Accessing Our Zones of Genius

I have just completed a weeklong integration learning session with Coaches Rising – a global community of professional coaches who believe that the work we do can transform lives, build resilient communities, and evolve the consciousness of humanity.

As a professional with 30 years of experience working in high-performance sport, I have come to know a thing or two about the impact that coaches can have on a single human being and on a country. I remember having a brief encounter with a world-leading coach and when I asked him why he continues to coach he looked straight through me and shared “because this is what I was born to do.” Two Olympic medals – one bronze, one gold. And still, so much work to be done.
I believe it’s the same for Sport Law’s Integral Coaches.

As coaches, we are certified professionals with the International Coach Federation. We were all trained by Integral Coaching Canada over the past decade and collectively have nearly 4500 coaching hours under our belts. That’s a lot of time spent honing our craft.

As coaches, we access our zones of genius whenever we are invited to support another human being. Beyond the zones of competency that psychologist and respected author Gay Hendricks writes about in his book The Genius Zone, there is a zone of genius that we can all access to live more integrated, healthy and fulfilling lives.

But to do so, we must unlearn some of the outdated practices and mindsets that have become entrenched over the past several decades. And unlearning is hard work.

I have found that the world of sport has too often resisted new ideas. For instance, 25 years ago, Canada evolved its focus on anti-doping to champion ethical sport with little to no support from government agencies who were more interested in compliance-based commitments. My research on 10 National Sport Organizations that investigated the extent to which leaders needed to manage by values has been published in respected sport management journals and is only now gaining momentum within the system. In a recent conversation with a world-leading coach, she remarked that she needed to evolve and leave sport before she felt safe enough to fully step into her leadership potential.

And there you have it. Leaving to become a more fulfilled version of ourselves. How many more people will leave sport as we continue to struggle as a sector?

As we prepare for what lies ahead – I am mindful of the work that makes my heart sing and that accesses my zone of genius. As such, my blogs will be focused on the body of work that I feel will support sport once we work through the brackish waters of change.

Dedicated to advancing the global sector of coaching, Coaches Rising is a learning ecosystem that provides cutting-edge tools and practices, helps coaches understand the shifting sands of global systems, and connects us to our sense of purpose.

If the world of sport thinks we have a monopoly on the art and science of coaching, we are sadly mistaken. I have, and continue to study, under world-leading practitioners who have written books about adult development theory, emotional intelligence, spiritual awakening, and so much more. The world beyond sport holds so much promise for how we, as a sport sector could evolve to incorporate what the rest of the world knows about supporting another human being through change.

Will we be open enough to adopt a new way of being to stay relevant to the next generation that is demanding a new ethic of leading and coaching?

I know I coach because I love watching humans grow and thrive. I have coached wee athletes under the age of 5 and have supported Olympians to help them better integrate their full human potential. I have coached executives through their darkest hours and accompanied people when they are grieving a loss. I coach because I care.

It’s that simple. And that profound.

In one of my latest coaching learning sessions, I stumbled upon the work of Jennifer Garner Berger and Carolyn Coughlin, co-authors of Unleash your Complexity Genius. The pair presented a way of navigating complexity that mirrors my own way of being when life doesn’t work out as planned. During their learning session, they offered four practices that I have promoted in both my sport consulting business and my grief and loss training. All four practices are critical to supporting leaders as they look to nimbly adapt to our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

And all four practices allow us to access our zones of genius.

We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we perceive it to be. In sport, there has been a tendency to see the world in black and white … wins and losses … good enough or not good enough … meeting expected results or failing.

And yet, life is played out in the space between.

I feel we must be kinder towards each other and more realistic with our expectations, given that most of the people we are looking to mentor and femtor are young people under the age of 18.

Humans before athletes. And children before adults.

The adultification of sport has been our downfall.

We must return to our zones of genius to recapture the essence of what sport can bring to our lives when we get it right. Notice the emphasis on ‘when’.

