Just back from a wonderful adventure in the frozen wilds of Arctic Lapland - with a few tenuous but hopefully interesting and valuable connections to make to coaching and thoughts on developing confidence.
The day before we left I saw a post from triathlon coach supremo Simon Ward, who was the lead tutor when I went through the Level 3 qualification and who continues to be a model of professional coaching and a generous source of ideas and information. Simon wrote about the challenge of putting yourself outside your comfort zone as a coach (he was about to try downhill skiing for the first time).
I've not heard yet if he made it back in one piece but I can say my partner Anne and I had the most exhilarating, enjoyable as well as challenging time on what was our third go at cross country skiing, high up inside the Arctic Circle at Akaslompolo, Finland. On our previous two visits I learnt so much from attempting something so new - as Simon would say well outside my comfort zone and in my case certainly in the first year involving a lot of falling down and getting very uptight!
I wrote about some of the lessons from last year in a ZigZag Alive blog post. Since then I've gone on to develop further some of the ideas and lessons in Confidence Centred Coaching - essentially to do with allowing oneself the space and kindness to be able to learn and gradually allowing oneself to become more attuned to a flow and rhythm.
Last week's trip helped me take some of this thinking and practice further.
For a coach one benefit from opening yourself to such experiences is that it reminds you how it can feel to learn something new, reconnecting to the faltering, over-conscious, awkwardness and putting yourself in someone else's hands. When it wasn't quite working I would try to concentrate just a few key movements, going over them in my head like a mantra: "heel up, toe forward, heel down". Then as that started to feel a bit more natural, "shift the weight." At one point I asked our experienced guide, Yukka, if I was doing it right, to which he answered "Ja ja - you are moving."
I try to do something similar with my swim coaching - breaking complex movements down into just one or two elements for the swimmer to feel for themselves. At first having a mantra seems to help, such as "reach and roll, roll and reach". Where we want to get to is that lovely natural feeling of it coming together, sensing a fluid movement and subtly switching from an over-conscious effort to a more relaxed alertness (to borrow a phrase from Erich Fromm). And to this end, maybe a little bit like Yukka, if someone asks me how it looks I prefer to put the focus back to them and ask how it felt.
One other part of the experience where I found myself making something of a switch was in my reaction to falling down. This still happened quite a bit (with comical effects when snow shoeing)! In that first trip, maybe a little less so last year too, I would get so up tight and angry with myself - why can't I do this? Why am I no good? This time, though, I seemed to start out with an acceptance that falling down is a part of the experience - and it doesn't mean failure or being no good. This will be one of the big themes from a fascinating story I'm in the middle of writing up from an ultra runner - more of that coming soon.
For now its back home, thermals packed away for another year, no more reindeer soup, a switch in temperature from -27c to a balmy 8c - and a renewed sense of empathy and excitement about the coaching challenges ahead.