I love surprises, yet I am not surprised very often. Call it a sixth sense, a gift from God, or too-damn-smart-for-my-own-good (my mom's phrase -- her attempt to be edifying... thanks Ma). But for some reason, I was the kid that always seemed to "accidentally" find my Christmas presents. And still to this day, I can sniff out a surprise party a mile away. However, there is a caveat to my sixth sense abilities, and that beautiful limitation is in the area of friendships. I am often pleasantly surprised by unlikely friendships. And over the years, some of these friendships have evolved into long-lasting relationships that have enriched my life with a diversity and complexity that I have learned to cherish.
Many people at first glance would assume many things about me: I'm a tattoo artist, I'm in a band, I listen to heavy metal, I'm uneducated, I'm a skinhead, I ride a Harley (although one day I hope that particular assumption comes true). The list goes on and on. The reality of it is quite the opposite: I'm a pastor by trade, who happens to like tattoos, but I can't play an instrument (or even carry a tune), I would rather listen to Mumford and Sons than a metal band like Lamb, I have a master's degree and I guest lecture for graduate and post-graduate students, and I am part-Hebrew (ignorant fascist neo-Nazi skinheads don't tend to like my kind -- and I am not too fond of them either... God is everywhere, someone else can minister to those assholes).
Although I may not be what some people assume, I have many rich friendships with people who look nothing like me. I even enjoy friendships with people who do not posses the same ideals as I do. I am constantly surprised by friendships that seem to come out of left field. Gina Parris is one of those friends. Gina works with collegiate and professional athletes who are experiencing performance issues within their particular sport. Gina is a post-conservative evangelical. And Gina is a big fan of sex, and she teaches folks how to have a healthier sex life with their partners. Gina is the Tim Tebow of Performance Coaching and Sex.
Gina is the latest surprise to my circle of friends. It boggles my mind that I "get" to be friends with some of the most interesting people in the world -- and the best part of it is that they are nothing like me! Gina claims that she is a boring person, but I beg to differ -- and I that's why I have chosen Gina Parris to be the focus of this HuffPost interview.
Gina, what exactly is a performance coach? And how did you get into this field?
Well, most of my clients just call me their mental coach, but we help peak performers play at their best under any pressure.
I got started after decades of studying and speaking on personal growth and faith. One time this ex-swimmer-turned-stock-trader, couldn't make my seminar on Trader Psychology, so he asked if I did personal coaching. I said "yes," and both our lives were changed by the dramatic results he got. He stopped losing money and I got certified and started helping more clients, including baseball players, since those were the two biggest parts of my life back then -- trading and baseball.
Well, trading, baseball and sex! I certainly never told my clients, but I had just discovered this mindset/energy technique that had revolutionized my marriage and our love life. That technique became the basis of all the work I did, so all along, I had a place in my heart to help with the most intimate sides of performance also. That's why I really stand as a champion for their marriages too.
You have started to become the premiere "go-to" performance coach for both professional and collegiate athletes. When clients come to you, what are some common symptoms they are seeking help for? And how do you coach them through these symptoms?
Initially, they just want their game back. They call when they're frustrated about playing beneath their potential. It might be performance anxiety, the yips, or relationship issues off the field that are hindering their game. Sometimes they just want to make sure they are playing as well as possible.
I have this 5-step process that takes people from the vision of what they really want, to eliminating any subconscious blocks to achieving it.
When it comes to stress, we get them to where their body's instant response to a stressful trigger is peak performance instead of anxiety. It's not an intellectual process though, really. It incorporates their whole nervous system.
One of the many reasons that you attract such high profile clients is the discretion that you use -- not exploiting their fame for the benefit of expanding your coaching clientele. What has been your reasoning behind the choice of being discreet?
Oh man! I see these athletes that work so hard all their lives to finally achieve their dreams, only to realize that the pressure is never gone. At some point they feel like a commodity in their sport and lots of people want something from them. I hate that. Plus, they make themselves vulnerable to me, so I feel really protective of them.
One time a UFC fighter asked, "Won't the other fighters think I'm admitting weakness if they hear I needed a mental coach?"
When you help someone get results, they tell their friends. I guess I could look cooler if I had them all over my website though!
Outside of the love of being a performance coach for high profile athletes, Gina unashamedly co-hosts a weekly podcast on sexymarriageradio.com where Gina and her co-host, Dr. Corey Allan, chat about sex, sexuality, and faith. How does being a co-host of Sexy Marriage intersect with being a performance coach? Or are they entirely separate?
