I certainly can relate to high pressure and stressful situations while in sports during my career. The best and greatest technique I would use is a simple prayer. I prayed before, after, and even during competition. I simply at times needed to settle myself during the pressure-time or even successful moments to give thanks and to stay on course.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dereck Faulkner.
Former NFL Pro for the Philadelphia Eagles. During high school, Faulkner started playing football as a junior and he became the number one high school-wide receiver (statewide) in eighteen months. He was inspired to play football by the men around him. His uncle, Hall of Famer Mike Quick was the all-time leading receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. Additionally, his father played shortly with the NFL Seahawks and football in the Army. Dereck believes outworking everyone around you, committing, and putting in the work allows you to reach high-performance peaks and reach your goals. As an athlete at Hampton University, Faulkner learned psycho cybernetics (athlete meditation) a heavy visualization skill per his college coach.
“My family is competitive, so I had no choice but to compete on a high level.” — Dereck Faulkner
Faulkner studied film daily, studying teams, and potential his opponents’ techniques/tendencies, which allowed him to meticulously strategize to win. As a Wide Receiver, Faulkner was a four-time college starter, two-time captain, made the All-Academic Team three times, and a five-time most outstanding player of the game. While playing in the NFL Faulkner was a Priority Rookie Free Agent, and training camp rookie standout (2007). His focus and knowledge about other teams and opponents allowed him to gain wins through mental preparation for upcoming game interactions.
Off the field, Faulkner established Athletes & Vets www.athletesforvets.org to enable professional athletes to raise awareness and funds to improve the quality of life for our servicemen/women and their families.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in West Germany. Both my parents were Army Officers and spent 7 years stationed in Germany. From there we moved to Southern New Jersey where both me and my younger sister grew up. My family currently still resides there.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
My Father Len Faulkner always inspired me. A standout high school athlete and all American college football in his own right. I wanted to of course like most boys follow in there-fathers footsteps. Growing I was a basketball star in grade school through high school. But through the push of my Father and God Father Philadelphia Eagle Legend Mike Quick encourage me to try football in 11th grade. Within 18 months, I became the #1 high school WR in South NJ and in the State.
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?
I owe a ton to my family but my trainer since 9th grade and AAU basketball coach; Ted Davis Jr is whom I owe my success too. The training we did week after week rain or shine is what propelled me. Not only physically was I light years head of other athletes but mental toughness and dedication to my athlete career was instilled in carried me into my professional career
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
A funny story happened in college. Even as a youngster I was kind of superstitious when I played. But it became even worse as I got older. So by college, I was superstitious and had the routine down. If I played a good I wear the same socks or do the same thing etc. Well, I had some custom bracelets I would wear and I left them in my dorm room. I got in my car 10 mins before we were supposed to head out to the field for warm-ups and ran and got them. Security let me go. I told them I left something I had to get they escorted me out. Luckily my dorm wasn’t super far from the stadium but I was tripping.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
You have to be prepared to work extremely hard. The physical aspect of sports is one side but mentally you must be as sharp. Becoming a student of the game is VERY important. And last you must be at the whole with your spirit so many athletes never achieve because deep inside of them things are not together. It may not appear early but as your career progresses the lack of balance will rear its head.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have been in philanthropy for almost 10 years and I am excited that I can help military veterans and families. My organization the Athletes For Vets Foundation has been able to make an impact in this community so the projects and developmental plans never end. I’m working within the COVID 19 essential industry as well. Helping America get back to work through rapid testing technology and essentials. And last my Bespoke clothing Lewis Dean Bespoke has just announced our partnership with the NFL Alumni.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high-stress situations?
