Systems and efficiency: I have been utilizing the practice of setting intentions as a form of creating systems and efficiency. Although setting intentions is a regular practice in the yoga world, in my experience it is rare to find it in a competitive sport atmosphere. But I have found that setting intentions has actually increased my performance by being more purposeful in my training. I love it so much, I touched on it, in a chapter of my book, setting intentions.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes,
I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Arioto of The Integrated Vault.
Born and raised in northern California, Valerie played all sports growing up; soccer, basketball, water skiing, you name it, so she knows the meaning and importance of hard work, sacrifice, discipline and humility. She then went on to University of California, Berkeley to play softball and ultimately ended up playing in Japan professionally for Team Honda. After her time aboard, Arioto taught P.E. and played for the national team with Team USA for a decade. Her 2020 Olympic plans have been delayed with COVID-19 but she is incredibly excited and ready for next summer’s games. Valerie is engaged to her supportive and loving fiancé, who served as the voice that encouraged her to follow her dreams, stay the course and create The Integrated VAULT, even when doubt and fear began to crept in. They currently live in Walnut Creek, CA, just 20 minutes away from where Valerie grew up. She stays close to home because she doesn’t want to be far away from the two people she owes it all to, her parents Lee and Barbie. The positive influence of Valerie’s parents has played a tremendous role in her journey and her own personal goals to perform at her best, every single day of her life. Valerie serves on the USA Softball board of directors (the voice for the softball athletes in all of the US) and is also a representative for softball for the Athletes Advisory Council for the United States Olympics and Paralympic Committee (the voice for softball on the Olympic world stage). Visit ValerieArioto.com for more information and buddy up on Instagram, @valeriearioto & @theintegratedvault
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 grew up in Pleasanton, CA playing softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and I was even the 10-year-old regional water-skiing champion (not to brag, lol, but seriously I was). I was always an active kid and my parents supported me in everything I wanted to do. The community around sport and softball in particular was one of the reasons I loved playing, whether it was bbq’s after the games or pool parties. My parents played a huge role in shaping the person who I am today.
My dad was, and still is always helping me train. Whether it be on the bucket hitting with me or riding up in the mountains at 6 am in the morning, mountain biking together. My mom is my best friend, and I am so lucky to have a mother as wise, comforting, resilient and badass as her. She is my rock and is always there for me, through thick and thin.
They both were always guiding and helping me through the twists and turns of life, but they have always let me choose what I wanted to do. I think that is a driving force on why I still love playing softball so much. It wasn’t like some of the other parents I saw, living vicariously through their kids, or pushing their kids to be this, or do that.
So, by the time college came around, I was fortunate enough to get recruited by Cal Berkeley. Looking back, I am so grateful to have had the chance to attend the number one public University in the world, to top it all off and make it that much more special, play at an amazing softball program. A benefit of attending Cal was its close proximity to where I grew up and called home. Partially for its great academics and softball program, I attended Cal, but also partially because I was able to have my family visit often and have them attend all my games.
Whilst still attending Cal, I got the once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of the USA National Softball Team, and that started my 10-year career with USA Softball. To say that I am rooted in family, is an understatement. Family is everything, and in turn it anchors my life to lead it, lived amongst community, and that means placing good people at the forefront of my life. I know for a fact, that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family, friends, mentors and teammates.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
Continuing on how I grew up, my family supported, guided, and inspired me in the pursuit to become and continue being a professional athlete. I am indebted to have so many great people around me, like my fiancé, friends, loved ones, all of those who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging me, throughout my journey. This support system is invaluable, despite the minimal financial support of being a female athlete. The people around me have always encouraged and supported me to continue to play no matter the obstacle.
Another reason that has inspired me to pursue my career at a high-level, professional athlete is, having the wonderful opportunity to represent my country. With that said, the younger generation gives me life. To know that the youth of softball is watching us on center stage is such a huge honor and that truly inspires me daily to keep working. Obviously, when I hear the national anthem at the top on the podium, it still gives me chills. To know what we have gone through to get here as a country, and knowing in my generation and era, we have so much further to go, but still, it is like no other feeling.
