Crystal Robinson: “First, proper sleep”

First, proper sleep. You cannot be your best or think your best unless your mind is refreshed. As a player, I was and still am a perfectionist. My whole life was planned out perfectly. Nap schedule, sleep, snacks. Everything was timed. My goal was to be the best I could be every day. I was […]

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First, proper sleep. You cannot be your best or think your best unless your mind is refreshed. As a player, I was and still am a perfectionist. My whole life was planned out perfectly. Nap schedule, sleep, snacks. Everything was timed. My goal was to be the best I could be every day. I was efficient. I had to always be crisp and fresh because, as a player, I was good at outthinking people. I would work to outplay the competing team with 2 or 3 moves ahead. Think of it like chess. This meant I needed my mind to be fresh. This started with perfect sleep.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing? As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Robinson.

Crystal Robinson is a women’s basketball coach for the Dallas Wings in the WNBA and a retired professional basketball player. She is also an educator and a passionate speaker on LGBTQ+ issues and mental health. She was the first woman ever inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Growing up in poverty as a gay African-American woman in the Bible Belt, Crystal learned early on to see obstacles as challenges to better herself, and this mindset molded her into the leader she is today. On the court, Crystal could forget about the hardships of her life, and she lived out the values of hard work and pride that were instilled in her by her parents.

Today, Crystal’s coaching philosophy includes the importance of emotional intelligence and keeping your ego in check. She manages to see the best in players when they can’t see it in themselves, in order to empower them to tap into their hidden potential. This philosophy is the basis of her memoir, Finding Myself, to be released in spring 2021.

After a successful career that took her all over the world, Crystal now lives in her hometown of Atoka, Oklahoma, close to her family and loved ones.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. But, at the time, I didn’t know we were poor. My cousin Marvin and I would pick up aluminum cans on the side of the highway to make extra money for our family. I would also hide a few coins for myself. Working at such a young age taught me the value of hard work and how you could make it fun. I made it fun by placing goals and purpose behind every task I did.

I never let my life circumstances bring me down. I might have had a rough life, but it was not a bad life. It never held me back but helped me become a pro-basketball player who ended up in the Hall of Fame.

I’m a glass half-full kind of person. I always look for the positive side. I don’t spend my time crying because I always look for the solution. That is what helped me become a good athlete.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My parents were basketball All-Americans at the collegiate level, although they never graduated. So you can say that basketball was in my genes. Basketball will always be a part of my identity. I was blessed with talent, and the ability to lead, which helped me become a pro-athlete. I have had a great life.

Eventually, I gave up my pro-basketball career to go home and take care of my mother, and that’s when I started coaching. I was always interested in the mechanics of team building. When I was in school, I had a real thirst for knowledge, and all my friends were the nerdy kids. When it was time to build a team, I always picked them first because I value intellect.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Not one single person, no. People, yes. It was a village of people who helped me. Each one taught me something different, from religion to integrity, to compassion… Each person taught me something important that has now become a part of my identity. I deliberately sought out people who had qualities I wished to have.

Sometimes I got encouragement in ways I didn’t expect. One day when I was little, my dad came home from his job as a janitor, boasting about having the shiniest floors in our town. I told him, “That’s something to be proud of!” All of a sudden, he grabbed me by the arm, put his hand on my chin, and looked me right in the eye, and he said: “It doesn’t matter what kind of job you have, you need to be the best at whatever you do. Work with pride, and people will respect you for it.” It wasn’t a tender moment. But it was a learning moment for me, for sure. My father taught me never to accept anything other than my very best.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I made a lot of mistakes, that’s for sure. One that sticks out is when my coach for New York Liberty left to work for the Washington Mystics. My style fits his style perfectly, so I decided to follow him. But I guess I didn’t do it in the most diplomatic way, so someone accused me of being disloyal. I don’t regret following my coach. But I could have been a little more polite about it. I guess I learned to be a bit more considerate of other people’s feelings after that.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Open by Andre Agassi. He tells the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was an honest book, and it encouraged me to write and publish my own memoir, Finding Myself. I wanted to write a book that showed my life outside of just basketball. A book where I shared my struggles and how I kept fighting. My past taught me that when there’s a roadblock, all we need to do is pivot.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible. It is the commitment to high-quality performance that produces outstanding results of lasting value.”

