Monday, 26 May 2014

Building Capacity in Beginning Coaches

A few weeks ago some good fortune dropped on my lap.  Dick Taylor contacted me via this blog.  Dick was a national team coach in the US for a number of years, as well as a national team skier.  He sent me his book - No Pain, No Gain. 2002. Mechanic Street Press. Bethel. Maine.  I need to tell you, Dick's writing is brilliant, insightful, intelligent and reflects intellectual and practical wisdom that I have so rarely found coaches taking the time to share. This book needs to be a must read for any beginning coach because it provides a frame of reference that is a great jumping off point for those of us who love coaching adolescent cross country skiers.  What is truly remarkable to me is the relevancy of the content to our present context.  No where have I come across such an incredible resource as this one.  In addition, Dick has created a website  that aims to share out best practice and current knowledge.

I've set out as the purpose of this blog to create a space where beginning coaches can be stimulated with some ideas about the important pieces of coaching young skiers - who want to do the work of transitioning kids to a love of going fast on skis.  The piece I have found most beginning cross country ski coaches want to start with is the technical pieces - what are the priorities in technical skill development.  Helping kids learn to ski technically well is super important, but equally and maybe even more important is having a solid understanding of the physiological priorities of working with adolescent skiers.  Predating Sport Canada's Long Term Athlete Development Plan, which is still the focus of current best practice discussion, Taylor speaks to the important physiological windows of trainability that exist for adolescent cross country skiers and many of the challenges that exist for our young skiers when faced with the lure of school sports which are predominantly high activity-relief sports.  This insight is one that I haven't come across in the Canadian LTAD and yet represents key understandings that are just as relevant today as they were ten years ago.

You'll find me reflecting again on Taylor's writing,as it is rich in substance and process; linked to cultural lenses that affect how athlete development in cross country skiing has been actualized in North America.  I'll be honest, this is the sort of book that will change my practice - well written, not as a textbook or a summarized/bulletted coach training manual, but instead as a refreshing, insightful and richly deep and broad perspective of our uniquely North American context of athlete development in cross country skiing.  Thank you Dick for creating a resource that is engaging, useful, and discerning and which every coach should have in their professional library.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The importance of knowing why you do the work you do

I'll admit, balancing career and family and community is a juggling act. Which ball I've chosen to keep in the air has fluctuated over time. Finding the courage to advance your experience and ambition in one area of life, has effects on the others.

I stand at an exciting time in my life. I realize my whole life has been an exciting adventure of choice and passion and actualization.  My choices today are the same as they've always been and are centred on answering the question of 'what next?

Mid life has an interesting way of encouraging you to look backwards and forwards at the same time helping you to recognize how passion has directed your choices along the way - every step along the way has been full of big choices - most often very easy to make. Learning, Love, Family, Friends, Success, Ambition, all have provided guideposts for my pathway. And so as I reflect on how I have gotten to where I am I know clearly what those guideposts have been.

Finding a woman I love and having children has been the singlemost important piece of work in my life. Like most parents, I want the very best for my kids, to give them the very best start in life, to provide them with as many diverse opportunities to grow as confident, intelligent, athletic, creative, caring, empathetic people who strive to be their best in their ambition and relationships. My children have been my biggest passion. Being a father has been and is my most important life work. I place it above all else. It is not the only important thing in my life, but it is the most important - without a doubt. I have been a very fortunate person to have had career choices that have let me fulfill my ambition to be a great dad. I'll be honest, climbing the corporate ladder has not been my biggest priority. Finding fulfilling work that is creative and enjoyable has been important to me and continues to be.

My passion has directed my life and will continue to. My next step is to become an instructional leader at a school. I am ready for a new challenge. Not going to stop doing much of what I am already doing, but ready to put on a new hat not because my present reality is in any way unfulfilling. I am ready to be an Assistant Principal because when I look at my toolkit, its shouts out to me, this is where you need to be. Supporting achievement has been my lifework. Mentoring and leading learning communities has been my passion. Whether as a teacher, a consultant, a coach, a camp director, my life work has been about improving the state of being for those I work with. It is why as I enter mid-life I reflect confidently on my choices - I have with no doubt in my mind made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of children - supporting their path towards personal growth and excellence. It is why I have no regrets. Like so many other teachers, principals, camp directors, coaches, I look back and say, wow, I have done some great work - work that is humble and yet glorious. A servant of others.

