leadership, life, Teaching, Uncategorized

The First Day of School

Growing up in the Bertrand household, the first day of school was a BIG deal. I’m talking like a ceremonious event.

On the eve of the first day of class, each of my sisters would have at least three complete outfits laid out in their rooms – and my siblings and I would go around and cast a vote on which outfit we thought was the best to wear on day #1. I have seven sisters so it took a little bit of time to make the rounds.

We had a walk-in closet that we dubbed the “school supply closet”. My mom stocked it with every supply imaginable. I can remember all of us grabbing notebooks and pens, sitting around the table together labeling folders and double-checking lists to ensure we had the correct supplies for the specific requests of each teacher.

There was great anticipation. There was buzz. There was unknown. There was excitement. Yes, a house of nerds!


I’m currently in my 6th year as a faculty member at SMU, and I must say, I still get excited for the 1st day of class.

About a week out, my mind starts to get preoccupied thinking about the 1st day. I always seem to feel the weight of it, or rather the responsibility of it, coming on.

There’s knowledge to convey, passion to share, lives to change.

I visualize how I want to be and how I want to improve from years past. I start to get excited about the great privilege and opportunity it is when another human being allows you to come in and guide them. I don’t take that for granted.

And then there are those that don’t let you in. But you can tell they are contemplating the idea of it. The dynamic is so interesting to me. Every day as a teacher you are selling yourself (whether you realize it or not), your ideas, you.

To be yourself and authentic with the students might be the greatest gift. It might give another human being “permission” to be himself/herself. The confidence you bring to the table…it can be borrowed by others, temporarily, until they fully realize their own true power.

It’s been challenging to find myself as a teacher; it takes time. And when the 1st day gets nearer, it represents another opportunity of getting it right and experimenting with a way of being that leads to maximum results (i.e., me being true to myself AND the students optimally engaged & learning).

As a teacher, nothing is more important than being clear on what I’m committed to in the course, for each individual. All actions I take during the semester come from this original commitment.

In the first few years of teaching, I was just trying not to drown. Being a newbie to the professor environment, I had two areas of focus: 1) don’t get taken advantage of by students, and 2) do a complete a job as possible (do my best)!

Oh my, how exhausting that approach was. Making sure my fists were clenched (see above focus area #1) didn’t allow many opportunities for opening my heart.

Instead of caving into the fear for what the students “might” do, what if I replaced it with excitement for developing their potential?

What if I spent that time and energy on exploring ways to connect and engage, instead of allowing the unconscious fear-based approach to take over?

Clearly I’m a work in progress. Yet by knowing that I’m making progress and constantly improving my craft, it keeps me engaged and passionate for each semester.

The steepest learning curve (for me) has been managing the classroom. When my mind is constantly rattling to keep things ” in order”, I’ve noticed myself (and the students) having less fun. As my classroom management skills have improved and as I’ve learned to let go of control, I’ve noticed it has opened up a completely new and wonderful space for learning.


I mentioned earlier that nothing is more important than identifying what your commitment is on the outset.

I ponder “How can I best step up to the plate to make a difference in their lives?” One word: CARE. Make an effort.

Mostly my commitment is to impress the importance of having character and striving for excellence.

I do my best to be an example of how to be an effective coach and teacher – to model being positive & calm under pressure – and to share my gifts in efforts to develop them, that they might reach their potential (and in doing so, I reach mine). To infuse fun, playfulness, laughter and humor into my approach. Because if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong!

Another thing I’ve noticed about myself is that at times I will use up a lot of mind space on the “lost sheep” in class – to the point that it affects my energy and enthusiasm. These folks shouldn’t be forgotten, but I need to check in with myself & monitor my energy levels more frequently – and remind myself  to honor and focus on what’s going WELL in class (e.g., the students that are engaged and loving it)!

Teacher or student – the first day is a chance to start anew, put your best foot forward, and to embrace a learning environment where we all come out better for having been together.

coaching, leadership, triathlon

A Conversation with Dave Scott – 6 time Ironman World Champion

In 2014, I had the great privilege of interviewing 25 of triathlon’s most decorated coaches for a project entitled “The Greatest Triathlon Minds of Our Time”. Dave Scott, the first inductee to the Ironman Hall of Fame and known as “The Man”, was a shoe-in for this esteemed list of coaches.

