LEARNING TO SURF : LESSONS FOR LAX PLAYERS AND COACHES

I am in Nosara, Costa Rica for December since I am now a millionaire from writing this blog. (That's a joke…my girlfriend is a yoga teacher and got hooked up with a work-trade deal down here and I am freeloading off of her.) It's a rough life down here but someone's gotta do it. I have started taking surf lessons for the past few days and it is TOUGH! Learning to surf is probably the most humbling experience that I have ever been through in my life. (If you want to read a great book about a beginner's journey in learning to surf, I highly recommend picking up the non-fictional story KOOK. This story does it more justice than my amateur level of writing could ever do.) There are a couple of reasons why surfing is extremely daunting to me. First of all, I am terrified of the water...that's a bad start eh? Secondly, I swim about as well as a giraffe would…if a giraffe were ever in deep enough water and needed to swim. So, that's two strikes against me and I am sure there are more.

When I came down to Costa Rica looking for a surf instructor, I was immediately pointed in the direction of the Nosara Tico Surf School, led by new friend, Esteban. Esteban is an interesting man, to say the least. He is young and tan with a surfer's body and curly long dirty blonde hair. Not surprisingly, every day in the shop, Esteban has about 3 or 4 beautiful surfer or yogi women coming into the store to chat with him. One of Esteban's workers, Adrian said to me, "They are like ants with Esteban." It's pretty hilarious to watch. I digress…but on the first day, Esteban took me out and showed me the basics of learning to surf. He taught me what to look for to be safe. He showed me the basics of popping up. He taught me where my feet should go and what my stance should look like. Then he took me out into the ocean to learn to ride the whitewater (the waves after they break). So, as I described before, once I got into the water, I was like a fish out of water. I was able to get up on my board, but not very smoothly and I could ride a wave for a second or so and then flail and fall wildly in the water. Every time, Esteban just kept telling me what I needed to do to get better.

The next day, I went out and practiced the things that Esteban had been trying to get me to do for my ninety minute lesson that morning. I was still struggling but starting to get the hang of it. It also felt good to practice something new and try to improve a step at a time. Later in the day for my second lesson, Esteban took me out to ride the whitewater again and keep working on my standing up on the board and stance and generally, just being able to ride a wave longer than 3 seconds. I started to get the hang of it and was able to ride the waves all the way in towards Esteban. Each time he just waited for me and told me what I needed to do to keep getting better.

On that same day, he started to take me out past the break, which is the hardest and scariest experience to me. This is when you have to paddle out on your board and dive under the breaking waves to get out to the "green water". The waves here are by far the biggest waves I have ever seen and every time I paddle up to one, I feel like it's time for me to say goodbye to the world! (I know…I am so melodramatic when it comes to being in the ocean…it's really embarrassing!) Every time I pop up after coming through a wave, Esteban is waiting on the other side, telling me what I need to do to get better.

The next day, it was more of the same. We practiced on the whitewater and I was really starting to feel like I could control my board. I could control the speed and turning and could start to ride the wave all the way to the shore. Then, we went out and tried to make it past the break, but the waves were even bigger. I was getting crushed and could not quite make it. Esteban just kept telling me what I needed to do to get better.

Finally, today on my fourth lesson I was able to relax and paddle out past the break. It was so awesome because it was at sunset and I was just able to sit on my board and just take it all in. Then the next set rolled in and Esteban told me to get paddling and I caught my first green water wave! It was one of the coolest feelings in my life and made me realize how it was worth all the effort and pounding that I have been taking lately. As I paddled back to Esteban, he finally just screamed, "YAAA MAN!" and gave me a high five…and then he told me what I needed to do to get better.

So, here's a few things that I noticed in this process that I feel apply to the lacrosse world. After each observation, I'll ask a question for players and parents and I'll ask a question for coaches? These questions are not implications, but just food for thought.

1. I've been watching a lot of the other surf instructors clapping and yelling wildly at their customers every time they get up for a second or two. Esteban did not do that for me, he only told me what I could do to get better, until I finally took my first small step as a surfer and actually rode a wave. Players and parents, do you believe your coach should be more "positive" and make you feel like you are a great player all the time? Coaches, do you just yell at your players or do you yell things that will help them get better? Coaches, do you give some positive feedback when your players actually do something well?

