Coaching as a Spiritual Practice

By Christine Paradis, Head Coach, Amherst College @AmherstWLax

We all want to win, but are we coaching authentically?

As I enter the twilight years of my coaching career I have much to be grateful for, as lacrosse has influenced my life in ways that go far beyond a gold medal in the World Cup in 1993, a Division III national championship in 2003, and 30 or so seasons on the field.

Photo courtesy of Linda Hannum Photography
           Photo courtesy of Linda Hannum Photography

Since winning that championship in 2003 I began another journey, a spiritual one — which has involved yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. These practices have not only grounded my nervous system and enabled me to touch my toes, they have changed my life in ways that have at times felt contrary to the competitive realm of sport, and the coaching profession for that matter. I have often asked myself how can I blend these two worlds that now live inside of me and be authentic while I am coaching a competitive Division III lacrosse team?

Yoga is a discipline that teaches you to be in your body — not in your head where you run into ego, judgment, and self-deprecating thoughts. What you learn on your mat or meditation cushion can inform all aspects of your life, and help you be in your skin — and in the world — with greater ease and comfort.

How does this translate to the lacrosse field, or more importantly, to life?

Well, when I started to think about how I could take my yoga practice with me coaching it was amazing what I realized. As I slowly began to incorporate language that I used while teaching yoga classes into lacrosse practices, my teams began to embrace meditation, visualization, and all of my quirky “life lesson type” stories.

While I don’t always have my players practice the physical practice of yoga, I have introduced them to a mindset that can help them find ease on the field, in their bodies and spirits, as well as teach them to be in the moment and embrace the uncertainty of life. It is no surprise that this translates into positive team dynamics, as well as greater focus, balanced energy, teamwork, and peak performances.

What have I learned?

1) Be flexible and resilient

2) Find your flow

3) Keep coming back, repetition is key

4) Stay balanced and maintain focus

5) Breathe through adversity and challenge

6) Nurture and speak kindly to yourself

7) Listen to your heart and trust your intuition

8) Everyone falls and fails, just get back up

9) Lighten up

So in this hyper competitive culture of sport we live in, can we find a place of authenticity, of true teaching of love not fear, of compassion not criticism? Can we measure our success by teaching our players how to live in the moment, breathe through adversity, and ride the waves of daily life?

Hopefully as coaches we are able to find the beauty and essence of what is good in our sport and in our lives and remember — it’s only a game.

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