As to what I think about when I need inspiration; did you know that young girls and women drop out of sport at a younger age than their counterparts in boys do? So, just by the mere sight of me at bat, or jogging out to first base with my teammates fanning out all over the softball field, I believe that is positive reinforcement. They are seeing someone who looks like them. A woman. I just by playing and being there in front of their eyes to see, is a positive. Let alone, I am being a positive role model and a resource for them to look forward to and think to themselves, “I too can be just like her.” Hopefully, they think they will be better than me. Nevertheless, my presences, and my teammates presences out there on the field, encourages girls to stay in sport for longer, if not just long enough until they too make it to the National Team and represent their country as I am doing.
Sport can be truly transformational in one’s life. It can teach you such crucial life lessons in how to conduct yourself, who you want to be, and ultimately, I want to share that with other women. Take for example, in the media there is such a smaller representation of female’s athletes, so being that role model can give others a sense of seeing ‘I can do it too’.
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?
My fiancé has been a huge motivating factor in my life. Sometimes believing in me more than I believe in myself! We did long distance for many years in order for us both to follow our dreams, him becoming a lawyer, and obviously, me striving to win gold, alongside my teammates, for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. He is the person in my life who is honest with me, yet knows how to empower me and lift me up, when sometimes I don’t feel like it.
He helps me on all my projects and even trains with me, but has a hard time keeping up. That is right ladies, “girls rule, boys drool.” I’m just kidding, but not really.
I digress though, let’s say we are on the road and I need to hit. He has no problem going with me to a hitting facility and feeding the pitching machine, and then asking me to rest, as he collects all the softballs. Or, sometimes I will ask him to do front toss, and he obviously gets terrified as he hides behind the pitching net. But, the overall point of those stories, is he does it without complaint. Now, that we live together, he is still the light that guides my life and I want to be successful with him.
Although, we can only hope that all the sacrifices we made are worth it in the end, my fiancé also sees that vision. It is not easy being with someone that puts their passions and dreams first, I know it can be difficult being with someone like me. Nonetheless, we try and communicate with each other the goal and come to an understanding of what is at stake for the both of us. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I want love, respect, and validation in this world and life of mine. My fiancé and I are living it in real time, navigating life, the ups and downs, the good and not so good times, but I do believe we are on a mission to achieve all of that I stated I want, and more. All the while giving back, and motivating not only ourselves, but others.
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?
Softball is all about mistakes. So, there are too many mistakes, or funny anecdotes to choose from, that it is too many to count! In spite of all that, I am a student of the game, and learn from all the lessons that I have been presented to me from playing a “sport of failure”. I have learned to acknowledge that there will be ebbs and flows to my game. I have even learned to laugh at how serious I take the sport sometimes. “Val, breathe in, now, breathe out. Why so serious, it is just a game.” All jokes aside, this is always what allows me to get back up so to speak and keep striving to get better. The ability to detach and walk away from it all. Sometimes, the failure is compounded by reliving it over, and over, and over, in our head.
The successes and achievements without a doubt feel that much sweeter, because naturally of the challenges and margin of error and difficulty. With that said, the mistakes that often hurt the most are when I feel like I am letting my team down. In particular, it was this one game back when we were playing in Italy and I made an error that cost us the lead. I will never forget it because my teammate picked me up immediately, by getting us a few runs the very next inning, and it just showed me how much we need one another. Furthermore, how much that the core of our team is each other, and not resting on one single player, or, one single play. Unfortunately, we ended up losing the game, but I will never forget that game and the lesson it taught me.
I have always held being a good teammate very high on my list of priorities. That goes without mistakes happening, they are inevitable (in sports and life), but teammates are there to support you and pick you back up, as they did for me. So, it is then how you deal with those mistakes which is more important, because as you can see from my example the support from people around you will be there. But at the same time, make sure you are that supporting teammate (because at some point the roles will switch), and have the ability to not take everything so serious, because that is the premise of why we do what we do.