2. I asked Esteban why he was making me keep my feet closer together when all the other instructors are teaching their students to get their feet super wide apart. He tells me that he wants me to be able to get better at that so I can ride a shorter board. He wants me to be able to surf at a higher level, even if it is harder for me now. Players and parents, do you question a coach that challenges you to practice skills, drills, techniques and strategies at a higher level than you are ready for even if it is going to help you get better in the end? Coaches, do you coach your kids a skill just so they will win or do you coach them so they will become better players down the road? Coaches, a prime example of this is playing zone in youth lacrosse...that is just stupid...please don't do it.

3. I asked Esteban why I didn't have someone out their recording video of me like all the other surf schools were doing. He told me once I got to a high enough level for it to make any sense and where I could learn from it, then they would do that. Parents and players, are you looking for frills in lacrosse (like cool uniforms, empty promises or other marketing gimmicks) that don't really make you a better player but just sound cool? Coaches, are you building hype to get more players and make more money or are you helping young players become better at lacrosse?

4. When I told Esteban that I was really struggling with paddling out past the break while all the beginners were having "fun" surfing the white water, Esteban reminded me that this is the only way for me to learn how to really surf. He encouraged me that once I get used to this challenge and get more conditioned to it more adeptly, then I will be out in the green water where I can learn to catch a wave! And that is exactly what happened! Players and parents, are you looking for a coach who makes it easy for you, or someone who believes in you and pushes and challenges you everyday? Coaches, are you pushing yourselves to learn more so you can challenge your players? Coaches, are you scared to challenge your players out of fear of what the parents might think of you?

5. On top of all this, when I walked into Esteban's surf shop before my third lesson, they were all around the computer watching the Reef South American Surf Competition that two of their buddies were in. One of them came in first place and another came in third place. When I asked Esteban how he knew them, he told me that they were a part of his team that he helped coach. I realized that Esteban knew what he was talking about. Players and parents, are you constantly questioning your coach even if he has a lot more experience in the game than you? Coaches, again, are you preparing yourselves well enough and learning the game, so you can provide players with the best teaching possible?

6. There have been a lot of times the past few days when I wanted to find a new surf coach or go to a new surf school. I wanted one that would tell me how great I was even though I could barely stand up on the whitewater. I wanted one who would sell me on a bull-dung marketing scheme of watching video of me flail around in the water on a wave that had already broken. I wanted one who would keep it easy and fun for me and make me feel like I was the next Kelly Slater! Players and parents, are you looking for a coach to tell you how great you are or one that is going to be honest with you? Do you want a coach who really cares about you and wants you to improve or just wants to get you on his team or sell you on his camp? Coaches, do you really care about the players knowing where they stand or are you just trying to make everyone "happy"?

I am very excited to have a surf coach who wants to push me to really learn to surf and be the best surfer that I can be for now. I have one that wants to teach me things that are harder for me now, but will make it easier for me to be a better surfer down the road. I have one that is going to put me in uncomfortable situations, so I grow more accustomed to them. I have one who gives me skills to work on and then go practice on my own. I have one who barely ever praises me or claps for me, unless I actually do something really well.

I was lucky enough to have some great coaches in lacrosse that pushed me every day to me by best. There were times that I hated some of those coaches (and one was even my own father as my coach in college!). Now, that I am lucky to have a great surfing coach, will I take advantage of that situation or wish it were different in some way? Will I realize that he is already a great coach and it is up to me to become a good surfer or will I look for someone to blame and make excuses for myself when I have my failures?

I know first hand, there are a lot of great coaches out there pushing their players to be their best.
I also know that there are a lot of players out there practicing hard and working on the skills that their coaches give them everyday. These coaches and players are each taking personal responsibility and playing their true part in this relationship. This is the way things should be. Hopefully, as lacrosse continues to grow, we can keep having integrity with this relationship.

Well, time for me to get back out in the ocean, practice and have fun surfing! I hope this is the way all my players feel about lacrosse every day!