The Importance of Giving Back with Brooke Neal

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YOU CAN LISTEN TO OUR CHAT WITH BROOKE BY CLICKING HERE.

Good Change

Brooke Neal is a mindset and wellbeing coach to 1000’s of young sports women. Brooke’s story is one of success and achievement only a few of us ever get to experience. Brooke played 176 hockey games for the Black Sticks, came fourth at the 2016 Olympic Games, and won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 for the Black Sticks, but, injuries, setbacks, grief and loss have been pivotal moments in Brooke’s life. She doesn't sugarcoat it and always shares the reality of what it takes to be successful.

These days, Brooke directs her energies down an amazing path of wellbeing and mindset coaching to pass on her knowledge, experiences, and learnings to others. We found it amazing how Brooke has turned her own experience for good and bad into a program that helps other young women. There's a power in giving back to others and you don't need to be a top athlete to do this. As a person who has lived a life, you have experience and knowledge to pass on. Whether it's to your kids, in an organization you're involved in, a subject you know about, you can give back and realize the enormous power there is in helping others.

Good Change

So Brooke, tell us a little bit about your journey in terms of your upbringing and where it all started.

Brooke

Well, I have an older brother Shay, my Mum and Dad (Leonie and Mark), and we were very much a hockey mad family. I started playing hockey when I was three years old, probably wasn't even allowed to play officially but I just joined my brother's team because he was five. And that sort of grew my passion for the game. But I did everything growing up and I managed to use that to my advantage. I did all sorts of stuff - dancing, I did cheer leading, I did swimming, tennis. I just kept trying new things and it actually wasn't until I left high school that I focused solely on hockey. And moving down to Waikato for a Sir Edmund Hilary scholarship and that's when my hockey went to that next level. But I never really knew or I never really thought, okay, this is what I'm going to do for my career.

Good Change

So was there an aha moment when you realized that you wanted to actually pass on your learnings and all of your experience to other athletes?

Brooke

Yeah, I guess I had a really tough time after the Rio Olympics. And I don't know if you've had the same feeling where you're planning and preparing and you put all your energy into this one thing, because it's so massive, so it's every four years and it’s the top 10,000 athletes in the world, and you only get selected a few months beforehand. So you're training and competing and pushing yourself to win that spot.  There's only 16 out of the 25 squad members that actually get to go. So I was very lucky to get selected and we went over there and all we talked about was gold.  All we talked about was medaling and beating the oppositions and so all of our planning went around that. And then we lost the bronze medal match to Germany and then we got on a plane and came home and I just thought ‘what am I doing? What’s the purpose of this?’ because it was such a  moment where I hadn't planned anything to come next. I was  very hockey focused up until then.  My brother and I actually decided to leave our corporate jobs. He was a lawyer, and I was in a Marketing agency and we decided that if we were going to get to Rio, (because part of that story is that he went to Rio as well for the men's team) to give this a good crack, then we're going to have to leave our jobs. And we fundraised our way to Rio for that last year, so that we can fully focus on hockey and getting our injuries right and making sure that we're doing everything right. And so that was really our whole world. And then after that, I sort of sat at home and I had to have six months off for a knee injury. And I got the opportunity to go and speak as an Olympic Ambassador at some primary schools. Before then I had my story and my journey but I'd never really spoken it out loud.  It was always just part of who I was and that was that. Then I got the bug I guess. I went and had those first few visits and I just saw the kids eyes light up when you walk in, and they didn't care if you came forth. They just saw you as this role model and then that started me thinking, well, maybe I can share not only the fun stuff about things like what you eat in the food hall at the Olympics etc but what if I actually shared my struggles as well.

When I went and talked to primary school kids that would obviously be framed differently to high school because of their ages but I just really connected with the people (the girls in particular). I saw myself in them and I saw the struggles that they were going through, particularly sports woman who have that ‘got to keep it all together, pretend that everything's all good’ mentality, because you know, they're a perfectionist or they're high achievers and they're often getting missed in that mental health support and so when once I started to go and talk, that was my aha moment. I thought, I've got something that I can share here, because I've been in their shoes. I've been I've been competing at the highest level, and figuring out what tools work and what tools don't work, maybe I can share that with them.

Good Change

Well, and that's the power of giving back, I think is that it does give you that feeling like you're actually contributing something a little bit deeper and a little bit richer than just playing hockey, or whatever. You're actually doing something for other people.

Brooke

Yeah and often, we were traveling 180 plus days a year, and then training the rest of the time and we'd have the odd week off. But I'd always jam as many visits as I could into those rest weeks. And I thought, , am I doing the right thing, because I really need to be recovering, and then once I started to do the visits, it was my fuel that kept me going and I found a new purpose of why I was playing hockey as well, because now I wasn't just playing hockey to be the best that I could be, or to help my team do something that we've never done before. I was playing hockey to help reach a whole lot of other people and have a bigger impact. And actually, the mental shift that happened with me on the hockey field was huge.