I think it's exactly the same! Where else do couples need their "game" or need to get over performance anxiety more intensely than in the bedroom? I do have a brand called Winning At Romance that's separate from the other stuff, but mindset-wise, I love looking at romance issues with a sports-performance mindset. A home run is a home run right? To get out of a slump, you need to see what you are actually doing wrong so you can change your approach and hit the sweet spot.
Our relationships will always be better when we remember winning strategies like:
When we can make all this happen on a cellular level, than victory at home becomes easier and more fun for sure. I don't know any other sex & marriage experts that come from a sports performance mindset, so it makes me unique and it works.
How has your faith journey influenced your work as a performance coach and with your work with sex/sexuality?
Probably my passion for God is what makes me believe so passionately in people. There are endless promises showing how deeply God is for us. He's the ultimate coach. Plus, He helps me understand things about my clients that I wouldn't be able to know on my own. Some people call it intuition, but I think it's a spiritual gift from God.
When it comes to sex, I'm passionate about reclaiming intimacy in a world that's been screwed. For real! Mostly I have a heart for couples that are dealing with very differing sex drives. I have whole programs with titles like "How to Have Really Great Sex When You're NOT in the Mood." And "The Sexy Marriage Solution." Since I was pretty much the low desire spouse for years, I understand the fights & frustration, as well as the magic when things turn around. It's sad to realize how many couples fight and stress over the unique part of their relationship that can bring such intense pleasure and bonding.
I love seeing couples find healing, passion, and deep connection where there was nothing but frustration. Sometimes those with a church background have the hardest time finding freedom expressing love sexually to their mate. But trust me, there's no shortage of issues that influence sex in a crappy way - whether from religion or just from a perverted world.
In your opinion, why is sex so taboo within western Christianity, specifically here in the United States?
I think when Christianity is reduced to some kind of religious rules instead of a relationship, than it always leans towards legalism and problems. Religion counters destructive immorality with destructive silence, condemnation, or just some mind-numbing mantra of "don't do it, don't do it, don't do it."
A better approach would be to teach how to handle our sexuality in ways that honor God and his people.
What is the biggest misnomer you think we have about sex today?
In the world, it's trying to convince ourselves that sex is some animalistic act, and that we are all just animals so we should just do it with any willing party. That's a crock! I think the way we've separated sexual intimacy from emotional and spiritual intimacy is a part of the reason people are more lonely and dysfunctional today than ever. In fact, separating sex from marriage and losing respect for marriage in general, is hurting our whole culture.
But in the church world, the biggest misnomer is that sex is somehow dirty or shameful, or less than sacred, sizzling and sexy! God created us with pleasure in mind. The great news is that He brings healing and transformation from the inside out. Any thing is possible with God.
Having a more conservative Christian evangelical audience, you are often criticized for being too "New Age" in the work you do -- as a performance coach as well as the work you do with your Sexy Marriage Solution. Where do you think this criticism stems from?
That's so funny. Apparently, if I say the word, "energy," that freaks some Christians out. Some of the mind/body techniques I employ refer to the way our energy flows in our bodies, as we learn in karate. But I'm such a nerd-girl that I study the scientific and biological aspects of how the brain works and why all my techniques work as well.
On the bright side, I constantly hear from believers who say our work set them free from a lifetime of struggle. I'm convinced that Truth is Truth, whether it's revealed in science, Western medicine, Eastern discoveries or quantum physics. I just pray about everything and stay true to my heart. Plus, I really do love the Bible, and use it as a personal filter for everything I study.
Even though you are a professing Christian, does one have to subscribe to Christianity to be your client? Can you elaborate?
They certainly do not need to be a Christian, but they do need a sense of humor or I will drive them crazy!
Most of my clients are attracted to my spirit of faith though, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or spiritual. They like the confirmation that the desires of their heart are good and that God is for them.
Last, but not least, with the start of baseball season this past week: What is your World Series prediction for 2012?
Haha! I always cheer for my favorite players on all the teams but in October, I think we'll be seeing the Angels square off against the Cardinals -- with St. Louis coming out on top. Again. Even without Albert. Go, Carlos Beltran!
Be looking for Gina's podcast on The Whiskey Preacher!
Follow Phil Shepherd on Twitter: www.twitter.com/philshepherd