What good coaches do is listen, patiently for those “simple, quiet opportunities”, as Wayne Muller called them, to shift the pattern, to help the people they serve explore and create the possibility of something better, something more in line with what they know can be.
A few years ago I had two high school hockey players come to me asking for a little help. They had both broken an arm during hockey games in the same week. Now they were out for 4-6 weeks while they healed and they wanted to know if I would help them stay fit and strong so that they were ready to go when their casts came off.
The first thing we had to know was, what their limitations were. Some of those came from the doctors and were obvious, like no weight bearing exercise with the injured arm. But, some were things you might not think of, like no vibration in the injured arm and making sure that what we did wouldn’t put them at risk of a fall that could cause even more harm. So, no skating for a while and no dry land stick work either because of the vibration.
Once we knew the limitations, what we couldn’t do, we could get to work on the things we could do: leg strength, mobility, coordination, conditioning, recovery and mental skills. A month later both girls returned to the ice, fitter than before, well rested and with renewed enthusiasm.
The change of scenery helped them recharge as well as heal and the reason we were able to change the scenery was because we recognized the limitations, accepted them and worked with them. We didn’t deny them, fight them or get stuck in them. We honored them, because they gave us an important part of the framework for healing. We created the rest of the framework based on what we could do. Bowing to the limitations was the starting point for moving forward.
One of my coaches, Dr. Melissa Peet, introduced me to the idea of the holiness of limitations. If you’re not familiar with her work you should check it out. It’s powerful and it will help you think differently and better about creating change for yourself, the people you care about and serve, and your community.
In a nutshell its this: when you come up against your own limits and you choose to honor them, to bow to them, you accept your vulnerability and that vulnerability is what allows for the movement, for finding a way forward.
A final quick story about the hockey girls. The first day they showed up for training they came from class, so their long hair was down and hanging loose around their shoulders. They reached into their equipment bags with their left hand to grab a pony tail holder, then with their right hands tried to gather their hair and slip on the holder. You can probably guessed what happened. With a cast that that runs through your palm and immobilizes your thumb you can only grip with one hand. They looked at each other for a second, started to laugh and then helped each other put in their pony tails.
Bow to your limitations, accept your vulnerability, put in each other’s pony tails and get on with it. The holiness of limitations.
“Once you’ve committed yourself to something, pace yourself to the finish line. ~ Meb Keflezighi
In April, astronaut Mark Kelly gave an interview about what his time in space had taught him about living through quarantine and stay at home orders. After he talked about the importance of a routine and exercise he said, “The other thing is pace yourself. For me, I think one of the most important things for me getting to the end of that mission in space was, with as much enthusiasm and energy as I had in the beginning, was the appropriate pace. ”
Pace, according to the Cambridge dictionaryis the speed at which someone or something moves, or with which something happens or changes.
Matching that speed to the amount of energy we have, and the amount of energy required to accomplish our task or reach our goal requires wisdom, focus and listening to our body. We need a sense of how much energy we are using, how fast we are replenishing it, and how much progress we’re making.
It’s a challenge, especially in times like these when you don’t know exactly where the finish line is. Still, pace gets us through the race. In some races finishing is winning. It is better to cross the line with a little extra in the tank, sprint at the end or pull others across with us. Wisdom, focus and listening help us cross the line and that’s where we want to be.
“But are not exercise and the open air within the reach of us all?” ~ Walt Whitman
The grass on the soccer field is much longer than normal. There are no lines, no cones or flags, just open green space. The players, two of the college athletes I train, check in with the appropriate ten feet of space between us.
We don’t know what the future holds for the fall but right now we are going to run, outside, on the grass. No artificial turf or rubberized track. Its good to be back on the grass.
Ten feet becomes ten meters as begin. After a warm up the shoes come off and we work barefoot for a while. Reconnecting with our feet, the grass, the ground. Then, shoes back on, we run. It’s challenging. It feels good.
Whether its the college players or my retired clients, we have all gotten used to spending time in the gym. Sometimes I think the main reason we go is because we built them and now we feel we need to use them , as if they were the most natural place for us to move and exercise.
Except they aren’t.
What more natural place for a soccer player than on the field? What more natural environment in which to move than your own back yard or neighborhood or home? All the things we need to do to become a better athlete we can do on the field. The things we need to do to become healthier we can do in our backyard or neighborhood. The equipment and machinery have become distractions and separated us from our natural environments.
Perhaps, when this crisis has run it’s course and the gyms are open again, we’ll go back. Maybe we’ll use them a little more sparingly and see them as a resource for our health and fitness, not the source. But, for now we are reconnecting, feet on the ground, toes in the grass and it feels good.
” I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of it’s own unfolding. ~ John O’ Donohue
Frank asked me when we would be done, when our workouts would switch to maintenance because we had reached the realistic limits of what his body could do. When do we get to point where this is as good as it gets and we try to hold that as long as we can? Frank was 76 so it seemed like a fair question. Except here’s the thing: over the past two years every time he had gotten a little stronger or a little more mobile then something new became possible.