Good Change

I think I read about that in one of your blogs, you said to somebody, ‘but what have I got to offer?’ and they said ‘oh, you're an Olympian, and they're not’. So you've actually naturally had this credibility and the stuff that you could pass on that people who hadn't been in your shoes could take on board.

Brooke

I think that imposter syndrome really holds a lot of people back because so many people must be thinking, well, I've got nothing to give or I haven't done anything special and I battled with that a lot. What would people think of me? And would anyone even need to hear this? I don't know how I’d do it. And so that self-doubt creeps in all the time but it was also exactly what I was teaching so it's almost like practicing what I was preaching.

Good Change

It’s about being brave, really, isn't it?  Just being brave and courageous and putting yourself out there.  

We all have these mornings where we just can't get out of bed. And kind of get out of bed late and it just gives you this bed start that day and you don't know why you're feeling this way. And then there are other mornings where you wake up before the alarm and you just get out with a smile on your face. And you might go for that run or do some yoga on the living room floor. I think you're right, maybe thinking back now, there are some of those times where I have gone off with a bit of a spring in my step, other times where I've had a really good project going on or something that boosted me or energized me. So I think you're completely right. A lot of people can probably sit back now and think ‘when I got up that morning, and felt really good what what's happening in my life otherwise?’ And I think that relates to a lot of people.

It's all about purpose. Your purpose was to go out and play hockey and train in hockey and be the best hockey player you could be, but how much more enriching is it to be giving back that knowledge and doing something that's a little bit more robust?

I think that's a really scary word for a lot of people. I struggle for a while because, they say, find your purpose and find your why and then half of the time, it's I don't know what that is yet. I'm still working it out. And Liz Gilbert, she he said, I can't remember where I read it or saw it, I think it might have been in a book Big Magic. She said, don't try and find your purpose just follow your curiosities. And I thought that that was a way more gentle nudge versus, you got to find your purpose, and then do that and if you're not doing that, then you've failed or whatever. It's like, actually, what are you curious about? For you, for example, you try what are you curious about? You're curious about the environment, that's the sort of stuff that’s nudged you to where you are today, and that's taken a while to get to that, right?

 

Good Change

Absolutely. They talk about, you can't run a business the same as you did 20 years ago, you can't just go out and say, I want to make a lot of money, you've actually got to have that higher purpose, or that giving back component and then you know, the money will come if that's what you're wanting out of it. So yeah, you're absolutely right.

Brooke

I've had this skin reaction, just on a side note. I've had skin issues my whole life and I put an Instagram post up last night, and I just said, I'm thinking about sharing my struggles with eczema and psoriasis and heat rashes and all of that. I said, who would be interested in hearing it and then the next post said, have you struggled with skin issues? I just checked this morning, and out of 700 people who saw it 250 people said, I'm struggling. And then I got them to ask some questions about what do you want to know and the questions are just endless. I just thought, while there are so many people out there, who maybe their curiosity is a pain point for them? But it's finding out where do you want to have that impact? Because there's unlimited issues out there, right? But I just thought that was really fascinating that it's almost even just creating a safe platform to help people and know that they're not alone.

Good Change

Yeah, and it's amazing, because it shows, I don't know if the word vulnerability is the right word, but it just does show a little bit of vulnerability coming from you, who's an amazing athlete who has been so successful in your field for you to come out and say that and then have that connection with people. I think it’s really powerful.

Out of curiosity, what is some of the feedback when you've talked to some of these girls?

Brooke

The key struggle that the girls are going through, there's a couple, I think one would just be trying to have it all together. Living in a state of constant anxiety, I'm seeing a lot of eating disorders, I'm seeing a lot of low self-confidence, even though on the outside, they seem really confident and that's a whole perfectionism around body image. So it's sort of the issues that are endless but I think one thing that I've created, I have tried to create online as a safe community where they feel like they can be heard and seen, and that there is a space there to support them. Some of the feedback that I get especially from the extended version of my program, (which is eight weeks), and some of the girls go from not even wanting to turn their zoom cameras on, to at the end, I had one girl literally call me for the final thing and just said this has changed her life. She wouldn't stop talking about how, but it wasn't necessarily me it was just that at the right time, someone came in and shared and opened up and shared with them that they're not alone, but also gave them a few tools to sort of help kickstart their journey into that self-awareness, self-development space, and then sharing that with likeminded young sports woman who are all going through it together. It's been pretty special to watch. It's interesting when you're working with athletes, they need to know a game plan. They need to know actually what practical things can I do today to move me forward and we're often very goal driven, but in the area of sport versus let's look at goals for your social Life, let's look at goals for whatever it is that you want to do outside of that. So it's very much about having a practical toolbox and putting it into language that they can understand but also getting them to know that everything that they do outside of sport, in this program, because a lot of it isn't sport related, it's life skills, they can directly translate that into their sport. They know that they're working towards getting better as an athlete by doing this work. Performance will always come when the rest of your life is in line and so it's the holistic approach.

