On Leadership — An Interview with Scott Centala:

27 December 2012
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Scott is an authority in life skills within the sports arena. He is a personal development and performance enhancement consultant with multi-sport male and female athletes and coaches from amateur, professional, olympic and international levels. He played professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins and coached the University of Washington softball team. He is the proud father of his daughter, Sydney, and his son, Spencer.

It All Starts with Baseball

G4: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Scott. We’d like to hear a little bit about your history. What led you to the work you are doing today?

Scott Centala: What a great question. My background is varied and well-traveled. I was a military kid who grew up in Europe with a dad in the Air Force. We lived in Germany. For elementary school and junior high, we were in Germany and then England. We landed back in Oklahoma City for high school.

I went to high school and played baseball in Oklahoma City and then started off college at Oklahoma City University for a year before transferring to Texas A&M. After that, I had an opportunity to play professional baseball. I came out in the draft in 1989 with the Kansas City Royals. I played with the Royals organization and the Minnesota Twins organization up until Big League camp in 1995.

G4: What was it like to be a pro? What was your experience?

Scott Centala: It was challenging but it was eye-opening. The talent level at each stop — from A to AA to AAA to the Big Leagues — all those out-on-the-road challenges served the progression of your game.

Professional baseball is a tough road. It’s a lot tougher a road than I think people imagine. It’s been romanticized and that plays a factor. But there is also a very real factor of the grind of that type of life. It’s very arduous and you are guaranteed to fail at a higher level and be away from your support system when you do it. It is really these two factors that make it a tough challenge, a running of the gauntlet if you will.

Major League Baseball is the type of sport that definitely needs the minor league system; it gives the type of seasoning and maturity to deliver consistency pretty much every night for 8 months straight.

G4: That’s an interesting point. I haven’t thought about it that way.

Scott Centala: The minor league system is unique in its own right; it forces you to grow up, and not just due to the traveling — having grown up traveling in other countries, that was the easy piece for me.

I actually enjoyed my time in the minor leagues; I appreciated the struggle, but I didn’t have a problem going from region to region and culture to culture and transitioning to new things because I had done that growing up as a person.

From Baseball to Softball

G4: How did your professional baseball career transition into life after baseball?

Scott Centala: I was one of the fortunate ones who went back and finished my college degree. I was in Minnesota at the time playing pro ball. So I went to the University of Minnesota and finished my four year degree and then had an opportunity through some of the relationships I had to actually switch sports.

I jumped from professional baseball into college softball. I went from Spring Training with the Twins in 1995 to coaching at the University of Washington with the Women’s Fastpitch team in 1996.

G4: Awesome! Those were good years for the UW softball team!

Scott Centala: It was a lot of fun. Coaching at UW helped redefine for me what a female athlete at the higher level is capable of. Much of that was the sport itself was still growing and it still is right now. It’s growing exponentially nationwide.

My contribution was really growing a champion from inside which is the empowerment piece and then also bringing a Major League Baseball approach to the game that really hadn’t been delivered a whole lot, or at least, not very common at the collegiate level with girls. They had wanted the information but there were very few who were delivering to that capacity. It was a good combination of growing people up and then growing the skill sets up as well.

G4: That’s fascinating. Could you speak a little more into that time at UW? What had to change to get more of a Major League approach? What did you learn about personal development through your time there?

Scott Centala: There’s a phrase in the sports world that’s shared between guy and girl athletes. “Girls need to feel good to be good and guys need to be good to feel good.” It’s the same stuff but it is a different order.

To get the UW softball team to appreciate and to prepare, understanding that you don’t always have to feel good to be good, that even on your off day you can be great, if you allow yourself to get our of your own way.

A lot of that was just the high level of preparation. Most of what we did was a great emphasis on practicing and preparing, so that once you got to the game, there was nothing there that you had not already experienced. The highest level of challenges, the highest level of discomfort, the highest level of risk/reward.

G4: What did that look like in a game?

Scott Centala: If the game wanted to push your skill set around and somewhat exploit your skill set — like if you couldn’t hit 70 mph, whether your eye/hand coordination or reaction time was less than that velocity — that could get exposed for what it was but it wouldn’t break you down as a person.

But, the times when you stand in the box and you can’t breathe, that’s not always the skill set, it may be a reflection of a lack of preparation, but truly it may be that your belief is not high enough to succeed in that situation.

We prepared players at both levels and belief is a piece of that not just the skill set itself. So you are preparing all the way around for what that player is going to experience — mentally, physically, and emotionally in a game.

The Next World of Development

G4: Belief is such a crucial component of preparedness. So what happened after UW Softball? Where did you go from there?

Scott Centala: In 2004, I stepped away from college coaching and started some consulting. I helped out at the Life Skills Academy and the Wilkinson Academy, but then I branched out and started helping the Toyota pro softball teams over in Japan as a consultant. Some of our professional girls and some of our Olympians were playing over there.

I did that for a few years and then Major League Baseball reached out to me. I am almost a hybrid, having experience playing but also being able to delve into that next world of makeup in a player.

G4: What do you mean by the next world of makeup in a player?

Scott Centala: We know the Moneyball story and how sabermetrics have been a groundbreaking change for the game. Well the next frontier in professional sports at every level is makeup. Not just assessing it but developing it. Where does it fit? What value do you place on it? Teams really want to be accurate in assessing that. It’s almost like a hiring solution for a company if you really want to bring that person into your system based on their makeup even though the physical tools play.

