Integral Coaching

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Humans are complex systems and while coaching we tend to look at the pieces. Optimal development of an athlete can only occur when we realize that every system in the body affects every other system. This keynote address will encourage you to look outside the box, treating the athlete as an integrated system of physiological, mechanical, social, and psychological components.
– Ed McNeely March 2007

My own Post World War II experience with this multi-dimensional integral approach began as a ten year old when I served as the coach, player, organizer, and manager of a sandlot football team at the Station Park on the Western Hill section of St. Catharines, Ontario. At the time, I did not fully appreciate the wholeness of this experience. The Station Park would be our sole preserve during the Fall months. Here is where my inchoate spirit flourished. The Hill was a rough part of St. Catharines and sports helped immensely for our personal growth and development.

Possibly, I was thrust into this expansive role at a young age because I possessed the only football in the group. It became my responsibility to organize the practices, and the outside competition with the local private school, Ridley College, and be somewhat of a coach for our ragtag group of mixed religious backgrounds. This latter accomplishment was a real achievement in bringing the two disparate groups together. Little did I realize at the time that this attempt at inclusion on my part was one of the two major parts of Unity Consciousness – the art. The other part is the complexity of the phenomenom – the science.1 We had plenty of the Art but little of the Science. It was primitive. This is almost a natural parallel to the ideal roles of the fully developed coach who must be fully engaged in both the art and science of coaching. I would play this role for six years as we progressively moved with the appropriate age group at Ridley until we played our final game on Ridley’s main field. Fortunately, the lower school master, Adam Griffith at Ridley, proved to be sympathetic and helpful to us waifs; he was my contact at Ridley for arranging the games each fall. The Ridley teams were completely outfitted and we had nothing in the way of shoes, helmets or pads. So my role was expanded to include that of disciplinarian for my peers who sometimes tried to confiscate the discarded equipment that Ridley boys had left behind after games. Many of us preferred to feel the good earth, so we went shoeless, and it was painful when stepped upon by cleated shoes. It was a remarkable part of my education for six falls until I graduated to High School football. We learned to cooperate, share, use our imagination, play, and enjoy the movements of our young bodies, feeling the moist grass of the fall season under our shoeless feet; even though our mothers did not appreciate the dirty and worn socks. But we were celebrating our innate animal natures and our earthly cosmology. The memory has remained with me and I tingle slightly when I resurrect the wonderful memory of feeling the good earth from those shoeless moments. Little did we realize that we were immersing ourselves in nature, a preliminary step on the road to total Integration of the self and the surrounding environment. This is what I meant when I refer to science. We were relating to something much larger in our lives.

It was a Tom Sawyer moment in our young lives. This early, playful, experience with sport was self directed with no adult involvement and fully enjoyable. It was pure play and delightful. And for me, these three qualities, fitness, self direction and enjoyment, have remained as the most important objectives for squeezing learning out of the sport experience at any level. These playful moments during the Canadian fall remain a vivid memory full of important experiences with practical application in a number of areas for coaching, including integration, ethics, visualization, modeling, teamwork, group management, and a process approach.

Our private practice and game field was an baseball park, bordered on three sides by beautiful, biblical, Sycamore trees, and conveniently abandoned by the public and teams during the fall months. Our young minds imagined the perfectly spaced trees as down markers on one side and as goal lines at the ends of the other two sides. Our team was referred to as St. Mary’s by the Ridley people because of our proximity to the local Catholic Elementary School. But, in fact, the members were a cross section of both Protestant and Catholic boys displaying cooperation and teamwork unheard of at that time between two such divergent religious groups. We were 15 years ahead of Pope John the 23rd’s ecumenical encyclicals of the early 1960s. During this period even the school officials would not consider allowing inter-school competition between Catholics and Protestant schools, probably because of fear of a donnybrook occurring. At that young age there was usually little provocation necessary to justify a little street fighting. So it was remarkable what was accomplished socially, athletically and for our sense of expansiveness in our Canadian culture. We were unrecognized ambassadors.

