Character, coaching, leadership

Defining Greatness in Coaching

Lately, everywhere I turn the topic of character shows up.

Recently I taught a class on character in the Coaching & Leadership for Performance course at SMU. Coaches at all levels talk about it and by the time students are in college all they hear is blah blah blah, character, blah blah blah sense of community and family, blah blah teamwork.

That same week, the Provost gave each faculty member a copy of David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character. Then as I watched the latest Super Bowl between the Broncos and Panthers, I noticed how some players responded to the outcome of the game with character and honor while others did not. As I continue to listen to the presidential debates for the upcoming election, I wonder how important it is to each candidate for our nation to be one of high character.

In contemplating the sheer importance of character, I wonder why people have stopped listening? But then it’s clear – many coaches know how to talk the talk but don’t know how to walk the walk.

Here are 5 reasons why character is crucial in coaching:

1. Without a moral compass, the emphasis on winning becomes obnoxious and unhealthy.

Coaches are constantly balancing the objectives of winning, developing people, and having fun. The pitfall of placing too much emphasis on winning often results in either burnout or a general dissatisfaction. No amount of winning is enough for these coaches. The confusing part is that despite the inner struggle or lack of fulfillment, the adoration and/or money received from the outside world for continuing to improve a win-loss percentage makes it difficult to shift the emphasis back to balanced.

With all the focus on winning, somehow we have lost the sense of having fun and instead have replaced it with “hard work”. Then, we work so hard that it’s just not fun anymore. We need to be conscious to infuse fun back in to the mix of things.

A win-at-all-cost mentality produces superficial monsters. The win is ultimately the only thing that matters to these people and they will do anything to get it – including harming others in their way and/or bending rules. The social, physical, and psychological development of coaches and their athletes take a backseat to the priority of winning. Students start cheating their way to a degree, workers lie their way to a promotion, and athletes use performance enhancing drugs to elicit wins.

Win or lose, coaches with high character recognize the implications of their actions and are conscious to respond appropriately with honorable behavior. Coaches with moral strength and integrity identify with Arthur Calwell’s assertion that “It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies”. Truly, these coaches believe there are wins more significant than can be found in a race or on the fields and courts of competition.

2. Coaches of character create “friend energy” not “fan energy”.

I love one of John Maxwell’s blog posts that considers the question, “Do you want to have fans, or friends?” Coaches focused on character don’t care about impressing others or showing off as they are too concerned with connecting with others to influence their growth and development. These coaches understand that their current behavior is influencing the future behavior of the people they are coaching.

Egomaniacal coaches are likely to produce fans of those they lead. Relationships are not mutual and typically do not last. It doesn’t matter if the coaching style is autocratic or democratic, emotionally close or emotionally distant; the actions of these coaches are ultimately self-serving.

Notice I said friend “energy”, not friends. The goal at the end of the day is not to make friends with your athletes but to move the needle forward. HOW you go about moving the needle forward matters. Your ability to communicate in a caring manner greatly affects relationships and the results you do or don’t get.

Mark Allen, coach and 6 time winner of the Kona Ironman World Championship, shared some great content and coaching advice with me in a recent interview for a presentation I gave at USA Triathlon’s International Art & Science Symposium titled Coaching Powerfully: The Greatest Triathlon Coaching Minds. He said, “I help people get physically fit but I aim to help them with weak points in their inner character as well – human being stuff – that ultimately can help in a race.”

The energy you use to carry out your daily interactions with those you coach reveals the heart of your character.

3. Because we need more human beings that ADD TO society, not TAKE AWAY from it.

As a coach in a position of power and authority, people look up to you and look to you for guidance and direction. There is an inherent responsibility that comes with the great privilege of being a coach.

Once you step into a leadership position you soon realize that society’s problems become your problems. Especially for youth coaches, it is well-known that character education helps to fight against violence, drugs, theft, abuse, peer cruelty, etc. We know this all too well in professional sports too, as the media is quick to report athletes’ unbecoming and unlawful behavior.

