Where Is Your Swim Coach?
When I work from home, my typical routine is to wake up at 7:57am, roll over at 7:58, and turn on my computer at 7:59. The commute, amirite?
Yesterday, this strict schedule was shifted a little when I got a text at 7:48 from a good friend who also works in a "helping" field. I know a lot of "helping" folks these days: coaches, therapists, teachers, nurses, doulas...the list goes on. Like me, she's out there trying to live her truth (whatever that means), and sometimes gets the wind knocked out of her...this time it was with a particularly terrible email. A lot of us who act like "coaches" get sucker punched once and a while by people who want a quick fix.
The email was a direct response to a blog she had written, and it was thought out, detailed and personal, which makes it infinitely worse than a quick crappy one-liner on Facebook. It didn't even have a greeting or sign off, it launched straight into accusation and blame.
This email made my friend feel raw and exposed. Sensitive and little. It rattled her and made her question her decision to even be in this field. Why didn't she have all the answers? Why couldn't she fix this guy? Why was this getting to her so badly?
I asked her to call me, but she said she couldn't because she felt gross emotionally.
<Note: that's a sure-fire way to get me to call you.>
When she answered, she was trying so hard to hold back a river of tears. I was still in bed (see work-from-home timeline above), so, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I asked her if she had played sports growing up.
She said she had swam. Nice. Me too.
Because I was still under the covers, and half of my face was buried in a pillow, I groggily asked, "What was your stroke?"
She answered that it was the butterfly.
This is the second person in my life who has said that their stroke was the butterfly. I don't have a ton o' patience for people who can do the butterfly, because they're essentially superheroes, and can obviously do anything.
Thinking of this made me remember my old swim coach as if I had him over for breakfast yesterday morning. Mr. Fitzpatrick. Jack? Was his name Jack? We called him Mr. Fitz. He had a year's supply of khakis and white sneakers. And if my memory isn't failing me, I feel like maybe a polo/zip-up hoodie combo for every occasion.
Someone correct me if the Mr. Fitz uniform starter pack is wrong.
He was my swim coach when I was little on the Uncle Sam Swim Team; my coach when I swam in high school for about 5 minutes; and was my teacher when I became a lifeguard. He had the same reaction if you stood up in the pool by accident when doing the 50 fly (I was 9); when you came in dead last in the 200 IM when you were 16; or if you accidentally almost drown your best friend's boyfriend trying to put him on a rescue board (sorry again, Brendan): completely no affect. He would just look at you, then move on to the next thing. I never won anything, so I don't know what his proud face looks like.
Wait. I take it back. I won that race when I stood up during the 50 fly when I was 9. In my defense, I thought I heard a false-start whistle. I set a PR that day.
How did I get here? Oh. I would bet every dollar I have...er, well...writing doesn't pay well...I would bet all of the soy sauce packets in my fridge (I have a lot more of those) that he didn't go home at night and doubt who he was as a person every time I didn't whip my legs over my head fast enough in flip turn practice.
Anyway, back to my friend. I moved on with my metaphor.
"Where was your swim coach when you were in the pool?" I asked, annoyed, remembering how I look in a swim cap.
Sniffing up some snot, she said wobbly, "On the deck, I guess."
"Yep. And he couldn't do the butterfly for you, right?"
I'm so freaking wise.
Hoping my verbal slap on the butt would get my friend back out in the game, I stretched and congratulated myself on being a master of the universe.
Then she threw me a curve ball. <The pu pu platter of sports references is not that intentional, but I am that lazy.> That's the problem with being friends with someone who does for a living the thing you're trying to do to them. What if she was harming her clients by not recommending someone better? She said it was weeks like this when she questioned everything.
She wasn't sure she had any talent at all. What if she should go back to the job she actually had a degree in? She wondered if she was the best fit for her clients. What if she was just regurgitating someone else's information?
Hello?! Do you think Mr. Fitz invented swimming? No. He brought almost no new information to the table, actually. He would have us do drills and comment on our form, trying to make us a little more efficient.
Did he have tough days? Absolutely. Probably with me. Did he go home and eat half a cake by himself after we lost to Shaker High again? There's no doubt in my mind. Did he show up for practice the next day? You bet your hair net he did.
Foreshadowing alert: I hated practice. In fact, I hated it so much, I did everything I could to not go every. I have a lot of hair, and swim caps hurt. I never practiced, and I never got better. And Mr. Fitz had nothing to say about it. He had other swimmers that wanted to be there.
When I came in so last in the 200 IM that they were pretty much closing the pool as I hit the wall, I blamed him. Why would he put me in an event like that? Why would he make me swim something I clearly couldn't do? It was his fault that I didn't show up to practice. He didn't make practice fun. It was boring and hard. He wasn't making me better. There were other teams I could have been on...other sports I could have played.
So I quit.
A hundred years later (read: this past summer), I got back in the pool a little. I found myself doing 60s on the 30s (or whatever the drill is that they do at the swim practices I didn't go to). I would feel myself adjusting my elbows to get a better shoulder rotation. My flip turns still leave something to be desired, but mostly because my equator is a little bigger these days. Freaking DeFazio's.
Essentially, Mr. Fitz was still there. That's a testament of a good coach, I guess.
Is anyone else amazed at how I can turn a simple conversation with a friend on to me? I need to question a few things...
So, back to my friend. God, it just sucks to give so much of yourself all day long, and to feel that your actual worth depends on your client's growth. It's so hard to think that you're not good enough to help someone, especially when they've paid you. But this also goes for anyone you're trying to be there for...a friend, a sibling, a parent...
Not Enough encompasses so much, and it's so heavy.
Something dawned on me when I was talking to my friend from bed: I would rather be her friend knowing that she feels this once and a while, than I would thinking she has it all together. And I definitely want that in my coaches. I want someone helping me who's been in the water, and knows what it feels like when you dive in and you get water in your goggles. I don't want someone to do the work for me, I want someone on the deck whistling a stroke countdown when I'm doing the backstroke so I don't hit my head on the wall. I want someone who knows what it feels like to lose track of where they are in the water.
I don't want someone in my life that has all the answers, I want people around me that are looking for the wall so they can flip and push off and do it all over again. These are the people I trust the most.
That's the coach I'd want.
So listen, if you're out there, and you're coaching someone in whatever way you coach (parent, friend, brother, casual encounter from Craigslist), and they're not ready to hear you...it's ok...don't panic.
Take in what they say, then ask yourself if their criticism will make what you're trying to do better. If it doesn't, then you don't need it. If it does, set some boundaries for how you need to be communicated with, then add the feedback to what you do.
But for Pete's sake, just don't stop coaching. We know you can't swim for us, but we need you on the deck, man. We have no idea where we are in the pool without you.