Former hoops champion gets ‘Off the Bench’ with all-star format to motivate others
Mark Wiggins uses sports culture and his personal testimony to uplift others
Motivational speaking for high school and college basketball player Mark “The Speaker Man” Wiggins was an easy transition.
“People want to hear you talk about sports,” he said. “But let’s talk about motivation in terms you can understand. We can talk about finishing a play, running through a line, bouncing back from mistakes, shooting an air ball and embarrassment. I use my sports background because up until that point it was the thing I had done the most.”
Wiggins, 51, is an author and a trainer, internet talk show host and international motivational speaker who “specializes in transforming people in preparation for their success.”
More than 25 years since his last collegiate game, Wiggins still carries the appearance of an All-American hoops defender, yet he prefers to use those experiences as part of his current playbook.
“I believe it’s all about sports,” declared Wiggins. “Life is sports. I think it was probably the greatest teacher of life lessons ever.”
As if he were preparing for a full-court press, the 6-foot-6-inch speaker replenishes his mental aptitude by meditating five to 10 minutes in the morning or listening to podcasts from author Brendon Burchard to entrepreneur Gregg Clunis. His daily routine also includes scanning for a good comedy station, such as Kevin Hart’s, because he needs to “laugh and try not to think too much” before going to work.
Much like basketball star LeBron James, Wiggins is a byproduct of the Ohio basketball landscape. He successfully helped his Maple Heights High School team win a conference championship before joining the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.
“I was never really the best player on my team, but I was one of the harder-working ones,” Wiggins said with a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “I was like the third-best player on my team and went to play college ball and finish playing college ball, not because I was superdope but I was focused and committed to what I was doing.”
Wiggins, who has worked with Positive Coaching Alliance for nine years, travels the country enhancing lives of his clients using the sports culture.
“I love going back to sports and helping kids,” he said. “Can you believe I actually got criticized, in the beginning, because I talked too much about sports? Well, what else is there? As a training moment, you take that feedback and say, ‘OK, cool. I’ll taper down some of the sports talk, but not all of it.’ Let me bring up some other topics people want to talk about, and that was kind of the merging of what I do.”
Wiggins spoke to The Undefeated about his journey.
Why did you become a motivational speaker?
Growing up in Cleveland, at the black church, whenever I came home during a school break, I was approached with, ‘Mark, how are things at school?’ That became the thing, and I would politely say, ‘It was good, I’m having fun and yada, yada, yada.’
It wasn’t until later, as I was tasked with discussing the how-tos of college to a group of young black men, I realized there was something to this. I’ve always been a communicator, which became the impetus for moving and talking. I worked at the United Way during the summer, and there were two kids there, Marcellus and Mario. Those kids were so excited when I walked into the center. They didn’t care what you had to say or where you came from as long as you spent time with them. I became their encourager. I believe we all have certain gifts, and that is one of my gifts, the gift of encouragement, presence, and ability to say what needs to be said.
You have your own podcast. What is it about?
Off the Bench with Mark Wiggins is a dream-come-true situation. I’ve been in media for a long, long time. I want to talk about what I want to talk about, and ‘get off the bench’ was one of my taglines. I pitched my own show because it’s what I do every single day. I love talking to entrepreneurs, businesspeople and executives. I bring people on [the podcast] to get their point of view on stuff, or we just have a conversation. It’s always been about helping people as well, and that’s how my show is based: motivation, inspiration and encouragement. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else you don’t know you’re walking in the same pathway and kind of give you some encouragement.
Do you have any great motivational quotes?
Probably the biggest one and got me in the most trouble, especially in the schools, is I would tell the kids to repeat after me and say, ‘My dreams are just as stupid as yours.’ I would hear, ‘You can’t call the kids’ dreams stupid!’ Well, I just did. I said it’s your dream and because it’s yours, maybe it’s not stupid to you but stupid to me. Yet, that also hinders us from stepping outside of our box because I don’t want to share my dreams for fear you may laugh at me. If you ask me my dream and I told you as a tall, African-American man, I ran a cookie store and made them from hand, that might be stupid to you, but I was one of the best in the game. So that’s my thing. Don’t let what I do influence what you do for it to be stupid. That was one of my better quotes. It got me in trouble every single time with a teacher, and they would have that look on their face like, ‘Did he just say that?’
