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What My Son Taught Me About Being Coachable - A Mother's Day Post

Almost 18 years ago, I took on a new role and title, with no extra pay - I became a mom to "D." 


He is our only child, so my husband and I were very aware that we'd be learning how to parent without the benefit of "having tried and failed" on other children first!

 

A little over a year from now, he'll be graduating and leaving home to start the next part of his own life's journey. We're so proud of the young adult he is now becoming.  


As parents, part of our role is to impart knowledge, wisdom, and habits into our children that will help them succeed in life. 


What I didn't expect was for my son to inspire me to build habits, knowledge, and wisdom into my own life in a very unexpected way. 


Natural Energy, Finding the Right Outlet

Ever since he was little, "D" had the energy of a boy ready to take on the world. He loved climbing, running, riding - whatever kept his body moving. 


He was also competitive, though he hadn't learned yet how to harness this area of strength. For example, he'd be with a group of boys in his class and one boy might start "play-wrestling." It could quickly escalate to me getting a call from school that someone - maybe D, maybe another boy - had taken it too far and someone had been hurt or had to be talked to about their actions. 


As a child, I grew up on a farm, so I could relate to his adventurous side. I drove snowmobiles through snowy winter fields, rode rope swings across hay mounds, led 2,500 lb. cows around at the county fair (when I was only 11 years old), and drove riding lawnmowers as a mode of transportation around the farm. I was also competitive, but mostly around board games.  


Right away, I could tell that physical activity was becoming a big part of his growing identity. This was an aspect I couldn't relate to as much. When I wasn't having specific farm adventures, I could be found reading books and spending playground time playing four-square. He wasn't me. He was going to need to channel his energy through rigorous physical activity. 


As a mother, I struggled with my own internal tension of not wanting to squelch his spirit, but also not wanting anyone to be hurt. 


Enter: Sports!

Early on, we saw the positive benefit of structured sports programs for "D". 

Whether it was Parks & Rec, leagues, or school teams, he took in the lessons and not just PLAY, but also look for ways to WIN. We had found a way to channel his competitive spirit within structured programs, and he enjoyed the process. 


As the years passed, and the games became more specialized, "D" also specialized, putting his full effort into two of his favorite sports: track and football, starting in 7th grade. 


Since this is a Mother's Day post, I want to circle back to me as a parent of "D" as he moved into these junior high years.


If I had to describe myself at that point, I would say I was a "full-time working mom and caretaker." I worked full-time and then would spend my non-work time care-taking: taking care of my family, the household, and many other life other responsibilities. 


Free time - what there was of it - was spent trying to get things off my to-do list, which only kept getting longer the older he became. (For those of you with more than one child, I can only imagine your to-do lists!) 


What I didn't take care of - as well - was myself. I was occasionally physically active, but mostly I was organized, exhausted and frustrated. I stayed busy, but felt like I was just going through the motions. 


Then I would watch my son run - like a gazelle - on the track. (Being very transparent - I would cry every time he crossed the finish line!) Looking back, it was around this time I could feel something in me start to "nudge," but I was too tired to really pay attention or do anything about it. 


Mindset #1: Coachable

As "D" moved from 7th grade to 8th grade and into 9th grade, his progress was observable, year-over-year. It was fun to watch (though I'll admit that the weather for spring sports isn't always that fun!) 

      

It's around this time, going into his high school years, that the student ("D") became the teacher, though he - nor I - realized it just yet. 


As I observed him getting better - each year, each meet, each race - I also observed his approach, not only at the meets, but also with practice and other areas. Here's what I mean:  

  • He started in 7th grade with something that gave him a positive outlet (track), doing something he already liked to do (be physically active), so he was internally motivated. It wasn't something we were "making" him do. 

  • He didn't just want to run - he wanted to put his best self forward - so he took in what his coaches were telling him and allowed himself to be pushed outside of his comfort zone.

  • He also looked up to older track students, though he set personal goals based on his potential. He wanted to achieve their results, though if he could exceed them, that would be even better. He would give it his all, and that's what he could give. 

