Episode 2: A Little Talking Goes a Long Way
I’ve been on various sports teams my whole life. And no matter what sport it was that I was practicing, there was one commonality. And it was that we started every single practice with warm-up. And no matter what team I've been on, there's always been somebody who might stop doing the warm-up. In some cases, it was actually myself. In other cases, it was a teammate of mine. In track, we were starting with a slow light warm-up jog. It might have been somebody that pulled over to the side and had a stretch. In rowing if we were in singles and starting with something called a pictural, it would have been a rower who did a little bit of that drill, then stopped, grabbed some water, stretched a little bit and then they started up again on their own. In roller derby over the years, no matter which team I’ve been on, which surface, a banked track surface or a flat track surface, it's the same thing. So, whatever warm-up the person leading practice would deem, you know, good for us to get our body prepared for sport, ultimately somebody would stop skating and they'd pull off to the side and they'd stretch.
Now, sometimes it was fine and people would, you know, mind their own business essentially and just let them step off the track, do their thing, and then get back on. But in other cases it was obvious that the person who needed to take a moment for themselves was being judged. And I remember on one of the teams I used to be on, you know, there was even somebody that looked quite embarrassed every single time she had to stop. And when I was younger and I knew way less about the human body I would even think, “Oh my god. That person's weak.” Or, “They’re not capable.” And maybe I'd even roll my eyes or look at a teammate and be like, “Ugh. That person.” But, you know, later on as I learned more about the human body and the human brain, I realized that that was actually a really unfair thing to do.
(Music by the Little Bicycles)
Hey, everybody. Thanks for tuning in to the second episode of the Strong Athletic Podcast. How’s it going? My name’s Nadia Kean. I’m your host. In this podcast, we study the science and art of coaching and being coached. We talk about why people get into sports, why they stay, and also why they might choose to leave. We put focus toward the people on the fringe of sports, the ones who are less likely to have people paying attention to them, wanting them to stay. When coach’s lack resources that they need to coach well and athletes aren't given the resources that they need to learn, sports can go from being empowering and fun to just really frustrating. My apparel company, Strong Athletic, and this podcast are in alignment in that we just want to keep these people in sports. And so we decided to create this podcast as a resource for people. This podcast is totally free for you. All that you need is access to the internet to listen to it. And it's because we have badass sponsors.
Today’s sponsor is none other than Pivotstar Athletic Apparel. Pivotstar makes tough clothing for strong women. Find them at pivotstar.com.
On the previous episode, Episode One, I gave you a list of 20 questions that I wanted you to think about in regards to why you’re in sports, what got you there, and what was keeping you there. I didn't mention this on last week's episode, but in some cases not every single one of those questions is going to be applicable to you. For instance, if you do a sport by yourself, you might not have teammates. Or if you play a sport in which everybody coaches one another, then you might not have one person that you look to as coach. So, that might seem like it's not as relevant. So, just don't force it. And in upcoming episodes you might find ways that those questions actually do seem like they apply to you even though right now maybe they don’t. Over the next few weeks, we are going to be incorporating some of the questions from the list into the topic of the day. And if you're a linear thinker, it might drive you a little bit crazy because we’re not actually going to discuss the questions in the order that I gave then to you in. There is great news. If you really wanted to go over questions one through four today, you're going to be able to next week when we talk about the core value of coaches. But today we're going to focus on questions 11, 12, 13, and 14. Now, if you haven't answered those questions yet, or you didn't listen to Episode One and you don't even really know what we’re talking about now, that's not a big deal. And you can keep on listening now if you want to. Or you can pause this episode, go back and listen to Episode One, and then come back to us. The beauty is that you have freedom to do what you want and there's no judgment here. And also, I won't actually know what you're doing because I'm talking to you from a room in Austin, Texas where none of you are, and so I can’t actually see you. Good to know how this all works. Isn't it?
All right. So, let's just get into it. Questions 11 through 14 had to do with coaches and athletes, as does the whole podcast. So, that’s not very surprising. But questions 11 and 12 specifically were for coaches. And they were asking you to talk about the athlete that you liked working with the most, and then the athlete that you didn't like working with at all, and then to have you ponder why that was. So, why those relationships were either so great or so hard for you. Questions 13 and 14 were from the perspective of the athlete. And I want to know which coach you enjoy working under the most, and which coach you don't like working with. And then I wanted you to think about why that was.
Now, let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about a story that I told in the last episode. So in last week's episode, I spoke about a coach that I did not enjoy working under. And I actually ended up leaving the sport that I was in because I found her coaching to be so negative. And I don't recall her ever pulling me to the side and asking me about my intentions, or what was going on, or why I was there. If I wanted to be there, if I didn't want to be there. I never saw her make a correlation between my under-performance and how she treated me. And this is problematic.