So basically, a coach’s job is to get others to shine. That’s the task. You cannot assume that anyone you coach knows what the principles of character are. You have to identify these principles. Then teach them. The effort is more than worth it as traits like grit, self-discipline, and passion usually accompany those with high character.

Becky Burleigh, head women’s soccer coach at the University of Florida, wonderfully illustrates what the commitment looks like to build a culture of high character people. In this video, you will see an amazing demonstration team character in action.

4. Your credibility depends on it.

What you say and what you teach are a small part of what others actually remember of you. Your wins and any other short-lived successes are also likely to be forgotten. Rather, it’s the way you live your life, and how you go about it in the smallest of details — this is the strongest message that you send to those you lead.

The trail you leave behind is largely determined by your character. In order to be an effective teacher of the distinctions of character, it must be something you live. Once others SEE your commitment through your actions, you gain massive credibility with your audience.

Dr. Greg Dale, a Professor of Sport Psychology and Sport Ethics at Duke University, authored The Seven C’s of Coaching Credibility where he listed desired characteristics of the most credible coaches. While the list of seven characteristics are great, I most appreciate the poem from Linda Ellis called “the Dash” which Dr. Dale and a colleague adapted especially for coaches. I urge you to read it.

Your character shapes your destiny, as I am reminded in the below quote by Frank Outlaw (also seen as attributed to Lao Tzu).

As a coach and leader of others, you have the responsibility and great honor of guiding others to their destinies.

5. Because the world needs more humility and self-discipline in it.

It is possible to win and remain humble. Of course there will be those who win and act in a haughty manner, blow their own trumpets, and draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Let them be. Virtues like courage, humility, patience and perseverance are in short supply. Coaches who value these virtues can positively impact sport and in turn, the world we live in.

Be willing to examine yourself as a person and have the courage to confront your weaknesses as it relates to your character. Others you spend time with, your family and your athletes, see these weaknesses. How you go about your life acknowledging them with grace will give others a sense of your self-awareness and will enroll them in assisting you in your greater mission.

“Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service and character.” -William Arthur Ward

Greatness is not found in accumulating wins or trophies, either. If that’s your standard, maybe it’s time to raise it.

David Bertrand serves as Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of the Sport Performance Leadership coaching concentration within the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness at Southern Methodist University. He is a practicing endurance and triathlon coach and is en route to graduate with a doctorate in higher education leadership in May of 2018. David lives in Dallas with his wife, Nikki, and their three children, Annie, Tessa, and John David.

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featured image photo credit: innovateus.net

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leadership, life, Spirituality

Clarity from Stillness

Stillness. There is beauty in it. I thrive in the complete silence the beginning of the day offers. I become fully aware of choices – ones I’ve made, ones currently available to me, and ones I will make in the future. I am in awe of the simplicity of the realization that I am a product of all my past decisions, which have been influenced by the people I’ve met and the books I’ve read.

I am grateful to not feel the need to blame anyone for anything. Peace that accompanies this feeling. And for a moment, just for a moment, there is nothing to prove or accomplish. For a moment, there is no list of to-do’s or expectations. For a moment, I can just be. In this moment, I sense the radical renewal of my mind and energy. I feel an unstoppable force with undisputed clarity guiding my breath and my thoughts. I dread nothing. I look forward to nothing (except the next sip of coffee). I just fully enjoy myself and this moment to no end. I am present.

I am grateful and keenly aware of the activities in my life that constantly seem to pull me away from the tranquility and magic of the mindfulness I am experiencing. I begin to smile as I fantasize being able to maintain this state throughout my day. What if I could? I know I can and have confidence that with more practice and regularity of entering this state, I can live being more in tune with my inner world, moment by moment.

I am reminded of a self-defeating, sabotaging thought from the previous night and can immediately recognize the foolishness and insanity of the thought – a critical judgment of myself for not being as fit or in as peak of shape as I was in the past. Where does this absurd thinking come from? It’s clear to me that when these subtle thoughts tug at me (sometimes unconsciously) during random times throughout the day, they are not uplifting or helpful. I consciously transfer these thoughts to ones of acceptance and love, and rest in the true reality of my healthy state.

