written by Erica Quam
It was day 2 of a 3 day competition. Samantha (Sam) walked over to her friend, Tonya - who coached at a different school - as both of their teams were stretching and warming up.
Tonya asks, "How are you?"
Sam responds (knowing she'd have to get back to her athletes in a matter of minutes), "I'm doing (she paused)...good I guess."
In reality, she wasn't doing well...and Tonya knew at least some of the background.
In April, they had been to the same coaching summit and had one of the most pivotal conversations of Sam's coaching career so far.
She hadn't realized how much her and Tonya had in common - until they actually had a chance to talk.
Both been through similar challenges that year with their head coach. Both had been at a crossroads - with decisions they needed to make about a next step along their coaching journey.
Sam was on the verge of tears...yet, she forced a smile. She knew she had to just keep it together to get through the day. "How are you, Tonya?"
Tonya answers, "I'm okay. You know - there's a lot of stuff going on. I'm sure you've had your fair share of challenges to deal with this season, too. But all in all, for the moment, things are...mmmmm...at least, somewhat manageable."
They both laughed and nodded their heads in agreement - with the unspoken understanding that they were "in-season".
They knew they had to keep things light and their conversation right at the surface. No time to really connect, show emotion, or explore any part of the iceberg that was looming underneath the surface. They both knew it - without even bringing it up.
One of Sam's athletes runs up to ask for something. They give each other a quick hug, a high five, and then both go back to their teams.
Does this scene sound familiar?
LEVEL ONE, TWO, AND THREE CONVERSATIONS
Female coaches rarely take the opportunity to connect and talk at any deeper than a Level 1 conversation.
Sure, you may see other female coaches and colleagues at your competitions. It's great to see another woman out there. It can be a rare occurrence in some sports. (Just check out these statistics from the Tucker Center for Girls and Women in Sports.)
Just because you see another female coach at practice, at a competition, or in your department, this doesn't mean you've had or taken the opportunity to actually connect. Most of the time, female coaches stay guarded and keep most of their conversations at level one or two.
A LEVEL ONE CONVERSATION...
...is one you can have in line at the grocery store. It's informational. Your conversation isn't private, other people are listening, you're usually in a bit of a hurry, so you keep it nice and simple.
"Hi, how are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine. How are you?"
A LEVEL TWO CONVERSATION...
...is one where you do have a little more privacy. You can share a few more details to reveal more about what's going on...yet you're still limited or hesitant to share the nitty gritty details.
"Hi, how are you?"
"Oh, okay. It's been a tough season so far. One of my athletes got badly injured during the first week of practice. The team has struggled to step up and replace that level of talent. We're hanging in there, though."
A LEVEL THREE CONVERSATION...
...usually requires you to have both time and space. There's an expectation of confidentiality and a high degree of trust. You allow yourself to be more vulnerable and share your actual truth - what you're thinking and wanting. You even allow emotions to surface.
"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm struggling...it's been a tough fall so far. I've had one thing after another happen this season. I'm not sure I have the capacity to handle everything. I feel so sad - I'm struggling with the team, my kids at home are fighting, and even my husband seems sick of me. I think I've been holding it all in just to get through the season. Have you ever felt like this?"
THE VALUE OF A LEVEL THREE CONVERSATION
Level three conversations help you get to the root of your personal sense of identity:
- Am I a good person?
- Am I competent?
- Am I worthy of love?
If you have challenges come up in your life where one or more of these things are being questioned...it's probably going to be emotional.
If you don't have constructive places in your life to talk to someone - who won't judge, criticize, or try to "fix" or "change" you - then things are gonna be hard. It's much easier to feel overwhelmed and burn out.
BEFORE YOU TAP OUT, REACH OUT
I've had a lot of coaches come to a women's coaching summit at the end of long, hard, difficult seasons. Lots of times these coaches haven't reached out for help. They've struggled. Alone.
I get it.
It's easy to assume everyone is as busy as you feel. It's easy to think that no one cares or wants to hear what you're going through. It's easy to be hard on yourself and believe you're weak or just not cut out for this.
Those are just thoughts though. Thoughts aren't always true.
Coaching can be hard. There will be challenges. The job you're in now might not be the right one for you, forever. That doesn't mean that there isn't another coaching role out there that's the perfect fit for your goals, values, and lifestyle.
I encourage the coaches I work with to find people they can trust enough to have level three conversations with regularly.
Is there a colleague, a mentor, a coach you really trust - who will have your best interest in mind - that you can reach out to and connect with?
You may just find this kind of connection and support will reveal solutions to the challenges you're facing that you never even thought would be possible.
And, just to put your mind at ease about reaching out to someone for help...every year at the coaching summits I facilitate...before we leave, I ask the entire room of coaches to raise their hand if they'd be willing for another coach to call them during the year if they ever need help.
Every year, every single coach raises their hand.