Coaching As An Act Of Faith

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”  ~ Martha Graham

Every athlete is unique; an experiment where n=1. The coach’s role simply to help the athlete remove the impediments to that unique expression of life’s energy and vitality. It is an act of faith that  begins by placing trust in the process of discovery, in the athlete themselves and ultimately in the mystery of that life force.

When done gracefully, coaching becomes not an act of ego but one of service,  to the athlete and to that larger mystery.

The Frisbee Lesson

iStock_000007686506MediumPlaying catch with the frisbee can teach you a couple of things. One of those is “letting go.” Throwing a frisbee is all in the release. Smooth, intentional, focused and relaxed. It’s more about the eyes than the hands – more about vision than control. A small act of faith that gives one the confidence to let it fly.

The other thing you learn is how to let it come to you. You can spend a lot of time and energy chasing, overrunning and trying to change direction. Or, you can pay attention, notice the loft, the speed, the angle and let it come to you. That doesn’t mean just standing still as much as it means getting to where it’s going and being there to receive it. Watch your dog sometime.

We’re trained to go hard, chase things down and grab them and get control. Frisbee though is different. Frisbee is all about letting it go and letting come to you.iStock_000006549282Medium

Commit To The Journey

IMG_2976  Joyce Di Donato hit the nail on the head this week with her commencement address at Julliard. ” You will never make it, she told the group. That’s the bad new but the shift I invite you to make  is to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t actually believe there is an it.”

We play and compete because it’s fun. We also do it because, for many of us it’s way of feeling connected and alive. It’s an opportunity to become more and be part of something greater than ourselves.  One of the things we learn though is that grace, the thing that transforms us and our experience isn’t waiting on the other side of the finish line. It isn’t found in the record books or on the podium. Grace is found along the way in the challenges and choices we encounter and in our response.

Over time we discover that the rush that comes with the victory or the accomplishment is momentary and fleeting. As enjoyable as they are, and they can be exciting, they are not what sustains or transforms us.

Di Donato goes on to tell the graduates, ” One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself right here, right now, in this single, solitary , monumental moment in your life – is to decide without apology to commit to the journey and not the outcome.”

So, play to win? Of course. Strive to better our performance? Absolutely. Remember though, to compete means literally to journey with. To “commit without apology to the journey” and let go of the outcome  – is to play with grace.


Playing With Grace


When we play, Grace likes to show up. In fact it’s one of the reasons we play. Sometimes we miss her, like the kid who get’s picked last when we’re choosing sides. But she’s there, eager to show herself and join in. Eager to raise the level of play.

jamie+anderson+slopestyleGrace shows up most obviously in our movement; flowing, rhythmic, powerful. The dictionary refers to it as ” elegance of beauty or form, manner, motion or action.” Back in the day it was Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Jerry Rice on the football field or Mia Hamm with the soccer ball. This winter it was Jamie Anderson and her gold medal run at Sochi.



UnknownSometimes she comes in a different form, revealed  not in motion or movement but in character. Here “playing with Grace” follows a different definition of the word: the exercise of love, kindness, compassion, mercy, favor; a disposition to benefit or serve another.  In 2009 as Western Oregon University and Central Washington battled it out for the conference title Senior, Sara Tucholsky hit the first home run of her career with two runners on to give her team an apparent 4 – 2 lead. But as she rounded first base her cleats caught, her leg twisted and she fell to the ground in a heap with a torn ACL.

According to the rules her team mates couldn’t assist her around the bases or she would be called out. If her coach substituted for her it would be just a two run single. Enter Grace. Central Washington University softball players Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace asked the umpire if they could carry her around the bases. “Yes, he said, that would be okay.” And so they did, giving Sara her first and only home run because, as Mallory said, ” You hit it over the fence. You deserve it.” Central Washington lost the game that day and the chance to go on to the NCAA tournament but Mallory and Liz’s act of sportsmanship stood above all of that. Grace carried Sara around the bases in the arms of her opponents. Talk about elevating the level of play.


imagesThen, there are the times when Grace is something even more. It’s the energy or force that helps you and your team mates and your opponent create or accomplish something you had barely an inkling was possible. Think Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon Finals in 2008.  This is Grace the way the theologian describes her: an unmerited, divine assistance given humans for their regeneration and sanctification. The field or court is transformed for an instant from playground to holy ground.

There’s plenty about sports that needs fixing these days. Egos, money and power seem eager to push Grace off the field.  That’s our choice though.

Annie Lamott says it so well in her book Traveling Mercies: ” I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” How we play is up to us. We can play our games with Grace.  And, when we do, create something special.