I certainly can relate to high pressure and stressful situations while in sports during my career. The best and greatest technique I would use is a simple prayer. I prayed before, after, and even during competition. I simply at times needed to settle myself during the pressure-time or even successful moments to give thanks and to stay on course. My college head coach spoke a lot about psycho cybernetics and that simply was sports meditation and visualizing your actions and movements for high performance. So you play out all the scenarios in your mind. Good or Bad. That leaves room for adjustments on during challenging moments and also prepares you for a moment when your team is counting on you to perform. And another is studying your opponent and attacking a game, practice, or even a workout with an astute approach. By doing this your might can match your physical output and will allow you to perform effortlessly leaving high-end results.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
I wouldn’t say a particular breathing technique but a simple in through nose and out through your mouth with your eyes closed always forced me to center myself trough pressure, pain and discomfort.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
How I created a focus for myself was isolation before competition. Music always allowed me to zone into my thoughts and create images in my mind of me performing well. During competition, it’s just engaged and find even the smallest thing to ignite your juices during competition. A little trash talk helps LOL.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
Certainly eating the right foods. Certain foods help focus and fully brain development. Heavy amount of vegetables and non-processed food is always the way to go. So clean eating is always number 1. Tons of water helps hydrate your body as well as activate your muscles fibers to perform during heavy competition.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us for them to become integrated into our lives and put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
Absolutely habits play a role in an athlete’s career. If you have a terrible habit of eating bad or not getting the proper amount of rest will affect your performance. Maybe not immediate but at some point. I always had routine I followed since high school when it came to athletics. For me it a set time and scheduled for me. College was more intensified and professionally you don’t have anyone implementing or policing your good and bad habits so you certainly need to have more good than bad or you won’t be a professional athlete very long.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
One key strategy is creating boundaries and accountability among your surroundings meaning you need to have the right people and the best guidelines set up around you to win. Things as simple as what to eat or when to eat can help performance. Athletes like Kobe Bryant who I idealized since grade school was someone who created guidelines that he would follow with how many jump shots he would make per day and how many workouts he would have in the off season. You stop bad habits by surrounding your self with those that will hold you accountable but also you must look yourself in the mirror first and be willing to break those bad habits or even continuously work on the getting better each day, practice, workout, game, off season.
As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mental state of Flow more often in our lives?
When things are flowing for you, as an athlete is the result of the labor and work you put it. When you are not cheating the process and not cutting corners. You’ll find 9 times out 10 that you will find success and hard work you put in will provide that exhale of appreciation. So many times people run from the process and/or lack trust in the process never allowing themselves to reach the state of any FLOW because simply never put maximum effort and time it takes to win.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
I do a lot of think during long drives or physical activity. A lot of my meditation happens when I’m jogging on a track, playing golf, or lifting weights. Music helps settle me so when I’m at the gym training with my headset on I can almost escape for a moment and while still perform the activity my mind is recharging and centering.
Many of us are limited by our self-talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
As a former athlete, you most definitely understand negative thoughts result in negative outcomes. The key is surrounding yourself around positive people and energy. Being able to talk to with others who can identify you may be in a rut and immediately help bounce your thoughts back on track. Another individual way of changing your thoughts is inspiration from others. So it may be a 2 min video you can refer to that can help galvanizes your emotions and thoughts. Help give you a boost. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that help. A photo of a loved one or quote/scripture can change your thinking.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Yes. I’ve always had a help first mentality. I believe in giving back to communities that are underserved and using education to help spearhead change. As a black athlete, it has always been my responsibility to be an example to all. But even more so empower and impact our misguided youth in my community where the opportunities are not available, it is my responsibility to help the communities I identify with find better outcomes.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“When preparations meet opportunity, the outcome equals success” — Dr. Lloren Foster. That quote means a lot to me because it came from my college professor and mentor during my freshman year. I was still learning how to be a student or even the best athlete. I lacked preparation in the classroom and during that time I changed my approached to academia and not only did change my future but created habits for me that lead to my later successes.
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.
Wow, I have way too many to name. I would love to have a conversation with the likes of Dallas Maverick Owner Mark Cuban, UFC head Dana White, and film creator Ava Duvernay. All highly successful but have all impacted industry. Obviously, my sports background is the common denominator with Mark and Dana so learning and discussing how they both merged, integrated, and globally help expand the sports industry and business. Ava, I admire her courage and creativity to address social issues through film but also producing content that represents the black community and pushes positive narratives while being a classy, elegant shining example for black millennials male and female.