Now before we dive into how that story ties in to today's story, I'd like to tell you about a skater who I coached privately for a few weeks when I was in her city coaching her derby league. She was the type of athlete who is driven. She's motivated, determined. And she was already doing very well but she wanted to do better. There was only one issue. About five to seven minutes into every single practice, she was in agony. Excruciating pain. It was her calf. While working with me privately, it wasn't an issue because her time was my time and my time was her time. So she could just stop skating and we could just chat about what she wanted to focus on for the day. However at practice it was a big issue. And I think that there were two reasons for it. One, the social impact that we spoke about it in today’s intro. So basically, that culture of teammates wanting one another to buck up and toughen up and just push through. And then the other issue was that this skater didn’t have the body type that people associate with being athletic.
Many people think that in order to be an athlete you have to look a certain way. Typically the mainstream has made a correlation between body weight and body size and athleticism. This couldn't be further from the truth. And besides being inaccurate, it’s also hurtful and destructive to athletes in sports. Although this is a really important topic, it's not what today's topic is about. We are having a show on body bias in sport at a later time. If you want to contribute, get in touch with us through email.
Let's get back to the story about the skater who I coached. There are two basic positions in roller derby. She played the position of blocker. She's a tall athlete, and on her skate she was even taller. She's about 75 pounds heavier than the average-size skater. Her muscle mass and her skating ability basically made it so that she was a force to be reckoned with on the track. But regardless of everything she had to contribute to her team, some people just saw her for what they wanted to see. So unfortunately for that skater, nobody really told her, “Hey. You know, this seems really painful for you. Why don't you go see a doctor?” Well, she did end up going to a doctor. And the doctor told her that she had compartment syndrome.
Now this is a good time for me to remind you all that I am not a doctor. And in case you were thinking I was, you were incorrect. So, what I tell you about compartment syndrome is going to be secondhand knowledge from what I've heard from other athletes who are diagnosed with it and also what I've read about it on this little thing called the internet. After hearing about this, if you think that you might have compartment syndrome or somebody else does, I would highly recommend that you go to a doctor, that you don't self-diagnose. So with that disclaimer being said, compartment syndrome is really painful. And it's when pressure builds up in your muscles. And it becomes really dangerous. It can decrease blood flow. And it can also prevent nourishment and oxygen from reaching your nerve in your muscle cells. It can be acute or it can be chronic.
And so it turns out that the skater that I coached had just that. Knowledge is power, everybody. And so she found out that there is actually something that was beyond her control. She literally couldn't skate at points. Even if her whole body wanted to. Even if she was personally motivated to skate. In this case willpower had nothing to do with it.
Now this story is going to be multi-layered. So let's go ahead and get into the first layer of what's going on here. In this skater’s case, there wasn't a single captain, teammate, or coach that came up to her and said, “Hey. You know, maybe this is actually medical. This has nothing to do with motivation or your endurance. Let's go get you checked out so we can rule that out.” Instead, they just assumed that she was lazy, unmotivated, and that she just didn't want to skate, and that's why she always stopped.
If this person's coach were doing the exercises I asked you all to do, they might actually write her down as being one of the athletes that they didn't like working with at all. And they might ponder and think about it and say, “Well, she wasn't very motivated. She wasn't aggressive. She didn't push through. She didn’t suck it up.” But really none of that was going on at all. She actually had excruciating pain in her calves that could potentially have gotten to levels that were dangerous for her actual body. If this skater were writing about coaches who impacted her the most, she might write about this coach and say, “You know, this coach thought I was weak. That I wasn't capable. They didn't see that I could finish laps and so they thought that also meant I wasn’t a good derby skater. They didn’t believe me that I was in pain. I couldn't trust them.”
So, can you all see how this is problematic? The whole relationship between that coach and that athlete was actually broken. And it was because of something that was in nobody's hands to fix or change this athlete's condition. Now, once this athlete went to the doctor and they found out their diagnosis, they then went back to the leadership of their league. And they told them, “Hey. You know, when I stop skating it’s because I have to. It's not because I want to.” They informed them about compartment syndrome. And that actually turned into a really good thing for the whole entire league because it's quite common for people to have serious pain in their lower legs when they skate. And it’s also quite common for them not to know why and not really to be able to explain it. This is making me think of the term ‘invisible illness.’ And there are plenty of illnesses that people cannot see. And so they make assumptions about you. But really they have no idea about what's going on inside of your body.
