Thursday, January 3, 2013

"It's not about me. It's not about you..."

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."
John Wooden

Or, in the words of Tony Dungy, "It's not about me. It's not about you. It's about others."

An Ironman race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. In order to be crowned an Ironman, you must complete these 3 feats in under 17 hours. And to complicate your journey, you may not take aid (nutrition, hydration, or any help moving along the course) from anyone who is not participating in the race.

There are few challenges in the endurance world that are more trying as an individual. Inevitably, there are some lonely miles between 0 and 140.6.

And yet, irony of ironies, I am connected with a team that is collectively working together to acheive not only our own individual Ironman races, but to also raise money for a cause that supercedes these self-separating goals. It's a tricky concept for the uninitiated - to work with a team all year, only to compete solo on race day.

To complicate the individual/team dynamic even further, the coaching staff I am a part of is eight-people large. As individual coaches and as a united front, it's our obligation (and passion) to steer our ship of 70-some folks to their individual successes.


I am very relieved that I can fall back on Wooden's and Dungy's words. As a coach, I have the benefit of removing my ego from the equation. Admittedly, I'm not perfect at it. My ego still lingers around sharp corners and in dark alleys. But I am always on the lookout for its negativity.

What this means is this - I coach people who are faster than me at all three sports. I coach people who are slower than me at all three sports. And there is a mix of athletes in between. If I were to try and compare myself to all - or even any - of them, I would be distraught. Compare and despair, as the phrase goes.

But thankfully, I don't have to. Because it's not about me. My physical abilities are a non-factor. For those argue otherwise - that a coach should be able to keep in step with his or her players - I ask, god forbid that I (or, insert your own coach) are in a wheelchair tomorrow, for the rest of our lives. Would they or I lose credibility? No. Because standing, sitting or all tied up on a tree, a coach's integrity is separate from athletic ability.

Being a coach and a leader is not about standing in front of a group proselytizing a certain way of life and sport. For me, as I describe it in my own head, it's about checking out of myself and into another. Or, rather, out of self and into service.

It means being among my participants - being human, being silly, being real, being trustworthy, being loyal and being genuine. I didn't always approach my teams this way - and it has been a learning experience to "be okay" with not being perfect or have all the answers.

What I respect now, though, is that being a coach means that maybe you are just a kid who loves to run and wants to find the best in others, and help them find it for themselves. And that you will be looked upon for guidance, trust and praise: Guidance during unknown ventures; trust because what you ask of your team may seem daunting; and geniune praise when those who invest in the former two ideals reap their rewards.

A coach does not make a team. Eight coaches, or twelve coaches or an army of coaches do not make a team. A team makes itself. The organic energy it creates from the hours upon hours of training, challenging and laughing, is what makes creates such a strong unit. And it is what fuels each individual to face down those 70.3 or 140.6 miles that lay in wait.

The greatest gift of coaching? To witness it. To be a small part of it.

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