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Imposters

From the deepest part of my heart, thank you for opening this. If you only read this sentence, thanks for your time.


My experience in the coaching space is not a long one, but more than enough to learn about coaching, sport, culture, all the other buzz words in sports, and most importantly, myself. You are fixing to read about me, so that may be enough for you to stop in your tracks, which I completely get… but you came to my blog, so that’s kind of on you, no? Here we go.


There is this thing people deal with called Imposter Syndrome. If you have never heard of it, essentially it is when a person is doing something and feels like a fraud. For me, this is what it was: when I started coaching, I loved it. I wanted to do it, dive in, learn all the nuances, any way to help an athlete, how to help performance, and anything I could do to be better at my job. With that came this realization I knew next to nothing. A coach or an athlete may ask me a question and instead of being self-confident enough to just say, “I don’t know” I’d start a sentence and see where it ended up. It was not a conscious decision to lie or lead astray, it was an honest attempt to answer something I could not. I can remember physically being in training sessions while coaching athletes and thinking to myself, “If anyone ever realizes I am a fraud, I am screwed.” So, I would put on a front about knowing everything. If you read the first blog, this goes hand-in-hand with the Dunning Kruger effect we talked about. Often, Imposter Syndrome can lead to the DKE and it is a vicious cycle. I found myself so often thinking things like, “I do not belong here” or “I hope no one sees me for who I am” while coaching. Now, I always had the athletes’ best interest at heart; I always did things I thought were beneficial. Come to find out, a lot of things I thought and things we did were not beneficial for them. Sorry guys! But, by God’s grace and the athletes’ persistence, we made it out alive. Looking back on that time, as much as I loved coaching, the headspace I was in could be quite brutal. That constant battle of wanting to make sure everyone was fooled into thinking I belonged, questioning myself, and the doubt that came with it, those moments were tough. Now that I am on the other end of those things, there are a few things I wish I could go back and share with my younger self, or young coaches entering the game. The main one is this: Be humble. As simple as it is, it can be hard to do.

Have you ever had a person in your life you learn from just by being around them? And I don’t mean like facts and math problems, but like life lessons. Thankfully, I have been around a few of those people in my life, but maybe none as impactful on an 18 to 22 year old Cade as my friend Matt Alford. Now, if you don’t know Matt, you are missing out. Matt is the kind of guy you want your son to be like and your daughter to marry. He’s also the kind of guy that will hate me saying these things in public, sorry bub. Hardly anyone reads this anyway! I spend a lot of time with and around Matt through college and I learned two main things from him: it is okay to admit when you do not know something and own your mistakes. I can remember times when we would be having a conversation and someone would ask Matt his opinion and he would say something like, “honestly, I don’t know. I have no clue.” I can remember different times sitting next to him and being blown away he was confident enough to just say that. For whatever reason, I have always felt the need to have an answer or something to contribute to the conversation, so when he would say that I would nearly be jealous of his confidence to admit he didn’t know.

Now, when it comes to owning your mistakes, Matt has also one of the most impressive feats I have watched a person do. In college, I was a student athletic trainer. I would do a lot of filling up water bottles, taping ankles, helping with injuries, etc. so I spent a lot of time with the guys on the basketball team, many of which are good friends to this day. For whatever reason, there was one morning when no one seemed to be able to be on time to practice. We had like 6 or 7 guys show up late and in college athletics, that is a big mistake. This particular morning was also the only time I had ever seen Matt late for a practice. The guys go through practice and at the end, every guy who was late had to run. The running was this: 1, Sweet 16 for every minute you were late. If you don’t know, a Sweet 16 in basketball is a sideline to sideline run 16 times… there is nothing sweet about it. Matt was THIRTEEN minutes late, so 13 Sweet 16’s were on order. I watched Matt run every single one, would give him some water and probably a pat on the back here and there. But what really shook me at 19 was watching Matt not once complain about this running. There was no “this is bullshit” or “it’s not my fault” under his breath, just a hand up directly in the air after Coach asked, “who all was late?” I cannot lie and say I remember watching him run those, but what I do remember is how Matt carried himself. The humility and ownership he showed took me aback and really made an impression on me. I’m sure that played a role in why Matty was a groomsman in my wedding.


All of that bragging on Matt to say this: it took me a long time to understand the importance of knowing and admitting, what I know and what I don’t know. That is the biggest thing I wish I could change about myself early on in my coaching career. Ben Bergeron, an elite competitive CrossFit coach touched on this in his podcast a few years back. He was doing a seminar and when people asked a question, he would say, “I don’t know” if he was unsure. When he debriefed with his dad afterward, he shared his hesitation about that vulnerability of not knowing. His dad’s response really resonated with me; he said something like this, “It was great to hear you say that, because when you gave answers to questions you did know, we could really trust what you say you DID know, because you admitted what you DID NOT know.” Isn’t that profound? By admitting things we are unsure of, we can bring validity to our other thoughts and answers.


As with most things I write, I’m not real sure how to land this plane. So for now, I will just say this: be yourself in whatever you do. Be confident in what you know, and humble enough to admit what you don’t. It is much easier than pretending to be something you are not.

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