Strong Athletic Podcast Episode 1: Why Are You in Sport?
Nadia Kean, Host: I remember the day so well. I was at home, the phone range. It was my coach. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. She said, “You need to come in.” I wasn’t surprised that she was calling me. One of my teammates had already been cut from the Varsity Women’s Team and put onto the Novice Women’s Team for underperformance, and I was pretty sure that I had the same fate. So, going into that meeting, I had decided that I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of cutting me from her team and I was going to beat her to the punch.
I go into her office the day that we were supposed to meet and I say, “Hey look coach, I’m not sure why you brought me here, but I just want to tell you I’m not really into rowing. I don’t really like it as much as I thought that I did and it’s not right for me, so I’m just going to go ahead and leave your team.” She sort of sat back and said, “You know, I think that’s probably the best idea.” I said, “Okay, alright.” I was reaching for the doorknob and she said, “Hey Nadia,” and I turned around and I said, “Yeah?” and she said, “You’re really good at running. You should keep running. Yeah, you’re a good runner.” I couldn’t believe that she had the audacity to tell me that I should keep running when the whole reason that I was in the room was because I was a rower.
Music Intro by The Little Bicycles
Nadia Kean: Hello everybody! Welcome to the First Episode of the Strong Athletic Podcast, I’m your host Nadia Kean. I’m so stoked that you have chosen to join me today. I really wish that you were not just joining me virtually. I wish that you were actually in the room with me, but sadly it’s just myself, a computer, a microphone and a singing bird outside of my window that I’m hoping the mic is not picking up. In a tiny little nutshell, the reason that I started this podcast is because I looked for something like this, and all I could find were other things that had to do with coaching, but it wasn’t specifically about how to coach athletes. For instance, I found a podcast about the technique and strategy of rowing, and that’s fantastic, but I didn’t find a podcast about how to coach that strategy and technique.
I looked for podcasts such as this one and I found sports psychology podcasts. I looked for literature and I found things on kinesiology, how the human body works, how athletes think going into game day, but again, I didn’t find something about the methodology of coaching. And so, the type of person that I am, if I can’t find something, I’m going to do it myself. So vuala everybody, the Strong Athletic Podcast.
Originally, I was just going to do this podcast for coaches, but the more I thought about it, I realized that there’s not actually podcasts, or books or resources for athletes to get better at being coached, and this is a massive void in the field of athletics and so I decided it’s already really hard to have the conversation about coaching without bringing the athletes into it and also there’s a lack of resources for athletes, so how about we just make this podcast for both coaches and athletes so that both people that play equally important parts on the team can have a resource.
The first few episodes of this podcast are specifically going to focus on resources for coaches and athletes on how to up their coaching game or their athletic game. You’re not going to find resources about which diets you should follow or which lifting regimen you should do. You are going to find resources such as “these are tips for how to coach better” or “these are tips for how to communicate with your coach better” so that you can get more out of the practice time. In months to come, we’re going to be telling stories about people who have been in athletics all their life. We’re going to tell stories about people who have stayed in athletics and people who have left athletics. We’re going to talk about why that’s important and factors that determine if people choose to stay or if people choose to leave. We’re also going to be talking about studies and research that has been done specifically about people in sports and how sports has positively or negatively impacted their life. But that’s a bit later down the road. If you have heard about studies that were particularly fascinating, we’d love for you to send those to us. So please look for our email in the podcast show notes.
So, I chose to start today’s episode with a pretty personal story and that was about myself. And I want to tell it to you because it ties into what we’re doing today. I got recruited to row in college and that was lucky because my grades did not get me into college. I did get into college because I had an athletic scholarship. I started my year with an amazing athlete as a coach, but the only problem is that her style of coaching didn’t resonate with me. And so while she had a ton to offer to the community that she was in, the coaching world, I didn’t gain from it specifically. I treaded water in her program for as long as I could until finally, I basically got out of the pool because if I didn’t I was going to sink. And the thing is is that I was a very immature 18 year old that didn’t really know how to dedicate myself correctly and I just wasn’t up for it. I wasn’t ready to do everything that I needed to do to perform to the expectations that she wanted me to. She didn’t know how to communicate with me. She didn’t know what type of motivator I was, what type of motivation I needed. The result was that she couldn’t utilize me as an athlete on her team and basically wanted me to get better at what I was doing, which is understandable, or quit. When I decided to quit, it was way easier for her in the long run, so she was pretty stoked about that.