Luckily this skater was able to educate the leadership on their team so they knew when she stepped off the track, that was the best thing for her to do for warm-up even though it was different from her team. So, in the end the issue was resolved. However, that skater can't get back those practices that were agonizing for her, that were embarrassing and humiliating for her. She can't get back those moments where she felt like the littlest person on the track while her teammates and friends were warming up and feeling empowered and feeling happy to be there, feeling like they really had a place on the team.
So, what are we going to do about this? Well, we're obviously going to make changes. And that's what I'm here for. And I hope that that is what you're here for. Now, let me speak to the athletes who have never had to stop off the track for a warm-up. That's great. It looks like your body is capable of doing what your coaches expected to do right from the get-go. Now for your teammates who are not as prepared as you are for warm-up, stop judging them. That's their own thing. Warm-up is highly personal. Let them do their thing. You do yours. If you're not in a leadership position on the team that you're on, it has nothing to do with you. Leave it be. Remember we come into sports because we want to feel empowered, not because we want to feel shamed. If you see teammates exchanging glances or conversations about said athlete, nip it in the bud. Be that person that speaks up for them. Say that maybe we should reach out to them. See if something's going on. Maybe they don't know that there might be something underlying with their body that's actually keeping them from doing this. Be their advocate. Be their teammate. Let them trust you.
Now if you're the athlete who is on the other side of that and you're the one that steps off of the track, steps off of the court, sits down for a moment, first of all don't be ashamed. Remember warm-up is to prepare you for sport. It's preparation so you can do those hard things during practice. If you feel like warm-up is too aggressive, or if it's exerting too much energy too quickly, or too much effort too quickly, tell your coach. Tell your captain. There's a chance that other athletes on your team feel the same way but they're not speaking up. They’re too worried to. They're too concerned about their place on the team, getting a roster spot, showing people that they're tough. If you experience inexplicable pain, rather than pondering it or feeling embarrassed about it, try to get it checked out. The bad news is that you might actually not get a diagnosis that explains what you're experiencing. But the good news is that you're actually being proactive. You're not going to be wondering what is wrong with you. You're going to be looking into what is the cause of the stress.
So now, I'd like you all to stop and hit pause and have a think about what I've just spoken to you about.
Now I'm assuming that you've hit play because you're listening to me again. And if you didn't hit pause, no big deal. But this podcast is quite interactive. And sometimes I drop a lot of information on you all at once. And you might benefit from just pausing and having a think. Whenever you're ready, just hit play.
In last week's episode and at the beginning of this one, I shared a personal story. It was about my relationship with my rowing coach. And if you haven't yet listened to that episode, basically I started off college with one coach and I wasn't ready for that experience. I wasn't mature enough. And I wasn't ready to put in the effort. And on the flip-side, my coach wasn't going to do any of that for me. And also she did not have an interest in why I wasn't motivated. I wanted to bring up that story again today because I had a conversation with my sister, Lisa. She is a therapist. And she is very, very good at her job. And she listened to my podcast and she had some follow-up questions for me and so I wanted to address them with you all.
She asked me a simple question. And it was, “Did I see sports through the lens of that experience?” So, think about what that means to you and then I'll explain what it means to me. And again, I highly encourage you to hit pause.
So basically, do I experience sports now either as an athlete or the coach from the experience of being under somebody who is so gifted and so talented and so knowledgeable in what she was coaching us on, yet the way that she coached me didn't speak to me, so essentially I spent a season learning nothing. And the honest answer is yes. It is hard for me to see sports as a coach or as an athlete or experience sports without scrutinizing everything based off of that experience. Essentially, I’ve seen the ugly side of sports. And if you didn't know there's an ugly side of sports, oh yes there is, my friend. And I'm so happy that you don't know that there’s an ugly side of sports because that means that you haven’t experienced it yet. But so many athletes, if you play sports, you know that there is an ugly side of it. And it’s funny because there's a Strong Athletic shirt that I want to make that says, “The agony for the glory.” And if you know what I'm talking about, it's that there's so much that we agonize about when we're highly competitive. And it turns ugly and it gets ugly. But then we get this little, this little glimpse of what glory feels like. And we taste it. And it's just glorious. And then we get hungry for more. And that's why we train, we put in the hard work, we go through the agony. Because that little bit of achievement that we feel is so special that it makes everything else worth it.
In the case with me and my coach in college, I had just wished that she had asked me one simple thing. And the question I wanted her to ask me was, “Why are you here?” And I think based off of the answer that she would have gotten, she could have done amazing things with my athleticism. The answer she would have gotten is that I love rowing. Rowing really makes me feel proud. It makes me feel strong. I love my teammates. I love being on a team. And then she could have taken that information, and with that knowledge in hand, she could have realized that whatever it was that I was showing her, which I think was that I had a lack of desire, that I didn't want to be there, she would have known that that was false. That I did want to be there, but the way I was approaching it was all wrong. And so it made me look like I was apathetic and not willing to put in the hard work.