Further to all of these intrinsic benefits, this was also the initial stage of my lifelong awareness of and appreciation for fluid motion. This was my first encounter with flow as I tried to hone my movements into a smooth, efficient action. I realized then as a small athlete that my movements had to be smooth and fluid. At the time, in the 1940’s, my model for flow and efficient movement was the passing tandem of Joe Kroll, the quarterback and Royal Copeland, the swift, sure handed halfback for the Toronto Argonauts. This was the era of radio and I would eagerly listen every Saturday afternoon to the Krol, Copeland and Argonaut exploits. Only my imagination could carry me to see the wonderful integrated, fluid action of these two exceptional athletes. This was an early attempt at visualization on my part.

All of this inner and outer activity surfaced in the little park that was threaded with important strands of Canadian history because of its proximity to the Canadian National Railway Station; the park was a few hundred yards from the railway station. The tracks also served as our summer balance beam; we were doing a form of cross training that would come in handy later for my years in the single. The Station would witness the departure of the local regiments for Boer War and two World Wars and the visits by royalty – King George VI and his daughter, Elizabeth I. My own father would depart from here in the summer of 1914 for the “Great War” and return home in late 1919, hobbling on crutches after his release from a Canadian hospital.

On one occasion across from the park there were 30,000 spectators to greet the young Queen Elizabeth who was passing through St. Catharines on her way to Toronto, but our practices continued unabated. It was as if we and the park were situated in our own special world, beyond the current events, swirling in its midst. It was pure delight as we experienced the joy of our physical surroundings. We operated in the focused moment and our spirits reached soaring heights of pure delight with this intense participation. Only in retrospect would I come to appreciate the many benefits from this wonderful period in my life. It was definitely one of those moments when expansion of consciousness occurred. Fortunately, these wonderful halcyon experiences would be quickly followed by exposure to the integrated flow concept in my involvement with sculling and college wrestling through the efforts of enlightened coaches.

My coaching would continue in High School for three years with the intramural football teams and then resume in college after two years of football and my fourth concussion. I would coach as an assistant for two years and be paid before moving on to coaching High school, football, wrestling, and rowing. So in all my coaching spans almost 70 years.

My awareness and interest with integral coaching was aroused with my involvement in College wrestling 50 years ago. You had to learn to integrate your moves with the counter moves of your opponent. It was an exercise in wholeness and mindfulness and forward thinking at the same time. Sculling was a companion activity for the wrestling as I was able to transfer the boat skills of balance, economy, and timing from the water to the mat. Later in my coaching I would come to realize that the stroke cycle itself was integral and to achieve this integral state the coaching and the athlete’s mindset had to be holistic. Again, I seemed destined to expand my consciousness in sport and life and to seek a greater understanding of an integrated approach to coaching.

It would be years later that I discovered the writings of first, the Australian track coach Percy Cerutty, and second, the American basketball coach Phil Jackson. In addition to developing the physical, these two coaches in the second half of the twentieth century recognized the importance of the mental element of the inner athlete. Both men read extensively beyond sport and were committed to an integral approach to training and life where the needs of the interior athlete as well as the exterior athlete were addressed. They were out of the box thinkers.

It takes a special coach to employ such special training. One such person was Percy Cerutty. Almost 50 years ago, in the foreword of his book Athletics: How to be a Champion, Percy Cerutty, the great Australian track coach, wrote the following:

“I freely admit my debt to all the great minds that have gone before, from Plato and Aristotle right through to Newton, Hackenschmidt, and Hoffman, the fathers of the modern world athletics era. I have read widely on all subjects, ranging from Freud to Krishnamurti, Buddha and Jesus, to Carrell, Jeans, and Einstein. What have these hundred or more “authorities”, scientists, philosophers, to do with world-class athletic performance? I say everything, if the athlete would be a complete man and not merely a physical exponent of some process he may have been gifted with in the first place. The pure “physical” instructor, coach or athlete – if such could be said to exist – could not imagine the realm of ideas that can be applied to high level performance. Indeed, the top performers of the future will increasingly result from the “spirit” and high intelligence (brains of the first order).”2

Cerutty, who coached the great undefeated Australian miler Herb Elliott, outlines the depth and span of his own reading and the importance of the thinking of great minds of history. Literature stimulates our imagination and we are able to generate ideas that we can convey to our sport. Cerutty found a myriad of ideas from the writings of the great minds of history. In a way the coach fosters the growth of his plasticity of mind from the readings that he eventually shares with the athlete.