Now, I used to blame her for this. I put some of the burden on her to this day, but I do put some of it on myself as the athlete, because in my opinion, athletes are just as responsible for their spot on the team and how they’re performing on the team and what they get out of their experience in a sport and on a team as the coaches. And so, we’re going to talk about that in episodes to come. But the reason I wanted to start this episode with a highly personal story is because I bet at some point in your career in sports, you’ve wanted to do exactly what I did, which is quit. Now, if that has never happened to you yet, I am stoked for you. But it might happen to you in the future, and if so, I want this podcast to be a resource for you, because I don’t want you to quit sports.
In today’s podcast we’re going to be talking about things such as why you are in sports, why you decided to stay, why you might leave. And we’re going to be talking about this from the perspective from both the coach and the athlete. But before we go into this list of questions that I have for you today, I want you to think about this: a lot of people are going to encourage you to focus on your strengths, and I’ve always found this absolutely ridiculous, because the thing is is that sometimes what you’re good at, is not what you should be doing. So, in sports, sometimes you’re going to be great at one thing and awful at the other. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop the very thing that you’re awful at, just because you’re already good at something else. So for instance, in that story that I told, my coach said, “You’re a good runner, you should keep on running.” And the thing is that I hated running. I really hated running. I hated running. And also, I wasn’t good at running. I just sucked so bad at rowing, that I looked like I was fantastic at running. And to this day, I do have a love-hate relationship with running, and I will do it, but I love rowing. I love rowing, and I’m actually really, really good at it. But at that point, I was not yet good at it. But the great news is, I eventually went back to rowing, and I’ll tell you more about this in the future. However, if I had listened to my coach and I had shaken my head “yes” and I had said, “Yep, she’s right. I’m a bad rower, I’m a good runner, I’m gonna run from now on,” well, my whole life would be different and I would also have a different career, cause to this day, I actually coach the sport of rowing.
Okay, so at this point, our podcast is about to become interactive. And the way that it is going to become interactive is that I’m going to highly recommend that you do the rest of this podcast with a pen and paper. Many of our podcasts will be with pen and paper, so if you have a special place where you want to keep all of this, maybe it’s your favorite journal with the unicorns on it, (I’m not judging), go ahead and grab that now and then I’m going to tell you what I want you to write about.
Now, if you’re driving or you’re on a run, or you’re doing house work, obviously don’t stop to write. Especially if you’re driving! (laughs) or if you’re a pilot and flying and listening to this… no that’s a joke. But, don’t stop what you’re doing, but do consider hitting pause and just thinking about what I’m asking you to write about, and then hitting play again. And if you’re writing, you’ll be doing that too, so that you can take a moment to write. So, what I want you to write about first is that pivotal moment that you had at some point where basically somebody wanted you to know that you weren’t that great at something and they were recommending that you stop doing it. And you either took their advice and went on to do something else, or you were defiant and you decided to stay and continue to do what it was that you were doing, even though they didn’t really consider you to be that good at what it was.
Kean: Now, if you wrote all of that down, I want you to date it, and you are going to make sure that it’s in a place that you can find it again later. But, also you’re going to set it to the side, because we are going to make a full circle at the end of the show and go back to that story, that personal story of yours, and see why it’s important. But for now, keep your pen and paper out, or continue to hit pause, because we’re about to go into a series of questions that I developed for myself to hold myself accountable while I did sports. Now, if I seem super serious, it’s because I do take this stuff seriously, but I thought that this might be a good time to tell you a funny story about my first existential crisis, and I was about, I think I was 9. I used to lay awake at night and think about what the whole purpose of life was. I would get a stomach ache because I needed to know what the whole purpose was in me being around and what I was doing every single day. And about 30 years later, nothing has changed about that. I still want to know the “why”, the purpose behind what it is we are doing. If I’ve coached you before, you have experienced this. I always want to tell you why you are doing something. It is highly unusual that I’m going to recommend that you try something in your sport, whether on skates or in a rowing boat without giving you the “why” behind it.
No need for you to have an existential crisis, but I do think that knowing your intent will help you be a better coach and also a better athlete on your team. So, regardless of it you are going to write these questions down and write about them, or if you’re going to simply hit pause and have a quiet think about them, I am now going to read you my list of questions. The way that I’m going to read these is like I’m reading a list, because I am. I’m going to pause a little bit after I read the question, and that is an indicator for you to hit pause, if you are going to be doing this in real time. I’m not going to give a lot of examples of what I’m talking about because I don’t want to lead you to write about something I’m suggesting, rather I want you to just write about things that you’re thinking about and I want your brain to just be a clean slate. So, without further delay, here we go.