I do what I love and enjoy. And, I believe you should do the same, do what brings you enjoyment and form alongside community, of teammates who will be there for you during times you need it, and vice versa. And with those teammates, do what you love and have fun. Have a blast, you only get to live once, and each game is not promised, which will be your last, so play each and every moment like it is your first and be free, let go, and have fun. You’ll see an incredible thing start to happen. You will somehow play even better, since you are playing looser and enjoying being out there, doing what you do, and doing it well. The sport is funny like that, often when you let go and relax, that is when you start playing better. I’d even argue that life is also just like that!
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?
Find a way to imitate that stressful/ pressure situation so it isn’t just in that important moment, but that you have replicated it, so now you know what it’s like to be there before it happens. Prepare in all aspects of the game so you are confident in your skill and abilities. Something I am passionate about is practicing the mental side of the game. If we say that 90 percent of the game is mental, then why wouldn’t we train that side of the game? In addition, obviously to the physical preparation. This mental side of the game is also a practice necessary component of the game, and requires the time and attention, just like the physical technique aspect of the game. That leads us into the next tip:
Physical and Mental reminders
Back to the mental side of the game. Breathing seems like an obvious tip but breathing in an intentional and in a non-hyperventilating way — is a key factor of slowing down the situation in your mind (or using your mind to deal with the high-pressure situation). It allows us to get into sync with your breath pattern, which gets you aware of your body and where you are in that very moment. The ability to have body awareness to not only make physical adjustments, but to also tap into your thought process of what you are going to execute, and how you are going to execute, allows you to perform the required task at an even keeled delivery. For example, a physical reminder is loosening your grip, or relaxing your shoulders, you can do this to reinforce calmness and letting go in that particular moment.
The last tip is, as simple as, it’s okay! Take a step back, away from the game. You know that no matter what your people, they love you! A lot of time the pressure comes from not wanting to let down ourselves, teammates, family, or anyone else. We put this added, unnecessary pressure on ourselves. If we were to remind ourselves that it is just a game, and a game that in the grand scheme of life is not that serious. This ability to take the game for what it is, and not make it bigger than it is, will afford us the ability to not take ourselves so seriously. We actually can allow ourselves to really compete because we love it, and not because this is a matter of life or death. I often remind myself that no matter my performance that day, my people, those who are the people who got me, will still love me, no matter what my performance is, and that is really what is important in life and all that matters. You want to know the real secret? It is my love for the game, but not overvaluing it, or undervaluing it, and my incredible support system, that which allow me to play free, with no fear, anxiety, or stress, but rather relaxed and ball out.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
Although I am still doing both, the whole premise is the transition and adjusting to whatever is thrown at us in life, done in a healthy way. I started my business, The Integrated Vault, an online 12 week — transformational course, and The Journal that guides you through the course, because I saw how beneficial adding body awareness, balance of life, and self-care was to my performance, and I wanted to share my findings with everyone.
I realized this is a life thing, not just a business thing, or a career/softball thing. It goes way beyond all of that. It is important to be able to check in with yourself and know yourself in order to know what you need to live a balanced, healthy life. Investing in yourself in order to show up better for the people in your life or the tasks before you, are so vital to living and leading a better life. While developing my business, I also realized that so many athletes and people don’t have these resources or community to reach out to, in order to take on whatever challenges or transitions they have to undertake or go through. My business transcends being a business, it is a holistic approach to wellness, success, and above all, happiness in our life!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
I am working on launching our first online course with The Integrated Vault, an online 12 week — transformational course, and The Journal a self-guided journal that reinforces the course! The goal is to be a one stop shop for all things self-growth and to continue to add resources for our members, so that we may all grow and keep learning. This is a lifetime kind of growth. This is not just a course or journal for a one-time use. No, this will grow with you, as you grow and change, so will the course and the journal. The hopes and goals is that The Integrated Vault will guide you, teach you, so you can use it as tools to help you navigate life, like I did.