Before races Percy hid Herb in a quiet place near the track so that spectators and reporters could not hinder his concentration for the upcoming event. Elliott before all of his races would go through this ritual of meditating on his neural patterns.

Cerutty in Athletics was expressing his integral approach to coaching. His objective was to train not just the physical athlete but also the “complete” man. The mental component was an important part of his coaching. He was completely immersed in the natural environment surrounding his camp at Portsea and he made sure that the training of his athletes included an appreciation and immersion into the natural background. The athletes were blessed with his pre – rational and instinctive approach to training. He could not do otherwise because he was a complete person and coach. Sport, coaching and life all are interfaced. Cerutty lived by the Stotan Creed, the combination of Stocism and Spartanism, and in addition, he studied the uninhibited movements of animals, and small children, the disciplined movements of the highly trained dancer. I have followed his examples over many years training my eye of observation for the fine movements. Fortunately, I share an appreciation for all three vehicles for improved insight, the child, the animal, and the dancer. For all of this study Percy remained close to nature.

Cerutty’s Stotan philosophy was based on communication with nature…. the person sleeps under the stars, hears the morning birds, smells the flowers, hears the surf. Nature can bring the mind and body into perfect harmony and balance with the universe (Wilber’s Centaur level). This is one of the factors that allows the athlete to reach new levels of excellence.3

This way of life is still extremely relevant today as we move ever more deeply into the territory of more gadgets and technical toys. We live in an industrial-economic world. It certainly is more difficult and we must be more vigilant as we monitor our spiritual growth, our physical leanness, and our intellectual expansiveness and curiosity. This as coaches we must convey these three pronged supra states of mind, body and spirit to their athletes, and nature is there as a guide and as an appropriate foundation. We must be ecological coaches, as sport, especially rowing, is ecological. Also, this experience potentially can develop an unmatched perspicacity in the individual that is lasting and I witnessed this development in my own crews over the years. This type of emphasis leads one to a respect of the power and spirit of nature, a love of the earth. This is something that has been lost in our pursuit of materialism and consumerism.

Cerutty felt that education beyond the field; the track or racecourse can be a source of reliable and important information for the athlete’s performance enhancement. So, reading and obtaining knowledge is a critical factor in the overall development of the athlete and the coach should complement the academic training of the athlete and further his integral intelligence. This mind training helps immensely with skill learning, mental training, and race day preparation. The coach can assist this development with periodic handouts from the wisdom literature. This was very effective strategy at Hobart-William Smith Colleges in the 1990s, and over time the students were eager for these wisdom handouts.

Percy Cerutty, even in his sixties, coached by example, leading his runners through strenuous weight training sessions and hill runs up large sand dunes at his ocean side training camp at Portsea, Australia. Cerutty felt that, “our athleticism must be and should be, adult ‘play’.”4 It is imperative that the coach be an active participant for guiding the athlete in this holistic approach; active means in all respects, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The coach must work out his techniques based on intellectually sound principles. This was Cerutty’s way and now my way in my role of the old coach. It must be also be intense through having a fully engaged and lively spirit.

My response to Cerutty’s Stotan is Spirintel: this is the combination of Spirit and Intelligence as it applies to training. The Spirit component is a deep feeling for the environment especially for the sculler as he manages his equipment that is immersed closely with the world of nature. The spirit must encompass a love of the earth. We come to feel and appreciate the natural world. We see it as an intimate part of being both in and out of the shell. The intelligence is the sense of a balanced rational approach to our training and our movement in the shell and our movement and posture in our life out of the shell. The sitting meditative position helps immensely in the regulation of good posture. We must always be conscious of our movement in space. It is who we are. So Spirintel is our whole direction and purpose. It is statement that involves our total being, who we are, and our relationships with others and our relationship with the natural world. We make a strong statement about being non materialistic when we engage this concept. We simply move beyond the numbers of the rowing machine and have quality in our existence.