As I move ahead, I embrace the challenges that I know will come from putting myself again in a place of vulnerability, risk, and leadership. I know that my passion for doing the work of helping others be their best gives me much more than I offer. It is through giving that I have found the most satisification in my life.

Giving to my children - my love, my passion for physical activity, my time.

Giving to young people in schools, at camp, in sport - my guidance, my love of learning, my passion for excellence; my joy of life; my desire for positive, engaging experience.

Giving to my peers, those I am tasked to mentor, lead, and help grow - my incredible need for creating positive space; my willingness to support, to help, to recognize strengths in others, to build, to learn, to share.

Giving to my friends and loved ones - my unconditional positive regard; my yearning to build meaningful, substantial, and intimate relationships built on respect, compassion, and good humour.

So am i ready for the next steps in my journey - I sure am. I've always been ready.

Roy Strum

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Learning from a Master Coach - reflections on John Wooden

John Wooden is probably one of the best known coaches of all time.  UCLA men's basketball coach for 27 years.  Coach of numerous players who went on to be NBA superstars.  Orchestrated his team to become one of the most successful teams of all time in any sport.  Polite, respectful, humble and with a clear vision of what he wanted his players and his team to be.  There is alot we can learn from a man like John Wooden. What follows is his classic ted talks 'The Difference between Winning and Success'. 

John Wooden was a master coach.  In my mind, a master because of the higher order thinking he developed in his players, because he developed a higher purpose and mission of his work.  It wasnt just about winning championships - it was about helping young people be the best they could be.  Wooden believed that success is "the peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction of knowing that you did your best of which you knew you were capable".  He believed that "if you make the effort to do the best you could, the results will generally be what they should be - not necessarily what you want them to be, but what they should be".  Being the best you can be is all that is really under control.

Wooden's early life was in southern Indiana.  He grew up on a farm without electricity.  His Dad would tell him and his siblings 'don't whine, don't make excuses, get out there and do your best, to the best of your ability and no one can do more than that.'  He embodied in his work a message to his players that they should have faith that things will turn out as they should, provided that they do the work that they needed to do to make things a reality.  Wooden points out that often people in general don't do what they need to do to turn their potential into reality.  You need to do the work to reach your potential.  The message is the same whether you are coaching a team sport or an individual sport - be the best you can be.  In the ted talks above, Wooden shares a poem that captures this idea well.  A poem by an major league baseball umpire called 'the road ahead and the road behind'.  Here it is so you don't have to google it

Sometimes I think the fates must grin as we denounce them and insist,
The only reason we can’t win is the fates themselves have missed.
Yet, there lives on the ancient claim – we win or lose within ourselves,
The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.

So you and I know deeper down there is a chance to win the crown,
But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test
Of giving all and saving none until the game is really won.
Of showing what is meant by grit, of fighting on when others quit,

Of playing through not letting up, it’s bearing down that wins the cup.
Of taking it and taking more until we gain the winning score,
Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead, of hoping when our dreams are dead,
Of praying when our hopes have fled. Yet, losing, not afraid to fall,

If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man
than giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.
And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind,

It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates,
On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.

George Moriarty

What can we learn from Wooden's example? Are there things we can learn from his work?  There sure is.  I love Wooden's Pyramid of Success.

What an awesome tool to focus your interactions with athletes.  If you've been coaching for awhile, you see the positive potential, and you are doing this work with your athletes - thinking about bigger outcomes that propel athletes to high levels of performance both in sport and life. 

As a coach of adolescent cross country skiers, my mind races ahead to next season, thinking about the things I might try, I might do differently, how I might reach the kids I work with to help them embrace their ambition in a learning environment that is rich with meaning and learning.  As I look ahead to the coming year, my heart and mind trembles with excitement at the possibilities, at the coach-athlete relationships that I want to create, at the bigger goals I'll aim for.  I love the work of coaching.  I love the work of teaching.  In his ted talks linked above, John Wooden talks of a teacher he had as a youth, and some thoughts that stuck with him as she responded to a question about why she teaches.

'They ask me why I teach, and I reply, it's where I go to find splendid company'

There is nothing like working with children.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB