This weekend was all about racing. Don’t worry, I wasn’t the one racing - that would be unimpressive, to say the least! We had the pleasure of watching our youngest run in the 4 x 800m relay in an indoor (thank goodness) track meet, and we spent Sunday watching the first IndyCar race of the season - all about racing!
While it was exciting to watch racing on legs and with open wheels, the thing that stuck with me was the example of excellent coaching. Yes, there were track coaches directing traffic for teams to get together, practice handoffs, “spike up” at the appropriate time. And yes, there were the interviews with Roger Penske and film of AJ Foyt as they readied for the race in St Petersburg, Florida. But the excellence was more about coaching in the moment, and you could see the realization with the athletes as they applied what they were hearing on the next lap, on the next jump, in the next turn.
I watched a talented high jumper hit the mark and clear the bar, ever so slightly, to progress to the final round of jumpers; it was clear he hadn’t been in the top 3-4 before, at least from his exuberance and from the high-fives from other jumpers. Most important, however, was the conversation with his coach just after the jump, reviewing the video of what he had done well, and how to repeat it on the next height. He had the visual and the narrative, the confidence to refine the smallest of movements to clear the bar and achieve a personal best - and he did it a 2nd time, with another celebration and another review. He was building confidence and experiencing success with each jump. He made it to the final 2, finishing 2nd - but clearly winning the day from a personal perspective, and logging the experience for next week and the spring outdoor season to come.
I watched my son’s relay team gather after their relay, together, congratulating each other on a race well run - at least for them. They are a close-knit group, and with 2 freshmen on the team, building experience in racing with each event; they were quickly joined by their coach, who shared split times, improvements to be made (the dreaded hand-off of the baton, to be practiced!), and the successes they had accomplished both individually and as a team. It was all within moments after finishing the relay, capitalizing on being present and focused on the event, leveraging the camaraderie of just those 4 guys and their accomplishment as a team, maximizing the retention of the messages and the potential application in future events.
For IndyCar racing, it’s about the relationship between driver and chief strategist. Memorable examples include the years where Tim Cindric partnered with Will Power for so many wins, and last season with Josef Newgardn; the sometimes humorous and animated exchanges between Michael Andretti and his son, Marco; and the turn by turn coaching of Alexander Rossi by Bryan Herta to win the 2016 Indy500 with only drops of fuel left in the tank. This weekend in St Petersburg was no exception, as there were so many rookies in the field - and in the lead - that we were party to strong and positive coaching during the broadcast; the ability to coach in the moment under changing conditions with new body style and aero-packages, tire wear vs fuel mileage debates, rookies mixing with veterans - there was a lot of material, and, as we’ve learned in so many situation, the calm, focused, and encouraging voices yielded positive results, with successes to build on in the next turn, next lap, next race.
What if work was like a track meet or an IndyCar race? Ok, you probably don’t need your mom yelling “run, Spoons!” from the upper deck during a big presentation…. but what if you had someone in the room who pulled you to the side in the moments after the presentation, and played back the points that worked well, reinforced the improvements you’ve been working on, and set you up with the confidence to do it even better next time - calmly, with compassion, with interest in your success - and with the occasional high five!
And how rewarding to be that coach for others - think about the rookies (or freshmen) on your team - how are you bringing them along, coaching them with a genuine interest in their success, celebrating the team’s accomplishment - together - this turn, this lap, this race. In life, as in sport, practice is the investment necessary for improvement and success - so practice your coaching, your cheering, and your high-fives!