must learn from the past and plan for the future, but true presence, living in the here and now, is the first step to reducing stress in your life. This is becoming increasingly more challenging given the constant bombardment of distractions we face nearly every moment of every day.
Focus is the first chapter here because if I had to pick one fundamental strategy to help manage stress, it’s live in the present moment. Even if the present moment is stressful, (a) you’ll be able to handle it better when you focus on it, and (b) there’s only so much stress one present moment can offer. Stop getting upset over events from your past and getting anxious about a future that hasn’t happened yet (and may not happen at all). That’s time travel and it actually increases stress.
Stay where you can have an impact: right now.
Eye on the Ball
In an article about NBA legend Kobe Bryant, psychologist Benjamin Hardy singled out one thing as Kobe’s strongest trait. It wasn’t his shooting, jumping ability, or agility on the floor. It was his short memory. Kobe’s superhuman focus, his ability to wipe the mental slate clean, truly stood out for Hardy, who has made studying such things his life’s work. Like Diane Van Deren, Kobe was not weighed down by what was and, because of that, what might be. On the basketball court, where possessions often last less than twenty seconds, that gave him an edge.
Some call it having a whiteboard memory, one you can quickly erase. “The less you hold on to mistakes or painful experiences, the better you’re able to adapt to what the situation requires and perform in order to achieve your goals,” Hardy writes. “What happened in the past doesn’t impact the next thing you do, or stop you from being entirely present at this moment.” A basketball player has to be able to block out the failures, the missed shots, and the blown plays or the game will get away from him.1 The action is simply too quick, and even the best players are going to regularly make mistakes and miss shots. That’s just the game. Coach Mike Jones, whom I worked with at DeMatha Catholic High School, a powerhouse that has produced a long line of NBA stars, used to lean into this strategy as well. One of his favorite things to yell, especially after a turnover or missed shot, was, “Next play!” It was a shorthand that his players understood. It meant: move on.
Coach Jones made dealing with what’s in front of you a consistent approach. In the locker room after one practice, Coach Jones handed out a printed copy of the game schedule to the players. The very next game was against the last place team in the conference, an easy win as far as the players were concerned. But three games after that was a showdown with Gonzaga, DeMatha’s rival, which would be broadcast on ESPN. Jones asked the team, “What is the most important game left on our schedule?”
Most quickly shouted, “Gonzaga!”
“No,” he calmly corrected them. “The next game is always the most important game on our schedule. It’s the one right in front of us.”
The thing in front is always the most important. If that’s your colleague’s presentation or your child’s baseball game, then that’s where your focus should be. Attempting to solve A while staring at B and thinking about C is a guarantee that you’ll do all three poorly. It’s the perfect recipe for unnecessary stress.
Processing our past and planning our future are crucial, but neither mean a thing if you are not handling the moment. Strike a balance between what you need to know and what can wait. If your attention is tipping too far into the past or future, then you are failing the moment. And the moment will fail you.
One of my favorite demonstrations of the “next play” philosophy was from New England Patriots head coach and eight-time Super Bowl champ Bill Belichick. A journalist once asked Belichick, “With all that you have accomplished in your career, what are some of the things left that you still want to accomplish?”
His answer? “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be at the top of the list right now.” Belichick has a reputation for being prickly with reporters, but he isn’t being coy here. He was answering the question literally but honestly: his mind was focused on the thing in front of him, the one he had a chance to control. It wasn’t even the upcoming game. It was that day’s practice. That’s why he has been such a consistently high performer for decades.
Athletes and coaches are a particularly useful group to look at in terms of focus because it is a necessity in their line of work. Even a good season will be filled with a mix of wins and losses, sometimes on back-to-back days. If any one game matters too much, the stress would overload them. Picture the conveyor belt at the factory, with workers moving at the steady speed, never too slow or too fast. That’s the ideal athletic mind.
University of South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley knows the effects that dwelling on the past can have on performance. This is especially true for younger minds, and even more so with those with high standards, like Division I basketball players. In response, Coach Staley has implemented a “24-hour rule” with her team. She tells her players: “You got 24 hours to bask in your victory or you got 24 hours to agonize over your defeat. And then we put one foot in front of the other and we keep moving.”
Original diagram idea by Peter Rea; designed by Jeremy Stein
Staley was influenced by her own experience as a UVA player. In the 1991 national championship game, Staley missed a game-deciding layup, a devastating moment that she watched and rewatched and perseverated about over and over. When she became a coach, and she saw her players’ competitive drive was causing losses to overwhelm them, she instituted the 24-hour rule. She knows from experience how detrimental living in the past can be. Time moves one way. You can either operate in harmony with this idea, or in conflict. Those are your choices.
Be Where You Are
Author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, born in Germany, educated in London, is a slight and unassuming man. In his late twenties, and suffering from depression, Tolle was struck by a revelation. In his lowest moment, a thought came into his mind: “I can’t live with myself any longer.” But after he said it, he stopped. Tolle realized something: What does that even mean? How can I separate from myself?
