In the era of social media, what I’m about to share would sound crazy.
In the current world of selfie-this, capture that, and content, content, content. I’m not sure how many people could implement this strategy today.
Even for myself, it was hard, and I’ll explain why below. However, it was a challenge a mentor gave me, which turned out to be a secret growth strategy that brought me clients like Kobe Bryant.
What was it?
Well, before I tell you about it, here’s some important back-story…
In 1997, I accidentally started a peak performance and mental game coaching company called, ‘The Peak Athlete.’
I say accidentally because I wasn’t intentionally trying to start a business.
I was coaching at a football program after finishing up my college football career. And my approach was getting my small crew of athletes great results.
I was never a physically gifted person. I wasn’t 6’4” tall and had 230 pounds of solid muscle.
However, I did have two older brothers that I fought with and annoyed all the time. I also had busy ranching parents that didn’t have the time to take me to my own sports league.
So I had to compete for a position on my older brother’s team when I was young.
The combination of those two things, and the fact I’ve always been a bit of a pest, gave me the skills of mental toughness.
So, when I was coaching the football players, I went beyond drills. I was dispensing mindset models, performance principles, and pre-game preparation strategies to help them compete at their best.
And it worked.
Parents started asking me to mentor their kids more.
I said, “Sure.” (Completely oblivious to the fact they wanted to pay me.)
So, Patty, the mom of my first client, said, “Okay, how much would you charge?”
I blurted out, “$75 for a pack of 3 sessions.”
And that was my price for the next three years.
Being super cheap gave me a ton of clients and A LOT of reps with top-level teens trying to be their best.
The Big Bet
Fast-forward a few years, and I loved my fledgling business, but I knew there was a lot more I needed to learn.
So I bet on myself and reached out to a man that was a giant of the mental game industry, Harvey Dorfman.
Harvey was known as the ‘Yoda of Baseball.’ Every big-name player would work with him.
Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay, said:
“He was quick to call your bluff on a lot of stuff. He made you be accountable to yourself and accountable to Him. I don’t think you ever got the feeling that he was a psychologist. It wasn’t warm and fuzzy, you know, it was ‘Let’s figure this out.”
I reached out to Harvey because his book, ‘The Mental Game of Baseball,’ was one of the few that resonated with me.
Every psychology book I was picking up sounded theoretical. His was practical, and I liked his style.
After he finally returned my cold calls, we negotiated for me to visit him in North Carolina and spend time with him.
What was supposed to be a week turned into 33 days.
And during that time, while he was meeting with the biggest names in baseball and letting me ride shotgun.
I saw ‘Yoda’ work with his ‘Skywalkers.’
And every challenge I thought they would be discussing was wrong.
Most of their challenges were navigating conflict, relationships, and of course, their inner demons.
It was a masterclass, and I had a front-row seat.
It would’ve taken me a decade plus before I ever discovered these insights.
I also saw how he built up incredible trust, bond, and chemistry with each player.
He was a shapeshifter.
With one ball-player, he would be softer and patient, which wasn’t his natural style.
And another, he would swear at them, tell them to ‘stop being a whiny bitch,’ and break their ego. It was magical to watch.
After a month of this, we were wrapping up our time together, and he wanted to discuss my future.
We talked about all the things I saw, heard, & learned.
We debated the future of sport.
We discussed the real needs of these elite athletes.
And the ONE thing he harped on was the importance of trust.
Harvey had a firm belief that most players had almost nobody they could supremely trust. And that the nature of media and the internet would only make them feel more isolated.
He didn’t predict social media, but he knew how much the internet was becoming more popular and invasive.
(Some of it was because he hated one of the negative reviews he had for one of his books on this fledgling website, Amazon. hahaha)
“Todd, these guys live in a fishbowl. Everyone has an opinion about them. Everyone wants something from them. For some, it eats their soul. And it’s why they can be so hardened.”
And this is how we finally get to… “An Unconventional Strategy, That Exploded My Coaching Company”
Over these final few days of mentoring with Harvey, he challenged me to do something that would be unnatural.
Harvey challenged me, “Todd, you’re a natural extrovert. You love meeting people, and you have a gift for familiarity.”
Regarding ‘familiarity,’ he meant I had a way of not treating people differently because they were a celebrity or authority. I chalk it up to farm values and being a jokester.
Harvey continued, “And that will help with building rapport with players. But we need more than that. We need a deep level of trust that they feel we ONLY have their best interests at heart.
That we don’t have an agenda.
And, so many people want to trade on the backs of their names. To leverage it for their own interests. For their own goals.