While Dave is direct in communicating, he balances it with a humorous tone that keeps you smiling. He is incredibly smart and his knowledge is top-notch. He has a unique way of keeping things light and while yes he is serious about triathlon, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.

Here are the highlights from my conversation with Dave: (Note: Because the interview with Dave was NOT recorded, many of his answers are paraphrased. I’ve done my best to be as accurate as possible.)

David Bertrand (db): What originally drew you into coaching and what do you enjoy most about it?

Dave Scott (ds): When I was an athlete participating in water polo and swimming, I found that mentoring other athletes on my own team came naturally. I just have a personal passion for motivating other people. 

If you don’t leave with your spirit raised and a good feeling (and I can sense that 90% of the time), either you didn’t allow yourself to do it, or I didn’t do my job correctly. I like the motivating part of it. I like people to think. Complacency or mediocrity just drives me crazy. I like to keep folks guessing at times, in efforts to help challenge the athletes.

db: What is your coaching philosophy and what if anything, do you consider to be core to your approach?

ds: My philosophy is I always like to look at the science. It’s a very objective way to look at things (i.e., training intensities, energy systems). I also like to look at the best athletes and explore what has worked for them and why. I try to extract what the best ones are doing and find commonalities among them.

I also like the art form of coaching. It’s not only a science. You have to have a keen intuitiveness on how the athletes are responding (e.g., Around race time, athletes tend to be more unpredictable). Being able to adapt to athletes’ cycles is also an art form that I’ve learned more about recently.

I want the athletes to be gratified from the workout, even if they come in flat. Most want to please their coach! But you can’t be “on” all the time, and that’s OK.

In coaching groups, my philosophy is to address everyone at least once during the workout. I have to be attentive to accomplish this.

And lastly, there are no “B” and “C” races. Saying “This is a ‘B’ race” gives you an out. Have specific goals for every race. Saying you just want to get through an event is just crap! Focus your mind on what you CAN do, and I believe this to be a better practice than resorting to the idea that some event is “B” or “C” priority. It’s a paradigm shift.

db: Did you receive any advice from early on in your coaching career, which has been something you draw strength from and/or something you consider to be a great piece of wisdom?

ds: I went to an ACSA coaches conference, and Doc Counsilman was speaking and he wasn’t pretentious at all. He said one thing which has always resonated with me, “A good coach has the X factor. It’s the innate ability to relate and listen to your athletes. Because it’s then that you can extract the best out of that athlete.”

I’ve learned to be a great listener. Everyone has weaknesses (db: He proceeded to spout off at least 10 of Chrissie Wellington’s weaknesses), but the key is to learn how to speak to people in a way not to degrade them, but to enhance their potential.

db: Do you have any tips for athletes or coaches in regards to getting through injuries / difficult patches?

ds: My son is a basket case wearing a boot at age 23. The most difficult thing for him and for all athletes is that their memory is very short-term. They even forget great workouts or phenomenal races only a week previous. A streak of 3-4 bad days seems to take over despite how big the victory is.

Solution: Let’s not forecast to the next race; instead let’s just get through the next 3-5 days. Let your spirit lift, take off your Garmin, etc. Go very, very short-term, and have goals for the next 10-14 days, and write down the goal. Then, the athlete feels like they are in control. I don’t mind the positive stress of setting the short-term goals.

db: What are the most common mistakes you see coaches make?

ds: Be more inquisitive. Learn more. Have a background in exercise physiology, psychology, biomechanics, and nutrition. Expound upon what you know. Ask why and understand human anatomy. Seek mastery in these areas so that you become more knowledgeable to your athletes.

This is a massive, lifelong process. You must ask for help when you run into a brick wall.

One of the most humbling things you can tell your athletes is, “I don’t really know what’s going on. This is a great puzzle and I’m intrigued by it. I’ll investigate and get back with you.”

You should be able to talk to your athletes from an art and science standpoint. Be in agreement, collectively, with what’s going on.