  • Outside of the track meets, he applied himself at practice. He showed up every day, looking for ways to get 1% better. Then he'd do it.  

  • He started watching YouTube/other videos of others who inspired him to keep pushing through.

  • Slowly, over time, he kept getting better. 


I remember once, his sophomore year, when he really went all out during an individual race and ended up winning. (And I cried...again!) 


At home that night, I shared how proud I was of his efforts and asked how excited he felt to have won! His answer: 

"I would have been surprised if I hadn't won. I've been working my butt off for years and I really felt like I had a good chance of winning. I'm proud of my effort, too. I earned it." 

As I reflected on what he had said, my first thought was, "Arrogant much?!"

But then I really let what he said sink in. 


He was right. 


He had put in the time, the work, the discomfort (especially on those cold spring practice days), and the daily discipline. Now, here he was, experiencing the results of his cumulative efforts, knowing what he was capable of.


He had used his competitive spirit to challenge HIMSELF to get 1% better, every day, and experienced the outcomes and confidence that goes along with it. 

Throughout it all, he remained coachable. He didn't believe he knew better; he just wanted to GET better. He accepted feedback from his coaches and continued to outperform himself every year. 


He was teaching me what it was going to take for me to grow, personally. 

      

Mindset #2: Heroics

During these same years, I was starting to get curious about my own life approach and why I wasn't getting the outcomes I thought I wanted. And, I wanted "D's" confidence! 


I had a good job, generally good health, good friends, a responsible son, and supportive spouse, yet I was still organized, exhausted, and frustrated most of the time. Why wasn't I more content? Why did I still feel insecure most days? 


As I compared my life approach to my son's, I noticed a few glaring differences. Whereas "D" took the long-term perspective, my perspective was more short-term.


Here's what I mean: 

  • I took on projects at work with the mindset that I need do get them done as fast as possible. Efficiency is key!

  • I approached many of my non-work activities in the same way - usually wondering how many things I could accomplish in a short period of time,. Multitaskers, unite!

  • My schedule was jammed full of stuff TO DO, and any free moments were opportunities to check off the to-do list.

  • If a crisis arose, I would spring into problem-solver mode and absorb the intense crisis energy that could sustain me through whatever needed to be done to resolve that crisis. Then I would burn out, but only long enough to find the next crisis and repeat the process. 

To describe this mindset in one word, I'd say "heroic." (I've also called it "survival mode.") It's not that I was saving lives, per se, but I was always "ready for action" and one to "keep pushing through until the job is done!" I HAD to be constantly BUSY. 


Yet, there was always work to be done. Always something to do. Always more. 


I suddenly realized that I was just like "D" in his preschool years.


I had this energy that wasn't being channeled in the right way. It was actually getting me into trouble, physically and mentally. I was tired and burned out. I needed to find a way to harness this part of me to become the better, healthier, version of me.


The "nudge," that had started years before, was now motivating me to take action. I needed a change. And, I was ready to be coached. 


Yes, There Is Such A Thing As An Adult Track Coach

The first step, for me, was to find something I was internally motivated to improve. I couldn't pick something that worked for someone else, or that I felt I HAD to so. It would have to be something I wanted to do. 


The farm girl in me liked walking outdoors, so I started there. I began building in time on my to-do list, to walk. It was inconsistent at first, and the weather didn't always cooperate, so it was hard to stay motivated. 


I then decided to find others who could inspire me to push through. I started "walking and talking" with several friends. My efficient side loved that I could do two things at once - get exercise and reconnect with friends! It helped build in the consistency I needed to get beyond my (dis)comfort zone. 


Slowly, over the next 6-8 months, as I became consistent, I then felt ready to take it to another level - jogging. I saw how "D" was continually improving, and I wanted to follow in HIS footsteps (literally!)


I didn't push myself to "hurry up and get faster." I just kept showing up, week after week, with a mix of walk/talks and jogs that kept me feeling better, then led me to want to keep getting better. It was like a positive spiral, with the momentum moving me forward toward better health and balance. I had actually disciplined myself into a healthy new habit. 


