A few weeks ago, my partner Anne and I went to a very special performance called Calling Tree, created and choreographed by Anne’s mentor Rosemary Lee and Co-Director Simon Whitehead. I was touched to find out this week that Rosemary was interested in my reaction to the performance, as someone whose interests belong outside the world of contemporary dance and art and in sport and coaching.
So this post is for Rosemary Lee and captures some of the impact the performance had on me and, for others, some maybe tenuous, personal thoughts on the connections to coaching.
The very first striking aspect for me was all to do with the space. Rather than shut away in a theatre, Calling Tree was performed in the open in St George’s Gardens, a small park in central London. Over the two hours there was a flow between different performers, including two extraordinary dancers winched high up into the branches of towering plane trees; a duo of singers serenaded each tree; mysterious bird calls and sounds reverberated through the Gardens; and a group of dancers swirled through from one end of the Gardens to the other.
I found myself captivated watching people walking through the gardens, some hurrying along, heads down as if determined not to be distracted; others pausing to look up and enjoy the unusual spectacle. Young children giggled and gleefully ran in and out of the activity, without any constraints of areas marked off for an artistic performance. It all felt so natural and boundary-free.
I also found mesmerising, the beautiful, graceful movement, especially of one of the lead dancers as she performed a kind of lazy ballet suspended in the air, gently raised higher and higher then back to rest slumbering on the ground. The motion of dancers flowed through the park, like a wind blowing through reeds. When another, more burly performer stormed through the Gardens, striding out with purpose, it somehow highlighted the unhurried timelessness of movement in every other area.
And that sense of shifting time was the third aspect that I found captivating – being taken into a different, less hurried and thought-filling pace. When we came away it felt like we were able to hold on to and still be able to shift to a different time and pace – more aware of and less likely to be caught up in the pressured rush of other people’s day to day.
I know for those in the world of dance my elementary discovery of the joys of space, movement and time will seem very simplistic. In the less sophisticated world of triathlon coaching, though I think these notions hold so much.
For me the art of coaching starts with creating a bounded yet free space. The space has to hold whoever comes, whatever their journey or where they see themselves going; for them to feel safe, attentively cared for, and so they can experiment, learn or push themselves beyond what they think themselves capable of doing.
Those who know my coaching style will also recognise the focus on feeling each movement – over and above measures of heart rate zones, speed or power. If I can help athletes attune themselves to the feeling of a stroke in the water, getting into a flowing rhythm where everything feels in sync, the fluidity on a bike or holding a tall, composed form on the run, then times and podium places will take care of themselves.
And entwined in this it seems to me is the ability to shift into different rhythms of time. I often find myself when coaching saying to people to slow down - what I really mean is to stop trying to rush through an exercise. Too often people's energy is all in getting to the end of an exercise or activity. Instead I'm hoping that each person will be able to take things at a pace where their focus is on the activity itself and thereby lose themselves in the rhythm and 'out-of-timeness' when things just seem to flow naturally.
So there you go Rosemary Lee! Thanks so much for the enriching experience.
And for triathletes and coaches, much of this thinking is rooted in the new Confidence Centred Coaching that I will be launching soon - watch this space!