Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What makes a good coach?

I was asked the question and so I went on to the internet and googled it.  Well as you can guess I received 22,000,000 hits.  Now being a person with self professed ADD I quickly reviewed the first 10 hits and came to the conclusion that they all said similar things -

Dedicated, knows thier sport, continues to educate themselves, ability to encourage athletes to strive to be better, encourages fair play, the list went on but you get the gist of it. 

So then I thought about my coaches - I have 2 - my athletic/cycling coach and my life coach. Both amazing women in their own right.

I hired Barb because of her street creed - she came highly recommended to me.  I did a lot of research when I was looking for a cycling coach and her name came up every time.  What I liked about her was she had a great resume and that encouraged me to approach her. I was intimidated by it and was honest that I might be too novice for  her but after sharing emails with her and going out and meeting her for a "test" ride I immediately felt better.  Barb is not only good at what she does but she cares - she assesses athletes honestly.  That does not mean she is critical just honest about where you are - she does not baby or show pity - as she said to me the other day being an athlete is hard work - being a competitive athlete is not easy you have to work at it but if you persevere you will see improvements.  I also love that while she knows that most of us will not win or even have top 10 finishes she continues to push us and talk to us in a manner that makes you believe that if you work just a bit harder you may actually get that top 10.  I remember the first year I was working with her I was getting ready for UBC Tri - it was my first time racing an Olympic and my first tri after the disastorous Iron Mountain the previous year.  I was confident I would finish, I was confident that I would be in the middle of the pack and I was going in with it is a training race and I said so.  She looked at me and said what is a training race - there is no such thing.  My answer was - this is not my A race this year it is just a step along the way.  Her answer why would you not give it your absolute all - it is a race - see what you can do - what you can really do.  I went in to that race with those words in my head and I actually finished 3rd in my age group.  To say I was shocked was an understatement but what I learned that day was give it your all every single time - don't short change yourself amazing things can happen.  Barb's qualities - believes in her athletes, she inspires, she has experience and I trust her implicately.

Jean - my life coach - is different - Jean is one of my half marathon clinic graduates.  She is a wonderful lady that exudes positive energy.  She is ALWAYS happy, or at least when I see or talk to her and she is absolutely determined - she was not the fastest but she showed the most heart and perservernce out of all the people in her clinic.  Can not is not in her vocabulary and she does it on her terms.   I chose her for a life coach because of her determination and positive attitude - lets face it, for those that know me I am pretty hard on myself outside of sports and will find ways to avoid doing things.  I know Jean will hold me to my word and keep me accountable.  Plus when I start to whine and make excuses about why something has not been done - she does not let me off the hook - it is rather irritating but something I definately need.  I would not call her bossy but she does not let me get away with anything that is for sure. She also is teaching me to like myself - which is not always easy but important for me to succeed in other aspects of my life not just sport.

Me- as a coach I know what I think I am like and I am sure there are others who will paint different pictures.   I like to be organized - I want to walk in with a plan and do the workout accordingly. I think it is important to be like this - it shows that I value their time and respect their goals.  I try to get to know as many of my runners as I can, which can be hard as I have anywhere from 40 to 120 in any given clinic.  I like to be aware of what is going on and I care very much for all of their well-being which for some can be seen as being bossy - especially when I tell them they can't run because they are injured or tell them no Ipods because it is a safety issue.  I know they think I am a bitch at times and that hurts but everything I do is for their safety and overall health.

I think that as a coach you need to be able to read your athletes and understand them - each athlete responds differently so each one needs to be approached differently. 

My first year coaching I fractured my heel in a race and was in an Aircast for 3 months.  This meant that when I coached, depending on the workout I was either on a bike or the side of the road/track.  One night during a hill workout session one of the girls was chatting about the wonderful dinner she had the night before - for 5 hills this went on till I had had enough.  She had told me she wanted to do a certain time and she never seemed to improve - hmmm I wonder why?!?  On her sixth hill I was midway down and started jogging beside her in my aircast and running just a little in front of her - I told her that she better not let me beat her up the hill in an aircast because if I did she was doing two more hills.  She beat me but just barely and after that she worked on her hills.  Would I do that to everyone - no - but I knew that I could push her that way.  Just a few weeks ago I had another young lady and we were crossing over the Lions Gate bridge we were maybe 100 metres from the top and she stopped to walk - I gently put my hand on her back and said one more minute are you able to do one more minute?  She was like I think so - after a minute I said to her we are at the top - you can stop now and she did not want to - she was so happy that she had not stopped and finished it.  For her it was a gentle touch and question. 

And then their are others that I have to hold back - they are their own worst enemy. Overtraining animals who struggle because they are exhausted and overtired so they see no improvement.  They are just as hard to coach because they don't want to take rest days - they see it as a sign of weakness.  It is a fine line between encouraging them and monitoring them. 

I think a good coach is passionate and cares - they get to know their athletes on a personal level so they can understand and read them.  They encourage and motivate.  They hold athletes accountable and push them to improve to reach their goals.  They listen, watch and learn because you can't know everything. Finally they also celebrate with them and acknowledge their work and acheivements because let's face it we all want someone to tell us we did good!

Peace out Shaun

Sunday, March 28, 2010

sigh

Well I am not going to lie - I have the doldrums.  The olympics and the paralympics are gone and I am sad.  For those that were not here it was truly one of the most amazing experiences.  I loved and cherished every moment - literally every moment and am so grateful that I live in Vancouver/lower mainland. 

The energy was amazing and it was so incredible for people here to not only embrace both events but to embrace being Canadian.  I am a fanatic about being Canadian for those that looked at my photos from Ireland, Joe and myself are both wearing Canada memorabilia not because we thought people would be nicer to us - I mean we were in Ireland -  they are nice to everyone, but because we were proud to be Canadians.  I remember my stepdaughter saying to me - you can't wear that hat - people will know you are a tourist and mug you.  We both looked at her and said we understood the risk but were willing to take it - trust me - my husband who grew up in Belfast was constantly lecturing us on safey but not once did he say take off your Canada gear. 

It is kind of sad now that we have put our gear away but have we really?  I notice there are still lots of flags out and people are still walking around with their mittens and jackets - I think that the Vancouver Olympics/Paralmpics really did cross barriers and unite us as a nation - or at least I hope so. 

All I know is that for myself it felt great to wear my leaf on my sleeve, literally, and I promise to do more of it.  Thank you to all of our athletes for the fabulous performances and the great memories, but mostly thank you Vancouver and the lower mainland for embracing the spirit of the Olympics/Paralympics -   you did us proud.

Proud to be Canadian,eh

Shaun