Why coach?

There are two elements to that question – one, my nickname is Coach McFi because at an old workplace there was another Fiona and she was already there when I arrived, so having a surname that started with Mc, I became McFi and when I am coaching, some people have extended that to be CoachMcFi. The second element is why do I coach? For that readers, strap yourself in because I’m not sure I’ll be able to give all the reasons!

Let me give you some examples of why not to coach – which is what is often used as a topic opener for people talking to me about this. Marion Jones, Mike Tyson, Diego Maradona, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and others have all individually brought sport into disrepute. The AFL and NRL teams with their salary cap breaches, the current issues with the Australian Swim team’s performance in London after poor athlete behaviour disrupting the camp, the four doubles badminton teams that were thrown out of the London Olympics for match fixing – something that was described as cheating on the holiest of sports events. The ongoing investigation into drugs in sport in Australia which has tarred us all with a dark brush is something I have to admit makes me very cautious as to my next steps in a field of work that I love so much – I should graduate next year from a degree in coaching and exercise science but do I really want to make the jump out of my current career into one that is much less stable and will at best halve my pay?

If people are going to be so underhanded, if the pay is so crap unless you’re at the top, if the hours are so long and for many it’s done on top of working at their primary income source, if you face abuse (despite not being tolerated in sport) from parents/partners/athletes/spectators, why be involved at all? Let me share some stories that are my why’s….

Last week a colleague of mine at work posted a basketball video on facebook that made me cry. Happy tears, not sad ones because the video was so touching (if you have a couple of minutes just now, please watch it before reading on). Moments like the one in the video where all barriers life presents us with are completely torn down often give me the strength to get through the tough times that arise.

Bilbys Civic Squad

Three ladies I recently worked with on their swim technique – I got back as much from them as I hope they did from me and I’m really looking forward to now taking their squad long term again.

Two weeks ago, I was filling in for another coach with triathletes doing swim training (my strength as a coach). In one of the lanes was the three ladies pictured below – mother & daughter on the outside who had just started with our club and one of our graduates from this season’s novice program. They can all swim, they all race and they can all get through a 90min training session with us. All of them though have the hunger for self improvement (and let’s face it, if you can spend less time swimming in the lake in Canberra, all the better!). Without wanting this to sound like an advert, I know I can help them. I don’t know how I know the best way to communicate to them refinements in their technique, it just happens but as you can see from their cheesy grins (lucky you can’t see mine behind my iPhone) they were willing to also help me by posing for this post.

I have met many people along the way through our novice program and I feel very privileged to have been an element of their successes in life. My last house mate and my current one I met through swim clinics for triathlon and like many of our friends, they are like family to me now. There are also people who inspire me – a few years back, Phil started novice 6 months after giving up smoking which he’d done I think for over 20 years. As if that achievement wasn’t enough, he went from not being able to swim five meters in the pool (roughly from the wall to the flags – I honestly remember at one point thinking I was going to have to dive in clothes and all to assist him) to competing in sprint triathlons which have a 750m swim.During the program he was posting some really funny blogs (you may need to click on the blog tab) on our old club website which I’m not sure if he knew but it’s helped not only novices in his program who were facing the same challenges, but also ones since who went looking for information to see if they were doing something wrong and that’s why they were finding the program so challenging. At the end of his program, Phil posted an article titled “SAD”:

…I will post later about future goals for me – this is just a start I hope – but at this time sincere and heartfelt thanks to all the coaches who have taken us this far – Garry especially! The others are too numerous to name, you are all great – but a personal thank you to Fiona for teaching me to swim – i owe you a beer when you return from sunny Europe   Cheers to you all, Phil.      

It still swells my heart and gets me all full of pride. Phil lost an extreme amount of weight over the program and the following years, went on to longer distance triathlons (pretty sure he even did a half ironman) until his progression in his professional life took off with the new found zest he had for his whole life. When Phil gave up smoking and started this journey, I doubt he had any idea of where it would take him and the impact he’d have on other people.

Another story is of a female triathlete (I won’t mention her name because I am conscious she doesn’t like limelight despite how incredible she is), who came into our program barely able to walk because of her size. She told me she took on the challenge of the program to shut her mother up – her mother was badgering her to make friends. This lady was in her 40’s, single, introverted but happy – or, as she told me later, so she thought. The program was based around helping people from all walks of life to complete a triathlon. In that year, we had people who were ex-pro athletes from other sports and the age range was from late teens through to early 60’s. Possibly the most diverse group we’d had but that is one of the many reasons I love coaching it.

