Category Archives: life

Mindfulness & the Christian Coach


You simply cannot live in todays world and not have heard of mindfulness. It has become a bit of a buzzword these days.

an article in the Sunday New York Times pointed out

…Mindfulness has come to comprise a dizzying range of meanings for popular audiences. It’s an intimately attentive frame of mind. It’s a relaxing, alert frame of mind. It’s equanimity. It’s a form of rigorous Buddhist meditation called vipassana (insight), or a form of another kind of Buddhist meditation called asanapanasmrti (awareness of the Heart). It’s M.B.S.R. therapy (mindfulness based stress reduction). It’s just kind of stopping to smell the roses. And last, it’s a lifestyle trend, a social movement and – as a Time magazine cover had it last year – a revolution.

Like, I’m Sure, many Christians, I struggle with the concept of mindfulness, largely due to its Buddhist roots, and yet at first glance, there is something attractive about it. In the midst of an overworked, consumerist culture or a culture of relentless competition and pushing for the next level performance, couldn’t mindfulness off us something true and good?

There are a couple of concerns 

#1 – “as a Christian, mindfulness goes against my theology, as its a Buddhist practice”

It is true that mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, However the type of practice that is employed by athletes and coaches is totally westernised, it is devoid of any spiritual or religious connotations and simply focuses on the act of awareness. at its very core It is stress reduction. 

Stress damages our emotional, mental and physical bodies, costs billions every year, it has a negative impact on our children as well as the athletes ability to operate at their very best. Mindfulness is an incredibly inexpensive, powerful and easy tool in dealing with challenging and often overwhelming issues.

#2 – “As a Christian, mindfulness is about ‘clearing the mind.’ This opens a gateway to demonic/evil forces, thoughts or actions”

Mindfulness is not about clearing, In fact, its pretty much the opposite of that.

Mindfulness, on every level regardless of which exercise you practice (mindful breathing, walking, hearing etc), is about bringing awareness to thought. What is ‘cleared’ is the overwhelming majority of thoughts – it teaching you how to quiet the incessant dialogue that ravages our brain to bring forth quiet, clarity and clam.

It is my belief that mindfulness offers Christian a way to deepen their faith in, and to develop a deeper connection to, God. By learning to ‘tune out’ distractions and focusing on the moment, listening to that still small voice offers a way to learn, grow and focus completely on what God wants for our lives.

As a coach, I have debated the use of mindfulness with my athletes, it is something that I should encourage, is it something that we should utilise? it has undeniable benefits for race preparation and readiness.

Should a Christian coach encourage their athletes to practice mindfulness?

the mind is the athlete
Mindfulness

My answer, at the moment, is a resounding yes, (Once again let me stress that I am referring to the completely westernised, non religious form of mindfulness). It is my belief that the calm focus on the immediate, the ability to calm the doubts and just act in the moment is a huge benefit to the athlete.

 

I know that not everyone will agree with me and that is fine, debate is healthy and this post barely scrapes the surface of a huge subject.

Until next time

 

P

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Finish the Race


Now, when I started this blog I had grand ambitions, I was going to post thought-provoking coaching insights on a daily basis, I was going to challenge the status quo (not the band), I was going to be a pioneer in my field. 

That was the plan, then I realised, I don’t have that many thought-provoking thoughts!

I started posting on a semi regular basis on some stuff, did a few series on teaching, started one on building a program, I’m a third of the way through an A – Z (if H is a third distance I didn’t actually count). things other than swimming started to creep into my posts on occasion but again, only occasionally. 

As a coach there are a number of things that I ‘preach’ to the guys in the squad. one of these things is 

  • race ’til the end, finish the race.

Why put in all that training, time and effort to drift along at the end and throw away a PB or medal? It makes no sense!

It occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that quite a few of these idioms we coaches use, the hashtags we thing make us cooler, can be (and should be) applied to other areas of our lives.

We sell our sport, in many ways, on the back of the life lessons and invaluable skills that the athletes can learn to carry into the rest of their ‘post-swimming’ lives. But how many of us actually apply the same life lessons to our own lives.

Swimming takes discipline, you have to apply yourself to it. In the Bible, on more than one occasion the Christian life is likened to running (we will use swimming cos….it’s a swimming coach blog)

Paul lets us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 – Everyone runs in a race, but only one person wins the prize, run like you want to win. everyone who races goes through tough training, they do it to get a prize that will no last but we do it to get a prize that will last forever (paraphrased)

Race-Title

how do we finish this race well?

1 – Get rid of the extra weight – its a good idea to periodically evaluate what we are doing and ask is this thing speeding me on my Christian journey or slowing me down, is it a help or hindrance?

2 – The right motive – it’s not an Olympic medal we crave as Christians, our reward is in heaven waiting for us

3 – Clear objectives – the best way to move a tired horse (I’m reliably informed) is to turn it towards home. if we want our life’s to move in the right direction we must turn our focus to God and move in the direction He wants us to 

4 – Don’t look back – One thing that drives me mad is swimmers looking around them while they race, more than one race has been lost by a swimmer looking to see where everyone else was. If you want to win you have to accelerate towards that finish line, work harder towards the end. Not looking back in our Christian walk  does not mean we don’t remember, we need to learn from mistakes, it means that we no longer allow those mistakes to control us. 

It’s not enough to simply start the race, we have to finish!!

The only way to finish strong is to give our everything to God, we can’t hold back.

’til next time

 

 

H is for……..


Ok so I know I have skipped a few letters there but I will go back to them next I promise.

in the meantime

His for……………

holistic
Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the athlete.
Some of the decisions we make as coaches are hard.
It would be very easy to simply look at names and numbers on a page, come up with systems and apply them to those numbers and names. We may even get some results doing things that way but what is the long-term effect?
holistic
Holistic approach
If our job as coaches is simply to produce the fastest swimmers we can then maybe we can afford to simply push the physical side as hard as we can as often as we can. If they break down then we learn and maybe the next wave of athletes will be better from what we learn from our mistakes.
But as coaches we are responsible for much, much, more than this.
I recognise the fact that 90% of the athletes I coach will stop swimming before they achieve their physical potential. I work every day to try to ensure that each and every one of them has the option to continue to swim for as long as they wish. However, the benefits gained from a physically active lifestyle are huge. the physical, emotional, intellectual and lifestyle benefits are immeasurable.
Our job as coaches is to ensure the development of the whole person. We owe it to the athletes in our care to get to know them, to understand what makes them tick. we owe it to each and every one of them to care about them.
Something, it seems, that can easily be overlooked in pursuit of success.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to coach an Olympian, I want to coach multiple Olympians.
But is that the most important part of my job? Not really.
The treatment of the whole person IS the most important part of our job.
Til next time

Our Life’s Black Box


I like to read, sometimes I read novels but mostly I am drawn towards books about how to improve my thinking, coaching……life. I find it fascinating to look at how other people have developed over the years and seeing if there is anything I can adopt to try and add value to what I am doing.

My favourite book at the minute is by Matthew Syed.

The book is Black Box thinking. Very briefly, it looks at how industries and individuals can learn from mistakes, improve how they operate and ultimately improve performance.

black box

The application to my job are obvious and, the first time I read the book, that is all I applied it too.

However a different application occurred to me as I read through the opening chapters again.

In these chapters Matthew talks about the landing of US Airways flight 1549 (the one that landed on the Hudson river). Specifically he talks about how the Pilot, Chelsey Sullenberger handled the incident.

When crash investigators went to the planes ‘black box’ and listened to the recording of the incident they heard that Chelsey and his Co-Pilot never stopped communicating, they had an open line of communication through the whole incident.

This constant communication allowed the whole crew to function correctly and avoid any lose of life.

Everyone knows the footprints in the sand ‘poem’. Looking back at two sets of footprints as we walk through life with God but noticing that when we go through troubles there is only one set. assuming that God has abandoned us at those difficult times but being told the one set of footprints belong to God and that He carried us through.

footprints

These two stories got me thinking.

What if I was able to go back and listen to my ‘black box’?

What would I hear?

When times have been tough and challenging what has my reaction been? Has there been a constant, open, line of communication between me and God or have I just assumed that I have been abandoned just when I needed the most help?