What surprised me most was that my confidence naturally increased during this same time. I was showing up for myself, taking care of myself, and my life was naturally finding a good balance. 


At the same time, "D" was now in his junior year of track. After one particularly great meet, I was so inspired, I wanted to see if I could find a coach to help me with my form and gait. I'd never officially "learned" how to run, and I was reach to be coached in this area of my life. 


I Googled it. Turns out, they exist! (Or, at least, they do where I live.) 


When I hired my track coach, the goals I wanted help with were: 

  • My form and gait

  • Completing 100 miles in 6 weeks

  • Moving from consistently 12-minute miles, to consistently 11-minute miles during that same six week time frame. 


Over the course of the six weeks, I listened to my coach, even when the exercises I had to do were physically uncomfortable and I was sweating like heck.

 

I endured the feedback of being video-taped while running, knowing that this would be the most helpful (if also the most painful) part of the process. I learned areas where I was actually taking more energy with my form, and practiced new ways to get back more energy. I wanted to stay coachable. 


I started to feel improvements - slowly, over time. I started to get excited about my personal potential. 


So, How'd I Do?

It's now been six weeks. Starting this week, I began to practice with 11-minute miles. For the first three days, my results were: 

  • 3.81 miles in 44 minutes

  • 3.0 miles in 34 minutes

  • 3.89 miles in 44 minutes


I was proud of my efforts so far, but was just beyond my 11-minute mile goal.

I still had two days left to go. I didn't over think it; I just showed up the next day. That day, my results were pretty good! My hard work was paying off!


Then came today. I wanted to hit two personal goals: 

  • Surpassing the 100 mile mark

  • Pushing it to go 5 miles at 11 minutes per mile. Up until now, I'd only trained up to 4 miles/run. 


It just so happened that the day was perfect for running. Sunny, slightly chilly but warm, a beautiful spring day.


The farm girl in me was so happy to be able to be outside, and the energy side of me way so happy to be channeling my energy in this positive way, taking care of me.  


While Foo Fighters played in my ears, I jogged comfortably... for the first four miles.

Because I hadn't practiced going beyond 4 miles in the last six weeks, my brain instantly thought this is where I should "wind down," and was taking over, out of habit. 


I felt myself getting more tired, even with one of my favorite Foo songs beating in my earbuds. I then heard my brain start to justify many reasons for not pushing through: I could always just walk. What did it matter if I ended up with 12 minute miles, just for today? After all, I was the only one who cared about this goal. 


I realized that this these thought patterns were ones that caused me to become the care-taker for others, at the expense of taking care of myself. These defeating thoughts could justify me quitting... on myself. These thoughts, and the resulting actions, caused me to become exhausted, frazzled, insecure, and lose confidence. I had listened to these thoughts long enough. I hadn't come this far to give up on myself now. 


That's when I thought, "What would 'D' do? He wouldn't let some momentary beliefs distract him. He would acknowledge them and push through anyway. He would get 1% better."


It was time for me to do the same. 


As "All My Life" came on my playlist, I crossed the 100-mile mark and...


...I hit both my goals. 


Life Lessons on Mother's Day

What I hope you take away from this post: 

  • You have energy inside you that, if not channeled in ways that are positive for you, will create unintentional consequences. 

  • You gain confidence in the day-to-day, not the heroic efforts. When you put in the time and effort, you KNOW what you are capable of, not just during times of crisis. 

  • Sustained change is slow, intentional, and uncomfortable. If you are making a life change, pick something that is meaningful to YOU. Maybe you want to have better friend connections. Maybe you have always wanted to pursue photography. If you can take the long-view perspective, you can actually look forward to the progress you can make. Give it time. 

  • Find others who inspire you to be better. You might be surprised who that could be! Mine was my son, my track coach, and Foo Fighters. :) 

  • When the student is ready, the teacher shows up. There was a "nudge" in me for a while, wanting me to take better care of myself, though I didn't pay attention to for a long time. When the time was right, I was ready to make a change. The first teacher was my son. 


 


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