January 11th : If You Want To Be Unsteady

The image of the Zen philosopher is the monk up in the green, quiet hills, or in a beautiful temple on some rocky cliff. The Stoics are the antithesis of this idea. – The Daily Stoic

Different way of saying it, but same message : don’t run away. If you need to avoid distractions to achieve tranquility, then you have not truly mastered the ability to find peace of mind. Just like when dealing with the original George Romero zombies, you can run away, but you can’t hide, and they’ll always eventually find you. This is the unsteadiness that the title refers to.

Let us remember that stress is neither good or bad per se. In fact, your bones and muscles waste away without the stress of gravity. It’s why exercising is such an important thing for astronauts to do when they spend extended amounts of time on the ISS. Kate McGonigal gives a fantastic talk about how using what I now realize is a very Stoic process can have a very real and measurable impact on your health.

Similarly, if sport is to help you achieve your full potential, you must constantly seek the next athletic challenge. Don’t rest on your laurels. Relish the heightened expectations.

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Regen day observations :

  • I forgot to ask for my Patois Word of the Day. Yesterday was “me gud”. I will catch up.
  • Extensive med ball ballistics : some torso activation, using different arc paths, arc lengths, and speeds.
  • Reactive iso trunk exercises : something I need to experiment with on the team back home

Sports Psych/poolside observations :

  • Red Flags : Trauma and Eating disorders. Get a real pro to do this. Just because you read a blog post does not make you ready.
  • Just as with the Performance Trinity (coach, therapist, athlete) and its seamless integration, a sports psychologist should seek to be just as integrated. To defer your athlete to somebody from whom you won’t get feedback, and that you won’t keep contact with, is a waste.
  • Learn to manipulate your state of arousal through breathing techniques.
  • 99% of the time, if you need to arouse yourself UP, you don’t need arousal videos/music/imagery, although they all work. There are some underlying things to go digging for.
  • Debriefing at different time points (immediately after, a day after, a week after) can give you perspective on evolution of mental state.
  • Know your athlete’s personal “ideal zone” of arousal. One of the key lessons from the 2013 World Champs in Szeged for me was to respect every athlete’s personal way of warming up and zoning in. You need to trust that just because others aren’t getting ready the way you are does not mean they aren’t ready.
  • Tangent : don’t get too used to music as arousal modulator, because you likely won’t have music on race day. Same goes for technology : don’t depend too much on a GPS, because ultimately you’ll have to race on feel (amirite, Fat-Q?). This is definitely a strength AND weakness of paddle ergometer training.
  • Make a point of practicing “WTF” situations, such as no/short warm-up races, or even re-races after doing half the distance.
  • Point I’ve already made : understand the Variation ~ Specificity spectrum, and periodize its use. Revisited it today from the perspective of motor learning and contextual interference (boat line-ups, paddle sizes, race distances…)
  • One way of really challenging breathing skills would be to integrate its use during interval sessions! Learn to rapidly get your heart rate back under control, learn to focus your mind away from the discomfort. I can also see it being good during cool down to accelerate a return to a more parasympathetic state. I can see how this can help develop mental resiliency. Be like Mikko, then look up Sisu.
  • With all this focus on athlete’s psychology, we must also consider our own as coaches and therapists! We can easily become distractions to the people under our responsibility if our mental state negatively impacts theirs. I’ve definitely been guilty of this one (Franky’s hat pre-2k).
  • Excellent coaches recognize the Teachable Moments. Messages resonate more at specific moments. Steve Magness expands on this very well.
  • Continuing on the theme of belief in the program being THE key (yes, both bold and all-caps), UK Olympic Committee apparently looked for predictors of medal success, and the quality of the relationship between athlete and coach was one of the few elements to predict well!
  • For all of our efforts in coaching education to make sure we teach the What (physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, etc…), we do little or no effort on teaching the How of coaching. Dan suggests a good start : Public Speaking classes! This would develop the postures, talking rhythms and styles that create belief. I’d like to suggest that reading stories would be important too. Empathy would be another key component of the soft skills of coaching, and reading fiction can help develop it. I’ll admit I’m not a big fiction reader, though I make a point of reading accounts of others experiences, mostly out of curiosity. I do believe that my strategy works well too. Here’s a great place to start.
  • You should command the respect of your athlete not from how loud you yell at them, or the performances you demand, but from the honest belief you have in them. When they feel that you believe in them, and believe they can achieve greater things than they would have thought of, and that you are putting all this effort in for them above else, your athlete will follow you through hell and high water. How you go about instilling this respect and belief? This is where a good coach demonstrates his ability to be a chameleon, manipulating his approach to the individual.
  • I’ve been criticized previously, or at least questioned about, my tendency to be friendlier with the athletes under my care than most. I’ve gone to their parties and hung out at bars with them. Though I’d be first to admit that it isn’t behaviour I’d consider in most situations, I do feel it has helped strengthen my bond with the team I coach back home. I’ve always preached to them that we’re both more ridiculous, and more serious, than the other teams around. The key is being serious when it matters, and ridiculous whenever else. I feel it has helped keep the overall mood very fun without compromising athletic excellence. Similarly, I have felt that the athletes have understood that Coach Michael and Friend/Big Brother/Uncle-figure Michael are two sides of my personality, and they act appropriately with each. I can say I’ve never felt a paddler confuse the two, and act overly informal during practice, or been excessively intimidated by me during a team dinner. With the age gap between myself and the athletes growing though, I can see myself reduce these interactions more and more. I wouldn’t stop expressing the two opposing (but complimentary) sides of myself, I’d just do it differently.
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