I then remind myself of my choices and what truly brings me joy – my family and friends, my work, the outdoors – and let go of the harsh treatment I often subconsciously subject myself to. I am deeply grateful for the awareness of this inner critic as many are not and again, I peacefully bring my internal conversations back to ones that support loving David and the great possibilities ahead of me.

I realize these moments are opportunities to imprint upon my consciousness the freedom and peace of being in an anxiety-free state. I think back to the past five years of my life and the decisions I have made to de-clutter some overcrowded aspects of my life, and I am thankful for trusting myself to make hard decisions — even though at the time I was hesitant due to caring too much about what others thought of me.

I understand clearly now that the cumulative effect of these decisions have allowed me to regain something very precious: more frequent access to quiet, still moments of thought and reflection. Stillness. The result is that I feel more connected to my truest desires, most sincere intentions, and highest aspirations. It reinforces my devotion to spend my mornings reading, learning, and listening. And it renews my dedication to living a life on purpose.

I have never been as clear as I am in this moment, that happiness cannot be gained from anything outside of me – whether it be accumulating trinkets, winning the approval of others, or mindlessly following my inner critic – rather it comes from within…it’s a simple choice.

“There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

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coaching, leadership, Teaching, triathlon

An Interview With Brett Sutton – Unorthodox Coach of World and Olympic Champions

Brett Sutton, aka “The Doc”, has coached Ironman world record holder Chrissie Wellington and Olympic gold medalists Nicola Spirig and Emma Snowsill.

First of all, let me just say that Brett’s interview was the longest (and perhaps the most provocative) of all the triathlon coaches I spoke with. He had a lot to say and a lot to offer. He did not shy away from bringing up controversial topics and did not hesitate to speak his mind on anything and everything.

Former professional athlete and now famed coach Siri Lindley has described Sutton as “the best coach in the world” (in January of 2011).

Here is the transcript from my conversation with Brett: (Note: Because the interview was NOT recorded, transcribing was not possible and many of the answers are thus paraphrased.)

David Bertrand (db): How many years have you been coaching?

Brett Sutton (bs): I come from a coaching family where both my mom and dad were coaches. I’ve been doing it since the age of 15 (which amounts to 40+ years).

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

bs: My brother and sisters were all swimmers, so I was teaching them how to swim when I was 10 years old. It was a part of my life from very early on. My entire life has been centered around sport.

It’s what I do best – not necessarily what I enjoy – but it’s just what I do best. I get very emotionally involved with my athletes. At age 18 I had experienced a lot of success already having coached with the Australian national swim team. This early success made it difficult for my coaching career as I didn’t get another job until age 24 (parents of athletes thought he was too young to coach). In the interim I crossed over to coach greyhounds and horses.

Coaching is the family business. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have stayed with the animals. I had great success with them. My dad would always pull me back in to the swim training and stir my interest for working with people again, and sure enough I’d get drawn back in to the mainstream of swim coaching.

Triathlon coaching came in to the picture in 1999. I was working with swimmers on the gold coast, as coaching director for Queensland Swimming. Initially they asked if I could step in to the age group masters program for a few weeks. It was then that I met Ben Bright, national triathlon high performance coach for England. I worked with the triathlon age groupers for three months and absolutely loved it. I loved the atmosphere and the camaraderie of the age grouper environment. I had to make up my mind though and choose between coaching the swimmers or the triathletes, which I thought was totally unfair and disingenuous. Being the hot head that I was, I left swimming and began a 3-year stint of working with the age groupers. The rest is history.

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

bs: I’m an authoritarian who listens. A coach should be a coach and make decisions. The reason for loyalty is the listening part. From the outside looking in, it might just look like authoritarianism. But I listen first and then act decisively. I understand their feelings and the logic of what the athlete is trying to achieve. I’ve never looked at the sport of triathlon from a triathlon set of eyes, and that has been my biggest advantage.