Question No. 1: Why I started coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 2: Why I keep coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 3: Why I’d leave coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 4: What I gain from coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 5: What I sacrifice in order to coach or play my sport?
Question No. 6: What is my proudest moment as a coach or athlete in my sport?
Question No. 7: What is my worst moment as a coach or athlete in my sport?
Question No. 8: What are the indicators that I should keep coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 9: What are the indicators that I should stop coaching or playing my sport?
Question No. 10: Does my motivation as a coach or an athlete come from focusing on myself or does it come from focusing on my team?
Question No. 11: Coaches: Write about the athlete that you have the best relationship with and write about why you like working with that athlete.
Question No. 12: Coaches: Write about the athlete that you have the worst relationship with and write about why you do not like working with that athlete.
Question No. 13: Athletes: Write about the coach that you benefited from the most and why you liked their coaching.
Question No. 14: Athletes: Write about the coach that you benefited from the least and why you didn’t like their coaching.
Question No. 15: Brag about yourself! What are your strongest assets as a coach or an athlete.
Question No. 16: Be honest, but stay out of the gutter everybody, don’t get toxically honest. What is your weakest asset as a coach or as an athlete.
Question 17: What do you love about your sport?
Question 18: What do you hate about your sport?
Question 19: How does time impact all of this?
Question 20: How does obligation impact all of this?
Those are the questions, and possibly, you have thought about those on your own. I’m sure that you have at some point, but maybe you didn’t think of them in that series. If you did, that’s quite a coincidence and you should definitely go play the lottery right now. But those questions are what I go back to sometimes when I’m thinking about if I should play a sport or if I should not play the sport, or for coaching, just making sure that coaching is a good fit for me.
So, now we’re going to back track a bit, as promised, and we’re going to talk about that pivotal moment for you, where maybe you were not the best at something in your sport, whichever sport that was, and someone either encouraged you to go try something else, or they encouraged you to stay. Or maybe there was just not outside person and maybe it was just what you were thinking about in your head. We’re going to look at question number 19. Number 19 from the list of what I just read to you is “how does time impact any of this”. Basically, how does time impact your response to all of the questions that I just asked?
This is where it is good for us to speak about what is obvious but sometimes you need an outside person to remind you of things that you just can’t see for one reason or another; but the person on the outside it’s totally apparent to them. Time is going to be a great determining factor of how good you are in your sport. So, for instance, I coach a lot of high-achievers. And high-achievers like to achieve many things and they like to achieve those many things quickly. And I happen to coach two sports that simply take understanding and they take time. Roller derby and rowing are two sports where you’re not necessarily going to be great at them the second that you try them. Actually, that is true about most sports except that those are the two sports that I’m an expert on, so I’m only going to speak for those.
If you’re brand new at something, you haven’t been doing it for very long (I consider you to be brand new at something if you have only been doing it for about two years), there is no reason that that sport should come easy for you and it should be hard. So when you’re thinking about all of this, someone encouraged you to leave the sport. They said, “You’re not great at it, go do that other thing that you’re good at,” if you haven’t been doing that sport for very long, there’s not a reason for you to be great at it. On the other hand, even if you’ve been doing that sport for 10 years, and you’re still not that fantastic at it, if it doesn’t impact your life negatively, and you love the sport, you really shouldn’t take that as an indicator that you should leave.
That is something that is important to me and I don’t think it’s stressed enough. Playing a sport doesn’t necessarily equate being fantastic at it. As a rowing coach, I’ve watched people row past me for years, the same person rowing past me and their rowing stroke is actually horrendous, it’s positively not the best way to row. Some of these people have actually rowed past me for 15 to 20 years, and I think it’s wonderful that they never listened to the advice of others, because if they did they might have called it a day and stopped doing the sport that they love.
If you haven’t taken that into consideration, I’m glad that you have and maybe you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a coach. A lot of coaches, when we don’t see the performance that we’re looking for from an athlete, sometimes we sort of brush them to the side. A lot of coaches hope that the athlete will step away from the team.
I was speaking to a coach recently that said, “Oh yeah, this handful of people, it turns out they didn’t want to compete. They stopped being on my team.” Funny enough, I had actually heard from that handful of people and they actually really loved competing, but they didn’t like his program, and they didn’t think that he treated them serious enough, so they left his team. He was really misinformed in what he thought was going on there, and because he wasn't seeing the performance that he wanted, he just assumed that they weren’t even good enough to compete. The thing is, you might not be able to compete at the level that you want to, but you’re good enough to compete as soon as you have comprehension in your sport and there’s something for you to compete at.
