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  • Writer's pictureSimon Deen

National Express

I am a person who likes routine.

On Sundays you can find me at Parliament Hill Lido with a couple of friends, swimming outdoors.

In winter the water temperature can get as low as five degrees, at which point you’re in the pool for a couple of minutes at most. It’s a mental challenge, but the feeling you get afterwards is amazing, and can last for days.

It’s also allowed me to indulge another of my favoured pursuits, buying outerwear. A Dry Robe to be precise. Actually, two. One for winter, one for summer.

All the gear, no idea.

In summer, when the water is warmer, I swim around a mile, or 1.6km. In around 45 minutes.

A couple of weeks back, I spent an entire Saturday watching re-runs of the past seven days at the Tokyo Olympics.

I love the Olympics. So ancient, yet so modern. Starting in 776 BC with a footrace, nearly 2,800 years later we have skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing.

Back to swimming. The 1500m freestyle, won by Robert Finke of the USA, in just under 15 minutes. Three times faster than I can manage. You’d never think it to look at him, and then me.

Robert Finke of the University of Florida, whose students, past and present, won seven swimming golds and two bronzes at the 2020 games.

Incredibly, since 1968 Olympics, over eighty-five of the University’s athletes have competed in the pool, winning 32 golds, 18 silvers and 14 bronze medals.

Clearly the USA is a very wealthy country, and with over 332 million people, the third largest in the world.

Still, if the University of Florida were a nation in its own right, in 2021 they’d have finished 11th in the final standings.

How? Clearly there’s not a single reason. As an individual, you need natural talent and a lot of commitment. However, what you also require, more than anything else, is a coach.

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

The words of Tom Landry, who led the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys for twenty-nine years, a stint that included twenty straight winning seasons, and two Super Bowl titles.

Although, if we’re honest, there’s a hierarchy in coaching.

Alex Ferguson is one the most revered and respected coaches of all time. If you’ve watched The Last Dance on Netflix, you know exactly who Phil Jackson is. These people are woven into popular culture.

Yet, most people have never heard of Bill Campbell. He’s not nearly as famous as some of the people he coached. People like Steve Jobs. Sergey Brin & Larry Page. Jeff Bezos. Jack Dorsey. Sheryl Sandberg.

It might be surprising that these individuals, who in their own way have all changed the world, even needed a coach. In sport, not having a coach would be considered madness. In life and in business, admitting that you need help is often perceived as a weakness.

Even worse, society can be judgemental of people who choose to dedicate their lives to coaching others.

You can guarantee that Alex Ferguson was an inferior footballer to every single player he coached, and yet they all trusted him to take their careers to the next level.

Bill Campbell had a successful business career, but not even close to those who sought his advice on building their businesses.

But introduce yourself as a ‘life coach’ at a party and well….you’d probably rather admit to being an estate agent.

Ah estate agents. Are we lacking good coaches, or are we un-coachable?

Here’s Bill, on who he would, and wouldn’t work with.

“Only coach the coachable. The traits that make a person coachable include honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning”

And here’s Ray Dalio, on more or less the same point.

If you are too proud of what you know or of how good you are at something you will learn less, make inferior decisions, and fall short of your potential”

I was lucky enough to spend 16 years at one of London’s best independent agencies, where I was able to learn a huge amount from not only the founders of the company, but also a client base which included some brilliant entrepreneurs.

Every time I interacted with one of these people over those short, intense periods when buying or selling property, I learned something new. I still do.

However, the day that my life really changed for the better? When I was sitting in a room that a business coach walked in to, and made me rethink everything I thought I knew.

Who made me see myself in a whole new light. Who reinvigorated my love for learning. Whose influence made every aspect of my life better, but most importantly the relationships to those closest to me.

And now? Well, I’m lucky enough to have two friends who are coaches. Whilst neither of them are talented enough to get me ready for Paris 2024, they do help me live by Jordan Peterson’s 2nd rule.

"Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping"

Things I’ve been inspired by this week

Bill Campbell is, to my mind, the most influential coach in modern history. We can debate the morality of big tech another day. For the time being, the guy who helped Apple, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook, surely has something to teach the rest of us.

You can learn more about him by listening to Eric Schmidt’s interview with Tim Ferriss, or by reading Eric’s book.

Gold Rush: Our Race to Olympic Glory is a three part BBC documentary on how Team GB went from 36th at the 1996 Atlanta Games to hosts in 2012, and third in the medal table.

Interesting, personal and emotional, it’s a brilliant watch.


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