From Towel Boy to Coach, “Habits of a Champion” with Dana Cavalea

Dana Cavalea grew up loving baseball and the New York Yankees. After high school, he (and the scouts) decided he wasn’t good enough to pursue a professional career, so he went on to study Sports Medicine at the University of South Florida. As luck would have it, the Yankees did their spring training near the school and 19-year-old Dana would drop by to get a look at his idols. One of his teachers heard about an opportunity to be their towel/weight room cleanup person and got him the job. A few years later he emerged as the Yankees Strength and Conditioning Coach, trusted by the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Manuel Rivera.  How’d he do it?


Here are three takeaways from his interview with Michael Covel, covering his incredible journey and new book, Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident.


1.       Be an expert in something. Core and strength training were newer concepts in the early 2000s and many of the more senior trainers were only partly aware of its value. He studied up on it and started by offering players a few minutes of core and strength to work on injuries/problem spots. By taking minimal time to add something of immediate value, he was able to get his foot in the door.

2.       Make progress in steps, don’t try to be everything at once. By starting with 5-10% of an athlete’s workout, he could build the trust that would lead to him participating in 20%, 30% and more as players sought him for additional value. Instead of going broad and deepening into niches, he started with niches and later got increasingly broad.

3.       Take care of the whole person – body and mind. Legendary manager Joe Torre taught him to look for what motivated each person individually. By focusing on the person in context, one could better manage/coach/work with them. No regimen is ever “one size fits all.” Some personalities will love and embrace yoga and meditation, others need something completely different to get them where they wanted to go. Part of knowing what’s in the toolbox is knowing what tools to take out for which problem, both on and off the field.


If our objective is to create value for others, Cavalea’s experience is about as inspirational as it gets. Maybe we didn’t become the star athlete, hedge fund manager, or rock start that we dreamed of, but that doesn’t mean the door isn’t open for us to do something uniquely impressive. By developing expertise in some niche, broadening our relationships over time, and making sure we learn to take care of the whole person, we can create value just about anywhere.

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