It's similar to that skater who I worked with privately. If one of her coaches or her captains had asked her, “Why do you want to be here?” She would have said, “I love this sport.” If the coach has then said, “Well, I can't help but notice you always stop during warm-up.” She could have said, “Yes. I do always stop during warm-up. And that has nothing to do with my desire to play the sport at the highest level that I possibly can.” They would have had a simple conversation based off of that one question.
So one more follow-up question that I had from my sister was if I had put a little bit too much pressure on my coach, that coach that I had in college. If it was unfair for me to want so much from her. And my answer was yes. It was unfair. And also no, it was not unfair. How can the answer be two things? Well, life gets complicated and sports is also complicated. It was unfair for me because yes, she had a lot of athletes. She had at least, you know, four eights. And she also was there to win titles, not to make a major impact in the life of an eighteen-year-old. However on the other side of that argument is that, yes, she needed to focus on me just as she needed to focus on every single athlete. Because when you're a coach, the athletes that you coach are the product of yourself. They’re the product of what you do as a coach. You produce them. Now this is not to say that athletes belong to their coach. And actually the reason that I use the phrase ‘the athlete’ so often is because I want to give athletes autonomy. I want it to be clear that athletes are their own people. And although they are coached under somebody, they are not that coach’s athlete. We can get into this in a later episode. But what I'm trying to get to is if my coach wanted a successful team, she had to meet us where we were, not necessarily where she wanted us to be.
So if you're listening to this from the perspective of a coach, you need to talk to your athletes and figure out where they are and coach them from there ‘cuz that is actually your starting point, where they currently are rather than where you want them to be. It would be appropriate to talk about motivation right now, but today we can't actually go down that rabbit hole. And it can be a rabbit hole. But what I want you to know is that as a coach you might want people to buck up, or be serious, or do things on their own before you give them the time of day, but this actually might be the wrong order of doing things. As an athlete, you might be too nervous to approach your coach because you think that you need to get better on your own first before you're granted coaching, or before the coach will think of you as worthy. But I think this is a falsehood, A coach's job is to coach. And an essential part of coaching is finding out where the athlete is, why they're there, and if they understand what they're being asked to do.
So, what is the whole purpose of today's episode? I want you to think about that. And if somebody was like, “Oh, yeah. You’ve listened to Episode Two? What was that about? I haven't gotten to listen to it yet.” What would you tell them? So hit pause and have a quiet think. And then hit play and we'll discuss it together.
I haven't put it into these words, but the question that I'm asking is, “Whose job is it?” When there's something going on with the athlete, is that the athlete’s job to approach the coach about it? Or is it the coach's job to approach the athlete about it? When coaches are noticing under-performance from athletes, should they go ask the athlete why that might be? Or should they wait for the athlete to come talk to them? When an athlete notices their own under-performance when compared to teammates, should they and talk to their coach about it? Or should they just try to figure things out on their own and get better?
And the answer is, the job lies on both people’s shoulder. If the coach notices something going on with the athlete and they think that it's causing an under-performance, they should ask the athlete about it. However if that's going under the radar and the athlete notices their own under-performance and the coach doesn't seem privy to it, the athlete should go talk to their coach about it themselves. This ultimately has to do with something that I call indicators. And we spoke about this in Episode One. And we have a whole series of episodes coming up on indicators. But it's basically anytime you do something in sports you're giving an indication of your performance to your coach.
So for instance, that athlete who has compartment syndrome, they didn't actually know what was going on and causing them to step out of warm-up. That led to an assumption from their coach and then also led to embarrassment within them. But then they did go to a doctor. They found out what it actually was. And then they went and spoke to their coach. Their coach then changed their behavior and then incorporated that new knowledge into how they approached athletes who were demonstrating that same behavior in the future. The best case scenario came from that where the coach was educated and knew to look out for that. And that was better for everybody's safety and also morale.
For my personal story, if I could go back in time, which I can’t, so it's kind of useless to say maybe I could, but what I probably should have done is I knew I was underperforming. I knew I wasn't as strong as my teammates. And instead of feeling shame about that, I should have had a conversation with my coach and told my coach, “Hey. I really want to be here even if everything might point to that I don’t. And this is why I want to be here. This is what motivates me. These are all the things I don't understand. Can you please teach them to me? I have a feeling that if you put time into this, if you invest in me, you're going to get returns.”