Everybody wants to grow as an individual. As a coach, you're growing and learning and passing on your knowledge, so it's a win win situation.

I think also my retirement last year after COVID, that was really tough in general, because that was, I was leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, and we were in full training mode. Then COVID happened and I had to make the decision, am I going to stay in it, the girls are a couple of months away from going to a very different Olympics, with all the protocols and what that's going to look like. I made the decision to retire. I thought are they still going to want to hear from me because I'm not actually competing anymore. But actually, what I've found is the insights that I can now look back on my career and sort of step away from it, I've been able to say a few things that when you're in it it's harder to say.

Good Change

Just as an aside, I read your blogs and you mentioned brand expert, Phil Pallen who said to you brand yourself by who you want to become not necessarily who you are right now. I love this, I love this quote. Put it out there, own it, association determines destination, fake it till you make it. I love reading that because we at Good Change love this whole attitude.  Can you just tell us a little bit more about that?

Brooke

I've just struggled so much with waiting until it's perfect or waiting until I know more or I've got the all the facts, or I've grown it to this amount before I do something or act on something. In 2016, I came up with this idea of all about balance. I'm going to help young sports women and I could have launched it right then and there. But no, I was very hard on myself and I decided I'm going to do the website design for like six months. I had the domain brookeneale.co.nz and I thought I can't do this. I can't put my name behind a website because that's just too much for me. That just means that I'm putting myself almost above the rest of the team because it's a team sport, and I was still obviously competing. So who am I to be doing this? And then I thought what’s everyone going to think? There's a great quote, which I love, which I also lived by: “lions don't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep”. And then I do this exercise with the girls also where I get them to write down on a tiny post-it note, maybe two centimeters by two centimeters, every person in their life whose opinion you value the highest and that you really genuinely want their feedback on. You can't fit many names on the tiny post it note, which is a hint because often it's only four or five, maybe less people in your life who you would go to get that feedback from. And if someone else gives you that feedback or criticism, and it's not what you need at that time, and it really rocks you that's where you need to check in with yourself. Are they on the post it note, because if they're not, then you actually need to just let that go and you shouldn't worry about their opinions. But it's that whole fake it till you make it as well. No one really knows what they're doing in their life, like everyone struggles. I think the more that you can share that and say, look, I've got no idea what I'm doing but this is what I'm trying to do and this is my intentions, then I'm just going to fake it till I make it.

Good Change

That's a huge part of our philosophy at Good Change. It's all about small changes. It's not about changing the world but just doing small little incremental changes.

Brooke

Yeah, and I would also say never underestimate the power of your words and being present with someone and actually seeing them and saying you're doing amazing or complimenting them on something other than their looks. Actually the girls in my course in my All About Balance Academy, I gave them a challenge the other day to go and give 10 people compliments. It could be random, or it could be people that you know. They had to do team compliments that day and none of them could be about their appearance, because I think we've gotten into that, “Wow, you look so great today”, and it's a really easy throw away one. But actually, “I'm so grateful for the impact that you've had on my life”, it’s something with a little bit more meaning and yes, a few other girls commented back saying how much it actually shifted their moods, and got them out of their own heads. Maybe that person that you just gave a compliment was having a really hard day and that's actually just shifted things for them.

 

Good Change

I think, we live in this very unauthentic world these days, where it's all about the Kardashians and everything looking perfect. To do something that's really authentic is so empowering for people that my final question was going to be around three takeaways or actions that people could take away. But I think you've actually named two of them. Number one is connecting with people, what you just mentioned, and the authenticity in terms of saying something positive to somebody that's not about necessarily the way they look. Second would be giving back, if you think you don't have something to give back with. What do people do if they're sitting out there thinking, Well, you know, I'm not an Olympian. What do I have to give back? What can I have helped people trigger their minds to start giving back in the lives?

 

Brooke

Well, it's all about your story, everyone's got a different story. If you think back to the last 10 years, I would ask anyone, what in the last 10 years have you struggled with and then overcome? Skin, diets, I don't know, being able to do your own nails to the point of being a professional, whatever it is that you've struggled with. I think when you think giving back, it's like charity, and going and sponsoring a child, which is all great, but actually take it back to what's something that you've struggled with in your personal life, that you now take for granted, because you've gone through it and you're out the other side. For example, the skin issue that I've got, maybe someone is out there thinking, well, I've been through that, and maybe I could help people going through some struggles, because it's all about lifting other people up and everyone's got something that they've been through.

Good Change

I can feel a Brooke Neal podcast series coming on! I just think that you've got so much to give in terms of everything we've just talked about. Thank you so much.

Brooke

It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

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