Other projects I am working on are a book, I won’t give away the title, but it is all written and finished, and just has to go through editing and then publishing. And, most exciting, I am creating a support system and community, where people can tap into for resources, one-on-one accountability, and really access in real time tools and people, which will require signing up for membership to be part of that awesome experience.
I am learning and growing along the way, but this is truly my passion and what I attribute to my successful 10-year career with Team USA competing at the highest level. Self-care doesn’t always get a fair shake (of being for the elites, rich, or superficial), but what it is, is: body awareness, setting intentions, balance of life, the power of mindfulness, dealing with failure and change, fostering healthy relationships, and the list goes on and on, it is truly endless opportunities. So, if we can unlearn what bad habits (sometimes unconsciously one), we have been taught such as; making ourselves overly busy, stressed, and the day to day chaos of hustle and bustle being linked to success, and then relearn tapping into our intuition and what we need. Then truly, what we will experience will be a transformational in quality of life, performance and productivity, and overall joy and happiness in our lives, and living our day to day life.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Absolutely! It is not a coincidence that employers love hiring former athletes. Work ethic does actually pay off! Besides that, what most people know about athletes or individuals who make it to a high-level is that we are hardworking, productive, task-orientated and efficient. Most of us practice good time management and definitely live and die by our routines, so there are so much that crosses over, and translates to be an athlete to an entrepreneur; and a successful one at that.
The competitive spirit, yearning for more knowledge, and winning. We are goal driven with laser focused mindsets that makes an athlete achieve, and as an entrepreneur, great. So, if you are able to convert those skills and learned behaviors, we become someone willing to not cling to the past, but transition into those individuals who become successful on their next journey.
Often in team sports communication can make or break the success of a group. Athletes are taught through the whole process skills and tips for communicating and managing people, which is also what an entrepreneur needs to lead. Really the phrase, “teamwork makes the dream work,” couldn’t be truer. Also as someone with a team sport background, I know that if I don’t know something, or something isn’t in my specialty tool box, I can call on a teammate or another professional to help me, without feeling ashamed or burdensome. This also translates to entrepreneurship. For they know that community is the lifeline to success. It is not often hinged upon them, the individual if they succeed or not, but the team, and the ability for the entrepreneur to rely on ones teammates. Furth more, knowing that you don’t know it all can be so beneficial when starting a new venture as an entrepreneur.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Systems and efficiency: I have been utilizing the practice of setting intentions as a form of creating systems and efficiency. Although setting intentions is a regular practice in the yoga world, in my experience it is rare to find it in a competitive sport atmosphere. But I have found that setting intentions has actually increased my performance by being more purposeful in my training. I love it so much, I touched on it, in a chapter of my book, setting intentions. I have a structured system and schedule to set my day, month, and yes, year, all set up, for optimal efficiency and in turn lies the result of — ultimate success. If I don’t have a plan, then what am I really doing out there? Like the old saying goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan for failure.” And from there you can flow with the plan!
- Routines and taking care of yourself: I had the privilege to play in Japan professionally for 2 years with Team Honda, a professional Japanese Softball team; and it was not only great from a culture perspective, but I also got the opportunity to learn about processes and about myself. When I was playing in Japan, most days we would practice for around 6–8 hours. Keep in mind that the average length of a practice I had experienced in the United States was around 3–5 hours. So, at first, I thought this was crazy — coming from a culture where I valued getting more done in less time, than vice versa. But I was in for quite the surprise. What I learned, when I was over there, was that everyone has their own process and routine (team and individual), that works for them. Although, I still had to be out there the length of the practice, I was able to find a routine that worked for me and adopt processes where I was able to take care of myself and still maintain the longevity of the practice and my sanity. In all honesty, some of my best memories are with my former fellow teammates, from whom I learned an immense amount about the game, and even got better all the while, from pushing the limits of my routine and my ability to check in with myself.