The best medley swim coaches in the world make compromises of each stroke and technique, in order to make the best medley racers in the world. I brought that philosophy to triathlon. I have never done a triathlon. I did two bike rides just to see what the athletes are going through. What I learned is that coaches are far too technical and way too specific.

Teaching age groupers how to get a “feel’ for the water is just outright ridiculous. Michael Phelps and Alexander Popov are terrible distance swimmers, and yet that’s the model for many swim clinics. It drives me nuts. 

[In summary:]

  1. Being an authoritarian is not a bad thing because you have to make decisions. (I wear it like a badge of honor.)
  2. You must compromise certain things to get the best performance.

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?

bs: My dad couldn’t read or write. All of his coaching was done by feel and with a great eye for the sport of swimming. Everything he learned was trial and error. After the age of 15 when an athlete typically begins to ask “Why?” in regards to training procedures and methods, things went south for my dad as ultimately he was insecure about it.

When I first set out to learn the craft of coaching, my dad sent me out to observe each of the top 5 programs in Australia. He wanted me to learn what I could and then report back as to what each program does and what they do to produce good athletes. He said, “Don’t come home until you know what’s going on.”

There was one program in particular that seemingly was accomplishing very little. The head coach would write the workout on the board and then go into his office, after which chaos and play would ensue with the group of youth swimmers. He reported back to his father that it was simply “pandemonium” and his dad’s response, “You’re only looking, not watching.” After the third visit, I finally figured it out: after the coach would go back to his office the young swimmers were doing relay after relay of 25 yard sprints. It was no wonder that the program was producing short-range rockets!

This example serves to illustrate that my first year of coaching was dedicated to observation. I consider it to have been an ingenious coaching expedition.

The observation skills I learned from training horses and greyhounds would put triathlon coaches to shame. And in a nutshell, that’s the mystique that I bring to triathlon. I spent the better part of 3 or 4 years around training animals, and that has had a huge influence on how I coach people.

The depth of the psychology needed to coach effectively is underrated. You must be a great observer and communicator but if I had to pick one between the two, observation trumps it every time. Great horse trainers don’t talk to the horses.

For example, at times I didn’t even talk to Nicola. I’d let her physiology do the talking. Earlier in my career I would never compromise, but in 2000 I started to compromise.

Emma Snowsill would not have achieved what she has without my authoritarian style. Same thing goes for Chrissie Wellington. Nicola Spirig too.

I have evolved as a coach.

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

bs: Injuries are part of the deal. If you sign up to be a soldier, you can’t guarantee you won’t get shot. If you want to be a professional athlete and be the best you want to be, you are kidding yourself if you think you can do it without injury.

It’s HOW you deal with it that counts. Often times people do great things while injured.

When Loretta Harrop came to me, I was “Mr. Fix It” and would use horse remedies to help her and others. An art of coaching is being able to train around awkward physiology. For example, one recovering athlete I never gave any speed work to but she could handle 60k a week on the run at a steady-state pace and was strong as an ox. It’s how you set the session that matters.

Injuries usually come in three’s I’ve found. After 10 days off from an injury let’s say, an athlete might come back with a different set of legs. There is one legitimate injury and two illegitimate ones. 

db: Regarding the business of coaching, what do you see as the biggest challenge to establishing a successful coaching practice?

bs: I’m broke and the worst person to ask for this.

I get the best results of five coaches combined. But I’m a bad business man.

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

bs: Letting athletes cram: “I missed this session, so I’ll fit it in there.” Don’t play catch up!

What’s ridiculously hard is to be consistent at my training sessions. I tell my athletes that I need 20 weeks of consistent work.

db: What types of collaborating do you do with other coaches to improve your own practice?

bs: I’m an eclectic. I’m not a very smart guy, but what I can do is tell you things about athletes and what they do that other triathlon coaches cannot see. I don’t necessarily collaborate with other tri coaches because there are only five that know what they’re doing.

I having great success with those I mentor because I can explain to them why I’m doing what I’m doing. I would advise coaches to be very careful who you are collaborating with.

