Coach Tip Tuesday: Have the Courage to Suck at Something
I can’t believe I haven’t talked to you all since LAST YEAR! (I really crack myself up sometimes.)
2021 is here, and we’re here with it. And like so many Tuesdays before it, this first Tuesday of 2021 is a Coach Tip Tuesday!
This week’s tip is something that took me a L-O-N-G time to learn (much to the chagrin of my first coach). I honestly thought I knew better than her, and I wouldn’t do the things she said, even though she had experience on me in at least a 30:1 ratio. (How arrogant was I?!?!) Now in my profession as an endurance coach, this may be one of the toughest and hard-fought lessons I aim to teach the athletes I work with. (Perhaps this is my penance for being such a poor student in my early athletic days?!?!)
Anyway, this week’s tip is this: Have the courage to suck at something. More specifically, have the courage to suck at something new. And very specifically, have the courage to make mistakes, learn from them, and fall forward.
None of us like feeling confused or like we don’t know something. None of us like it when something is not executed perfectly or when things do not go 100% the way we envisioned that they should go (especially on the first try). And I think we can all agree that we instinctively do not like it when we can very clearly detect that others are MUCH more proficient at something than we are.
I know first-hand how frustrating each situation I just laid out can feel. I was the person who wanted to know everything when I was younger...the stereotypical know-it-all. I even went so far (especially as a teenager) to fib (okay, okay, lie) and say I knew something when I didn’t know it just to appear smarter than I currently was (thank goodness I learned to stop that ridiculous habit). I didn’t have the patience to learn anything, especially on the skills front. I wanted either A) Someone to just do it for me or B) For the content or skill to just “magically” be in my head with a high-level of mastery.
I am delighted to tell you that I did learn that doing things myself was often the best path, as there is not a substitute for first-hand experience, to include mistakes. And I am also delighted to tell you that I learned to actually, truly listen to others who have far more experience and expertise than I do.
What I have come to understand is this: The more I learn, the more I realize I have YET to learn. So really, learning more things over the course of my life has made me okay with all of the things I do not know. Who would have thunk it?
Additionally, I’ve also learned that mastery takes time (a heck of a lot of time), and things rarely go perfectly the first time. Mistakes and imprecision are very important parts of life. So, rather than fight this truth (because it is a truth), it’s best to “embrace the suck” and recognize that starting at the bottom means that there’s nowhere to GROW but up.
In sport, I’ve seen this manifest in so many ways over the years:
I coached a top-level athlete who used to compete at the Olympic level in their sport. When this same athlete set a goal in triathlon, they floundered in the pool. Floundered. This athlete was very used to literally being at the top of the podium in their sport of choice. So, being at the bottom was not only something that they were not used to, it was something that they hated and were incredibly frustrated by. Starting over as a beginner in a different sport was something that they really hard to embrace head-on. It took a lot of bravery and courage for this athlete to exist in this space.
For the rest of us non-Olympians, this may manifest in the following way: We are at the top-level in some aspect of our lives (work, family, etc.) and then we are confronted by something (it literally could be anything) that we are new at or unfamiliar with.
I’ve coached athletes who haven’t ever worked with a coach at all before. Sometimes they have athletic history in their sport of choice, other times they do not. Either way, working with a coach - and therefore under a system that is different than the one that they were used to following - can feel very disorienting and sometimes overwhelming. They may even feel like they are not doing well at their sport.
In this situation, taking a deep breath and realizing that different isn’t bad is important. The other person (the coach in this example) may have different things to teach us that can build on what we already know. Different doesn’t need to detract; different can add. :)
I’ve also coached folks who are introduced to new technologies and ideas in training that they have not ever used or experienced before. When I started coaching one of my athletes (who had previously qualified for the XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon World Championships - read: they were a very experienced and fit athlete), this athlete hadn’t ever used a single piece of technology to track their training. Ever. Not one. However, they were open to the idea of trying something new, so they did go ahead and they purchased a Garmin device. So, even though this person was an extremely accomplished athlete, they had a new-to-them aspect of the sport, and in this aspect, they were very much a beginner. One might even say that they sucked at it. :) They had to spend a lot of time getting to know the technology, how to use it, and how it would best work for them.
While this exact situation doesn’t apply to all of us, every single one of us has been confronted by some technology in our lives (sport or otherwise) that we didn’t understand. Unfortunately, we do not have Matrix-style USB ports or Wi-Fi links to the Internet in our brains. So, we must exercise patience and take the time to learn the technology, which often requires a lot of bumbling, stumbling, and mistakes along the way.
There are so many examples of things we might all suck at at one time or another. Here are just a handful of examples in no particular order:
A new-to-us sport
A new-to-us distance or event in a sport
Different types of workouts (or new-to-us types of workouts)
Technology in our sport of choice (this definitely includes new-to-us technology in our sport of choice)
Nutrition and Hydration (both daily and in-workout nutrition and hydration)
Sleep (both in valuing sleep and giving ourselves the opportunity for this very important thing)
It takes courage to admit we don’t know something. It takes courage to admit that we are not only not good at something, but that we actually suck at it. And it takes courage, patience, and grace to fully embrace the idea of learning something new. If something doesn’t immediately work the way you want it to or if you are not “good” at something as quickly as you “think” you should be, do not do the “easy” thing and throw in the towel on it.
Instead, take a hard look at yourself and the situation. Ask yourself if you have given a certain skill or task enough time or attention to actually determine if it can be successfully implemented in your training and/or life. Furthermore, ask yourself if you could benefit from learning a new skill, spending more time on something, or by practicing some mental training in a particular area.
If we want to go somewhere we’ve never gone before, we have to be willing to do things we have not ever done before. This very often means that we need to have the courage to suck at something. It is only then that we can get better at that something and keep traveling down the path to our goals.
So as we embark on this new year, I recommend that you have courage, and suck at something. You can do it. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.