Stephen Robinson ’83May 30, 2014
Training for Elite Performance
Stephen Robinson ‘83 isn’t kidding when he tells Engage he’s “pursued a number of different interests since graduation.” The CEO and co-founder of the Colorado-based MAGIS Group took an interesting path to develop his current work helping a range of clients—from athletes to military personnel—optimize performance under stress.
After graduating from Hampden-Sydney with degrees in Political Science and History, Robinson pursued graduate studies at the University of Richmond, where as the Albright Scholar, he wrote a Master’s thesis on U.S. Military Special Operations Forces. He then studied International Relations as the Haynes Fellow in a PhD program at Claremont Graduate University. During this time he gained deep insight into the military mindset by interviewing over 100 special operators, intelligence personnel, and many others in the field, including his mentor Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson.
Following a brief stint in the Pentagon, Robinson felt a competitive calling, so he moved to Florida and started a successful career as a tennis coach, while also playing professional tournaments. These varied backgrounds came together after Robinson met his wife Elizabeth in 2001 and the couple started developing MAGIS Group’s training programs. Robinson explained his company’s mission and method during a call at his office in Boulder.
Foundations of MAGIS:
“Things didn’t really come full circle for me until I met my wife. One of the key reasons we started MAGIS was we saw a stress epidemic in the culture and wanted to address it effectively. Magis, drawing from its etymology, essentially means mastery or more, so we started asking the question: ‘What do people want more of in their life?’
“We realized many people seemed to want a greater sense of contentment, joy or connection in their lives—things a consumer culture couldn’t provide by itself. Those things are all internal, so we built the MAGIS model around how people could find a greater sense of connection by using internal skill sets. Some of those I learned through my exposure to sports—especially playing high-level tennis—but also my passion and pursuit of excellence and self-regulation. Meanwhile, my wife had studied mindfulness and contemplative practices—pursuing a parallel a track in a different vein. When we met, our backgrounds meshed really well to develop the model.”
Turning Stress into Performance:
“We have a training model built around autonomic self-regulation—working with the nervous system and working with the way the human brain is wired towards prioritizing attention. We teach our audiences, through a neuroscientific lens, how the brain and body respond to the use of internal imagery practices, and we teach how to use those to further the development of their capabilities for specific applications—be that sales or sports or military operations. We frame it in a way that they can use day in and day out. The model we teach is called OPS—Optimal Performance under Stress—and each of the training models is designed for the specific audience. If we’re working with a sports team, we might give specific examples for the offensive backfield and get the audience engaged with identifying where they can apply the specific skills being taught within their position.”
Who We Help:
“We get a lot of word of mouth business. We did a recent training with the Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves, one of the top Division II football teams in the country. Our largest customer base has been the military, so far. We’ve trained over 10,000 people in the U.S. military, and nearly 20,000 overall.
“Typically people are looking to mitigate stress, but we lead with a performance optimization orientation. Athletes or special operators don’t really want to hear that they’re stressed out. They really resonate with the idea of performing better and bringing out their capabilities. This is an education and training model, controlling and regulating stress to elicit a higher level of performance. The byproduct is you build resilience—essentially the ability to bend but not break when meeting your circumstances.”
“I was inspired by General Sam Wilson to study national security issues, specifically military special operations. I consider him a mentor, and his influence was very powerful on me. I have to give Gen. Sam a lot of credit for linking me up with some amazing people. I interviewed him many times out at his farm in Rice, and that was very influential in how MAGIS designed our War Ops training model.
“The broad scope of the liberal arts education at Hampden-Sydney has been extremely valuable. I talk with a lot of general officers, CEOs and executives from various organizations. My ability to carry on a wide-ranging discussion and speak from a broad worldview, including specifics of various subjects has been remarkably helpful.”