In our next episode, we’re going to compare lists. In that episode I’m going to share with you my responses to the 20 Questions and in doing so, I’m going to give you reason behind them and probably what’s going to happen is that you're going to take a look at your list and look at it a little differently than you did today or whenever it is that you’re going to respond to these questions. That’s it for today, for those questions. Again, if you’ve never thought about them, then I’m happy that you are now. Also, if you’re a coach, you might consider bringing these questions to your team, this might really help you better understand the athletes that you coach. If you’re an athlete, you might consider bringing these questions to your team as well, or asking your coach to do them. Better understanding never hurts.
For now, let’s move on. Every episode of the Strong Athletic Podcast is going to have a “Tip of the Day”, one that I think will be useful to you as a coach or an athlete. Sometimes these tips are going to be for both of you, but sometimes it’s going to be for one or the other. Today’s tip of the day is going to be focused on the coach, so I’ll be speaking to the coach, but it doesn't mean that athletes can’t gain from it. Today’s Tip of the Day is that I want you to start asking yourself a simple question of, “Do I talk to much or do I talk to little while at practice?” Talking would essentially be coaching. Coaches, some of you are watchers, so you watch the athletes. You take in a lot of information and you’re thinking about what they’re doing the whole entire time, but you’re not necessarily sharing that information with them. This might be because you don’t think it’s adequate enough, maybe it’s just tiny tidbits of info, or sometimes you don’t really know how to compile that information, so you don’t know what the bottom line might be. On the other hand, the coaches that are going to be the polar opposite of you are the coaches who talk a lot. They give so much information that it almost becomes a burden to the learner. It can also hijack practice times and stop things in their tracks.
Because these are two different approaches to learning, we’re going to talk about them separately. We’re going to start with the coach who does not coach (during practice) often. As a coach, I totally understand that you need to observe and watch before you give direction. A lot of the reason for this is that you need a full picture of what is happening. The athlete sometimes feels like they’re going around in circles or they’re practicing without direction and it can actually become frustrating for them. What I want you to start to notice is how much practice time is going by with or without instruction. If you’re having a hard time understanding how you can trigger conversation and bring up what the athlete needs to modify, I have some tips for you and we’re going to talk about those in later episodes. The episode that you’ll be looking for is “How to Create Content When you Have Nothing to Say”.
Let’s go to the people that have the opposite problem from you and it is that they speak a lot and they don’t even realize it. For some sports the athletes can continue to practice while the coach is talking to them. Rowing is one of these sports. You can be right next to the athletes, a lot of times in a motor boat, and you can be speaking to them through a megaphone and they can never stop practicing and you are always talking to them. There are some moments where this is always appropriate and I call this “stream of continuous (coaching)” and I tell athletes when I’m going to coach them this way. Then there are coaches who will stop practice. The athletes are no longer practicing and they are simply listening. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. Before I tell you, I want you to hit pause and think about why it is problematic and then we’ll come back to it.
Kean: Reasons that stopping practice and coaching for long periods of time is problematic is for basic reasons, such as the body temperature of the athletes drops, or the heart rate that they had been at drops. Another reason is that their intensity level drops. If you had been doing something particularly arduous, or very very aggressive, then the level of intensity drops and it is going to take a moment to get it back to where it had been before. One of the prime reasons why stopping practice and simply talking to the athlete is not ideal sometimes is actually for this reason: I’m going to say it this way: “Talking at”. Many times, you’re ‘not talking with’, you’re ‘talking at’. Many learners, particularly myself, we don’t learn very well when people are ‘talking at us’. We need to be part of a discussion if we’re going to stay engaged. Many times, I like to call that period where the coach is talking “free meditation” and that is basically what I am doing. I mean no disrespect for coaches, but generally when a coach is talking at us, for longer than 30 seconds, if they’re not engaging me in some way, if the information they are teaching me is not incredibly enticing, I am going to go off to a place that I like to call “lala land” and I will probably not listen to them. When it’s time to do the drill again or work on whatever it was that we were doing, I have to ask somebody else if they can please tell me what the coach just said, cause I pulled a “Nadia” and I stopped listening.
Many of you can empathize with this, and coaches I don’t think we realiz