Saturday, January 01, 2011
Today I had the most stunning compliment I've had in years. It provoked a lot of thought and memories. This winter I have been trying to swim at least once a week. I've been a swimmer for my entire life and it's just a natural part of me. I love it! I start with easy laps in the pool and then when I'm warmed up I will do a power lap. I did the push off and backstroked the length of the pool. Smooth stokes with speed and power. I loved the feeling of putting everything I had into it. At the other end of the pool I was surprised when I heard a man exclaim "Very well done!! Have you competed?" I smiled, mostly to myself, as I thought of my negative tumultuous younger years when I should have had the opportunity. I answered "No I've never competed" He said "Well you sure could have! That was good!" I took a close look at him and made an assessment. Fortyish, still nicely toned swimmers body, real swim trunks...not those awful speedos...I think he knew a thing about the sport of swimming. I was flattered..and I realized also inspired! Someone had noticed that I was good at something I do. Memories hit me from the past and I remembered the days when I would have done anything to hear even one word of praise or encouragement. Dissecting the compliment to understand why it resonated with me I came up with this explanation. It was honest, unsolicited, spontaneous, and didn't expect anything in return. A simple powerful statement that inspired me. Just a few simple words spoken.
As a kayak instructor I have seen many students whose confidence levels have varied from chest pounding to very timid and even shaking from head to toe scared. With the former being mostly men and the later being mostly women. Each year I seem to have one woman who will have a turning point during the class which will change her life. It hasn't come about due to me screaming "Yes! You can do it's." (which I do say frequently) but by a few honest words spoken at a crux. A stubborn refusal on my part to buy into her self doubt. If she thinks she can't do it and senses that you think she may have trouble that makes two people that think she can't do it. Odds are she won't do it.
One of my duties as an instructor is to architect the best possible environment for my students. Carefully picking the rapids and lines for them to run for the best possible outcome. Initial confidence is fragile and should be a main concern to an instructor. There are some people who will teach fear. Some sick bastards will actually have fun scaring the newbies. Again this will happen more to women..sad to say. Painting verbal pictures of death and destruction does little to boost confidence or build skills. Such as "If you hit a rock you're gonna die" "If you go into that hole you're gonna die" Unfortunately my very first instructor embodied this attitude towards women. As an instructor now I prefer to teach information and problem solving. For example, "This is what will happen if you hit that rock and this is what you can do about it." "Sometimes it can even be fun when done on purpose!" Using this method you can usually dissect the reasons for a students fear and once the fear is understood, evaluate if it is a valid fear or just the boogieman in your head. Then you will have a clear picture of how to proceed.