Monday, November 7, 2011

Letting Them Beat You Occasionally: A Coach's Journey (Part 1)

Editor: We first conducted this interview with my Australian triathlon coach, Craig ‘Fox’ Holland in 2009. He was one of three people who inspired me to take up the sport of triathlons in 2004. As he has coached me over the last seven years, I felt that it would be useful now, to publish this again (updated), for those making their first attempt at Ironman Western Australia 2011 or Ironman New Zealand 2012. Fox has been coaching several Singaporean triathletes over the last few years; his popularity being that he is highly accessible, and he is passionate about developing his coachee’s athletic potential. In subsequent days, I will post some of the Fox’s pre-race, motivational pieces he submitted over the years. Enjoy!

Craig ‘Fox’ Holland resides in beautiful Nelson Bay, Coastal Beach Village in New South Wales, Australia. He represented Australia in both the Olympic Distance as well as Ironman distance in the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2005. He is the holder of many age-group triathlon awards. Since 2004, Fox has coached dozens of executives on how to start their training for biathlons, triathlons and endurance races. He has helped his students and neophytes realise their personal dreams of completing their first triathlon, open water swim, marathon, and Ironman triathlon. He was an aircraft technician in his previous life, and is now an International Management Consultant/Trainer.

Craig Holland and Enrico Varella were in Nusa Dua, Bali for this interview. We were seated on deckchairs by the swimming pool, watching the waves plough the shores mercilessly. Fox’s skin showed a crispy, sun-kissed tan, of having spent three weeks surfing 6-foot waves. As planning and coincidence had it, we met up with him and his family (wife, Sue; sons, 16-year-old Cameron and11-year-old Mitch). We chatted about his 10 years of working on projects in Singapore, his admiration for Bruce Lee (whom he finds most inspiring as an athlete), and his yearning to qualify for Kona in his new age-group of 50-54. By the way, years of competing in endurance sports has taken its toll on his joints, and he has undergone reconstructive shoulder and knee surgery. In spite of his condition, he enjoys racing and the camaraderie his sports bring to him. 

Seizing the day, this interview was developed further with mobile technology (Skype and electronic mail) since we were nomadic executives.

Enrico (EV): What are your professional views of coaching?

Craig Holland (CH): I believe coaching should be personalised to the individual needs, with goals set higher than the coachee's expectations. 
Quite often, we set goals that under-estimate our true potential. I'm don't mean un-realistic/un-achievable goals, but challenging enough to make the coachee exceed their limitations, physically and mentally.  You want to put/see that sparkle in their eyes where the coachee actually thinks…

Yes, maybe I could do it. Wouldn't it be great if I did? I think it is possible with more dedication and refinement. If they can do it, so can I. Why not? I'll show them.

EV: What are your personal views of coaching?

CH: Coaching should be a two-way relationship of trust between the coach and the coachee. The coach has to be willing to loose to the coachee at times to achieve a win in the long term. The biggest compliment to the coach is when the coachee becomes more skilled at the practice than the coach. This reminds me of your favourite Zen saying: "When the Student is ready, the Master will appear." Correct?

EV: That is correct, Grasshopper! What is your experience with coaching executives, internationally?

CH: I have been involved with coaching executives internationally for the past eight years in Australia, Asia, The Middle East, and Africa. Whilst there is a large diversity of cultures between the countries, we humans "yearn to learn" and are willing to listen and change behaviors if they can see the benefits. It is important to identify the improved skills and how they will change the coachee' s work/life harmony.

EV: When does it work best?

CH: When the coachee has not had the chance to learn bad habits. When the coachee has the time/infrastructure and support systems in place to allow them to practice, refine the skills with continuous guidance/feedback and reassurance. It also helps if the Coachee has constant exposure to experts/masters in the field to model excellence. Seek out what the best do and learn from them.

EV: When does coaching get challenging?

CH: When the coachee does not see improvement in their performance immediately and they become de motivated. Loose focus. When the coachee wants to change but does not have the support of their supervisors.

EV: How do you measure the impact of coaching?

CH: It is important to initially identify the coachee' s skills/abilities and then set sub-goals/milestone/challenges for them to achieve along the way.

EV: How do coaching triathletes tie in with your coaching of adult-learners and executives?

CH: You need to believe in yourself, and have the right mindset. When coaching executives try to get them to believe they do have the capabilities/talents to achieve. I often use stories of athletes I have known/coached that could only dream of taking on a triathlon or Ironman. But with perseverance, dedication and guidance they have climbed their mountains.

EV: Which are two of your best coaching stories?

CH: I have many great success stories involving both business and sports.
One recent success story involved working with Nokia; I have been responsible for training Nokia Manager's in the Middle East, South African and Asia. It is a Leadership program with an emphasis on Psychological Profiling, Coaching and Change Management with three post-course virtual coaching sessions. One particular manager was very stressed out about their failing relationship between his Boss and work colleagues. They stated that they had no work/life harmony and that their relationship with their partner and young child was also suffering and that they never had time to exercise or play sport. The Doctor had also commented about their raising blood pressure.

After working with the manager we discussed issues about their individual personality preferences, their staff's/Boss’s personality and management style and what work/life harmony would they like to have? Over the next three months the manager implemented many changes, such as instigating regular focus groups between themselves and work colleagues, prioritized their work commitments, did not micro-manage staff anymore (which gave them more time for other duties). They had also joined a local gym with their partner and were dedicating time to watch their children play sport one night a week and on the weekend. Their boss had noted the changes and the manager had recently been offered a promotion.
(continued on next post)…

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