Tolle realized that if one self couldn’t live with the other, then that meant there must be two selves! Well then, which was the real him? (Will the real Slim Tolle please stand up?2)
Tolle spent his life trying to answer that question and, in discovering the answer, has taught millions of others how to handle their own stress, dissatisfaction, and depression. His solution to the two selves problem is that there is always the you who is living and the you who is watching that you. And that observing you, the one who runs our internal dialogue, is the source of our stress and anxiety.
Tolle defines stress as the desire to be somewhere and somewhen else. In order to lessen stress, we need to get out of the past (“memory”) and the future (“anticipation”) and stay in the now. Your body can only be in one place, so your mind and spirit need to be there, too. When all three are unified, you are fully present. “When you’re really in the body there’s not much thinking anymore,” Tolle has said. When you’re in the present, the two selves become one.
When we’re worried about something that has happened or anxious about something that will happen, our stress has so much to feed on. It can be never-ending. So how do we stop it? Acceptance. “The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance,” Tolle writes, “some form of unconscious resistance to what is.” Be where you are because you have no other choice.
This is what you’re doing, so do it.
When our energy is hovering away from the here and now, we’re unsettled. That’s why people who take things as they come are called grounded; they stay where they’re standing.
Fear comes from the past, anxiety from the future. The here and now is controllable.
- "Simply showing up will not leave the impact leaders need to have today in business. One must show up as their best self and ready to perform consistently. This book will help you do just that!"—Ellen Latham, creator/co-founder, Orange Theory Fitness
- "Regardless of industry, now more than ever, it’s incredibly challenging to effectively cope with–and conquer–stress, stagnation, and burnout. This book is an invaluable resource for doing just that. It is a blueprint to sustaining excellence! Alan’s writing style is engaging, he is a captivating storyteller, and he knows how to distil complex ideas into bite sized, actionable nuggets. Sustain Your Game is full of impactful lessons to help you in any area of your life.”—Charles Watson, CEO, Tropical Smoothie Café, LLC
Praise for Alan Stein, Jr.'s Raise Your Game
"Alan played a huge role in my development on and off the court and his guidance helped me get to where I am today. This book is a must read."—Kevin Durant
- "Alan shares what it takes to take your game to the next level. Raise Your Game provides tools, concepts and strategies you can utilize today to enhance your influence and make an immediate impact on your team, culture and organization." —Jon Gordon, bestselling author of Training Camp and The Carpenter
- "Alan knows exactly what it takes to Raise Your Game. The stories, principles and strategies he shares in this book apply to basketball, business and everything in between. If you want to be a more influential leader and impactful teammate--you will read this book."—Jay Wright, Head Coach of Villanova University (2016 & 2018 NCAA Champions)
- "Raise Your Game shares the principles required to be an impactful leader and an influential teammate. This book looks at what the highest performers in sports and business do consistently to create winning cultures and championship teams. The stories, lessons and practical take-a-ways will help players, coaches, executives and entrepreneurs unlock new levels of performance."—Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures
- "Whether building a start-up as an entrepreneur, or a developing innovations as an "intrapreneur" at a Fortune 500, the fundamentals of success are the same. It comes down to habits, preparation and mindset. Raise Your Game shares the building blocks used by the world's top athletes, executives, coaches and entrepreneurs to reach unparalleled success and perform at the highest level. I am recommending Raise Your Game as a must-read for all of the entrepreneurs and executives I work with."—Mark French, Serial Entrepreneur (Sports / Entertainment / Media / Technology)
Praise for Alan Stein, Jr.:"Simply put, Alan Stein is the best in the business. I worked alongside Alan for years and his ability to motivate and inspire is second to none.. His passion inspires everyone he connects with to push their limits. Alan gets results. Period."—Jay Bilas, ESPN
- "Alan's first hand experience with elite basketball players provides an unmatched angle on exactly what is needed to help any business or organization thrive. Our entire team was really empowered by his talk."—Angel Roberts, Founder, Love, Peace and Hip Hop
- "Alan's talk was an unbelievably motivating way to kick start our company off-site. He was funny, interactive, and engaging, all while driving home extremely important take-a-ways for our team to get better."—Vasu Kulkarni, C.E.O., Krossover
- "If you need a speaker that can captivate and engage an audience, you will be blown away by Alan Stein. He walks the walk and gets the audience to relate to his stories in a way that they too, feel empowered to lead. He delivers a powerful message in a practical, insightful and entertaining way."—Danyell Johnson, Founder, Find the Money Project
- "Alan's innate ability to speak passionately and with substance make him one of the best corporate speakers I've had the pleasure of experiencing. He recently received a standing ovation after his keynote performance in Cancun, Mexico at our annual company convention (where he address hundreds of fitness executives, managers and directors). His talk was one of the highlights of our event. We will undoubtedly have him back to speak again."—Kirk Galiani, Founder & Co-Executive Chairman, U.S. Fitness
- "Alan has a unique ability to enthrall any audience with his passion, energy and authenticity. His experience with world-class athletes provides an unparalleled perspective on teamwork and leadership. Alan is extremely impactful when sharing the tools needed to level-up any organization in today's hyper-competitive and dynamic marketplace."—Michael Cohen, C.O.O., Whistle Sports
- On Sale
- Apr 12, 2022
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Hachette Go