If a tree falls in the forest……

12.17.13 Hannah & TrevorIf a coach isn’t there to see it, does the athlete still train hard?

For the Pioneers, the answer to this new take on an age-old question is a resounding YES!

I started writing this in mid-November during a particularly impressive training week.  Now that final exams are wrapping up and I have time to think, I’m giving it a final read-through…

Our kids work hard in training.  That cool November night in workout they were getting after it, every last one.  The team synergy of group training sessions was one of my favorite parts of my own collegiate swimming experience.  Racing your teammates and working with them.  Pushing them to be better and letting their fortitude pull you along to your own best performances.  Now I get to see that from a different (dryer) perspective every day as a college coach.

The afternoon before, our academic liaison for athletics had dropped by practice just to see what was going on.  He mentioned that when he came in, all the splashing and movement made him think of salmon spawning up a fish ladder.

The team had a laugh at this imagery.

I told him he was only seeing the end of warm-up and that he should wait until the next set.  We had an array of sprint 25s and some 50s at 200 goal pace that ramped up the pool action to a higher pitch.  John stuck around.  The salmon were really moving.  He was impressed.

As coaches, we are used to our teams feeding off one another and working at a high intensity.

What about when no one is there to see it and no one is there to race?

Hard workouts alone in the pool sometimes drags on a person’s psyche.  I’m speaking from personal experience, here.  But, if you have a high degree of motivation and long-term perspective, you get the work done and you give it your all.

Our kids are operating at this level now.

I love it!

College schedules are nothing if not complex.  Every coach at the College knows the rigors their student-athletes face academically, as well as the intricate scheduling to get your team there all at the same time.  When your squad numbers over thirty, someone’s going to have a lab, a late class, a thesis seminar.  Something to work around.  This is the nature of the beast.

12.17.13 pool dark

Coaches would prefer to have everyone in the pool together.  Some workouts this is what we get.  But, the intricate and imperfect nature of the college setting provides other growth opportunities, as well.  Our swimmers know the value of their hard work and we develop conscientious and determined athletes.

We foster self-reliance and individual responsibility.

The view from our pool deck is of young men and women taking ownership of their training and their collegiate career.

Here is one example among many:

Taylor has an Entrepreneurship class on Wednesday nights during workout.  She’s a senior, team captain, and economics major.  Taylor also owns her training and her goals.   Long before our season kicked off, she proposed a possible training plan for her Wednesday afternoons (and believe me, it kills her not to be there with her team).  Once a week she hits the lunchtime lap swim to get in her pool training.  I have her workout printed and stuck to my door with a magnet in case I’m not in the office when she comes by.  Usually I’m here to watch her approach from the direction of the library and the academic buildings.

Like clockwork.

I12.17.13 Taylor see her walking across the patio out front and coming through the lobby doors to my office for her workout.  I provide the sets and she provides the fire.  We expect drive from our athletes, but I also know that swimmers feed off their surrounding teammates to excel in tough sets.  Swimming is hard.  She does it alone, streaking past lumbering faculty and staff lap swimmers in neighboring lanes, making them look like they’re standing still.

Then Taylor goes to the weight room and busts out the afternoon’s strength, core, and functional routine.  Our swimmers buy in to the training and this buy-in most definitely includes what we do in the weight room.  Each teammate knows his or her own most diabolical lifts—the ones that you know are good for you, but you also know how hard they will be every single time.

She doesn’t blow it off.  She doesn’t bail because not as many people are watching.

Business as usual.  The business of doing the work.  The business of commitment.

Each season in our program, the returning athletes come in with a higher drive to put in the work.  More sense of what they are trying to accomplish.  Firmer ideas of how each training session will require their all and point them toward their goals.  That is one of my favorite things about college coaching; the chance to see young adults make tremendous strides across 12.17.13 Seth & Tylertheir four years in both personal responsibility and steely determination.

These are the joys of coaching.

Not making people do things, but fostering in them the tools to build, grow, and commit for themselves.

If a coach isn’t there to see it, a Pioneer still does the work.

Creation—Part 2: Chiseling Away

Maybe the final product was there all along…

Last week I dived into the sense of creation we coaches embark on as we fill the blank slate and craft our workouts.

I’m nothing if not a fan of metaphor.  So, as I thought about starting from scratch, from the blank screen or sheet of paper, I realized the exact opposite is really true, as well.

It’s all there.

Right there.  Ready to be uncovered.

You have athletes.  You have time.  You have (hopefully) pool water with a little chlorine and maybe some lane markers if you’re lucky.

In short, you have everything you need to get this swim training business underway.

Anything can happen.  Within the athlete’s (and coach’s) capabilities, the sky is the limit.