An important thing to note here is that I don’t change anything if it’s working. I’m not thinking “Oh, how can I improve this next year?” if it’s working. Sometimes if you’re always thinking about ways to become a better coach, it can hurt you. That thirst for knowledge can hurt you. You may be passing over something that is working just fine.

Chrissie did the exact same program in year 1 as she did in year 2. She just did it faster. And did it better in year 2. Caroline Steffen trained the same way as Chrissie; they had similar body and emotional make-ups. Additionally I trained Nicola more like Loretta because of similar leg problems.

I spent 4 years in an apprenticeship standing on deck as a coach. I am not someone who was a great athlete or that has taken certain courses. That’s what I’ve found to be valuable.

Sidenote: The greatest swimmers don’t make as good coaches because they lack the empathy.

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

bs:

  • Coaches are making money on age groupers and that part has never been better. 
  • If professionals don’t wake up and get organized, things are going to get ugly. It’s regressing completely. If you’re in the Ironman field, be very careful as prize money is shrinking.
  • If you strive to be a high performance coach, you’re going to be very broke.
  • A good business strategy does not revolve around the pro’s.
  • I’m very worried about the performance side of things. It’s very scary in regards to doping. I still think you can be clean and get the times necessary to win. If you train hard enough, you can still produce the results (this is NOT the case with cycling). I wish triathlon would wake up and nip it in their own sport.

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

bs: Consistency. Understand if you’re coming in new to the sport, you’re not going to be a professional so the main goal is health…don’ destroy your family.

Follow this: Mon/Thurs = swim; Tues/Fri = bike; Wed/Sat = run; Sun = rest. That’s it.

All these “I want to go faster and longer” goals are being lost in the holistic pie as age groupers are starting to sacrifice other things to get 5 minutes faster. Is that healthy? Or does that cause you to unhinge in other areas? Or is there actually a health benefit? The competitive component of triathlon has over-run what triathlon is all about.

Use the sport to be healthy and to enhance your lifestyle and family life.

I advocate eliminating 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medals at these age group races. What about completing the event…that guy is a winner! How can you compare a guy with no job to another that has a family and works 12 hours a day? It’s just silliness.

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

bs: Spend time on the deck, observing. If you want to be a great coach, that’s the best way to do it. Don’t go straight to online programming and coaching; that is a mistake. Coach people and understand personalities. That’s the key. You’ve got to get the experience if you want to be a good coach. You learn that the books may not be right and then you bring in the “art” to find out how to help the athlete.

Nicola Sperry was out 6 months in 2011, but she swam 60k a week and we found things to work on.

Pick athletes to work with that have big results, not big egos. There’s a huge difference.

db: Any final thoughts?

bs:

  • Number one is that psychology wins over physiology, always.
  • A lot of coaches think they’re going to get “magic” out of a book.
  • Match your knowledge to what the person’s needs are at that particular time.
  • If you are doing a set of 4 x 800 on the track and the athlete looks agitated, then I might change the workout on the fly. Doing the original workout will only make the athlete worse. Never rely on a set program.

So there you have it, from the “coach with the most formidable resume in triathlon”.

Learned a lot. Hope you did too.

For your success,

David

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

Dave Scott

Mark Allen

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

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leadership, life

The Best Advice I Ever Received

Surely we have all gotten some good tips along the way from our parents, guardians, mentors, etc. All of it has helped to inform our choices in life and make us who we are.

But if you had to pick the one single piece of advice that has made the biggest difference for you in life, what would that be?

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This didn’t come to me easily at first, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Clear as day.

2008 was a pretty busy year for me with a lot on my mind. My chocolate labrador Mandy passed away, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, Nikki and I got married, I coached my first community triathlon training program, and I was positioning myself to leave academia to be a full-time coach. I’m sure there was more but you get the idea.

With everything going on that year, one question loomed largest: How do I know if it’s the right call to leave SMU and pursue coaching full-time?

Certainly there were many things to consider in a transition like this. Ultimately I mulled over it for a couple of years before pulling the trigger.

I want to share with you one thing I learned along the way.

