What Having a Coach Taught Me About Life

Throughout much of my triathlon journey, my coach Miranda Tomenson has been along side for all the ups and downs.  When I tell others that I have a coach, I often get these surprised looks as in, “Wow, you must be OBSESSED about the sport…I thought only professional athletes have coaches!”.   After I explain it is very common for athletes of all abilities to use the services of a coach, those who are getting into the sport often then ask whether they should also hire a coach.  My answer is always the same: “Everyone is different.  But if you are new to the sport and you are debating what gear to spend your hard earned dollars on, you will probably find the money you spend on a coach to pay the best returns or dividends in your investment.”

The other night I was looking through my training and racing logs for the last 3 years when I have been coached by Miranda.  Reading through each workout, each training session, all the notes and feedback, I was amazed at how much I have learned.  Here are three of the most important lessons I learned from my coach that goes beyond swim, bike and run.  In fact, these lessons have shaped how I interact with others when I have had the honour of mentoring/coaching people at work and other facets in life.

(1) A Coach Helps You See What You Cannot See About Yourself.   At the end of the day, we all have our egos.  We all think we know ourselves inside out and have all the answers to what we need to work on.  A good coach open our eyes to our blind spots, and help us see how sometimes we get things exactly opposite and backwards in our views of what we need to do.

For example, as a weak swimmer, I have always felt my weakness is that my feet are too low in the water.  So I read books, blog posts, watch every Youtube videos I can find about how to get my feet up.  I even talk to my feet when I am swimming: “Come on feet, up up up…” (Honest truth!).  After filming me under water and analyzing the footage, Miranda said to me, “Your problem is not your feet.  The problem is your head is too high.  That’s what causing the feet to sink.”  Huh.  Exact opposite to what I thought.  The next session I focused on what my head is doing, and..what do you know, my feet felt higher!.

Another example, on the bike, I have always felt I am a weak climber.  So I was convinced that I need to hit the squat rack and leg press in the gym until my legs look like a frog’s to be a better cyclist.  After riding with me, Miranda told me,  “Alfred, the problem is not in your climbing, it’s your descending.  You need to develop the skills to build and maintain momentum descending, and that will help your climbing.”  Hm…. again, exact opposite to what I was so sure of…see how this works?

(2) A Coach Helps You Celebrate Small Gains, Even When You Can’t See Them.  We live in a day and age where we are drawn to diets that promise to shed 50 pounds in 50 days and apps that claim will teach you how to play the piano in 3 weeks.  But anything worthwhile doing in life are hard to do, and the simple truth is that you don’t get better at doing hard things overnight.

A good coach helps you focus on YOUR improvements rather than comparing yourself with others.  As an athlete, social media can be a source of depression.  Everybody post their killer workouts, smashing personal records, winning races and it’s pretty easy to think you are the only person who is struggling in the sport.  Just as I was getting a little down and thinking I am not getting better, a quick look at my logs over the last 3 years with Miranda showed me that I HAVE BEEN improving, and improving at a rate that is reasonable and realistic given all my other life’s circumstances.   A good coach who is invested in YOU helps you focus on YOURSELF, and how to become a little better version of YOU everyday, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

(3) A Coach Helps You See The Light When Things Get Dark, and Let You Know You Are Not Alone.  Last year at my first Ironman attempt at Mont Tremblant, in my foolishness I did not educate myself on the rules of the race, and ended up taking too long on the bike portion and was disqualified at the end, not being allowed to continue to finish the race.  When the race official took the timing chip off my ankle, it was definitely the lowest point I have ever experienced in my triathlon journey.  I was devastated.

The next day Miranda sent me a very encouraging email.  She reminded me how far I have come, what I have already learned and made arrangements to chat with me after a few days to make future plans.  But to me at that time, the most encouraging part of the email was the opening sentence where she wrote: “I know you are heart broken.  I understand that.”  It helped me acknowledge that being disappointed and devastated is very much a part of the journey.  Others have gone through it too.  And if they can find the light and get through the tunnel to be better, so can I.

As I said, these three lessons have helped me beyond swim, bike and run.  They have shaped how I look to invest my life into those around me.  Whether they are people who look up to me, or we are in a mentoring relationship at work, or just people that I care about:  If I can help them see something about themselves that they don’t see, if I can help celebrate with them every small victory in life, if I can remind them that they are not alone when they are discouraged, then I think I have done my job as someone who is travelling with them on the same journey.  Here’s to the people that help us do that and become better everyday, and let us do the same for those around us.




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