The great athlete is an ‘artist’ – not merely a physical phenomenon. He may make himself into what appears to be a physical phenomenon to others – but he himself knows he is no athletic god – but still a normal, fully functioning man, albeit highly evolved by ordinary standards. A man who is human, even if impervious to the strains and breakdown points of his less evolved brothers, and one who functions emotionally, intellectually, mentally ( spiritually) on levels, maybe, the ‘ordinary’ man may never even guess at. But such an athlete and personality remains, nevertheless, justy a man, human and fallible.5

Phil Jackson, in a similar vein to Cerutty’s philosophical studies, studied the works of the great spiritual teachers and provided his players with books from the wisdom literature to read for the purpose of expanding their minds. It was financially prohibitive for me to provide books for 50 crew people but I could provide handouts on a weekly basis. Consequently, each athlete accrued a significant amount of valuable material over four years and the readings did impact positively on the students’ consciousness.

The readings create an understanding of the importance of an expanded mental outlook and interrelationship between training and life and when this consciousness occurs the athlete reaches another level of being. For many athletes these readings represent their initial exposure to this type of literature consequently leave an indelible imprint on their educational experience and a subsequent stimulant to expand their consciousness in future years. In some ways we in the west have been half educated with the concentration on western literature and source material, but that is changing. Now, a whole new world of Eastern literature and wisdom is being made available to us; this spiritual reality once hidden, has exploded in the last 40 years.

The readings distributed to the team were augmented with daily meditation sessions. This point must be stressed that the mental training be  regular and be planned and periodized over a yearly cycle. Every day the sessions should be either a separate exercise or one woven into the fabric of the physical training program. This is done so that there can be a significant shift in the mentality of each student athlete towards an appreciation and understanding for integration, flow and wholeness.

Integral coaching is multi dimensional encompassing the coach as well the athlete’s training and education. Coaching with this approach reaches the very marrow of our being, and as stated earlier, involves a deep exploration, and experiencing of both the  art and science of coaching. The art of coaching is effectively expressed by the coach with his land demonstrations of the technique; the coach operates as an  effective choreographer of the movements on land and on water manages the athletes practice of effective, smooth rowing movements. The athlete eventually comes to realize that flow and integration are powerful. At some point he may even come to appreciate this same quality in other sports.

As a start for understanding the concept of integral coaching, it is helpful if we recognize that our body, the rowing stroke, nature, and our world, function optimally as a whole. The body in combination with the mind and the spirit form a complete unit. We feel this immediately when we sit quietly.  The great Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti emphasizes the importance of this holistic method when he writes,… “We have to observe the whole field…And  these fragmentary energies are wasting our total energy.”6 The whole field for the sculler includes the body, shell, oars and water. Flow or smooth action occurs when man returns and embraces his environment, when he no longer is separated from his surroundings as an individual object. When this occurs in sculling, this swing, the bond between the body, the shell and the water is seamless and there is not enough river in the world long enough to contain the sculler’s enthusiasm.

The rowing stroke is the epitome of wholeness with its continuous, cyclical, and elliptical action.  The entry movements in sculling are more effective when the combined power from the legs, trunk and arms are summated. At the release five movements are performed in rapid succession to make the motion appear as one; again a wonderful example of unity and Integration. Thus, the rowing cycle, with its many parts blending into a whole stroke, is identified as a metaphor and perfect parallel to the holism of life and nature on this planet. It is imperative that we seek out the whole in our lives and our environment. The stroke mechanics is the inclusive part of the sport.

The athlete comes to realize that individual parts are intimately connected to the whole stroke cycle. It is imperative that the coach perceives the whole stroke much like we appreciate the whole flower, tree, or person. Too often in our age of specialization we overlook the value and beauty of the whole and simply focus on the parts. Wholeness awareness almost becomes a vestigial quality of our mind like the wings of a penguin: we need to work on our ability to see the whole of each object confronting us.

