Trying To Try
I coach people of all ages in a wide variety of levels of fitness and sport. But my niche seems to be working with insecure teenagers.
I love it.
Probably because I was one of them: a perfectionist with lots of energy, who was a little bit bigger than the other girls, and clumsy, built for strength, but never super fit and very insecure. I wanted nothing more than to be an athletic person. I never dreamt of being a figure skater, or a competitive volleyball player, I just wanted to move beautifully in my body, a goal I still strive for today.
These kids I work with, they remind me every day, to say the same things I say to them, to myself.
I’ve worked with this incredibly bright 12 year old girl, we will call her Tina, for almost 4 years now. When we first started, she would come in everyday and tell me about something that hurts her, or why she is so tired, or cannot do what was planned for the day. I remember asking her to do 5 burpees for a warmup, which ended up taking about 17 minutes because she would, in the most almost impressively sloppy way, make her way to one knee...whine about something...another knee...whine...hand goes down...ask for water...whine...have a coughing fit...NEED WATER...you get the point.
It’s so hard to explain that if you just do the 5 burpees, and don’t spend so much energy focused on how much you don’t want to do it, it would be over, you would be a tad more fit, I would be a happier coach, and you would have more fun.
She didn’t want to do it because she was afraid of being really bad at it.
She wanted to be fit. She hated exercise, but she kept WANTING to be good at it. And she kept coming to her sessions. She actually asked her mom for private lessons, so she could get better, but not have the pressure of the group classes.
That’s the first thing I ask kids the first day I work with them. “Did you want to come, or did your parents make you?”
It changes the way I coach them.
I work with lots of kids who so strongly hate exercise, but still want to come. They are trying to get better, they just didn't know how to get out of their own way.
How do I teach kids to get out of their own way and embrace the already-good-enoughness of themselves?
We adults do this too. Self imposed limitations...most athletes, teachers, artists, parents, anyone who has ever wanted to be good at something, we know, that rabbit hole goes deep.
I like to call the first of many turnarounds Tina and I had, “Trying to try.”
It requires a ton of self reflection to differentiate between “trying” and “trying to try”
Now, one could get real philosophical with this concept. I still struggle with it daily. Tina would say all the time “I am trying, it's just….”
We moved into her asking herself ‘Am I trying to get better at this?’ or
‘Am I trying to try to get better at this?’
I use this all the time now---for myself and for my athletes/clients. Sometimes I don’t yet know how to try. Sometimes I make choices that don’t serve me because I don’t know how to make better ones yet. But just as yelling, judging, and belittling Tina for her “excuses” would have only pushed her away, I know now, that trying to try is still trying. And that deserves compassion and curiosity and space to grow.
“I am trying to watch my calories, it’s just I had a stressful day and I really want these cookies!”
Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about?
I was about 3 years into CrossFit and still couldn’t do one double under (an advanced movement where the jump rope goes under your feet twice for every jump) before I realized I wasn’t trying. I would go outside and futz around, and get annoyed and upset with myself. Mostly, I wanted everyone to see how hard I was working on getting them. That was more important to me than actually being able to do them. I was only trying to try. Once I realized that, I started trying and I got them eventually. Getting out of your own way is hard.
Tina and I came up with a system of categories:
“Trying” is putting in effort, to the best of your understanding
“Trying to try” is showing up but still resisting
“Not trying” is actively and consciously not investing in your goal
There is a lot of space for self-awareness between trying and not trying.
Most of us, have to try to try before we learn to trust ourselves enough to try.
And, wherever you are, that will always be enough.