Jupiter’s Travis Thomas has taken a winding road to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
Lessons learned playing college soccer in Missouri, working as a comedian in Boston and coaching in Florida have brought Thomas to a dream challenge: helping the United States Men’s National Team succeed on the world’s biggest stage.
Thomas became the team’s Leadership and Team Dynamics Coach in January 2020 and has traveled with the players and staff around the world. He helps strengthen mental and leadership skills for each player, as well as oversee the culture that head coach Greg Berhalter wants to maintain.
Thomas has already assisted the national team in its triumph in the inaugural Nations League tournament in 2020 and this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Soccer was always a huge part of Thomas’ life. He played for Principia College from 1991-95. However, he had to set it aside after graduation.
“I met my wife in college, we got married right after we graduated. We were young and we were trying to get real and professional jobs in Boston, Massachusetts,” Thomas said. “We moved there. We were working kind of, I was doing some marketing and she was working for a book publisher.”
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Exploring opportunities in a new city, he attended an improvisational comedy show with his wife. He didn’t know the show would change his life.
“I was just blown away at how talented these performers were. I said to myself, ‘How do they do that?’ How did they create something out of nothing?’ That’s what improvisation is all about.”
Improvisation eventually formed the basis for his leadership ideology, “Yes, And.”
‘Yes’ is the acceptance of an idea or of what reality is. The ‘and’ refers to what follows, how we choose to respond to ‘yes.’
“Anyone who has taken a improv or drama class is introduced to ‘yes, and,’ ” Thomas said. “That is kind of how it was brought to me, but I always thought there was another level that was really applicable to all of life – to be a tool for dealing with uncertainty and adversity,”
Thomas collected the knowledge and experience from his comedy shows and brought them to the soccer field as a mental coach.
He and his wife moved to Sarasota in 2003 after an opportunity opened up at IMG Sport Academy as a Leadership and Improvisation Coach.
While there, he worked with thousands of athletes from all over the world. He used his improvisation games to teach mental performance and improve team dynamics.
“IMG is like the Hogwarts Academy of athletes from all around the world,” he said. “When I heard about the position, I said to myself, ‘This exists? This is exactly what I am and what I want to do.’
“For two and a half years, I worked with thousands of athletes from all over the world, playing all types of sports, cultures, and languages. From Korean golfers to Russian tennis players, football players preparing for the NFL Combine, and the U-17 men’s national (soccer) team that lived and trained there.
“Training them was always a lot of fun … instead of talking about these (improvisation) concepts, we would play games and they would get to experience them. They really enjoyed it because it was super interactive.”
Thomas continued to use this concept to make his company, “Live Yes, And,” in 2015. He speaks to different corporations, schools and sports teams of all levels to help them achieve their goals.
A year later, he wrote his book, “3 Words for Getting Unstuck: Live Yes, And” and sent a copy to USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter in 2019. Berhalter personally invited him to train with the team, as Thomas’ book was closely related to his vision.
Now in his third year with the U.S. team, Thomas’ insights on improvisation and leadership will be on display with the world’s best soccer players.
“For me this is the dream of a lifetime,” Thomas said. “To get to come full circle from being a soccer player in college to now working for the national team in the World Cup.”
Want to watch?
Who: United States vs. Wales
What: FIFA World Cup 2022
When: 2 p.m.