Dana Cavalea admitted that being an author was not on his bucket list. “I wasn’t even much of a reader as a young man,” he said with a laugh. “Last spring, I don’t know if I was a little bit depressed from the weather, but I needed a little bit of inspiration. I just woke up and said, ‘You know, I think it would be cool if I could write a book and document my experiences, both as a professional athlete as well as with the executives and CEOs that I work with.’”
Cavalea certainly had more than a few experiences to document in the recently published “Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident.” As the director of strength and training for the New York Yankees from 2001 through 2014, his input and guidance helped guide the Bronx Bombers to three World Series appearances, including their 2009 championship. The Stamford resident now runs a private coaching business, working with both athletes and corporate professionals. For Cavalea, there is little emotional difference between the players in the ballpark and those in the C-Suite.
“High-performing businessmen are very similar to high-performing athletes,” he observed. “They are very Type A and expect excellence in all that they do. They are all-or-nothing people.”
To their credit, Cavalea added, the corporate professionals were not shy about asking for his help. He recalled during his baseball days, many business executives would visit the Yankees during their training sessions and were eager to make Cavalea’s acquaintance.
“Each day, I would go over and shake their hands and tell them stories about training,” he recalled. “And they would say to me, ‘Look, I know that you work for the team, but do you also work with old business guys? Do you work with guys in their 40s who let themselves go in pursuit of financial excellence?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I started to build this following of very successful business guys.”
Initially, Cavalea used his post-Yankees career to operate training facilities throughout Westchester and Long Island, but he quickly realized that his concept of combining performance and life coaching was not reaching the right audience.
“That was more for the general population,” he said about his training facilities. “But the general population was more into the quick fix: the 90-day program, the 30-day cleanse, the 60-day this. They did not understand that in order to be the success they want to achieve, it would take a longer-term relationship.”
Today, Cavalea has moved his focus to a select national client base that he communicates with via phone and text and with Skype and Zoom online channels. While most of his clients are male, Cavalea recognized that his female clients have an extra need to succeed.
“A lot of the female executives are out there trying to make a name for themselves in a culture that is now seeking out female leadership,” he said. “But they get burned out, too. They have more strikes again, so they have to work even harder.”
More often than not, Cavalea recognized that the core to his consulting success comes in listening and subtle persuasion.
“I had a client in San Diego who would drink six cups of coffee a day, with a pack of sugar in each coffee and was drinking minimal water,” he continued. “And he was tired and felt fatigued and sluggish. Now, I was not going to touch his coffee — I knew that it was important to him — but I told him that for every cup of coffee, he was going to have a bottle of water with it. What happened? He went from six cups of coffee to three. I start to restore lifestyles and I always tell these guys, ‘Look, you have to start thinking about yourself first.’ You’d think business guys are always such selfish people, but they’re not. They’re thinking about running their company and they are so focused on everything else.”
However, not everyone listens to Cavalea, and he recognized that his success with his clients cannot be achieved with a one-way conversation. He cited one client who he dropped after it became clear that he shut off after achieving an initial weight-reduction goal.
“He was a client I fired,” Cavalea added. “I realized he wasn’t at a point in his life where my ability to work with him was going to do anything. He probably lost 30 pounds when we started the journey, but he wasn’t open to more than that. His goal was to raise money, build his company and sell it. When he sells it, I hope that he’ll have more time and more space to be open to the coaching.”
Stories such as that were the impetus for his book. He also tapped into incidents from his baseball career, including a time when a player scheduled for a training session failed to show up and never gave an explanation.
“Former Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter would say, ‘Hey, if somebody doesn’t respect your time, they don’t respect you,’” Cavalea recalled. “The book also includes former Yankees manager Joe Torre on how to dress. He would say, ‘When you dress like a professional, you are perceived that way.’ It’s a simple lesson, but it is an important one about composure and presentation.”
Cavalea has been promoting his book via signings at bookstores and in his engagements as a motivational speaker. He opted to self-publish the book on the advice of writer friends.
“A lot of them said, ‘Listen, for your first book, self-publish,’” he said “They said, ‘You can do that and have freedom and play with it a little bit. If you write it and there is something that you feel you didn’t love, you can change it. Learn about the industry and how to promote a book and learn the ins and outs to writing.’”