As Integral Coaches, we work to support people in embodying a full human experience. To do so, we learn to return to our core essence. We adopt a learning mindset and engage in daily practices to forge deeper connections, stimulate creativity, and inspire the right action – all of which are necessary skills to thrive in our more complex world. However, we know that the stress that most of us are under fires up our sympathetic state (flight, fight, freeze, faint) when what we most need to resolve our issues is to access the wisdom that comes from our parasympathetic state (rest and digest states). Unlearning unhealthy habits requires deliberate practice. As we pay closer attention to our bodies and the deep intelligence that resides within, we are less inclined to stoically push through what frightens us, and instead nurture a quality of presence that connects us to our essence.

When we do so, we can unlock our zones of genius.

The following four practices I have used on myself and those that I work with. For ideas on how to bring any of these practices to your leadership practices please reach out.

Practice 1: Breathing – notice what your breath is doing. How do you breathe? How long does it take for you to breathe and see what happens when you pause to notice this simple, yet life-giving practice? When we start to notice our breath, we become more intentional in our choice of breathing. There are many ways to breathe. One of my favourites is to inhale to the count of 4 all the way to our belly – then hold to the count of four – then exhale to the count of 8 – making our exhale twice as long as our inhale. This practice has been useful with executives who have used it before a Board meeting, with sport coaches to maintain presence, and with clients who want to become more integrated as leaders.

Practice 2: Moving – I use this practice all of the time with clients. For some clients, they need to activate their ‘courage’ muscles, so doing pushups or squats before what they feel will be a challenging encounter brings a different energy to the meeting. Another simple practice is to stand up straight and hold a power pose or swing your arms back and forth to engage your somatic intelligence. In so doing, we are communicating that we are here, fully present, and safe. This allows us to widen our window of tolerance and access positive states like play, wonder, possibility and joy. To read more about movement therapy read this blog.

Practice 3: Wondering – I use this all the time when supporting clients when envisioning a new way of being or getting curious about what might be possible. Garvey and Coughlin speak to ‘wondering’ as holding self, other, and the situation with awe or reverence. When we were children, we accessed this stage of ‘awe’ all the time. Our favourite word was “why”. When we are fueled by a deep curiosity, we help our bodies move from the sympathetic state to the parasympathetic state. Inviting people to wander in a state of wonder helps us notice and then access beauty in all of its forms… a walk in nature … listening to music … being present to human suffering after a major life loss. Curiosity is the muscle that we build in our leaders so that they in turn can activate a sense of wonder on behalf of self and others. This practice might require the support of a coach, however, you can practice this with the part of you that is showing up that might be spreading seeds of doubt, judgement or fear. Learning the art and science of asking powerful questions can help us meet our inner critic from a place of curiosity. Asking questions like: What is it about this situation that is making me feel stuck? Why am I feeling so frustrated? What is the feeling of frustration here to teach me? What is the gift of this difficult life experience? What is an image that arises when I feel into my anger? Some of this is based on the practice of Internal Family Systems developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz which is a powerful way to support clients in honouring the parts of themselves that feel left out, unseen, not integrated. The NOVA Profile is a powerful tool that helps clients learn to value and access all parts of their being to more fully step into their human potential.

Practice 4: Loving – The most powerful of all zones of genius is our ability to love. Expressing and granting love to ourselves first and foremost is often the hardest task. Self-care is an ethical imperative that is essential for us to live healthy lives. When I work with clients to work through their life altering losses, they often must first learn to practice loving kindness towards self. In my experience, people will follow leaders who first love themselves and authentically express their gratitude towards others. A powerful practice that I’ve used with clients is to have them confirm their deep-seated values by speaking about the people in their lives that they most admire. Chances are, there is a pattern to why they admire these people and that they reflect their core values. Take a moment now to list 2-3 people you admire and start to name the values that they embody. Then consider if those values reflect your own. Knowing your values is a game changer. Living them even more so. Find ways to incorporate your values into all of your decisions and notice if you feel more integrated as a result. Here is one blog that speaks to how sport coaches can integrate values into a conversation with athletes. For executives, use the same process with your staff and Board. See where it takes you.

We hope some of these practices nurture you as you continue to navigate this complex environment sport is facing. If you are curious about any of the above, please reach out to Dina at dblaroche@sportlaw.ca. We love connecting with others who are as passionate about sport as we are.

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