I was invited in to a couple of organizations, including the Arizona Diamondbacks early on. I started profiling the draft and exploring profiling tools, some personality-based and some behavioral-based because there is a significant difference between the two. I partnered with the scouts to try and help sort out the makeup component when you are evaluating a player for the draft.

G4: Interesting. How much purchase has this received? Sabermetrics took a while but now it seems like it is just part of what it takes to run an organization. Is profiling on the same path that sabermetrics took?

Scott Centala: It is going in that same direction. It is a balance between the science of the sport and the art of the sport. There’s a balance between the two. Sabermetrics are much more objective in that regard. But there is an objectivity to measuring benchmarks of behaviors.

Whether that’s aggression, whether that’s drive, self-control, nurturing, self-critical, or critical of others, those different types of behaviors influence individual play as well as the team culture — how you interact with staff and teammates during the games and practices.

These methods are slower to get ground because of they have a perception as “foofy” because the previous generation of life skills was very light. It was less tangible so it is hard to get your hands around. It was more about, “If you felt good, it’d help you play.”

Well it is not necessarily just about that. They are actually real behaviors that are underneath championship play or truly what you call, “self-leadership.” Am I able to self-manage and lead myself well so that I can perform at a higher level more consistently?

How Young Athletes Can Develop the Mental Side of their Game

G4: Is there a place for an up-and-coming player looking to develop their athletic skills in conjunction with their emotional leadership side? Are there resources people can find?

Scott Centala: Absolutely. The company I work for is called the Flippen Group. We are a leadership development company in the corporate world, in the government/military world, a worldwide leader in education, as well as launching a sports division a few years ago.

Anyone can go there and get profiled. You can take your own profile very similar to what we do for military generals, to Major League Baseball players, to the NFL, the NHL, a lot of different high-end achieving people. It lets you delve into that and gives you a look at yourself objectively, relative to a behavioral benchmark — an ideal level of a behavior.

For example, let’s say you have self-control. Too much can be a good thing based on your industry, but it can also be a bad thing. In a sport, too much, and you can hesitate or you could not develop as rapidly because you need to stay comfortable to keep yourself safe. Too little could be a good thing, you could be a high risk taker, and that could allow you to take chances in the moment. Too little self-control could also be a bad thing; it could keep you from being consistent. You could be impulsive and reactive. It’s the level of the behavior itself as it relates to other behaviors. If you go to our website, you can take a profile and you can get personally coached and evaluated for the benchmarks that are out there.

G4: Is this process just a self-assessment tool?

Scott Centala: It’s two pieces: 1. The behavioral profile is a silent movie of how you are; it’s not personality because there are a lot of nice people and not-so-nice people having success. So what’s underneath that?

2. It’s not just a self-assessment according to an ideal benchmark. You can invite 4 to 6 people to take that same profile about you. So we can remove that self-bias, that blind spot we have about ourself.

The test is extremely deep; it’s extremely accurate; it doesn’t take very long. It surprises so many people about how quick the profile is online as to what substance comes out of it.

G4: After a young athlete has taken the test, what sort of steps can they take to change their behavior?

Scott Centala: This component is the next piece of this industry that there are some differing opinions on. Is the profile to identify strengths? Is it to identify weaknesses? What do you do with either?

Our approach has to do with what is called the “constraint theory”. The constraint theory identifies your strengths and weaknesses but those areas might not be where you need to spend your time to in order grow your profile. It might be a constraint, a combination of behaviors or levels. A constraint can be a strength that is taken too far.

So we would build a plan as to have some start/stop behaviors to grow that certain area. But we actually identify which area first because many athletes work in the wrong area and they reinforce getting themselves stuck and they wonder why it is not working.

G4: I like the constraint theory; there’s a sense of balance to it. What sort of advice can you give a young athlete looking to prepare for college or the pros? What steps can they take to go to that next part of their development both in sport and in life?

Scott Centala: Well a lot of that has to do with goal setting. Whatever talent and gifts you have, goal setting is an assessment of where we are in life, where we want to go, and it builds the plan between.

What I find with a lot of athletes is between their tools and their gifts, their physical tools actually provide a faster rate of growth than their makeup. The 14-year-old athlete can play 18-under, but it doesn’t mean socially-, self leadership-, and maturity-wise that he is prepared for that.

So how do you catch that up? That 17 year old who gets drafted in Major League Baseball may not have experienced a lot of adversity in his journey and he gets rewarded for his physical tools which are great on a good day when his strengths play at a high level. What gets revealed is on a bad day, say the tool itself, soreness, he is not peaking, he is injured, or he is just having an off day. These bad days still need to have value.

A young athlete needs to set goals and needs to plan to grow in order to sustain — not just getting to the Big Leagues or getting to college but actually staying there.

Success, a lot of times, is about how you manage failure, it has a lot to do with longevity and how long you can stay at that level. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable so you can play at a high level is important. That’s what separates the guys in the Big Leagues. The ceiling on the house plays in the big leagues but the floor doesn’t. We have to grow the floor too.

G4: Those are some good words, Scott. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Do you have any parting words?

Scott Centala: You are never too young to start and you are never too old to become your best self. There is a difference between having success on accident or being intentional with it. If you are intentional with it, it is repeatable.