The gift of self reflection – coaching redundancy
When I was about 16 years of age, after many mediocre performances following on from a lack of inspiration, focus and preparation, I found myself taking the long avoided jump towards sporting commitment and dedication. To keep a long story short I will abbreviate the many pre cursor experiences I had encountered by saying, I was fed up with coming nowhere in life. It just so happens when the student is ready the teacher appears.
After many years of fairly high quality, but board paddling only, coaching at the Surfers Paradise Surf Life Saving Club, we were blessed with arrival of Bill Haylock, coach of the World Ironman Champion, Dwayne Thuys, but more importantly a man who had dedicated a fair chunk of his time to gaining a greater understanding of the human psyche, physical make up and emotional state to better help his Ironman charges.
This combined with my newfound desire to rise up out of the ashes and do something created a beautiful and fateful partnership.
There are many wonderful aspects of this story but the one I want to refer to hear is the being granted the gift of self reflection. You see Bill was a very unique character in the coaching world as he was committed to making himself redundant whilst at the same time empowering us to become self governing.
Without even telling us he was teaching us to take responsibility for our own destiny. As I tell this story, I am of course leaving out many details about lessons in goal setting, commitment to the process, staying in the moment seamlessly through training and competition phases, skill development, visualization etc etc.
Let’s fast forward to 3 things in particular.
Who takes responsibility for the completion of training during training phases.
Who leads the post race discussion on what aspects of the performance needed improvement and what aspects were successfully executed.
When preparing to climb to the summit, what is the best form and way to demonstrate coach to athlete support.
We’ll start with number 1.
Every week, with the exception of the Saturday training session, Bill would set our programs for us and we would execute them without him present. We would feed back via log book entries everything that had been done. The onus was on us (notice the on-us part) to complete the session and to gain satisfaction that we had done what was required to take the step we needed in getting closer to our ultimate goal.
Every Saturday Bill would conduct the long Ironman session that allowed him to drive us even further, combine everything we had done, check and monitor our true progress (including obvious gains from our week of training) and support us in an honest review of our week.
Our post race discussion would start with Bill asking a question somewhere along the lines of “Well done mate, now tell me, what do you feel you did well?” I would answer as honestly as I could. Given plenty of time to add to my appraisal, he would then add what he saw that I didn’t.
Then he would ask me “what can you improve on, what needs work?” I would answer as honestly as I could (with a sense of “I’d rather see and point it out first, than be told”). Given plenty of time to elaborate, he would then add anything that he saw that I missed or just acknowledge me for good self reflection and validate that I was on track.
Finally, he would ask if there were any other positives I took out of it and would be sure to add some for me, including acknowledgement of the effort that I had put in.
Remember this was our process from 16-18 years of age, a time when my own mind and ability to be honest and self reflect was a developing thing. He was coaching me and empowering me at the same time.
We had some wonderful, robust, open conversations about training and racing. Feedback was always welcome both ways, in short we had a relationship not an arrangement.
This did the world of good for me and Ultimately lead me to point 3.
Through a combination of fate, family commitments and the planned continuance of my lesson in self empowerment and his lesson in coaches redundancy, It was decided that whilst I would attend the climbing of the Summit, The Australian Championships, Scarboro Beach, WA, 1997, Bill would be with his family in Brisbane.
There were no mobile phones then and no emailing, so contact with Bill was through a pay phone to a home, land line and therefore was virtually non existent during the busy program of Australian Championships.
It didn’t matter however as he had already empowered me to self reflect and take responsibility for the outcome. By spending way less time with me but giving his expertise, many hours or planning, heart and personal commitment to me he had left me more prepared than anyone to climb that summit successfully. In this case, less was undoubtedly more!
I went on to win the Australian Ironman Championship, the second youngest person to ever do so (2 years after never having won a race in my life) and set up a 10 year winning streak that would always flourish on the stable foundations of powerful honesty and self reflection.
It was also this honesty and self reflection that eventually filtered into the rest of my life and had me answering some of the tougher more personal life questions and getting honest about some of the lies I was telling myself and others there.
Whilst Bill had made himself redundant he had made me relevant and whilst I could fly off into my future pursuits, I would often return to Bill, when the situation got so tight that I could not see the way out by myself. That revealed to me, that, it is the spirit of redundancy that is most important, as when we are on track ourselves, we are never truly redundant.
Bill went on with his self created coaching redundancy leaving him more time to create a business that operated on the same world’s best practice fundamentals. In short by empowering me to do it without him the majority of the time, he was able to invest his time into other pursuits that lead to even bigger picture success.
I personally Bill him a deep debt of gratitude for enabling my Ironman journey but also thank him deeply for propelling me into other and bigger life lessons.
With thanks to a powerfully redundant Coach,