You know, we naturally gravitate towards people who give us energy. As a coach, all eyes are on you, listening to your message. You’ll have some on the iPhone and then others that listen to you like you are the Pope. When your word is challenged or you’re receiving a negative indicator from an athlete, always gravitate back to the ones that are the most difficult and win them over! Ask them what is going on, and don’t try to predict anything. A simple “Are you doing OK?” is all that’s required. Be insightful and honest, and broach the topic and the individual. They will think, “This coach is genuinely concerned.” Don’t be judgmental or expect an outcome. Be a good listener and be attentive.

db: Where do you see the sport of triathlon headed?

ds: It’s too bloody expensive! I hope there are more entry-level races that make it easy to do triathlon. It’s becoming elitist in a way. We don’t have good youth development programs in this country at all. Europeans are surpassing us in that category. We do have little pockets of good programs, but it can be better. I wish we had more clubs with youth and adults – that needs to be propagated a little bit better. I’d like to see more youth doing the sport.

Really I’m not a great predictor. At first I thought triathlon would just be a California sport. We’re not seeing a lot of minorities in the sport…why not? Is it finances? We’re just not doing a very good job at that.

If I were a young coach, I’d be looking into coaching at the youth level. There are golden opportunities for coaches there.

db: If you could wish one thing for an ATHLETE that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

ds: More is not better. Most want to go too long, too soon. There are three tenets of training: progression, overload, and recovery. How do you optimally weave each of these into your life? That is the question.

db: If you could wish one thing for a COACH that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

ds: The one thing I would tell coaches is this: Don’t be set in your ways because you’ve been a successful athlete. Open up your mind that there are lots of possibilities in how to help athletes. Coaches tend to do the same thing, day-in and day-out, and it always looks the same. Don’t get pigeon-holed into a set system. It’s a crock of beans to think that since you went 9:10 in an Ironman that you’ll make a good coach.

db: Any final thoughts?

ds: As a triathlon coach, I think it’s important to write down what you do well: your skills and your personality characteristics. You have to be aware. You might think you don’t know anything, but it’s not true.

Sometimes athletes aren’t going to perform well. You’ve done everything to the best that you know how. And your athlete has a disastrous race. How do you approach that athlete? How do you bring a positive out of a gigantic negative?

  1. By recognizing the milestones along the way (and writing them down)
  2. By asking them “Now, what did you do well?” Even if you have to go 24-48 hours before the race, press them to communicate what they did well. The morning of the race, what did you do well? How was the warm-up on the swim? Then the athlete realizes that there were segments that went well, and there’s not that overwhelming sense of failure and loss. Most athletes collapse it all in to one giant negative. As a coach, you have to be able to go in and separate the layers.

Everyone has fears. The ones that say they don’t, are lying! As a coach, you can calm these fears by addressing the unknowns (e.g., For beginners, OW swims and bricks).

Another fear is commitment. It is important for the coach to acknowledge that they are working 50 hours and training 14 hours a week, and that they HAVE committed.

Then there’s fear of disappointment: letting down your friends, coach, club mates, etc. Really they don’t care. They want you to go through the journey and be happy. Write down what a good result looks like.

Dave is a class act.

For your success,

Coach David


If you liked this article, then you also might appreciate interviews with the following:

Mark Allen

Brett Sutton


All triathlon coach interviews were conducted in April and May of 2014.

coaching, Fitness, Training

Video Response to 5k Training FAQ’s

On January 1st, I offered something new to the community to help folks get the year started off on the right foot: a 5k run/jog/walk/crawl program.

Training starts today.

In a three-part video series, I’ve addressed many questions the participants have had up until this point.

5k training program FAQ’s:

VIDEO #1 – 8:15

  • What if the “Novice” program seems a little more than I can handle, but the “Walking” program seems too easy?
  • Would you please suggest run walk intervals for either the novice or the walking program?
  • I’m trying to decide which plan to go with. I had my longest run ever this weekend. I ran 20 minutes straight and went a mile and half. Typically I run 3 minutes and walk 2 minutes. Should I go for the “Novice” plan and build up my run? I really want to improve my run!
  • How cold is too cold to run?
  • At what point is it okay to substitute an indoor run for an outdoor one?
  • How do I handle days where my training plan says to do a large number of miles, but my body is saying “You have got to be kidding me!” (In other words, I am too fatigued from previous training or unexpected work obligations.) Should I do the workout or would resting be better?

