Thursday, July 05, 2007

Re-learning to coach

Finally trying to get back to those deep philosophical Coaching Thoughts I was threatening a while back (which led me meandering down Memory Lane, but not too far).

It's really not that complicated, the realization that sank in during the coach training weekend. In fact it's ludicrously obvious - kind of like looking in the fridge for the mayonnaise, and not seeing it until somebody points out that it's right in front of your face. Or better yet, looking all over the boat for the shades that are parked on top of your head. True. Not often, but once or twice. Please tell me I am not the only person to whom that's happened.

Anyways, in this case, the ludicrously obvious thing that it took a coach training class to really notice is this:

I've been paddling since 1998.

I'm not a new paddler anymore.

One would think that could only be good in a kayak instructor, right? Who'd you rather learn from - me circa 2000 (the year I began to lead classes, 3 years into my kayaking "career"), or combat-rolling small-craft-advisory-savoring ice-paddling me circa 2006?

I think that at least for beginner paddlers, I could make some plausible arguments in favor of Bonnie 2000!

At that point, I was in a situation rich in mentoring, encouragement, and direction. I had joined the company with little experience but much enthusiasm, and that was encouraged & channeled. In fact as I had begun to relate when my little nostalgic recollection was interrupted by the demands of NOW, Richard and I were sitting in the MKC office one day near the end of 1999, my first year as a partner; I'd been out of work for a little while, interviewing intensely. I'd gone to an interview at a bank way up high in the World Trade Center in the morning - gotten all keyed up & dressed up, spent the morning filling out paperwork, then interviewing with HR, then with the director of client services, and somehow walked out feeling like I'd utterly & completely blown it. I was getting a little tired of the process & was indulging in a little pipe-dreaming, talking to Richard about how much I'd like to take a break & go visit my folks in Hawaii for a week or two. At the same time, I was futzing around on the American Canoe Association website, and not being one to pipe-dream small back then, I said "And hey, look, there's an Instructor Development Workshop at this kayak company in Santa Cruz, I could go take that on the way out to see my folks..."

Without so much as a pause for thought, Richard (who, although he is a really a really wonderful kayak instructor, is primarily a professional dancer with a major dance company which tours for months out of the year - he flies a LOT) calmly offered me frequent flyer miles.

I hadn't been serious. I'm a Responsible Sort. Fly off to take a vacation and a kayak class when I didn't have a job? That's not something I would ordinarily do - but that offer (combined with the fact that deep down I really DID want to do it) and my stick-in-the-mud Responsible Person facade crumbled. I think I had reservations by the next day.

And I think that it was within a day or two after that that my employment agency called. The bank had offered me a job. I explained, in a nervously apologetic tone of voice, about how I'd just gone completely mad and booked a flight to Hawaii to visit my folks with a stop in California en route...

The bank was FINE with that.


Man. Best vacation EVER. Just think - a week and a half in Hawaii, with a brand new job waiting at the end - no work piling up - AWESOME.

And I learned SOOOOO much at that IDW. I wasn't ready for the Instructor Certification Exam just yet - the Instructor Trainers & I agreed on that - but my gosh was I ever set up to start really taking a more active role in teaching the next season - which was 2000.

So looking back at what I had in 2000 -

I had a very solid set of basic paddling skills.

I had a year of working as an assistant to two very capable instructors - and watching them teach, I was recognizing the value of individual styles - Richard taught one way, Eric taught another way, that was not just OK, that was good for the clients, and most importantly I had somewhere to go when I had questions or found myself flummoxed by something (one memorable question I had to ask once - "What do I tell someone who I've discovered is actually terrified of the water & thought kayaking was going to be a good way to combat that fear?" - that was a real issue I discovered a client had & it was WAY past my ability to give him an answer).

I also had an extremely fresh recollection of my own progress - the leaps and bounds, the movements that eluded me, the moments that those movements suddenly made sense, the joy of being able to apply those newly acquired skills with more and more confidence...

And that's maybe what I, as I am now, don't have so much anymore.

Yes - I do still remember those moments. Vividly.

But I've learned so much more since then.

And I'm still learning - and all of the experiences I've had and all the skills I've learned since then have been overlaid over those first couple of years.

I'm a better paddler now than I was then. But - if you're trying to teach someone one thing - one basic, simple thing, maybe it's simpler to do that if you only actually know two or three things yourself, instead of ten things, all built on that first skill.

Takes a little more concentration & care to tease out the simple foundation from under all the fancy stuff.

I've been out of coach training so long I just didn't see that. Not that I had turned into a bad instructor - maybe just one who tried to teach things in a way that was slightly more complicated than it needed to be.

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