You and I aren’t therapists, but we need to operate with their code of conduct. So my challenge to you is not to disclose who you work with. And let the players know it.”
If I weren’t in the room with Harvey and his players for the previous month, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated his sentiment.
However, witnessing their vulnerability and the intense pain and difficulty of having a career in public. I knew exactly what he meant.
We chatted more about it, and then he went back to editing his second book, The Mental ABC’s of Pitching.
I went to my notebook and wrote out something, then handed it to Harvey when he took a break.
It was a contract of non-disclosure scribbled out for any client/athlete to sign.
A Contract of Trust
I, Todd Herman, make a commitment to You, ___________, I will not disclose our relationship and the work we do together.
- I will not trade on your name.
- I will not ask for a testimonial.
- I will not ask for tickets.
- I will not use your name and likeness to further my business.
I’m here for you, for your goals, and for your career pursuits.
If you choose to share my name, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not necessary. If you do, share my name, and I may or may not choose to use your words in my materials. And you always have the right to refuse.
One week later, Harvey started sending me clients.
And every client, to this day, has the same reaction.
They’ll look at it. Look at me. Look back at the document. Squint their eyes a bit like they’re trying to process it, and say some form of: “Wow, that means a lot.”
Three years ago, I was walking a golf course with a young guy trying to make the PGA Tour.
After a couple of days together, he stopped in the middle of the fairway during a conversation and said:
“I just have to say this… this is really weird. We’ve been together for a couple of days, and you’ve never once asked for a selfie to put on Instagram. Every coach I’ve ever worked with always has me on their website or social media the next day. It’s refreshing.”
“Well, I’m here for you. What you’re attempting is hard, and I want you to know I’ve got your best interests at heart.
Also, think about how you came to me.
It wasn’t a Google search. It wasn’t an advertisement. It was through word-of-mouth from someone you trusted. And now you know I’ll have the back of a friend, peer, or teammate, and you’ll feel safe sending them my way.”
It turns out that when Harvey challenged me in January of 2000 to never disclose my clients, he activated a viral word-of-mouth flywheel.
What a lot of people don’t understand about the highest levels of any industry is:
most decisions are made on the back of a trusted referral.
When an athlete is sitting in their locker feeling dejected, down, or depressed about their play, their coach, or their situation, and their teammate asks them,
“Hey man, what’s up?”
And that player finally expresses themself. (Which most of the time is only after weeks or months of feeling this way.)
That teammate will help the best they can, and sometimes they’ll say, “You gotta talk to my guy.”
There are a hundred variations of that conversation, but it will almost always lead to a personal connection.
In November 2020, NFL Films did a profile on me and ‘The Alter Ego Effect’ book after Kobe Bryant shared my book on an Instagram story.
While interviewing athletes at the 2020 Super Bowl, they would ask players about Alter Egos and whether they had one.
They would share other players’ Alter Egos to get their reactions.
And they would ask them if they knew who Todd Herman was; many didn’t, but some did.
One person’s response perfectly encapsulated Harvey’s reason why I needed to operate this way twenty years earlier:
“Todd Herman is the guy that has our trust that none of you know about.”
Was it easy to operate this way?
No, it wasn’t.
There were many times I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “I’m working with ‘so-and-so.’”
There were tons of victories I wanted to point at the TV and say, “I helped her do that!”
There were many times others would take credit, and I wanted to set the record straight.
But all of that was coming from my ego.
I never asked Harvey over the years if there was any other reason he challenged me to do it. However, I think he knew it was what I needed. He knew it was my mountain to conquer.
Harvey used to say, “Every great athlete is trying to conquer themselves; most just don’t know it.”
He knew I was ambitious. He knew I was an extrovert. And he knew my ego would get in the way of our craft.
He was right. And I couldn’t have predicted the domino effect of that one decision.
It turns out that a single document was key to growing The Peak Athlete and ultimately selling it to Real Madrid in 2014. That document helped build it into one of the largest peak performance and inner game training companies in the world.
Working with 70+ different sports. Teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Rangers, Danish Olympic Team, South African Springboks, NFL, Alabama Crimson Tide, South Carolina Equestrian team, and many more.
Harvey’s challenge helped remove the biggest roadblock to my aspirations, Me.
And that’s why they called him, ‘Yoda.’
So, if you ever wanted to ask me who ‘so-and-so’ is in my book, I won’t tell you.
If you ask me if I’m working with ‘so-and-so’ because you heard them mention an Alter Ego, I won’t tell you.
If you find out I did work with someone and want to know more, I won’t tell you.
But at least you know why. I’m not trying to be difficult, secretive, or coy.
I’m trying to honor something hard to get nowadays, trust.