Thrown in the Deep End: A Blog about Coaching. I was having a conversation with my colleague Dr. Bhrett McCabe who is a clinical sport psychologist. I love talking with Bhrett about psychology, as psych was my minor in University. Bhrett talks about all the stuff they never teach in school. This particular conversation set off a spark, which led to a twitter post, which led to a twitterfest. I love twitter but thought I would share this on Facebook and my blog as this medium allows us to use more than 140 characters at a time! Bhrett was talking about coaching and a concept called Avoidance of Discomfort. The idea in a nutshell is that we humans try to avoid discomfort at all cost; it is built into our DNA. The best athletes in the world however thrive in an environment that others would consider extremely uncomfortable like putting to win the Masters! I seek out opportunities to speak in front of large groups of people for a living, which apparently ranks as a person’s #1 fear. In fact I will purposely bomb at comedy club open mic to experience the most uncomfortable moment to later confirm that “It will never be worse than that!” Golf pros will have chipping contests with each other for ridiculous amounts of money just to train under pressure.
So why is it as coaches that we constantly try to create learning environments that are safe and stress free? When I look back at my success in life I get a flash of all the adversity I had to face to get to where I am today. But when I think of next year and the river that lies ahead I seek out calm waters. So I asked Bhrett the question, “If it is adversity that gives us success, why wouldn’t we paddle our life raft into the rapids on purpose?” Wouldn’t these rapids give us new experiences and new life skills to help us develop and create success?” Bhrett said that it is important to learn new skills in a safe environment before testing them in the real world. The athlete needs to struggle but struggle in a safe environment. The problem is that most coaches will jump in and try to fix the problem when they see the athlete struggling instead of allowing the athlete to explore options and problem solve. This only works in a safe environment though.
This conversation reminded me of a student who was thrown in the deep end of a pool at a young age and was unable to swim. Here we have a task that is too extreme for the skill set of the athlete. If we sat on the side of the pool and waited for the player to struggle and problem solve we would have one less student! Here is where the coach needs to step in and give the student the skills needed to swim to safety. That student is now deathly afraid of water, in the same way some golfers are afraid of tournaments because they were thrown in the deep end without the skill set needed to handle the pressure.
So what I have learnt from this conversation is that we should seek out rapids that test the skills we have practiced in the pool. As our skills and experience improve we can go after bigger rapids. Looks like I’ll be throwing myself in the deep end again in the New Year! Luckily I know how to swim!