- Relationships and surrounding yourself with other great people, is the key to life. Through Team USA Softball, it has always been instilled in us that the way we are going to win is by being good teammates and committing to each other and the common overall goal. I truly believe fostering relationships and having each other’s backs is a key recipe for success on and off the field. The trust built amongst the team, or even with yourself doing the inner work to trust others, is unmatched when you get into the big arena and play on the highest stage. Knowing my teammates choose me every time allows me to relax, and vice versa, which in turn allows all of us to play, unencumbered, and without any fear whatsoever.
- Curiosity and vulnerability: I love these two topics. Asking questions and being curious helps you grow and expand your thinking. Being vulnerable to be able to say “yeah, I don’t know how to do that.” Or “how in the heck do you do that?” That leads to answers. People think it doesn’t because everyone wants to appear like they know it all. But the inverse is actually true. Well, at least for me it is true. The more curious and vulnerable that I am, the more I find out, and gain knowledge. Now, of course not everyone is going to do this, or this be their style of going about things. However, I do challenge you to push past the awkwardness, and try being open, receptive to learning, and being willing to be taken to new heights. It does take letting go of your ego, or your bravado, but I assure you, the more you let go, the more you discover. Take me for example, when I gave self-care and balance of life a shot — for the goal of increasing my performance, it didn’t happen right away. Yup, I didn’t get the immediate instant gratification and answer. I had to practice. I had to be patient and plan, and commit to it. But I have found I have more energy, productivity, and love for what I do. It took time, but in the end the returns are life changing and I can’t even believe it took me so long to surrender and give self-care and balance of life a shot.
- Lastly, visualize what you want, be. Be so clear on your goal that you can see it as you visualize, as if you have already attained it, and if you were to open your eyes, you are there. Once you have visualized, then don’t stop, until you get what you have seen is to be. Until it is. Keep going, it’s worth it! Align actions with the vision and don’t stop until you get there (maybe you’ll have to adjust, but don’t deviate), and reflect with the intention on getting better. I bet you didn’t know that a plane when it takes off for its destination, it is rarely, if at all on course for its destination. However, a plane gets to where it was meant to go. Life has a funny way of getting us off of our trajectory, but we can keep heading in our general destination.
Finally, clarity, on your goal is the mechanism to kick starting you into action, and of course, into getting under way with the working hard! Don’t think that setting intentions, or balancing your life, and caring for yourself, negates, or doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. Quite the contrary, the clarity sets yourself up to undertake the hard work to succeed with purpose.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
The Integrated Vault is perfect for you, join our community! This is because, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with and enjoying what you do. A lot of people feel like you can’t have it all in life. But that is not true. There is a way to do it all! This notion of being inspired, refreshed, motivated, and revitalized is possible. It does take understanding that life’s journey is just that, a journey that ought to be enjoyed and traveled alongside those who are visionaries, goal oriented, and headed for the same destination as you. Within The Integrated Vault, you get that.
I’d also have to say that along my path of reaching the heights I have been blessed in achieving, I was able to check in with myself. Asking questions such as; How do you want to feel? This ability of self-reflection and introspective, enabled me to take a moment and see, feel, know and understand how I am traveling along my road. A lot of times we rush trying to get there. But the footsteps to emulate are those of being self-aware and knowing what is best at this moment for myself. This ability to recognize such internal indicators will allow you to align your best course of actions and with what your life needs right at that moment, to help you be and go, all in! In order to achieve the goals, you want to achieve.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I set up The Integrated Vault so that it could transform lives, and hopefully in turn those who undertook the course work could also pass on the same nuggets of gold, principles, learned behaviors, and energy and motivation, forward to others. The ripple effect!
Another element of how I try and bring goodness in the world, is in my day to day living. I have known that living a life with purpose, clarity, kindness, and pure joy can affect at least someone’s day, in this world! If we all did this in our daily lives, how much of a more wonderful place would this world be.