VIDEO #2 – 8:43

  • I am in charge of meal planning for my family, and it can all be a bit overwhelming. What are some good, healthy foods to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I obviously want to fuel my running, but it’s also important that I drop about 10 pounds from baby weight.
  • I have time to work out on my lunch hour. Do you suggest I eat before noon and then again after my workout (around 1:30pm) so that I don’t crash?
  • FEAR processed sugars!

VIDEO #3 – 11:00

  • What level of effort (i.e., HR zones) will the 3-5 mile runs be in? Should I mix in any walking or even more intense efforts during the regular runs?
  • How much faster can I expect my 5k time to get in 8 weeks of training (if everything goes well in training)?
  • Do you use a metro timer of any kind when you run?
  • What do you do to stay on plan when an injury strikes, such as plantar fasciitis?
  • In the past I’ve gotten shin splints. What’s the best way to avoid them?
  • With weather being so cold, I have a hard time with motivation. I like jogging outside, so sometimes running on a treadmill is not as fun. Any suggestions?

Happy Training,

Coach David

leadership, life

Meaning and Meaninglessness

Living a Meaningful Life — I once went to a 3-day seminar and learned by the end of day #3 that life is empty and meaningless.

Now, as you read that you might have been thinking “that is the most depressing news ever.” The seminar leader asserted this was actually a good thing because from a place of “nothing”, you can create whatever you want in life. He added that creating a “meaning”-full life requires freeing yourself from all the “meanings” that you may have attached to things and people from the past, meanings that might be holding you back.

So, writing a post about “living a meaningful life” might sound somewhat paradoxical in lieu of the above.

But you get the point. I’m talking about living a life you are completely satisfied with.

In thinking about whether or not at the end I’ll be satisfied with how I’ve lived my life (this overwhelms me a bit), I start by thinking how I can live a satisfying DAY.

If I can repeat living satisfying and meaningful DAYS, then I’ll probably be satisfied at the end of my time. That’s my logical approach to attacking this.

So, I made a list of things I VALUE, in no particular order. On any given day if I hit this list, it’s usually a meaningful and satisfying day.

  1. Spend quality time with Nikki and my daughters
  2. Spend quality time with extended family – in-person/phone/Skype (my parents and many siblings are local)
  3. Exercise (preferably in the outdoors)
  4. Learn (usually via reading books or attending a seminar/lecture)
  5. Connect with nature (a sunrise or sunset walk; or can usually be done via exercise)
  6. Write.
  7. Practice meditation/mindfulness to quiet my mind / set intentions
  8. Spend time alone (doesn’t have to be much but if not allotted, things don’t work as well)
  9. Use my gifts (strengths) to help others
  10. Interact with empowering and positive people (work/friends/etc.)
  11. Give time or money to those in need
  12. Save money (doesn’t have to be daily) for something in the future
  13. Laugh (preferably on the HOUR!)

For myself, making it a “GREAT DAY” means making sure my days include the above list.

That usually means saying “NO” to other stuff! (Not easy).

I think I like alone time (#8) because growing up with 12 siblings was often chaotic and loud. So I value peace and quiet. Conversely, my wife grew up as an only child. She naturally enjoys being around my family and the characteristic pandemonium.

So it’s useful to communicate my list with Nikki to enroll her support. Otherwise, at times I might appear standoffish and disengaged, when in reality, I just need 10 minutes to re-charge and then I’m good for the rest of the day.

In less than four years, we’ve added two little munchkins to the mix with another one on the way in August of 2015. Raising kids has forced me (because of time) to create the above list so that I am intentional about spending my time doing the things I love and that give me the greatest return.

coaching, leadership, life, Uncategorized

Winning the Lottery, Every Day

Recently I attended SMU’s December Graduation ceremony where Gerald J. Ford gave the commencement speech. I didn’t know much about Mr. Ford, outside of him being a billionaire and due to a generous donation the SMU football stadium is named after him.

