June 4, 2013

What is Coaching?

I learned to swim sometime before I started first grade. South Carolina summers could be cruel–airless nights and blistering days. Relief came from the pond 1/2 mile away at my aunt & uncle’s home. They lived beside a ninety-acre black water pond endlessly cooled with deep springs. Before I learned to swim, I wore an orange life jacket, strapped across me like I was a trussed-up turkey. One day, I got to the pond before everyone else and was hot to jump in. My five-year-old eyes spied the orange life jacket sitting on the dock and I threw it on, making sure it was buttoned up across me. Secure and “safe”, I took a running jump into the eighteen-feet-deep water and pushed myself up from the low point of my plunge.

When I got back to the top, Mother and brother Kirk were standing on the dock with an orange thing in their hand, yelling for me. I was happy, “Come on in!”

“Where’s  your life jacket?” they called back.

“I’ve got it on!” I said, feeling smug.

“No. You don’t.” Mother said urgently as Kirk held up the familiar plump pods. “You’ve got on Daddy’s shirt!” I suddenly lost confidence and started to go down.

“Perry! Dog paddle! You know how!” my brother yelled at me. “Come on, now!”

I remember thinking of our dog, Lad, when he swam. I started pawing the water, just like him. Within seconds, I was at the dock’s ladder.

That scene — of putting myself in a tough learning situation, then being supported by someone who helps me see how to use my own strengths to solve the problem — is a great picture of coaching. Our learning situations are no mistake. They don’t just show up by mistake. Somehow, they’re connected to our goals and our career. We can use them to get where we want to go. A good coach helps guiding us to that perspective.