I know it may seem like the commonly heard donations of clothes, or food drives to the homeless in the inner city of Oakland. Or it may not be the wildly held serving during holidays at soup kitchens, and churches in the Bay Area. Those acts of goodness are all needed. However, what I am trying to get across is that you don’t need to be successful or be considered this notion of success to either do those, or just be good and give goodness out to the world. You are living and breathing each and every day, that is already in itself goodness to the world, then you can decide you are a success, a success that does and brings good to all mankind by how you choose to live.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“Stress Less, feel blessed.” I say that phrase, uttering the movement that I would encourage to bring about, because I feel as a society we focus so much on the external, superficial, outcome and results part. When in fact, the key to life is truly feeling blessed from the inside out. That stuff that keeps us awake at night and we can’t seem to get it out of our mind’s as we sit there, worrying, that is the stuff we need to let go of. Hence why, I’d love the movement to be more focused on the individuals in the world instead of what they do, make, or status. So, this idea of stress less combats the stereotypical current persisting state of mind within our society. Just be done with it. As easy as two words, stress less!
Rather the process of which we should actually be concerning ourselves with is of those inner dealings; how we want feel, what we want to feel, why we want to feel those feelings, highlighting the internal. Although, being busy and stressed are seen as success, this is not even the reality of most successful people. Plus, it is not sustainable. Instead, feeling blessed and then moving from the inner dealings of actually living in the moment, enjoying your progress, and encouraging others, then come what may, we can thrive from it. This movement takes it from each of us striving to get somewhere, to us thriving in what we already have.
Therefore, not only is the person feeling better, happier, healthier, but they are. But, as well, we have shifted our mindset by dealing with our inner feelings, that the goals we are chasing are already accessible within us. We just need to access them from within to have them come to light from outside of our being. There lies the true meaning of success, it isn’t found outwardly, in fact it is the latter, success was always in you. Sure, it seems so foreign to what we are taught, but think about a life with more energy, more productivity, and more happiness!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Good Vibes Only.” This is what I align myself with, because it encompasses everything that is good. Just like the old African proverb reads, “if there is no one trying to do me any harm outside of me, there is no one trying to do me harm, inside of me. “Good Vibes Only Val.”
I turn my attention to those in the world and a remind myself, “Good Vibes Only.” As I am sure you know, no one wants a hater around. So, I surround myself with people who have, yes, I say it again, “Good Vibes Only.” I have learned my peace and serenity is worth too much, priceless, for someone who is bent on just bringing drama in or around my life.
Lastly, “Good Vibes Only,” also means to me the energy all around us in the world. So, I ride the good vibrations of what is great and pure energy. I am not with all the fakeness, being envious, or wishing ill on someone. I’d rather be above the fray and set the way I live on travel coordinates that are positive, that are “Good Vibes Only.”
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 say this honestly and humbly, but no. I wouldn’t want to have breakfast or lunch with anyone in this world, other than with my family. I know that sounds cliché, and to be honest, it is. But it is the truth. As I sit and write this, I am surrounded by family. I think, a lot about what COVID-19 has taught me, or re-instilled in me, is that family is the greatest blessings. I know that no matter who I am, how I perform on the field, or whatever it may be, that my family will always view me the same, treat me the same, and ultimately love me the same (yes, family is my family, fiancé, and friends). Now, meeting those big names in Business, VC’s, Athletes, and Entertainers might be exciting, and I could learn a lot, make great contacts and pick their brains on how they did it, and how to do it better; but in the end, it is all fleeting. I wouldn’t be true to myself, or what I said, if I fan girl in the last question. And truthfully, anyone who knows me, knows this is from my heart. I want all of you to be as happy to be you, as comfortable and unlock, transform who you are, and was always meant to be. I hope you know that the greatest secrets, treasures and life’s fulfillment, is so much closer than you think, for me, it is right where I am, with who I am with, and with who I am.