Is athletic ability something that’s transferable? Deion Sanders was an outstanding baseball and football player, but Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, struggled in his short-lived baseball career.

I spent over a decade as a nationally competitive gymnast and learned a ton about performing under pressure, overcoming fear and mastering skills. I owe much of my success to my amazing coach, Levon Karakhanyan, who trained me for the last 3 years of high school and helped me earn a spot on the US Jr. National Team. (He also is the only man I have truly feared because he was … aggressive about correcting my mistakes and making sure I finished every last rep of my strength conditioning. And yes, there were serious consequences if I cheated.)

In 2007, Levon picked up golf as a hobby but quickly made leaps and bounds in his play. He is now a single digit handicap golfer (about 7.3), which puts him in the top 16% of all golfers in the US who keep a handicap, which is even more impressive when you consider that most golfers probably don’t keep a handicap at all.

And he’s done all this while being the Head Coach for the boy’s program at NESA and raising a young son. He’s now

In the interview, Levon and I discuss:

  • How he got started as a gymnast himself
  • What differentiated him from other gymnasts
  • Why patience was a key quality of becoming a better coach
  • How he found the time to practice while holding down a full-time job
  • Why the ratio of practice to competition matters so much 
  • Jason:  Levon, let’s start with gymnastics.  You’re my gymnastics coach.  When did you start doing gymnastics?
  • Levon:  I was about six years old in Armenia.
  • Jason: Did they pick you up from a program?  How did they find you?
  • Levon: My parents were very concerned about me doing all kinds of crazy things.
  • Jason:  You were a really active as a kid so they wanted to put you in a gym.
  • Levon: Yes.  My aunt actually had a friend who worked in a gymnastics facility, after her complaining about me doing crazy things, she said,”Oh, it looks like he might be just the right person to do gymnastics.  Why don’t you bring him over so they can check it out and see if he’s good.”
  • Jason: So were you a good gymnast as a kid? Did you immediately …
  • Levon:  When I came, it was a selection process.  They wouldn’t pick anybody.  They were impressed.  They put me on the bars.  I did 10 pull-ups, and they said, “Enough,” and they were pulling me off the bars, and I was still trying to do more pull-ups.
  • Jason: You were pretty strong as a kid.
  • Levon: Yes.
  • Jason: Did you have good air sense? Were you able to pick up some of that like the skills? Did you learn skills quickly, do you feel?
  • Levon: Yes, relatively quickly. It was a long process from that point. Many years of training and everything else.
  • Jason: You liked gymnastics too.
  • Levon: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It was a lot of fun. I could do everything that I wanted to do instead of everybody telling me, “Oh, stop doing that.” Everybody was like, “Oh, yes. Do more.” Continue reading

Whenever someone subscribes to The Art of Ass-Kicking (which you can do here!) I send them an email asking what I can blog about that would serve them. This post is inspired by email subscriber Simon Payne, who writes from the Czech Republic asking about self-coaching:

I’d love to know more about self coaching. I was training martial-arts under several teachers and masters yet it always came to me that I must be the ultimate coach to myself. I didn’t ever fully relied on anyone. And have some bad moments when I listened too much for advises of others. The point of having a couch is to have someone who is hard on you and reminds you and forces you to do the important stuff. And now, more than ever before, I need to train myself on my own. Not just in sports, but it’s much easier to create some routine in sports and then relate to it in other activities.

So my question would be: How can one be the best coach to himself?

… or at least make the inner coach better, without betrayal, not too soft and focused.

By the way, I’ve signed up myself for the 100push-ups challenge. You can see my progress here:

And here’s my response:

Hey Simon,

Thanks for the email. I’d be happy to try to answer your question – it’s a good one.

I think what you’re asking is really how you can stay motivated and make sure you do the things you know you need to do to succeed. I think there are four things involved in this:

  • Pursue activities that excite you and make you happy
  • Feed your mind with motivational stuff
  • Set up systems to support your efforts
  • Eliminate things that hold you back

Continue reading

I’ve been advising a community organizer who lives in a relatively isolated and lower-income part of San Francisco and has been working for some time to create a women’s community center in her neighborhood. The women in her area are mostly minorities and have lower-than-average education levels – they’re struggling financially, socially, and health-wise.

For the past year, the woman has been reaching out to people in her neighborhood trying to get them involved. She’s been researching at the library on corporate sponsorship programs and networking with influential city figures. She shared with me a grand vision of what this center could do for her neighborhood – providing health education, professional training, shelter for victims of domestic abuse, a place to get a healthy, wholesome meal. But she just can’t seem to get anything going.

This is the classic chicken-vs-egg problem. She needs resources and support to build the community center, but no one is going to give anything a project without anything to show for itself.

The basic question is: How do you make something from nothing? It’s one thing to grow an existing program, it’s another to start from scratch.

It turns out I have some experience in this areaas a nonprofit cofounder and early-stage startup employee. So what did I suggest to her?

Start small.

Get something started, even if it’s not much. I asked her what need she wanted to focus on: “Health education” she said. Then I asked if there was a specific topic she wanted people to learn about: “Diabetes” she said. So I suggested she to organize a one-time meeting of women in her area to learn more about how to protect & prevent yourself from the adverse effects of being diabetic.

All of a sudden real possibilities started opening up to her. Did she know anyone who could volunteer an hour of their time? Did she know of any facilities that might be open later that she could borrow a room for? Could she get flyers at a discount or even free at her local copy shop if she gives a shout out to the place during the meeting?

When you’re starting out, you do whatever it takes to get SOMETHING done.

Take pictures of the event. Get people’s phone numbers. Ask for help at the meeting. See what the community is looking for. Get someone to give a quote about the event being awesome. Then hold a bigger meeting next week, get the local news involved, fundraise some larger donations. That’s how she’ll accomplish her goal.

So what about you?

I’m sure you’ve got some BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) you’re trying to work towards. Maybe things are not going so well and you’re thinking about giving up. Try asking yourself this question:

What is the smallest step forward I could take that would get me closer to this goal?

Figure out exactly what that is – and then go do it. Chip away at the monolith that is your BHAG. Do something. Build small victory upon small victory, and eventually you’ll break that rock down and win.

Oh – and the community organizer wrote back a week after our conversation to say:

Just wanted to report on my progress from last Mondays phone conference:

Found a place to host meetings at
Found two speakers
Found a sponsor for events

I also spoke personally with the new District Supervisor and I have a meeting scheduled. I spoke to her about some of the issues plaguing our community, and she not only feels the same, but wants to work with me and my partner on ALL the issues. I will continue to keep you updated, Thanks again!

When you start small and bust your butt – things can HAPPEN. How can I help you get started?

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