For me, that’s a great quote about life in general. Every success is different. Knowing what we are built up for, as individuals, is what we should focus on. Focus on what is best for you, not what your friend wants. If you’re going to be the best at something, you have to be passionate about it, and you have to be ready to take risks.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am on the board of directors at Code Red. The foundation is setting up an app that kids can open during a shooting to send video footage directly to the FBI. This resonates with me because I am a team player and a teacher. The kids are our future, and we must protect them.

I am also part of a conscious leadership movement for women named Steel Rose. With Steel Rose, I am publishing my new memoir called Finding Myself. I wanted to share my story so others could feel accepted. There are so many people like me who are looking for a community. So many of us are looking to understand what we have been through in life and that we all struggle, but it is how we grow from our struggles that defines us and generates success. We get to choose what defines us, not society.

Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

First, proper sleep. You cannot be your best or think your best unless your mind is refreshed. As a player, I was and still am a perfectionist. My whole life was planned out perfectly. Nap schedule, sleep, snacks. Everything was timed. My goal was to be the best I could be every day. I was efficient. I had to always be crisp and fresh because, as a player, I was good at outthinking people. I would work to outplay the competing team with 2 or 3 moves ahead. Think of it like chess. This meant I needed my mind to be fresh. This started with perfect sleep.

Second, proper eating. Proper eating habits influence the way that we think. A sugar crash can bring on depressive episodes. Your mind is like a sports car, and you need to burn the best fuel for your engine to be efficient. If you don’t put the best fuel, it will clog up, and it won’t run well. You want your engine to run clean, so it can always perform at its best. As a player, I believed in this very much, and my game reflected this.

Third, emotional intelligence. You have to understand that not everything is going to go where you want it. As a player, you make a plan, saying, “I am going to do this, this, and this.” But players change their mind, balls get passed to others. You need to rethink your strategy to reflect what is going on around you. You can’t control others, but you can control your actions. You don’t always get the wins you want, and things don’t always play out the way you want them to. If you are not emotionally intelligent, you would complain and become a cancer to the team. Instead, be prepared. Cheer your team on, and be prepared for your moment.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I have never meditated. I have read articles on it, and I know star coaches have implemented it into their teams. I also know a few teams that do hot yoga. But I came from an era where there wasn’t much precaution. We didn’t stretch and have the same level of education about these things as there is now. I wish I did yoga! Now, 20 years later, these techniques have definitely been implemented better.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

First, exercise. It keeps your mind and body young. It keeps arthritis from creeping into your joints. As a retired pro, you can go two ways: you either don’t exercise and gain a lot of weight, or you do exercise, and you stay fit. I have done both. When I retired, I was depressed and wasn’t sure what to do. I was no longer burning a huge amount of calories each day. So I gained 200 pounds and had to go re-learn how to work out and eat right for my new body.

Second, listen to your body. If you don’t feel good mentally, it carries over to your physical wellbeing. You could overeat, not sleep, stop exercising, and just feel and look stressed. I am in a phase in my life right now where if I don’t listen to my body, my knee will start hurting due to an injury. Either I listen to my body or time will pass, and an injury will get worse.

