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Digging for it

January 27, 2013

“I believe athletics expose character. It reveals who you are. The person you are off the field comes onto the field. Then too, some of the lessons you learn on the field you take off of it and into your life. These tests and how you weather them are determined by your character, and this is ultimately where athletics have value.”

Anson Dorrance

This quote resonated deeply with me. It’s in a book I am reading about the University of North Carolina world-renowned soccer coach Anson Dorrance. His coaching philosophy… his view on life…. and of what makes champions… champions. Read it.

As I was reading this book I was brought back to my days as a swimmer. Somehow throughout my swimming career I was fortunate to fall into coaches who coached more than swimmers. They coached us in life. I once heard a football coach answer to someone whether he thought he was an effective coach. To that he answered “Ask me in 20 years”.

My swim coaches… whether they were summer swim coaches, club swim coaches, or my high school and college coach…. were absolutely incredible. I did more than excel in the pool and come out of it with not one shoulder injury. I came out of it a better, wiser, deeper, richer human being. Much of what I do and say today is the direct result of a conversation had on the bleachers with one of my coaches.

My father is the same way. In fact if I had to go through the list of coaches I have had in my entire life…. my father remains at the top of the list. He always taught me that a good coach and a good mentor wasn’t necessarily a great athlete. I don’t know if my father knows how to swim. I do know that he taught me how to compete in the water. How to be tactical. How to swim with my heart and not with my head.

He taught me how to be a competitor and how to accept defeat with grace. He taught me how to cheer my fellow competitors on and at the same time race them neck and neck. He taught me how to win and how to lose. He taught me what that meant in the game of life… where the real events happen. That has in turn melted over into my own coaching style and philosophy.

The hard part of coaching myself this season is that I don’t have those nuggets of wisdom coming my way every so often. That’s one of the reasons I like working with a coach to begin with. Not necessarily for the swim / bike / run…. but for the wisdom, insights and experience that they share.

The great part of coaching myself is that I am forced to dig for it. I am forced to take 100% ownership for my fitness, my mental game…. all of it. So I look for it and I reach for it everywhere I can find it. It’s forcing me to read books…. real books. I can read about triathlon training all day long. I want to know what makes people strong, what makes people tick and what makes people rise above. I have read some great war books (Unbroken, of course). I have read Nomran Schwarzkopf’s  s autobiography (incredible), and I am reading a lot from some of the greatest coaches in the world… of all sports. There are many many coaching legends who offer amazing insight. Look to the greatest athletes of our time and then…. look to those who led them there. Look for the ones who have had the same coach for years. Who have that special bond. There is something special within that relationship. I want to know about it.

The common theme in all of these books, in what all of these coaches write, and in what my own coaches taught me, including what my father taught me…. is that you must be gracious in winning and in defeat. You must own responsibility for yourself, your fitness (mental and physical) and you must commit to what you are doing if you want to be successful. They taught me that the true definition of success is not who crosses the tape first…. but how you live your life, and what you do with the platform on which you stand. It’s a lesson I have taken very seriously and one I hope I have been able to pass on to those under my guidance.

Even just two weeks ago that lesson was confirmed. You can have all the titles in the world….. seven to be exact….. and by not living honestly they mean nothing. Better to be honest and last or an asshole and be first. Because at the end of the day your medals and your wins aren’t going to be etched on your gravestone.

Who you are … will be.

Every day I try to live up to that. I am far… far… far from perfect. But I can always promise this…. I know the difference being life and competition. I can keep them separate and together. I will always treat my competitors well both on and off the field. If you have ever competed against me… you know that. It’s how I grew up and what I was taught.

Had I dared to mistreat a competitor in the pool…. my father would have had my head. To this day…. he still would.

I do believe that athletics expose character. I have seen it in both good and not so good ways. I do believe how you act on the field is a direct reflection of how you act off the field. This one of the eight hundred reasons I struggled with Mr. Armstrong’s confession. I also believe that you learn things in sport that you take off the field. How to deal with being out there and totally exposed. How you deal with success, defeat. How you handle being in the hunt for first place and then losing it. Or fighting like hell and attaining it. I think it’s a two-way street that can’t be differentiated.

Those bleacher talks with all of my coaches would rarely be about swimming. They would be about … how life should be lived. I was fortunate beyond fortunate to somehow land in the lanes of some of the wisest coaches on earth. Again, including my father.

I also agree that athletics have great value for all of the above reasons. Sure I may have excelled in my sport. That wasn’t luck as much as it has been hard work and commitment (you will never hear me say the word sacrifice. A sacrifice is leaving your family to fight for our country. Sacrifice is donating a kidney). Sure luck has a bit to do with it. But one is nothing without the other.

So go out… play a sport…. encourage your kids to do the same. Because what they will learn on that field… can shape who they become. If they are lucky enough to have the right people to mentor them. But always… always … always remind them that what happens in the game or in practice…. will expose who they really are. Be unafraid to be awesome.

Like I said earlier… the bad part of being  my coach is losing that insight that I crave from a coach. The great thing about being my own coach I am forced to look for it myself. If I think about it…. I have the tools that I need. I have my colleagues at Qt2 Systems (specifically Wheeler, Molly and Tara) who are guiding me with training. The insight part I often find from my trainer & friend Steve, who is just awesome, and I am finding what I need from some unlikely places and people, and books.  Some people who don’t even know the impact they have upon me. This whole experience is leading me to learn about people, what drives them from the core and what lights them up. I love it.

When I am the one forced to do the digging and do the looking….. I have learned that I can find some pretty amazing sources to help me on this journey. And that right there….. is exactly what I have needed all along.

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3 comments

  1. You are truly an inspiration! Keep these uplifting blogs coming!


  2. I thought you started up with a new QT2 coach in the fall, what happened? Why did you decide self-coach?


    • I did! I needed to pay for my dental reconstruction, and some of my sons therapies that aren’t covered by insurance. I thought it was a great time to give myself a try!



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