I view coaching as more than just coaching the sport of swimming, coaching swimming is a vehicle for teaching life. I coach to develop character, perseverance, patience, dedication, mental toughness, and teamwork. I coach to inspire others to challenge themselves to accomplish what they don’t believe possible.
How I teach these things is something that has evolved over time. In learning from other coaches and swimmers, reading books, watching videos, listening to experts in all fields; I have found an interesting correlation between all the various sources, delivering essentially the same message, albeit many different ways, and that is mindfulness.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Unfortunately, emerging trends with accountability, narcissism, bullying, lack of empathy and compassion are negatively impacting young athletes on a larger, more magnified scale today due in large part to helicopter parenting, social media, and unchecked technology. Issues, that arise not from a lack of awareness or perhaps even good intentions, but rather, are mainly due to mindLESSness that limits our personal potential.
Coaching is the perfect venue for teaching and cultivating mindfulness. In Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson writes that by bringing mindfulness to his athletes, he was able to reach a group of selfish, ego driven stars and unite them in a common goal to become some of the best teams the NBA has ever seen. Teaching mindfulness allows an athlete to develop the mental skills needed to pay attention to what matters most.
What really turned me onto this type of training was the mental training we started to do with our older athletes a few years ago. A lot of the training was based around meditation, which, at the time I did not understand. What does focusing on your breath have to do with swimming? Believe it or not, it has everything to do with it!
We live in a fast paced world and it can sometimes feel that if you are sitting still you are falling behind. In a ‘right now society’, multi-tasking is seen as the only way to be successful. So, we develop ways to keep an athlete’s attention instead of teaching them how to pay attention. Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to function this way and as a result we disconnect. Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior really opened my eyes to what mindfulness is and how meditation allows you to reconnect.
There is a point in the story where Socrates encourages Dan to “practice everything”. What does it mean to “practice everything? It means to purposely pay attention to whatever you are doing at the moment. If you are talking to someone practice listening, practice conversing with that person. When you are washing dishes, practice washing dishes instead of wishing you were doing something else.
Carol Dweck has done a lot of research into what she refers to as mindset. In mindset, she begins with a study of school aged children. Half of the children were told they did well because they are smart and the other half were told they did well because they worked hard. Success! The inevitable twist occurs when the students are offered a more difficult follow up test. The majority of the students who were told they did well because they were smart, chose not to challenge themselves any further. While the ones praised for their effort viewed the follow up as a challenge and accepted more readily. This is mindfulness; those praised for effort were guided to paying attention to something in their control and those praised for their intellectual prowess were guided to seek attention for an ambiguous talent outside their control. One of the secrets to becoming a great swimmer is having what Dweck refers to as a growth mindset.
To quote Gandhi, I coach to “be the change I want to see in the world”. Coaching mindfulness through the sport of swimming allows me to prepare my athletes for something far greater, the world outside of the pool.
If you want to start cultivating your mindfulness I recommend watching the Peaceful Warrior. To help you start your meditation journey, put your technology to good use and try CALM. Most simply, start purposely paying attention more, one breath at a time. Thank you for the opportunity to coach you, now pay it forward and be the change you want to see in the world.