Two words I’ve found helpful in the coaching process are ‘enable’ and ‘galvanize’. To ‘enable’ means to make something possible and to ‘galvanize’ means to ‘shock or excite someone into action’. Interestingly, the word galvanize comes from an old French word meaning to ‘stimulate via electricity’. It’s to do with that mysterious ambience (or presence), which a particular ‘something’ brings to your day, causing you to be energized and to take effective action.
This ‘something’ can be a number of things: it might be your partner, your family, your boss or your team for example. It might also be a symbol, ritual or even your worldview. And yes, of course, it might be your coach.
Unfortunately, our society is obsessed with this aspect of coaching and, as a result, tends to neglect the enabling part. ‘Live your passion’ it says. But what if the ideas in your head, not the passions in your heart, are what will make you or break you? And what if one of those ideas is that we live in a universe that uncannily draws our attention to what is significant about us? Trying hard to do what everyone else is doing could be a great distraction. And complaining that ‘they wouldn’t let you get your Harvard degree and your nice house’ and that ‘life hurts and is unfair’, starts to look positively embarrassing.
What if a monster called ‘education’ has almost completely killed off the joy of learning in you? What if your parents taught you it was all about putting your head down and working harder? You can’t see where your going when your head is down all the time.
What if you’re the most talented young spin bowler in town but you can’t afford the ticket to a coaching clinic? A team that complains they can’t do without you for that weekend is about as useful as a hole in the head. And so also is a life coach who sits in an office somewhere and wants this young cricketer to pay him $100 (which he can’t afford) to tell him that.
Imagine this. You’re a young boy and your mother has spent hard earned cash on getting you piano lessons in a music conservatorium in Ireland. But piano is not you. One day your mother says, ‘Enough is enough’ and goes down there to terminate your lessons. On the way out of your ‘last ever piano lesson’, and possibly your ‘last ever music lesson’, you hear an old man playing drums.
‘What’s going on in there?’ you say to your mother.
‘Let’s have a look,’ she says.
Your name is Laurence Mullen. Forty-five years have passed since that day at the conservatorium. You are, and have been for a long time, the drummer (Larry Mullen) in the band U2.
A lot happened in that moment at the door. Larry’s mother could have simply kept walking. But like a good coach, she was observant, she noticed something that had caught her son’s attention. And like a good coach she acted as a catalyst. There was no way she was planning to be his personal energy force. She already appreciated ‘enabling’, which is why she had put him in an environment where something like that could happen.
A coach can play a crucial role in assisting individuals or teams to participate in such ‘enabling events’ and thus help them to identify the sweet spots and dead spots in their motivational ecosystem. But we don’t need a coach for this; all we need is a thoughtful (and hopefully prayerful) family, community or tribe of some kind, which knows that ordinary old enabling is one of the secret weapons of life.
Why put prayer in the mix? It’s in there because when it comes to creativity and motivation, there’s strong evidence that prayer journeys can play a powerful role in our experience of learning. Anyone who has ever had to teach a class or train a team knows that if an individual has an unresolved spiritual crisis in their life it’s that much harder for them to learn. It affects everything, all the time.
Such crises could be anything from a bent idea of God to a bitter feud with a family member to something as broad as a ‘crisis of meaning’. Sometimes it’s not even a crisis; it’s simply a nagging question. What if it’s true, for example, that there’s a Higher Power out there who loves you deeply and is hoping to come to a place where you will be happy to be ‘found’ by it? Add to that the supposedly preposterous idea of asking that Higher Power for help with your journey into the universe of creativity.
Enabling is not just about providing opportunities by the way; sometimes it’s about restraint. Too much enabling can ironically disable, putting the brain and the mind to sleep. NRL coaches complain that their players are becoming over-enabled and lacking in the backbone and creativity that thrives when a player faces the pain of deprivation, even repression and criticism, which is of course where galvanizing and enabling overlap.