Last fall, I traveled with the Michigan women’s cross country team to the BigTen Conference championships. Having won the past two years we had one goal: to defend the team title. Leading up to the race we knew it would be a tough battle with some of our rival teams, but our women were up for the challenge.
The race took place on a wide 3km loop on a golf course - 2 laps for the 6km race. Spectating was difficult because the loop was somewhat circular without any short cuts for getting around, but Michigan had an advantage: a coaching staff of 3 out on the course: our head coach, myself and co-volunteer coach Amanda.
As the race unfolded, we coaches staff spread out around the course and monitored the live scoreboard on our phones. At 2k we could see that our team was buried in a sea of runners and the live scoreboard confirmed it - Michigan was in 3rd or 4th place. We called out to our ladies- “you’re too far back!” and “You’ve got to move up!” as they rushed past us. While they ran we ran, cutting across the course and around the water traps to intercept them with another update.
When the live scores refreshed we saw our wolverines had moved up close to the front amongst the top teams - all within a couple points of each other. We called out to our athletes: “Keep the pressure on! Keep grinding!” We were doing all we could to communicate a sense of urgency. At 5k we were in the lead by maybe 5 points. Those familiar with cross country scoring know that a 5 point lead is almost nothing. A single athlete could erase that lead with a strong finishing kick, and each team had 9 runners factoring into the scores. The team race was anyone’s for the taking. Our women were hurting but they were determined. We urged them on and whenever we asked for more they found more. In that last kilometer they pulled away from the pack, going on to win the team title comfortably.
Our team of runners got more feedback and coaching throughout the race that than any other team. We had three coaches out on the course, but most importantly, the athletes were listening for us. They didn’t know exactly where we would intercept them next but they were dialed in and ready for our instructions, committed to responding every time even though it was hard. They were hurting out there just as badly as the other teams were. Their focus enabled then to get more out of themselves than their competition.
It was so fun to be part of their victory that day, and over time their performance at Big Tens has become an inspiration for me. (Not as an athlete - I’m super happily retired from competitive running.) As I am moving forward with my coaching business I identify with those women. They went to the start line prepared and fit but without guarantees. They did not know how the race would transpire but they knew they were being asked to give their best effort. They had confidence that their coaches would be out on the course with updates, directions and encouragement.
Now I am at the start line of a new career in coaching that is full of uncertainty and short on guarantees. In my last blog I wrote that I never dreamed of being an athlete. And truthfully, I also never dreamed of starting my own company. I’m beginning without knowing how this will unfold or furthermore how I would define success in terms of clientele or revenue. But I also have Someone who prepared me for this endeavor and who will direct and encourage me along the way- Jesus. And just like the Michigan women did on the cross country course, I need to listen for that voice of guidance. I welcome the Lord’s direction and encouragement in this coaching endeavour and in my whole life - in fact I depend on it.
Still I am unsure… what if He asks me to do something hard? I love my comfort zone! I do not enjoy “putting myself out there” and “networking” stresses me out. Advertising scares me! What if I really hustle and my business is a flop? I’m afraid people will think I’m stupid. In the midst of all these doubts, my confidence and assurance comes from Jesus, who sees what I don’t see. Just as our lady wolverines were tuned in for our feedback and encouragement throughout their race, I remain alert for God’s guidance. Every day I ask Him for wisdom and for the courage to act on it. I’m dialed in.