Third, proper eating (again). At the beginning of my professional career, I was Rookie of the Year and 6th overall pick in the 1999 WNBA draft, and during this time, I would eat a bag of chips far too often. That was when I was young, and I could get away with that. But that unhealthy eating habit didn’t last long. I soon changed my diet because I wanted to nourish my body and have a long professional career. For 10 years, I played basketball and only took 2 months off in those years. I never gave my body the proper recovery time. But I was able to last that long because I nourished my body and gave it what it needs to be healthy. Being a pro is very hard on your body, and if you don’t eat properly, your body will break down fast.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Proper eating is really important. But I think people tend to overlook the importance of good nutrition because they don’t understand the incredible benefits it can have on their physical and mental performance. Some people don’t eat healthy long enough to see those benefits at all. I was lucky to see these benefits for myself because I had to pay attention to what I ate in my career. It made me physically fit, mentally sharp, and it helped my emotional health.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

First, embrace work/life balance. When I was a pro athlete, I had no work/life balance whatsoever. Pushing myself to be the best was my whole life, and it was a way for me to escape from myself. On the court, my life problems didn’t matter. All that mattered was being the best. Retirement forced me to change and embrace work/life balance. I have always had a hard time doing nothing. Most people want time to sit still. I had to learn how to do that and enjoy the still moments. But when I retired, I did a 180 overnight. At first, I felt depressed and bogged down and didn’t know what direction to go. I had to figure my way through that. I had to learn to embrace change and listen to my heart. Every retiring athlete goes through this phase because our identity is so tied to a sport. But now, years later, I don’t want to be just known as a basketball player. Today I want to be known for bridging gaps and connecting people.

Second, find the opportunity in the bad situations. Life throws us curve balls all the time. It’s important to remember that and to expect it. And when these things happen, look for the opportunity. When I left professional basketball, I could have just sat there and cried, and as I mentioned before, I did feel down for a while. But it turned out to be a great opportunity for me to find what I love to do, which is helping people.

Third, don’t let your ego get in the way. As a team leader, you can’t really separate yourself from the team. Your toxic behavior will seep into the behavior of your team. If you want people to follow you, you have the responsibility to lead by example, and that starts by watching your behavior and treating people the way you would like them to treat you.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

There’s great power in a genuine smile. I’m the kind of person who always looks at the positive side of things. I want to have something to smile about all the time. Plus, a good smile is contagious.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

First, see obstacles as opportunities for growth. I am now convinced that the hardships I’ve lived through have been put in my path so that I could overcome them and become a better, stronger person. I could have put myself in the role of the victim, but that’s just not who I am. Rising above challenges that life throws my way has made me more resilient, and I am thankful for those challenges.

Second, see the good in other people. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the faults in other people, but you have to remind yourself that you have no idea what they’ve been through. It doesn’t excuse all behaviors, but reacting to antagonism with anger will only add fuel to a person’s flames. One time when I was a teenager, a man who was known for throwing the N-word around to Black people congratulated me on my athletic abilities. I reacted with a lot of anger, because I’d seen his racism. My mother taught me that day that two wrongs don’t make a right. I could have changed the way this man looked at Black people, and instead, I just confirmed his prejudices by telling him off.

Third, find what you love, and just do that. There is no greater thing in life than doing what you love. It gives you a sense of purpose, and things seem to run more smoothly. I have been blessed to have a career I was passionate about, and that made all the difference. I was able to bear all the difficult things about it — the discipline, the long work hours, the responsibilities… It was all worth it, because I felt like I had found my calling in life. It’s a strong feeling of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I grew up in the country in southeastern Oklahoma. My hometown has a population of about 400. I remember that being in nature was one of my favorite things to do. My friends and I were often left to our own devices, and we lived a very Huck Finn lifestyle. So connecting with nature is a way for me to get back to this feeling of freedom and innocence I had as a kid.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am very excited about the growth of Steel Rose. Steel Rose is a conscious leadership movement for women who seek to break down barriers between women, between men and women, between social status and religious or intellectual belief. The world we live in is extremely polarized. I think it’s about time we brought people together. People from all walks of life. We need to remember that our differences are what make us strong.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to have a one-on-one with LeBron James. Why? Because he’s one of the greatest players out there! Why not?! Plus, it would be great if he could review my new book, Finding Myself.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am most active on Instagram @crobber3. You can follow my work and reach out to me on there!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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