By the end of the program, this lady had not only completed her first of then to be many triathlons, she’d made friends outside her work. She was getting out more and her mother was relieved to find she was having to call her on the mobile rather than house phone to get in touch. I am so not claiming it was all me, but I’m happy to know I helped facilitate a change that led to this lady leading what she described as a self imposed oppressed life into one where she felt like she now could try out many more things. She now races at events up and down the coast – she always thought she was too fat to go to the beach but when she’s racing she’s part of something and feels she has a place there and has even now tried snorkelling, surfing and sailing. 

This is just a few examples of how becoming physically active has positively altered the lives of others. Not everyone is nice but I figure they’re just different to me and they will find a coach somewhere that is perfect for them. Just like the volunteer work I’ve done with Cure Cancer Australia, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or serving in the Royal Australian Navy and soon I will serve the community in the Rural Fire Service, coaching for me is about serving others to help them in their life journey and in return I gain self satisfaction and learn so much from them….this last part, is a whole other post!

Mind maps – sometimes making hard choices can be so simple

The ripple effect of what we do is sometimes only clear with hindsight which may not always have 20-20 vision. Many bad choices can be prevented by thinking through our actions – ok Coach…that’s kinda obvious. Why then is it that there are so many things people, even the smartest or most regarded of us, do that end with the person saying “I just didn’t think…” or “I didn’t realise…”.


Image Source Page: http://www.onlineschools.org/education-debate/the-hindsight-knew-it-all-along-bias-in-education/

Tim Mathieson suffered from foot in mouth the other day in something that a number of people found embarrassing, amusing, shocking but worst…offensive. As an ambassador for men’s health, his heart may have been in the right place – getting men to laugh and be comfortable with getting prostate checks. His execution and his position as the partner of the Prime Minister of Australia resulted in the wrong kind of attention to an important issue.  In writing his speech, I wonder if he’d planned to use that quip or whether it was a spur of the moment remark?

foot in mouth

Image Source Page: http://miscellany101.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/foot-in-mouth-award/

Recently I read in my Professor’s blog how he and his son had picked up a quote from Lance Armstrong while watching the Road to Paris during a break from slalom canoeing. They used this as a mantra for their training – now, nearly 12 years on, they know the source of the mantra they’d used was a liar and a cheat. There are so many obvious victims of the lies and bullying perpetrated by Lance Armstrong, but in all that time and in the aftermath now, do you think he has stopped to think of how far and wide his lies have reached? How so many people not even related to his sport believed in him and had hope because of what he achieved. As a cancer survivor I have no doubt there are people out there fighting for their life who believed in Lance and now whose mental strength has been shaken which will make real impacts on their recovery.

 creating a ripple

Image Source Page: http://lightworkers.org/node/146727

Getting back to my original thought though, mind mapping can be a lot of fun and can help with making tough decisions. When you know why you are making a choice, it becomes so much easier to make that decision to study or the decision to travel or even just the decision to take out the garbage! I haven’t done a mind map in a while but I found myself drawing one yesterday at work while my cohorts and I were doing some initial brainstorming on a task we’ve been set. As I doodled our thoughts, it reminded me of a brilliant mindmapper I met at the Day of Inspiration in Sydney last year. Guy Downes mapped the presentations given by each of the keynote speakers for which I was not only fascinated by all day long, I was jealous too – I wish I could draw! One of the boards from the day is pictured below.

Guys map

These are much more elaborate than my maps. Mine are often just circles with interconnecting lines, but they have helped me make some key decisions and stick to them. Once you start doing them, they then help you think outside the square and then make more considered and/or informed decisions and sometimes at a lightening pace.

Last weekend I was officiating a triathlon and came across an athlete who had fallen very badly on the bike course. I guarantee I wasn’t doing a mind map to decide what steps to take, but the thought process was the same. All of the thoughts that came into my head slipped quickly into an ordered pattern, I was able to sort important thoughts from useless info and I feel that I responded well in that situation.

Our choices are something we have control over. Mind mapping is one of many ways to make a choice that I use, pro’s and con’s are another. Choosing to practice mind mapping might lead to making better choices – will you choose to give it a go?

Do an internet search on mind map and you’ll find plenty of free software to do digital maps (I do most of mine by hand). There are also plenty of sites that will walk you through where to start and how to map your thoughts.