Wednesday, September 4, 2013

ASCA Guest Speaker John Davis

I was very touched by tonight's speaker and probably not for the reasons that many of you may think.

John Davis is a therapist who works with troubled boys & men. He was a former swimmer who, during the 1991 NCAA Championships, suffered a ruptured hernia before finals and needed emergency surgery. His swimming career ended on that note. John did not speak about missing his goals or even lamenting the crappy hand that was dealt to him that day; John focused on what type of person swimming made him and, furthermore, what type of person his coaches created.

John began his talk by talking about how much he loved Superman. The reference point here was the "Phonebooth" or the inspiration that allowed the transformation from being normal into something spectacular or "super. John's thesis was that connection and inspiration is the most important thing in achievement.

John spoke about being frustrated working in traditional therapy & being restricted by traditional ethics (cannot challenge a patient physically, cannot engage a patient emotionally) and decided to start his own practice. Another interesting driving force behind this decision was the statistic that over 40% of patents do not return to therapy after 3 sessions due to a lack of connection or feeling that it was helping. The foundation that he started was to focus more on interaction, inspiration & connection with patients. In his own words, he wanted to add "some magic into the therapist/patient relationship. His foundation, which is pretty cool and fosters some very interesting storylines can be read about here on his website. It is worth a read.

So why was a therapist (not a coach) asked to speak at the American Swim Coach's Association Conference? He was challenging us to think about the influence we can (and do) have on our athletes; The positivity that we sometimes lack because we are struggling or are stuck in other aspects of our lives and thinking about how that influences others (divorce, addiction, depression, lack of confidence, being unhappy in your job or marriage). Some of the better points of his talk were as follows:

  • Everyone gets stuck on negative thoughts. We need to identify those negative thoughts and figure out a way around them. Leave them outside. We need to be more positive with athletes and focus on what they will become, not necessarily what they will achieve and not rush them to achieve something to pad your resume.
  • Identify that we are presented with many opportunities to do great things, but that all opportunities have expirey dates. What is keeping us from taking those opportunities within the "best before" date?
  • Every individual, coaches, athletes & parents, need to discover what is exceptional about them. That will help you discover your strengths and direction to do great things. This is far more difficult that it seems... more on that later.
  • Goal Setting: simple acronym - A.S.K.  1.) Accept your goal honestly   2.) Surrender to that goal and all that it entails   3.) Keep at it.
  • John was once asked "how do you measure the impact of a man on another man's son?" He admits that he was a bit baffled by the question at the time but, today, was very honest in saying that it takes a very long time. The impact cannot simply be measured by the achievement of that man's son, but by his character down the road; in who he becomes.
  • John played a movie clip (not entirely sure what film to credit because I missed the name of it) but a great quote that he pointed to in that film from a coach to a player: "Good decisions don't make life easy; they make it easier."
  • Do your athletes know that you like them and that you genuinely care about them and believe in them? How do they know? This can have a profound influence on their performance, confidence and life outcomes. Do you take the time to ask them how they are? Everyone needs a guide in life; coaches play a very important role here.
  • Don't worry as much about how fast they are going to swim; only 1% will make an Olympic Team and even less will win an Olympic Medal. Worry more about who they are going to become and your role in the development to that person.
Although the many stories he told about the troubled men he works with were very inspirational and interesting, that is not what I loved this talk so much. All of this speech got me thinking about myself and the people that supported me and believed in me along the way to where I am. All of the issues that I face in my career and how I try to influence athletes in the best way possible. This really reaffirmed my love of what I do and why I do it. I was very close to leaving the profession last year and remembering this stuff is an important reason that I decided not to retire. 

John's most resinating comment from that talk was to have someone that you convene with and that affirms your positive quality. This is very tough to do as a coach... who would that person be? A mentor? A spouse? A co-worker? A friend? This is something that I believe is missing from much of the coaching community (at least where I am from). I'm not talking about a yes man that just tells you what you want to hear or pats you on the back for nothing, but rather someone who honestly helps you reaffirm your positive qualities. Coaches are hit with quite a bit of negativity and chaos, but who do they turn to when their passion, hobby and source of income makes them question themselves? More work needs to be done here.

I have a great deal of thanks to give to Alan Swanston (NEW) who believed in me and played a major role in who I have become and the moral code that I possess. I also need to thank Dean Boles (Swim Ontario, Formerly ROW) in my development, both personal and professional as well as all of the other coaches I have had throughout my career (Dan Stratton, Nancy Jackshaw, Gretchien Frenzel & Lara Doherty are the ones that I can remember the best). 

Wow, what an impact that talk had on me! I had no idea it was going to go in that direction and have me thinking so deeply about what I do, but I'm glad that it did. I think that examining this type of stuff this time of year (pre-season) is important.

If anyone wants to learn more about John Davis, check out his website here.
I was able to get some audio from his talk which you may download here from my dropbox account. 2 warnings with the download -  1.) Its from my cellphone so the audio isn't fantastic    2.) its a .3ga file so iTunes won't know what to do with it. Just change the file name to .mp4 and it'll work fine. 
Although the audio isn't top quality, it is still worth a listen.

Back with more tomorrow.