All of possibility is before you.  You just have to chisel away the extraneous so the remaining workout is perfection.  At least that day and that moment’s perfection.

Michaelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Not bad.  Are swim coaches the Michaelangelos of our time?

Possibly so.

I take away from this the idea that, through meticulous care and experience working with our medium, we can discover the best course for our team in the coming workout.  I’m not looking for divine inspiration and I don’t think there is just one right answer.

I do love the idea that it’s all right there for us to uncover.  Maybe the solid block of marble is just swimming at a moderate pace for 2 hours.  It’s up to us, the coaches, to chisel into the stone in search of more productive use of time.  More specific ways to train that will meet the athlete’s needs: technique, intensity, variety, pacing, recovery.

What was, at first, a block of marble—of available time and pool space and athletes—becomes something more beautiful.

It becomes our art.

Creation—Part I: Filling Up

10.30.13 white boardCreation drives my joy in writing workouts.

You begin with a whole team of willing athletes and a blank slate.

Tabula rasa.

There is both great possibility and more than a little pressure to fill that slate in a responsible way.  It sounds a little like the Spiderman deal, great power and great responsibility.  Coaches may not have superpowers (not most of us, at least), but we certainly impact a lot of lives on a regular basis.

The workout I write does not always need to be predictable and it doesn’t need to be perfect.  But, I am beholden to the young people I coach.  To these young adults who give so many hours of their days and their school weeks to do what we do together.  As a team.

I’m charged with making the most of their time in our training.

A coach’s slate is not truly blank in the biblical way from which the term arose.  We know what workouts we did earlier in the week, the season, the athlete’s swimming career.  We likely know what kinds of things we want to get from the next workout.  Some of us have a season plan scripting just what should unfold, prescribing kinds of work and durations for each type of work.  Some not.

The page is still blank in the beginning.  The white space on a computer screen.  A sheet of ruled notebook paper.  The white board gleaming down at you from the pool wall.

Wherever and however you lay down what is to come, creation is the act of filling up.

A workout, a space of time, moments of someone’s life.

Possibility.

Responsibility.

_______________________________

Check back next week for Part II where we look at creation’s taking away…

Simple Pleasures

Simple pleasures abound if you’re willing to open your eyes.

Here is a short list of my simple pleasures from the past week:

  1. Baby smiles in the morning.
  2. Miles of super-smooth new asphalt on eastbound I-84 out of Portland.
  3. Morning overcast burning off during a summertime championship swim meet.
  4. Seeing your swimmer race to a lifetime best.
  5. Catching up with old friends over breakfast.
  6. Afternoon family reunion full of people dying to hold our baby.
  7. Fresh flower aromas blowing on the warm evening breeze during a neighborhood walk with my family.
  8. An unexpected view of Mt. Hood and the Willamette River from a road I’ve never driven before.

Consider making a list of your simple pleasures in life.  Consider it… And then MAKE that list.  There have been a deluge of studies telling us that practicing gratitude is good for us.  The act of remembering, reflecting on, and recording your simple pleasures will clue you in to the positives in your life.

Focus on what you want more of.  Science has a few things to say about that, as well.  Not only do we reap what we sew, we also lay the groundwork with our current thoughts for the outcomes of our future.

I suggest you take a crack at your own list of simple pleasures.  What did you appreciate about the last week?  The people, the activities, the sights and scenery.  I dare you to see if you can’t find at least five people, interactions, or experiences to appreciate.

Take three minutes.

Start now.

Ready… Go.

RETREAT! (or: Is that a cookie on your forehead?)

Sometimes what happens off the clock is just as important as what happens on.

I’m not going to say it all came down to the Oreo cookie balanced over my eye socket on its slow trek to my mouth as I raced to beat our football coach.  But, it didn’t hurt.

Neither did winning the challenge…

As we twitched and scrunched our faces to perform the same task in head-to-head battle, I fed off my team’s enthusiasm while they cheered the cookie’s snail-like progress to my mouth.  I reveled in high-fives and slaps on the back when victory was in hand (or mouth).

Many fields make use of the structured amalgamation of people and ideas known as the annual retreat.  If you work someplace cool, then you get to spend a few days somewhere awesome surrounded by great people.

Somewhere like Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon, for example.

Just back this afternoon from the annual Student Life Division retreat with a little time to reflect (the baby is eating and his mom’s pretty much got one that covered).  People who spend time at retreats, conferences, or clinics know that much of the hidden gold comes from a few different places if you’re willing to dig a little.

The programming—when done with some sort of care and preparation—should engage people and provide for multi-layered conversations and frank discussion about big-picture issues in the years to come.  We did this.  It should provide some direction and probably create new questions to consider.  It did.