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In 2010 I took on a personal development exercise with career/transitions guru David Zelman in which I was asked to pick five people to interview. They could be family members, friends, former coaches or teachers, current supervisors, etc. The only criteria is that they needed to be a huge fan (a supporter, a backer) of me and someone who was fully committed to my success and not afraid to tell me the truth.

In thinking back to why I engaged in this exercise, I think I was searching for clues about myself that would help give me the confidence to jump out on my own as an entrepreneur. I thought that increasing my self-awareness through the activity would bolster my confidence enough to get me off the fence I’d been on for 3 years.

Needless to say, I was pretty focused on listening for the right nuggets of information from my interviewees that would empower me for my goal.

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In my case, the best advice I ever received was completely unexpected. Perhaps that’s why it made such as impression on me. It seemed out of left field, and yet something was so refreshing about it too. I now know the reason for that is because it connected with me on a deeper level, in regards to what I truly value in life.

So I’ll cut to the chase. The questionnaire had questions like…

  • “What do you see as my key strengths?”
  • “What is a major weakness of mine?”
  • “When am I most powerful?”
  • “In what situations am I least powerful?”

One of the five people I chose to interview was the late Peter Gifford, a very special man who spent 41 years as department chair at SMU. Here is a tribute that The Daily Campus published in his honor. I greatly respected Peter and his no-nonsense, positive style.

The last question on the list was “If you could wish one thing for me in the next year, what would it be?”

I’ll never forget how Peter answered this. Partly because there was no hesitation. But also because of the passion that accompanied his response.

He said, “I wish for you a family of your own.”

And then he went on to describe his love for Diane, his wife, and his five children, and how much he enjoys life with them. He went on to give examples of how they congregate at his house, outside on the patio, and talk for hours into the night. His face lit up and you could sense that he couldn’t wait to get home that day to be with his family.

Here I was, ready for the pearls of wisdom related to career, and Peter shared his heart with me about what mattered most to him and how he wanted that for me too.

When he shared this with me, I was a little surprised and taken aback because my brain was in a completely different realm. It took me a little bit of time to actually absorb what he said.

The result was that in a way, it provided “permission” for me to move in a direction that I was already committed to deep down. Before the conversation, I’m sure I was like many in thinking “I’ll get around to that (starting a family). I’ve got goals for now!”

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An hour later after the interview, I called Nikki and told her she needed to come by my office…that there was something I just had to tell her.

Upon sharing with her what Peter said, I added that I was moved by his words and that I was indeed ready to go down this path and start a family. Nikki’s response: “I’ve been trying to tell you that for over a year!”

We cried together, right there in my office. Immediately followed by lots of laughter as we dreamed about the great possibilities that lay ahead.

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So, I didn’t get the answers that I was expecting or looking for, in regards to career.

But I got the answer to a much greater one: I’m a family man.

Thank you, Peter.

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leadership, life

Getting Paid for Doing What You Love

Yes, perhaps a cliché title. But hang with me…

What others have found most interesting about my professional life thus far:

  1. I left corporate America after 1 year and to completely re-career and pursue coaching and education.
  2. After 7 years of teaching at the high school and college level, I left the academic realm to make my part-time triathlon coaching business into a full-time venture.

Once the ship set sail on each of these choices, I never looked back at the shore. I was totally focused on the task at hand and on learning as much as I possibly could in order to succeed.

Because of where my focus was directed, it was hard to empathize or even unpack my decision points to others that also were considering career changes. People were interested in WHY I did what I did. Some were even inspired.

So I answered their questions to the best of my ability and then moved on. (Remember: tunnel-vision focus!)

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So, I came across a book the other day my mother handed me.

She said, “David, your childhood friend Dustin wrote a book – you should check it out.” I remembered Dustin of course, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had published a book. Out of curiosity and affection for an old pal, I dove in.

Very quickly in to the first few chapters, I thought, “YES! FINALLY! THIS IS AMAZING!!”

The reason for the excitement was because I finally have an incredible resource to share with people who need a step-by-step approach to guide them from “I hate my job” to “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”

My advice was usually “Just do it. Jump off the cliff. It’s exhilarating (and humbling) and you’ll figure it out along the way.”