Can you discuss the My Now book series and how it came about?
My Now is a collaborative effort with my speaking partner Sharon Myers in Huntsville. We created a speakers collective, and there were three of us, much like the Kings of Comedy: Damon Nash, Jonathan Oliver and myself. Sharon was the ringmaster, and we started to make a book to help get more speakers involved. We wrote these collaboratives following the model of Chicken Soup for the Soul. There are six or seven different books with about 50 authors across the country who have participated. Some of the participants are just starting out as speakers who have not written a book. The series became a tool to help other speakers say, I’m an author as well, because that means a lot. It’s a great experience dealing with those authors and seeing their perspective. There is so much motivation, if you open up, around you. When you come out of your little circle, your little hole, and get out of your way, there is a lot of things out there that can help you.
You mentioned getting out of your own way. How does someone go about getting out of their own way?
I’m actually working on something right now to help answer that. The question I’m trying to answer is, how do you know when you are ready. How you get out of your way has a lot to do with just recognizing that you are probably your biggest hurdle. Your mental mindset needs to change, and stop taking yourself so seriously. We take ourselves so serious with respect to the past. You want to keep things in perspective, as to what we’ve been through, but it should also be a push for you, not a hindrance … a pride moment, not a defensive moment. When we don’t get our way, we get defensive. Our ego is getting in our way and does not want us to change or move. That is a holdup. What we feed that ego is how it moderates. From an athlete’s point of view, what it all goes back to is some of the worst coaches I ever had in my life gave me the best information. I didn’t like the delivery, but you learn the core of it and realize it’s not personal. It’s really about the business of you getting better.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
One project I’m working on is Off the Bench Live with Mark Wiggins, me. (Laughs.) It is a spinoff of the podcast. Let me give you the backstory. When I turned 50, I was thinking, what can we do for a party. I said I’m going to release my book and have a book release, networking, birthday party where personal coaches speak. It grew into this event called ‘Off the Bench Live at 50.’ There were vendors in the room. I read some of my book Success Does Not Need A Co-Signer and spoke for about 10-15 minutes because I like to speak on my birthday.
While sitting at the event, I felt a touch from God saying, ‘You really bring people together; this isn’t about you right now.’ My birthday wasn’t even about me. So at 51, I said I’m going to this again but this time I’m going to bring three speakers to the stage, going back to that early model. I would speak and they would speak, followed by me interviewing them about what they just talked about, which everybody loved. My videographer, Roland Grimes, said, ‘Slim, you’re going to do this again in about six months.’ I thought he was crazy, but last month [Nov. 3] I did another Off the Bench Live. I didn’t really speak because it wasn’t about me. It was about sharing my resources and stage. I’ve been speaking for about 24-25 years, and if you’re just getting started, let me help you out or let me show you what I got. That is what happens with Off the Bench Live.
Beyond motivational speaking, what would you like our readers to know about you?
What you see is pretty much what you get. I try to be as transparent as possible with what I do. How I speak and interact with people, sometimes it’s gruff, ‘coachy’ or sensitive. I let people know this is what you get. I use humor as my weapon, my smile as my ammo, and my passion usually comes through, but with all that being said, I still get scared. I still worry if I’m going to mess up or if someone is trying to come for me. I want to make sure I work on my craft and my skill set more than anybody else. If nothing else happens in life, I need you to know Mark Wiggins put up a fight.
How do you remain undefeated?
I remain undefeated by being consistent and never giving up on what I want to do. By taking away the normal measurements of success and looking at it as my personal success. Success is personal, right? What success is to you might not be the same to someone else. I have to remind myself what would success look like or what is the intent. Let’s roll back to the networking birthday event. I was pressed about numbers, seat sales and whatever and was asked by my friend, ‘What if nobody shows up, is the event a failure?’ I said absolutely, it’s a failure! And she replied, ‘What did you start it for?’ I started it to help people network and make connections. When those things happen, then it has been successful. By being clear of the intent of what we’re trying to do and removing the exterior and popular things of success, you’re probably more successful than you’re not.
Wiggins’ podcasts are available on iTunes and Spotify, and he’s authored several books outlining a dynamic approach to pushing forward. Follow him via the @Speakerman87 social handle.