Interview: Baseball Star Derin McMains Appointed as Director of Mental Conditioning at ReliaQuest

Earlier this month, cybersecurity firm Reliaquest announced the appointment of a new member of staff, in a move which its CEO Brian Murphy said “will allow us to take our performance to an even higher level.”

This wasn’t the typical appointment news that we see in the cybersecurity industry though, with the individual involved coming from a very different background to those who generally work in the sector. That’s not to say the news wasn’t high profile though – the name of Derin McMains will be familiar to baseball fans who followed the sport during the noughties, playing for the San Francisco Giants' minor league side for six seasons between 2001-2008.

However, it’s McMains subsequent work in performance psychology that set him on the path to this new calling as director of mental conditioning at ReliaQuest, where he is tasked with establishing a high performance mindset throughout the organization.

Discussing his appointment with Infosecurity, McMains explained that he first became aware of the importance of psychology towards the end of his playing career, when injuries meant his “perspective had changed” and fear stopped him from enjoying the sport as much as he used to. Prior to that, he admitted that “I never thought about how our mindset impacted performance.”

After moving into professional coaching at the Giants following retirement as a player, McMains noticed that while all squad members looked exceptional in training, “there would be quite a difference in performance” between different players when it came to matches. This anomaly led him to studying for a Masters in Sports Psychology, initially with the aim of improving his coaching capabilities. He quickly became hooked, leading him down a whole new career path. He explained that he became fascinated with studying the top performing people and understanding “who are the outliers for good reasons: what are some of the ways they see the world, what’s their perspective, what are the specific coping strategies and what are the specific mantras to help them get into the right headspace to perform at a high level?”

After a number of years and different positions working primarily with sports teams on their mental conditioning, how did he end up making the move into cybersecurity?

One factor is the growing importance of the industry and its mission. McMains explained that he was inspired to work in the sector during conversations he held with Brian Murphy for around 18 months prior to taking up the permanent position at ReliaQuest. “For our generation, cybersecurity threats are probably the greatest issue we need to solve,” he said.

“For our generation, cybersecurity threats are probably the greatest issue we need to solve”

Additionally, while working in cybersecurity requires a very different set of technical skills from baseball, the mindset required for optimal performance in both environments is no different, according to McMains. Ultimately, it is about studying the best performers and how they are able to perform efficiently and consistently over a sustained period of time, and applying those principles to others. He argued this is especially important in cybersecurity “where threats can happen at any time of any day.”

Another reason for the switch is the personal challenge, explains McMains, adding that he “loves the idea of rolling out a mental training program in the corporate space.”

McMains' first goal at ReliaQuest is to help develop the mindset in people to enable them to  execute their [working] role well, whilst simultaneously “being successful in their home life,” which he described as an “inner-tranquillity and outer-effectiveness approach.” Behind this is a three prong strategy: teach, drive and equip.

McMains will encourage staff to define their goals and what success looks like to them, before establishing a clear process for achieving those targets. After that, focus will be on developing the daily habits that drive consistency in executing the process.

McMains is working primarily with the executive team and their direct reports on a person-to-person basis, but emphasized that any member of staff can reach out to him for guidance at any stage as they develop their strategies for success. 

At a broader organizational level, McMains has set up an internal communications platform named ‘MindGym’, to drive the mindset messaging to all employees and “drip feed optimal thinking patterns.” A wide range of content mediums will be utilized, including a podcast, written blogs and video messaging.

Sport and cybersecurity are not industries that are often associated with one another. Yet for Derin McMains, the principles of sports psychology can, and should, be applied to cybersecurity, where achieving consistent, high level performance in a pressurized environment is critical. With cyber-attacks growing in volume and sophistication, driving elite performance mindset in security personnel may become a necessity going forward.

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