Where Dustin is gifted is in guiding you to dive into critical questions and in the perfect sequencing, too. I think he is able to do this so powerfully because 1) he’s lived it, and 2) he’s helped hundreds do the same through a decade of career and leadership coaching.

I got so into the book that I found myself loving the end-of-chapter exercises, as I was validating (and strengthening…it’s like a muscle) what I’ve already learned through experience, but I was also learning new things about myself — for a lifelong learner, the practice is always ongoing. I’m grateful for Dustin for being my teacher!

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There was one exercise that was particularly meaningful to me. He took me through a reflection exercise where I had to look back at when I felt the most energized over the past 7 days. The ironic part is that one of those times was in the actual “doing” and participating in the activities he was suggesting (this is largely due to the fact that one of my top 3 values is PERSONAL GROWTH).

After coming up with some memorable and invigorating occurrences, Dustin then asked me to summarize “the thing(s) I was doing that gave me the energy”. Writing this down was somehow exciting and wonderful. Might sound weird but it’s true.

The last part of the exercise he challenged me to write a statement that would capture the energy of what I’d just written (see above sentence) but to be general enough to be widely applicable.

The result, my personal mission statement:

I love to empower others (through leadership, coaching, teaching, and speaking) to be true to themselves, to believe in themselves, and to take actions that are consistent with being or becoming their BEST possible selves.

If you like the idea of having your work be energizing and life-giving (i.e., not life-sucking and draining), then this book can really help you organize your thoughts to help you take meaningful actions towards “loving what you do”.

My favorite quote from the book: “There is always room at the top for those who love what they do.”

Reset: How to Get Paid and Love What You Do, by Dustin Peterson

For your success,

David

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coaching, leadership, Training, triathlon

A Chat with Mark Allen – 6 time Ironman World Champion

Mark Allen is one of the most recognizable names in triathlon. He’s probably best known for winning in Kona 6 times.

Listening to Mark speak is quite a treat because he makes every word count. He has the gift of communicating in three sentences what might take others three paragraphs. Speaking simply and methodically, he offers profound lessons from his days as an athlete and now a coach.

Here are the highlights from my conversation with Mark: (Note: Because the interview was NOT recorded, many of the 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?

Mark Allen (ma): I got an email from a guy in Chicago, and he asked if I’d coach him. I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I started with one client and grew from there. The most I’ve had is 20 to 30 people. The idea for online coaching came from that.

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

ma: Everything people get is based on 15 years of personal experience racing at the highest level.

I sifted through lots of information over those years. Most of it didn’t work. Or it may have worked short-term but not long-term. 

One thing that’s unique is the deep, personal experience that happens when I coach athletes.

All training intensities are based on heart rate…it’s the #1 thing you can do to help you regulate training intensity. Some coaches only use watts and pace; I don’t do it that way as it doesn’t address the physiological aspects of where you’re at with your fitness on that day.

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?

ma: The thing that’s helped me the most is the questions I get from my athletes. If I get the same questions over and over, then I have to be willing to looks at things differently.

Coaching is so multi-leveled…depending on how personally engaged you are, it becomes more about helping athletes through your wording and stories and helping them to stay in that calm place when they are training.

Helping them get physically fit but also helping them with weak points in their inner character as well…that can help tremendously in a race, the human being stuff.

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

ma: An injury is just the end result of something that was out of balance. You have to ask “What led to it?”

Help them find out where it stemmed from. Go back to where imbalance started. Be disappointed for a while. It’s OK to be disappointed, but after a week, let’s circle back. It’ll be more clear maybe after that and we can look at it differently.

db: Regarding the business of coaching, what do you see as the biggest challenge to establishing a successful coaching practice?

ma: The biggest challenge is to stand out among all the noise out there. Asking questions like the following will help: “What’s my niche? What am I offering that will attract folks? What type of service does the client want and need? Do I need to train with my clients?”

My niche is providing customized training programs online.