So, the bottom line is have conversations. Now, what I’d like for you to do is I want you to go back to those questions that you filled out last week. So questions 11, 12, 13, 14. And I want you to now write about them again with the knowledge of what we've just spoken about. So, coaches for those athletes who you're thinking about why you have the best relationship with them, why your relationship isn't great with them, and why you enjoy working with them or don’t, I want you to now think about why that is and possibly if any of those relationships could be sabotaged by your own assumptions about the athlete, or if they could be saved by finding out a little bit more about the athlete.
For athletes, I want you to pick up on why you liked working with a certain coach, or why you didn't like working with them. And possibly if there's a coach that you're working with now that you really don't care for, is there any way that you can communicate with them what you like to see if you can modify their behavior towards you in a way that's not necessarily going to take away from the team as a whole, but that's going to add to your experience and hopefully your teammates’ experience? And perhaps there's just one little thing about that coach that you don't like, but otherwise there's eight to twelve things about them that you really admire and respect. There's a good chance that after considering the information that we’ve spoken about in today's episode and going back to your list, you're actually going to realize that you didn't dislike that coach, it's just that you weren't working with them in the way that you needed to.
In reflection, the woman that I was coached by my freshman year I did actually really admire her and respect her. And I remember when I was in high school and I used to see her around, I just was mesmerized by how tall she was, and how strong she was, and how outspoken she was, and that she carried herself like a woman that I would want to carry myself like. And I did really respect her in some aspects. And she was an incredible champion rower. She was so knowledgeable about the sport. And when she was charismatic and really had a connection with people, they adored her. And so if I had just taken the time to consider all of the good things I could have gotten out of that, you know, I probably could have stayed on that team and had a good experience with it except I was focusing on the things that I didn't like about it. And that’s ultimately what led me to leave.
So, essentially what I'm asking you all to do is take responsibility for your own experience in sport. It's going to be hard for some of you who are not used to speaking up for what you want or what you need, but ultimately the people that you're working with, they’re not mind readers. So that there's not a way that they know. Busy coaches don't have a lot of time to stop and ask every athlete how they're doing, and how they want to be coached, and if they understand stuff. They sort of have to put us all into one little package as a team and hope for the best. There will be times when you have to start that conversation. They're not necessarily going to start it for you.
On the other hand, some athletes don't realize they're underperforming. Some athletes don’t realize that they are doing a technique wrong, or that they're doing a strategy wrong, or that they are not going as quickly as they could. And so coaches, sometimes you need to stop them when you see underperformance and ask them if they know they're underperforming, and try to get clarity for where the break in coaching is happening.
Now, in this podcast I focused a lot on the underachievers. But the same is actually true for athletes that seem to be performing at their highest potential. Because sometimes those athletes are actually underperforming, but we assume that they are doing as great as they can because it's fantastic. If you're intrigued by this, we’re going to be talking about it in podcasts to come.
So with all this being said, this brings us to the conclusion of this conversation. So, I hope that it's led you to think about things that maybe you don't always think about. And if it has, then that's fantastic. So as you recall from Episode One, we usually have a Tip of the Day. And then we also usually have a story from a listener. And so today’s Tip of the Day is essentially going to be reinforcing what we've just spoken about, which is if you're not sure, ask. If you do think you know what's going on with somebody, ask them. Assume nothing.
Earlier this week I got a question from a skater in Florida who told me that she always had pain in her lower leg and she dropped out of laps whenever her league practiced doing 27 laps in five minutes, and did I have any recommendations for her. And so this goes out to you, Chelsea. I hope that this information has been valuable to you. And essentially what you are experiencing is really similar to what my teammate was experiencing. And I'm sure that a lot of people listen to this from roller derby leagues or speed skating leagues, that having a skater who has to drop out of laps is actually pretty common. And so you're not on your own.
Today’s show sponsor is Pivotstar Athletic Apparel. Pivotstar makes tough clothing for strong women. Everything is handmade and designed in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they're based. If your league’s looking for a new uniform, I highly recommend them. The material they get shipped in from Italy is so silky, yet it’s as durable as the athletes who wear it. Go to pivotstar.com and check them out. I’m actually wearing my Pivotstar hoodie right now. Woop woop.
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If I did my job right, today’s show sparked your curiosity and gave you some insight that you didn't have going into it. It also gave you an incentive for why you should ask your teammates or your coaches questions when you're not quite sure about what's going on. Tune in again next week for our podcast about your core values as a coach and your core values as an athlete. For today, this is Nadia Kean signing off. And I want to remind you, you don't need anybody's permission to demonstrate your strength. You are strong, athletic.
(Music by the Little Bicycles)