James Robertson — called “Coach Rob” by high schoolers and adults alike — is the program director for Rochester’s Sports Mentorship Academy and a life coach at Coach Rob Motivations.

Robertson, a former track and field coach at Century High School, realized through the school’s mentorship program that he had a talent for “helping people become successful.”

After stints as the Rochester Diversity Council’s education director and a minority liaison for Rochester Public Schools, Robertson joined Andre Crockett’s SMA team.

Life coaching, he said, can start at an oblique angle: “Coach, I don’t know what I want to do in life.” Frustration with a dead-end job. Or fear of asking for help even when it’s sorely needed.

However, Robertson uses assessments to determine where his clients are and where they want to be — and he focuses on “TAGS,” or Talents, Abilities, Gifts and Strengths.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

If Robertson has one piece of advice for people feeling “stuck,” it’s this: “Think about all the things you struggled with when you were younger — and all the tools you used to do it.”

For example, take someone who struggled with poverty, and turned to drug dealing to make money. Strip off the judgment around illegalities, Robertson said, and at the heart of it, that person is an entrepreneur with the ability to lead, identify wants, and connect with people.

Once the skills have been identified, Robertson said his clients can “turn that into whatever you need to apply it to.”

“Purpose isn’t something that you find,” he added. “Purpose is something you apply.”

Robertson found his own purpose back in 2003, during an ER visit where he told the nurses he was considering suicide.

He spent 10 days in San Diego’s Emergency Psychiatric Unit, where a surprising number of patients sought Robertson out to talk about their own struggles, despite not knowing him.

It’s a gift that follows him to this day, he said.

“I was wondering, ‘Why me?’ but then I could really connect with this person, and empathize,” Robertson said. “I realized, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”

Getting people to open up about their problems was his purpose. And “no matter where you go in life, you apply the purpose you have,” Robertson said. “If it shows up in a mental health facility, it’s going to show up when you’re in class, or when you’re coaching a kid.”

Lately, that capacity for empathy and opening people up is particularly useful with Robertson’s target demographic — men who come from trauma, addiction and incarceration.

His own background is also helpful in coaxing men with “an institutional mindset” to open up.

“Most people, when they see a big Black dude, they’re scared,” Robertson said. “You don’t think, ‘This man has feelings, has sensitivities, has pain.’ ”

Those clients also may not have seen another man speak about his own vulnerabilities. Oftentimes, hearing Robertson’s backstory is enough to shock them into revealing their own stories.

Step two is to “stop talking,” he said.

“You have to just listen,” Robertson said. “If you’re doing more talking than listening, then you’ve probably missed a person who really needed to be heard.”

He thanks his coaching background for teaching him to “get (people) to see where their problems are.”

“My goal is to work myself out of a job,” Robertson said. “When I do that, I know I’m successful.”

Learn more about Coach Rob Motivations at www.coachrobmotivations.com, by emailing coachrob@coachrobmotivations.com, or by calling 507-250-6444.