I know that, sadly, historically I would have to confess its been the latter.

#foodforthought

#TNDO (in everything I do)

til next time

 

The right book……


There are literally hundreds of self help books on the market today. Walking down the aisle in any book store and you will see titles that proclaim to help you achieve happiness, grow your wealth, unleash your inner spirit warrior and any number of other ‘be better’ promises.

They all have one thing in common – they promise to help you be the best version on you that you can be.

I have read my fair share of these books seeking to unleash my inner giant, learn the secrets of highly effective people, train my mind. They are all good books, very well written and, on some levels, very informative. I have no doubt that at some point I will read them again.

However, they all lack one vital ingredient to fulfil their stated goal – making you the very best you you can be.

Now I realise that this blog is, primarily, a swimming/coaching blog.

Really it’s about me and my journey to be the best swim coach I can be. So there is a link to what I’m about to say.

The truth is that all these books have their place, they all serve a purpose but if you are seeking the best version of yourself then your reading the wrong books. You only actually need one book.

The desire for more, the desire for fulfilment is in our very DNA. We are programmed to want to develop, to grow, to be better.

Man’s desire to explain everything, to search out the truth about our world and ourselves, to be the very best versions of ourselves is, in my opinion a twisting of the original reason for the DNA programming.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that these desires stem from a need for more, a need to fill a hole in our very being.

Our desire to fill that ‘void’ has led to the publication of hundreds upon hundreds of self help books, self help courses, life coaches and everything that goes with that.

This emptiness that we, as a species, feel is (in my opinion) because there is a bigger picture, a better plan for our lives, a blueprint that we need to follow if we really want to be that best version of ourselves.

Where do we find this blueprint? In the one book that we should be reading. A book that predates all those other books we turn to for ‘the answer’

The Bible

The Bibles tells me that God has a plan for my life he wants to make me the best version on me, the version of me that he planned right from the start.

There are no payment plans, no courses to attend to reach the ‘next level’ there is only submission to him and trust in his plan for my life.

P

It takes courage to be a man


I’m 42, my daughter is one today. do I worry about my health a little more than I used to? yeah I do, I worry about getting sick and not being here for her, I think that’s probably normal but the biggest killer of men my age isn’t heart disease or cancer. 

The biggest killer of men my age in the UK is suicide. the statistics make pretty grim reading.

24.1 deaths per 100,000 for men aged 40 – 44 is suicide compared to 8.3 for women. there is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed somewhere.

In this last year I have reached a whole new understanding of what pressure is, I feel under pressure to provide a life for Harper and Louise, to find a balance between work and family, to continue to focus on my job when things get tough and to plan for the future.

Its a challenge and I understand, a little more, why men would feel like they have nowhere to turn to.

By this age we are supposed to have it all nailed down, our family life, our career, a mortgage, the future is planned really. (I don’t feel like I have any idea what my future holds if I’m honest)

Now, I’m not the most mentally robust person I know, I have suffered from depression, been on pills and to talking therapy (which lets be honest no one likes – I hate it). I have had my challenges and have no doubt that I will have more in the future. I am incredibly lucky to have a loving and supportive family around me and to have learnt, the hard way, that if I talk to them they wont judge me, in fact there is a better than good chance they will help me.

Growing up in a world where the male role models we saw on TV were action stars, tough uncompromising men who basically kicked ass every day, its easy to see why men feel like this is what we have to be like, that this is what real courage is.

live-free-or-die-hard

cour¦age|ous 
ADJECTIVE
not deterred by danger or pain; brave

But then yesterday I heard something the other day that resonated with me,

Courage is a heart word, the root of the word is cor – the Latin word for heart. the original meaning of the word courage is to speak ones mind by telling all one’s heart

Being courageous doesn’t mean bottling things up and dealing with stuff on our own. it means the exact opposite true courage is being open enough and brave enough to tell people when we are struggling, to admit when we need help and not be afraid to accept help when its offered.

Maybe if more men where brought up with role models who behaved this way we would start to see a reduction in the awful statistic above.

lionroar