Do you remember who spoke at your commencement? I don’t. Gerald J. Ford doesn’t remember either. He shared with the graduates that they would most likely not remember him.

And while they might not remember him, might they remember his words?

Mr. Ford soon began casting pearls. In no time, I was fumbling to find my iPhone in efforts to take notes.

Here are 6 pieces of advice Mr. Ford offered to the graduates:

  1. Make a plan: Set specific goals, aligned with your key values. Continual review of the plan is critical.
  2. Be committed: You must be willing to make a huge effort. Effort triumphs intellect.
  3. Accept responsibility: Be objective with yourself. Most look to blame others.
  4. Associate with good people: Be deliberate and proactive in this pursuit.
  5. Accept bad news gladly: Don’t ever shoot the messenger. “The good news can wait until Monday. The bad news I want on Friday.”
  6. Under-promise and Over-deliver: There is no downside to this.

He then shared a thought from Warren Buffet that really stood out to me – “Being born in America is like winning the lottery.” He was empowering the graduates. Days after the speech, that stayed with me.

Approaching subsequent days with this gratitude mindset that I’ve already “won”, proved to be an effective motivational tool.

Getting present to the sheer amount of opportunity that is right at our fingertips, each and every day, can induce a state of awe.

Powerful stuff.

I wonder if along the way Mr. Ford set goals not aligned with his values, blamed others, and associated with unethical people. Perhaps these experiences helped fuel the content for his “list of six”.

Our lists are being created, too.

coaching, Fitness, Training

A Call to Action – Run, Jog, Walk, Crawl a 5k

Many know and understand the benefits of exercise and living an active life, and yet it still may not result in ACTION. It’s on-and-off again or never on at all.

I’m offering to jump-start your 2015 by personally coaching you towards a 5k, for FREE

And I’m not just talking about couch potatoes here. Ironman finishers and sedentary folk alike, go through spaces where they hit a plateau or just can’t seem to drum up the motivation.

To the fitness veterans: maybe you need a fresh look at things or maybe you don’t need a training program at all; time may be better spent developing non-fitness aspects of yourselves. To the out-of-shape folks: perhaps you need a combination of accountability, encouragement, and direction.

Many seem to get overwhelmed about HOW they are going to get in shape or get their fitness back. While I understand and can sympathize with that, it doesn’t move you forward.

Put an end to the resistance and instead put the energy into what you’re going to do TODAY. That’s what really matters.

I challenge you to get 2015 started off with a bang by making your health a priority!

What does that look like, “in action”? One way is to sign up for an event and place the date on your calendar.

If you choose to accept the challenge, I will assist by providing:

  • An 8-week training plan (you choose: Novice, Intermediate, or Advanced).
  • A weekly email providing training & injury prevention tips, as well as encouragement and motivation.
  • Meet-up opportunities for group workouts (i.e., Wednesday track, Sunday “long” runs) — These will be announced in the weekly emails.

HOW TO JOIN THE FUN: Simply leave a comment on this post saying you’d like to join the 5k email list, and I’ll personally send you a training plan. If you’d like to remain anonymous, then you can send me a note through this link by clicking on the blue “Contact David” button.

Training begins Tuesday, January 13th. 

The experience culminates with a 5k on Saturday, March 7th, in Dallas Texas. You don’t have to be doing that race to participate in the training.

You see, over time I’ve learned for myself that no day is complete without at least 45-60 minutes of exercise (with days off being the exception, of course). This is part of my personal recipe for creating a great day, everyday.

At first, I trained to win races and to get as fast as I possibly could. Today, I am more intrinsically motivated and find the actual exercise itself enjoyable. Your motivation might change over time, too. The key is to find a reason to keep your body moving and working well, despite whatever “phase” you might find yourself in.

Oh and by the way, this is meant to be FUN. If you’re having fun you’ll be more likely to stay active over the long haul. Take the pressure off and give yourself a reason to engage.

For your success!