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

ma: Not providing the availability of support they they’re going to provide. Lack of integrity.

Next would be coaches who take too much out of the physiology textbook and try to implement it directly into practice, without real world experience.

It’s hard to tell athletes to hold back and to slow down. I see new coaches struggle with this a lot. Triathlon attracts Type A folks, coaches and athletes, so it’s a huge challenge to continually remind them that they need to slow down a little bit.

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

ma: It seems like there’s still steady growth in the sport, in regards to the # of races. I think a cohesive Olympic-distance series will surface. Eventually somebody will figure this piece out.

In regards to coaching, we must continue to educate as there’s a lot of free stuff on the Internet…people will try these free programs out, and then they’ll need a real coach.

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

ma: Start from where you’re at, not from where someone else is at. Build slowly and gradually.

You want to talk about Ironman? OK great, but you can barely finish a sprint properly. Make the journey a positive one (and don’t rush it).

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

ma: Figure out what your core training philosophy is that you will build on. Don’t get caught up in the latest and greatest. Lots of folks train by the “article de jour” whiplash, so don’t be a coach that does that too.

Understand that you’re going to deal with different personalities and not everyone is going to need the same approach to get the results they should. You’ve got to be willing to be part psychologist, so be ready for that.

Lastly, don’t feel like you need to know everything. We as a collective coaching community don’t know everything. There’s a lot of complexity out there. I’m asking the experts things all the time. I’ve got to be humble to do this.

Navigating this area can be confusing for a new coach because you will encounter some “know-it-all’s” that seem to get a lot of clients and do quite well. Some athletes feel more secure with that. But it’s these coaches that get stuck in their ways and don’t grow.

db: Any final thoughts?

ma: Just keep learning as a coach and as an athlete – about the sport AND about your physiology. USAT Level 1 certification doesn’t mean you’re “arrived”.

The learning keeps going and going. Get the experience.

A big thank you to Mark for helping us all get BETTER!

For your success,

David

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

Dave Scott

Brett Sutton

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

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coaching, leadership, life

Manage ENERGY, not time.

Towards the tail end of 2014, I often times would think about getting an espresso shot (or two) on my way home from the office.

Why the thought?

Because I was tired & wanted to be on my “A” game for the most important part of the day – being with my family in the evening. Then it dawned on me…something is wrong with this picture…

How is it that I’ve got no juice left for the “main event”?

As the new year turned, the lemmings and I began to declare our resolutions. It was abundantly clear where I needed to turn my focus: to managing ENERGY in such a way that I have sufficient amounts of it for all the things I care about.

People talk about managing time A LOT. But what about paying attention to how energy flows throughout the day?

Never mind the occasional sleep deficit or the exhaustion of chasing toddlers…we all have something tugging at us.

For me, the catalyst for improvement is rooted in emotional control. I need to be more selective (i.e., smarter) in choosing what I get “worked up” and passionate about.

Coach John Wooden says, “Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.”

The idea isn’t to quell passion. The goal is intensity (passion WITH purpose and control) not emotion (passion WITHOUT stability or balance). [More on the “master of emotional control” here.]

Formula for better ENERGY management in 2015:

  1. Be honest.
    • Before committing to anything, take a quick inventory and ask myself, “Do I have the energy for it?” Notice I didn’t mention time. Of course I can find the time for it. But will that time spent leave my energy dry in other areas? Being truthful with myself around this is important, as I tend to overdo.
  2. Laugh.
    • Ask myself multiple times a day, perhaps on the hour, “Am I having fun?” Laughter keeps me loose and helps me from taking life (and myself) too seriously. The result is better energy as I am less drained and more invigorated.
  3. Limit email. 
    • Don’t live out of my email inbox. Respond to items efficiently, but not in undisciplined fashion. Don’t allow the addiction to take over and zap my creativity!

To ensure my “resolutions” are helping me to live out my purpose and not detracting me from it, I refer frequently (preferably daily) to my list of priorities that give meaning to my life.

This is an important “cross-check” because the last thing we all need is another useless list that is forgotten in two days and that doesn’t bring positive results.

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