Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dispatches from Denmark: Failure is Not an Option

As you may have noticed, it's been a very long time since my last report here in Denmark.  If I'm being completely honest about why, it's that the last few weeks has been a really big struggle. It turns out, moving to another country is a really big challenge, one that at times will feel almost completely overwhelming. The important word there is almost; because the greatest part of this journey has been one simple truth: failure is not an option.

Let me explain a little better. I counted last week, and this is the 10th consecutive week I am living out of a suitcase. Housing has proved to be a huge struggle here in Denmark, even with what seems like an army of people all offering their help. Actually taking their help is another thing, one at which I have to admit I am very bad at, even when I really need it.

In the US, I coached a lot of international swimmers. I was very impressed with their ability to make such a huge transition and thrive. In my time at Georgia Tech, plenty of local kids decided to stop swimming and/or leave school. None of the international students did. You can come up with a lot of theories for why, but I always knew the best one. When you completely uproot your life and travel thousands of miles, when you risk failing spectacularly over playing it safe, failure becomes a choice you can't make.

I talk to some of my swimmers about ways to prepare themselves for the grind that our sport can be. One of the simplest pieces of advice I give is to make up simple words or phrases to say to themselves. I use this technique myself, whenever my psyche needs a quick turn. Back in the US, I had a couple mainstays. In Denmark, I have a new one that I've gone to again and again.

Failure is not an option.

It's important that the phrase is small, something you can say easily. The trick is that you can cram a lot of meaning into a simple phrase. You can have literally thousands of words, images and memories all contained in one simple phrase. If you practice, you can summon them all when you need them most.

When I've struggled here, I think about all of the swimmers that have put their trust in me. I think about how they took a chance . I think about how much I'd be letting them down if I were not the coach they thought I was. I think about why I decided on this career in the first place, the great opportunity I have to make a difference in young people's lives through the sport that they love.

Failure is not an option.

I think about the mentors I've had. When I try to count the amount of coaches, teachers and parents (only two, but still) I've had to get to get this chance, I get totally lost. I think about all of those that I didn't get along with too, and what I've learned from them.  I even think about the people who explicitly told me that what I am doing right now would never happen, that it was a totally foolish dream that I needed to get over.

Failure is not an option

I think sometimes about the voice that I used to poke fun at swimmers when they complained. It was an imitation of a small child whining to his parents. "But this PRACTICE is haaaaaaardddd". I think of this voice when I'm feeling too sorry for myself. It makes me laugh. I remember that I am doing work that, were money no object, I would gladly do for free. I think about my wife, who would gladly enter into mortal combat with anyone who wants to mess with my dream (only a slight exaggeration). I think about seven years ago, when I graduated and no college team even wanted me to coach for free, and how fast I've gotten here.

Yeah, failure is definitely not an option


  1. I would be very interested in hearing what have been the biggest challenges thus far Chris. Hang in there, as you said failure is not an option and I am sure it will turn the corner very soon, and you will know you've made the right choice.

  2. Chris, I'd be interested to know -- from your view -- what are the biggest differences between coaching in Denmark, and coaching in the US? What are the challenges that you are seeing now that you didn't have to worry about in the US, and what are the perks of the job in Denmark VS the US? To me, being a swim coach in Europe seems like it may be pretty 'fun', although I'm sure I'm not thinking about all the negative aspects of the deal! Are the athletes/parents/other coaches receptive to you? How much are you learning from them? What types of things have you 'thrown out' from your training program? How much of what you have thrown out has been for the better (the obvious stuff)? I could go on...I'm very intrigued to know.

  3. Best of luck to you and you will succeed!!!!!