Five push ups became ten. Good mornings became kettle bell swings, a slow plod down the line became lighter and lighter until it became flowing motion.
Those things are obvious and easy to count. But life is about movement and expression. So, the flowing motion had opened up the possibility of going dancing again. New found strength and balance made travel more enjoyable and adventurous. Each step forward revealed surprises and new possibilities for living and moving and expressing himself … in the world, not just the gym. As long as he was enjoying the unfolding then we would keep moving forward and exploring the next steps.
The wonderful thing about surprise is how it captures the imagination. If this is possible then what else? What else that I can’t see yet, might be just around the bend? Energy flows and life continues to unfold. When was the last time you were surprised by your own unfolding?
“There is in all things visible … a hidden wholeness.” ~ Thomas Merton
You don’t swing a golf club or cast a fly rod with your arms. You don’t kick a soccer ball with your feet or run with your legs. Your whole body moves and the way your body moves is the way the club or rod moves. It determines the path of the ball when you strike it, and the accuracy of your shot or cast. When we try to work with just the pieces and parts the movement becomes fragmented and so do we. We lose our feel for the thing.
Ben Hogan’s advice for golfers who wanted to improve their game was simple, “You can learn good golf if you use the sense of feel,” Hogan said. “The chances are that you now don’t recognize the sensation of a swing.”
Learning to recognize the sensation and develop that sense of feel connects us with an embodied knowledge and learning that we rarely access. Practice your skills for sure. But skills without feel can only take you so far. Develop your feel and you may surprise yourself with what you can create and accomplish.
“At the heart of things is a secret law of balance and when our approach is respectful, sensitive and worthy, gifts of healing, challenge and creativity open to us. A gracious approach is the key that unlocks the treasure of the encounter … When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” ~ John O’ Donoghue
How are you approaching your workout or hike or bike ride? It is with curiosity or gratitude or playfulness? Is it a time to explore and enjoy the satisfaction of rising to a challenge and continuing to develop yourself and your potential? Maybe it’s the opportunity to connect with yourself, to bring body, mind and spirit together?
Or is it an obligation? Is it a form of penance for the extra glass of wine, the beer, the pizza and the ice cream? Are you there to “whip yourself into shape”?
The check in and warm up that starts a coaching or training session is a ritual that allows us to transition both physically and mentally from whatever we have been focused on to this moment, to prepare our body and get our approach right so that the gifts of this effort and time can flow more readily toward us.
Sometimes its a challenge session and the intention is to explore the edge, to push ourselves. Sometimes its a technical session to develop a skill or explore a new movement. Sometimes its about recovery, listening to our body, staying within certain limits and noticing how it’s feeling. Whatever it is we want to focus and refine our approach.
How are you approaching your encounter, whether it’s a yoga class or bike ride? When was the last time it felt amazing? How were you approaching it? Experiment with your approach. The potential of what we’re after is already there, embodied within us. “A gracious approach unlocks the treasure of the encounter.”
“Nothing happens until something moves. When something vibrates, the electrons of the entire universe resonate with it. Everything is connected.” ~ Albert Einstein
— Albert Einstein
Before every training session I would ask my athletes to make an entry in their training journal. One of the questions was about mental energy. On a scale of 1 – 10 where’s your mental energy level today? Then we would come back to the same questions after the workout was over. At the end of the session where was their mental energy on a scale of 1 – 10?
One day, at the end of a workout, a player came up and told me she noticed that her mental energy was almost always higher at the end of a workout than it was at the before she started. “Am I crazy,” she asked, ” Is that normal, shouldn’t I be more tired”
When we move things change both inside us and around us. Movement engages, energizes, activates and connects. So, no she wasn’t crazy. What she was feeling was real.
Things change when we move. Want something to change? Well …
“Improvisation is the courage to move from one note to the next.” ~ Bobby McFerrin
I’ve had to improvise a lot lately. Moving stretch classes from the rec center to online. Going from seeing clients in the gym to coaching them in their basement on FaceTime. Some of it has worked. Some of it, not so much. But things keep moving and we all keep learning.
The first rule of improvisation is say ” Yes and”. Take what’s being offered and add to it. Saying yes keeps the energy flowing and moves things forward, allows us to explore and create. Refusing the offer just stops things cold.
What’s being offered isn’t always what we expect or want. If we’re going to be creative though, if we are going to move FORWARD, the first rule still applies, “yes and.”
One of the other rules of improvisation is don’t look for perfection. The musician is just trying to find the next note, the actor the next line, the dancer the next step. Sometimes it works, other times … well…?
So, we move our classes from one platform to another and learn. A client doesn’t have weights but they have a backpack and a gallon jug. We can’t do a therapeutic stretch on the table so we try a guided session over the internet. It works … a little … we learn and look for something a little better.
Insisting that things be different than they are or that we go back to what was just shuts it all down. Find the next note, summon up a little courage and give it a try. It’s time to improvise!