I love coaching . . . and I blame my father. You know those team pictures we all took as kids in recreational sports leagues with the kids lined up in rows, wearing nice crisp uniforms? Coaches kneeling at their players’ sides with whistles and some random kid in the middle holding a ball or a chalkboard with the team name. I have one of those pictures. Except the sports team in question is my older brother’s soccer team. My dad is kneeling down with his players, and my biddy self is standing at his knee with a whistle around my neck and a big smile.
Granted, I was not coaching eight year old boy’s soccer, but I got the bug. When I got older and had actual motor coordination, I did become a coach. I was the assistant coach to my dad for a number of years when my little sister played soccer. I was often in charge of setting the line up and arguing why I thought my line up had the best match ups. One time, I even got to coach the team by myself when my dad went all Bobby Knight and got himself ejected. Admittedly, it was girls’ youth soccer. But also in defense of my dad, the referee was an absolute cretin.
I believe that coaching is an art form that like all art forms is one part genus, one part hard work and study, and one part sheer magic. When I coached soccer, I watched my dad attend national coaching courses to get licensing. I also watched what happened with the teams whose coaches did not invest the time . . . lines, laps, lectures . . . and a distinct lack of fun. When I was old enough, my parents supported me in pursuing coaching licenses. And now several years later I am coaching a marathon training program for our local Fleet Feet store and I am trying to schedule my training certifications through USATF. In addition to that, I pour over webpages and pages of books to learn about new techniques, drills, running form, cross training, muscle imbalances, nutrition, and the psychology of sports.
But, why? What’s the point of spending hours a week studying and planning for very little real gain (monetary or otherwise)? The point, actually has very little to do with me, and everything to do with . . .you, the reader. You, the runner. You, the person who wants to do better than the day before.
The coach’s spirit is one of a tinkerer. We look to those who come to us for guidance as riddles to be solved, as machines to be tweaked, and as characters to be challenged. As a coach, the greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of self-actualization. I see so many men and women with amazing talents who are plagued by self-doubt: “I’m too slow”, “I’m afraid I’ll finish last”, and my least favorite “This must be easy for you”. Everything is all relative. Certainly, we have limits imposed on us by our genetics, but it should be the role of a coach to work with their trainees to develop and execute a plan that allows the trainee to grow mentally and physically. Simply put, to be more than they were before.
Coaches should help their trainees redefine what is possible. Help them look for solutions, rather than complain about the impossibilities. And above all, coaches should help their trainees find joy in the struggle and the journey. Because without the opportunity to face a challenge and the possibility of failure, how will any of us really know the limits of our potential.
I remember the absolute elation I felt when I ran my first (and only to this point) 100 mile race. The task was a Leviathan and I thought there was no way I could face down the challenge. I also know that I have never been the same since I rose to the challenge and succeeded. I look back at that moment and realize that it was one of the hardest things I have ever done both physically and mentally. And no matter what happens going forward, no one can take away that accomplishment. From that day on, things haven’t seemed as daunting. I am not afraid of failure, personally or professionally. And most of all . . . I got me just a little bit of swagger. And that, is what I would love to bottle up and give to all the men and women who live with doubt and fear of failure. But until such time that I can science that into reality, I will continue to coach and offer anyone who is willing to listen and to do the work, their own opportunity to find some swagger.