Just as important may prove conversations and fellowship with the people you’re spending time with when your day is not actively “scheduled.”  You may find this in a drenched game of rainy golf with dear co-workers.  It might be discovering the competitive streak in a new acquaintance as she tears dozens of tissues from a box with Matrix-like speed to dominate a round of Minute-to-Win-It at the back of a crowded pool hall.  It might be talking with a peer at the soaking pools and having him thank you afterward for sharing your story.

Even when you’re engaged in the meat of the retreat, so to speak—the daily sessions in the ballroom—some of the most enduring themes will be ones you gleaned from someone else’s comment or the ideas that pop into your head as you follow along.  That is, if you’re making the most of your time.

I picked up easily a dozen ideas from peers this week that I’ll fold into my training with the college team or my recruiting work.  From creative language to team-building activities, there is gold there if you’re willing to mine it and put it to its best uses in your field.

The big-name swim coaches are fond of saying during their talks at the ASCA World Clinic that the best swimming conversations are late at night at the nearby bars or over dinner with coaching acquaintances old and new.  They’re probably right.

That’s why being there—literally there in the same lodge, hotel, whatever—is key to the process.  It’s not always easy to get away, but it’s important.  Flipping through some Powerpoint slides and handouts on your own back at your office won’t get you these extra (and equally important?) benefits.

Not in the way that sharing, bouncing ideas, following leads, and feeling inspired by an unexpected gem can.  That takes community and active participation.

Growing through the shared knowledge of others can make you better if you listen to them.

Carving time from busy schedules for community will pay off if you let it.

Planning ——> Follow-Through

Planning to start is only as good as the number of times you actually follow through.

We all know someone who has big goals and lots of plans, but they seem always to remain just that: big plans.  Maybe it’s someone you see infrequently.  Their grand schemes may shift each time you see them, yet there is a striking lack of evidence anything is happening along the path to fulfilling those dreams, to making those schemes a reality.

This can be sad, but it’s more useful as a cautionary tale.  Better yet, use it as tinder to build that fire beneath you to enact the big plan, pursue the distant goal, and really make some progress.

I’m not down on planning.  Plan away!  It’s often the best way both to boil down your priorities and to set the course you’ll want to follow to see them through.

Then start.  This may be the hard part.  You may have to trick, cajole, or badger yourself into starting.  Once moving, you’ll find keeping the momentum easier.  The biggest goals still involve the taking of many small steps along the way.

Personal anecdote: This morning I made my Sunday May 26th To-Do list while sitting in the hot tub.  I had hash browns cooking on the stove and Heather offered to take over the second half of breakfast-making so I could soak a few minutes (It turns out, holding a baby all the time wreaks havoc on one’s back, so we’ve both been nursing some aches).  Not long later, Heather came out to the deck and poured me a mimosa, right there by the hot tub.

First of all, amazing wife!

Second, after she left, I made my final entry to my to-do list (I use Wunderlist; it syncs between iPhone, iPad, and the web version).  The final entry was: Mimosa in hot tub.

Not long later, I was able to check that item off and dig into the more “productive” items on my list.  There’s a cheap trick for you: put something on your list that’s either ridiculously easy to accomplish or something you just did.  Then, check it off and move onto the bigger items.  It’s not cheating.  It’s your list.  Anything to get the ball rolling in the productivity department.  Let’s not forget, it can feel good to check something off a list.  Reward yourself and keep going!

Bottom line, your planning is only as good as your starting.

Better to make small progress every day…

…than to wait for the day when conditions are perfect.

Commitment to being your best takes the long haul, not the lucky strike.  At the end of a career or a lifetime, our success will lie in the sum of all our small efforts made over time.

Waiting until the time is right to give your best effort means others are busy working toward their goals while you are simply waiting.  Perfect conditions are the myth that prevents many from making the most of each day.

The real truth is this:  Richness and depth of accomplishment want for cumulative, sustained effort.

Doing the Work

What we have accomplished so far is not always the best predictor of what we are capable of.

Instead, consult your dreams, skills, and passions.  Where do they align?

Take stock of your drive.  How hard are you willing to actually work.  Dreaming is a first step, but it won’t account for most of the real work.  If you set high goals, then bring a high level of determination to bear on all the steps to reaching your goals.

Talk to the coach or teacher who showed faith in you along the way.  Who can serve as inspiration and motivation?  When you are ready to move past hopes and dreams, then you are left with one of the hardest parts.

Beginning.

After a beginning, you move on to equally daunting work.

Continuing.

Do this work.

Small Investments (Happier Living)

Small investments sometimes pay big dividends, especially when the investment is sincere and focused.

Check out this three-page gem from Action for Happiness, a UK-based organization.

Find it in PDF form here:  10 Keys to Happier Living

We’re talking three pages of big print.  A small investment of time, but if you glean something from this, it could make your life (and others!) better.