SUCCESS BEYOND THE GAME
By: Julie Nelson
It has never been more important to talk about mental health. Talking openly about it can break taboos and standardize treatment. In what has been probably the most stressful few years on record, one of the biggest threats to mental health is the stigma surrounding it. But your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
For athletes, playing sports does not make them immune to mental health challenges. The pressure to perform at a high level as well as in their normal lives can be incredibly challenging.
Hubert Payne, a former college football player and current drummer for Grammy Award winning American country music group Little Big Town, is changing that narrative. He is using his story to help others live from the best parts of themselves in every area of their lives.
“I just want to help other people figure out their ‘why’ and transition to the next part of their life able to face their trauma and use it as a bridge to who they are authentically,” said Payne.
From what started out as a journey to become a pastor, quickly shifted to coaching. He knew he would have a bigger outreach and be able to help others who might not share his same faith.
“I labeled it ‘coaching,’ said Payne. “I’m a football player. Coaching is second nature to me. I combined coaching with ministry, and I got certified in Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which is awesome work.”
Onsite Workshops, an organization dedicated to changing lives through enhanced emotional health, hired him in 2020 as their first coach and trained him as an Experiential Facilitator.
“I was the first coach to be trained in this way,” said Payne. “A big part of my mission is I don’t believe you can help someone move forward if there isn’t some attention to how you got here. I’m not a therapist to where I live in your history, but I am trained to go into your history only for the purposes of moving forward.”
Transitioning his approach in helping others, Payne and his team recently opened a facility called ‘The Space’ located in Nashville, Tennessee, where anyone can visit and work on their mental and emotional health through experiential learning.
He decided to create a physical location for those seeking to better themselves after hearing people talk about Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles and her decision not to perform during the 2020 Summer Olympics due to her mental health.
“I just thought, ‘Wow, what if we took a more proactive approach towards mental and emotional health and not respond to it in a negative manner but with the approach of how do we work on it?’ What’s the how? If you ask most people what the how is, they don’t know.’”
Everything Payne and his team do is experiential. All the work they do is not just explaining; it is exploring. He brings a unique perspective. He plays in front of thousands of people every week. Although he did not play in the NFL, he plays at the highest level professionally in music.
“I understand the sport,” said Payne. “I also understand this work because I’ve been trained like this ‘Swiss army knife’ coach by some of the best therapists in the world.”
Entertainment: Football to Music
Payne’s zest for coaching derives from his unique background as a collegiate athlete and music industry expert.
He grew up playing football and went to a preparatory all-boys boarding school called Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Orchard Lake, Michigan. It was a bit of a culture shock for him having been born and raised in Detroit.
“I didn’t see anyone who didn’t look like me until I was in high school, and then I was the only one who looked like me,” said Payne. “But we were highly competitive and very committed to being great as a football team. We trained all year round, every day for four years. Iron sharpens iron. We would talk about scholarships and who was getting what offer and all of our football goals.”
Payne’s dream to play at the next level came to fruition. He played two years at Saginaw Valley State University with Matt LaFleur, head coach of the Green Bay Packers and one and a half years on Middle Tennessee State University’s scout team with Sam Hunt, Award winning American country singer and songwriter, before transferring to Maryville College.
“The only thing I cared about was actually contributing in a large part to a team,” said Payne. “I ended up playing three seasons from 2004 – 2006 at Maryville. I was voted captain of the team. Although it was Division III, I was named All-Conference running back, and I am super proud of that accomplishment.”
After college, Payne faced the same question every athlete faces when their time in their sport is done…what now?
He leaned into his passion for playing drums and music. As a son of a musician, he enjoyed playing but did it more as a hobby, sometimes a stress relief. Nonetheless, he had this burning desire to develop as a drummer.
“In 2007, I moved back to Nashville,” said Payne. “I didn’t know I was in ‘Music City’ though. I had heard of the Music City Bowl, but I didn’t know that Nashville was ‘Music City’.”
Payne was playing in wedding bands and would get opportunities because of the relationships he had built, but he knew he was not as talented at his craft as he would like. In 2009, he decided to move to Los Angeles and join a year-long program with the Los Angeles College of Music.
“I learned how to read music,” said Payne. “I learned how to study it. I saw people struggle on the drums, which was very important for me because I wasn’t around other drummers to have a dynamic range. When I got to see the range, I understood where I fit and how I could improve and elevate.”
Payne took his talents back to Nashville to really give his dream a chance in the fall of 2009. However, his journey took a turn on January 4, 2010.
There was an incident in which he was stabbed by a stranger in a Nashville music venue. Trying to intervene to protect others, he was stabbed multiple times. He underwent surgery on his hand and then had to do rehabilitation, which took him out of playing for another year.
“I couldn’t play drums for a year, and in that time, I moved back home with my parents who were in Tennessee,” recalled Payne. “I couldn’t go anywhere and all I could do was get inside my thoughts and my emotional history and re-do the narratives. The first thing I did was recognize I was not a football player anymore, and that was something I had to come to terms with. I had to take my identity back.”
The former running back decided to adapt his football mindset and apply it to his music career. He was able to extract things he learned from his role as a player and apply them to a new role. He self-assessed then started fostering new goals.
“I wanted to have a big family,” said Payne. “I wanted to get married. I wanted to play drums around the world, and I wanted to be one of the most in-demand musicians. That led me to understanding what my limiting beliefs were.”
Just like his time at Orchard Lake, he realized that one of his limiting beliefs was never really considering playing country music because the people who played country music did not look like him. However, despite the cultural differences, he was desperate to play the drums again. That led him to exploring downtown Nashville and checking out the music scene.
“I started thinking about the characteristics of everyone’s favorite drummer,” said Payne. “I kept asking people, ‘whose your favorite drummer downtown?’ Then I would go watch that guy. I would learn from him. I would take it step further and ask to hang out with them. I wanted to understand culture. I wanted to understand what is this guy doing to play so amazing?”
After a while, this ‘empty cup’ attitude, led him to a lot of opportunities. He started playing downtown more and more. He did not realize it was like a university of country music no. 1’s. If people were paying $20 to hear their favorite country song, he would have to know those songs, which meant he also had to know the drum parts to all the no. 1’s from the last 50 years. This is what makes his skill set amazing.
“I was using everything I learned from the LA Music Academy and infusing it with Dr. Dre beats because that’s how I grew up with more of a rap/hip-hop funk influence,” said Payne. “I was fusing everything together with country music.”
He went from playing on Broadway every day to getting more road gigs. He worked his way into an audition in 2015, which led him to where he is now playing with Little Big Town.
“I basically played for different artists until I worked my way up through reputation and auditioning to the top,” said Payne. “Now, I play on records. Now, guys on Broadway are learning parts that I created. I can walk down the street and hear someone playing a groove that I created. That is amazing.”
It is safe to say that Payne is the ultimate definition of “If you can dream it, you can do it.” He has a beautiful wife and six children. He plays drums around the world. It is evident why Little Big Town and several other high-profile country acts have recruited him.
Full Circle Moment
According to Payne, exploring your story allows us to connect and live from the best version of ourselves.
The same street where he got stabbed is now home of ‘The Space.’
Whether working with teams, groups, or individuals, on the field or on the stage, Payne loves to help others develop and implement action plans that enable them to maintain a high level of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Nevertheless, his impact has a greater purpose.
“If someone can look at my story and feel an inch closer to wanting to explore their story, that’s the help that I want to be. That’s why I created ‘The Space’. That’s why we do it experientially. That’s why I talk about everything I talk about every day. If we take more of an approach of exploring the lessons from difficult times, we have an opportunity to attach to our greater call and our purpose.”