Ultimately, the wholeness is displayed with the efficient movement of the shell on the water. This identification has a significant impact on our mental outlook as we receive a good shake of specialized mind. The foundation for flow rests on the development of balance between the athlete’s strength, endurance and smooth body action, the combination of the biological and movement sciences, and the two hundred years of thought on technique. Both the old, historical masters of technique like Burnell and Fairbairn, and the modern thinkers like Thor Nilsen, Mike Spracklen, and Volker Nolte, are utilized in teaching an effective stroke cycle. No one can be one hundred percent wrong: we can learn something from everyone if we are open.7 However, we cannot be so focused on improvement of the deeper reality of sculling that we overlook enjoying the moment, the practice, the race and all of the activities that are a part of the rowing experience. We must be able see the forest as well as the individual trees.

The example of Sir Ernest Shackelton’s leadership with his men on the Antarctic expedition early in the 20th Century provides evidence of the importance he placed on the interior development of his crew; he emphasized, “creating a spirit of camaraderie, getting the best from each individual, and overcoming obstacles to reach a goal. Shackelton, along with his contemporaries, Nansen, Peary, Scott and Amundsen all were eventually reduced to reliance on their substantial inner resources and power when faced with the environmental challenges of the Arctic and Antarctica. Without the benefit of the training of our consciousness, the coaching method remains shallow and lacks both creativity and a profound appreciation for the web of life; as it fails miserably to consider the importance factor of ethics, morals, or spirit in the athlete’s development.

Special practices on the water are employed for quality control: short high pieces where every stroke is monitored, slow motion pieces and specific focus for set pieces. Feeling through the hands, seat and trunk are emphasized: feeling the run of the shell, feeling the blade pressure, and feeling the body moving in harmony with the shell. The important and critical timing of the body/blade recovery phase is expertly timed with the entry of the blade into the water. I still remember when and where I achieved this precision and initial experience with the flow phenomenon; it is analogous to the sweet, powerful, well timed golf swing.

As well, the sculler observes the movement of the stern, looking for levelness and the bubbling effect of the wake from the shell’s sides and as well, practices using his peripheral vision for steering. So there are longitudinal and lateral cues for the flow of the shell. For the big  flow the athlete has to integral the external flow of the shell with his inner fluid self. The latter is achieved through non- judgement, empathy, compassion and mindfulness.  To assist this development over time, he shifts his  thinking from analyzing to being intuitional, and being an inner athlete. He slowly becomes an integral part of this total water experience, shell, oars and the inner being.  The coach is aware and choreographer of all of these developments as he feels and empathizes deeply the athlete’s progress and setbacks.

In rowing, the coach has simple yet effective objective of the athlete achieving fluid muscle, shell, and blade action and this is borne out in the simple equation of physical training plus mental training, plus training the spirit, equals smooth movements. For the rowing coach this is demonstrated in the flow of the shell. By having smooth movements as a simple goal it covers a lot of educational territory in both the area of sport science and the art of coaching. The major component of developing the physical in the training equation is the stroke cycle itself. As a coach observing and drilling the three major movements, the steady leg pressure, the fluid transition of the arms extended to a flexion position, and the extension of the trunk to extension at the other end of the slide bed, I try to see these actions in relation to the whole stroke cycle avoiding the danger of simply focusing on parts. Eventually, on the water, these major movements are integrated by employing the right amount of pressure on the blade face. The practice of “pulling only what you can handle,” positions the body to have a solid holistic relationship with the blade work at all points in the cycle.The steady, consistent pressure insures that the major segments remain coordinated in a compact, bonded system throughout the cycle. Many times when we try too hard, we stumble, and our goals impede the natural progress towards those silent, unspoken objectives.

The rowing stroke touches upon both the exterior and interior dimensions of the athlete and both the biological and technical development. This smooth action emphasis entails an evolutionary development of the coaches’ and athletes consciousness as the skill evolves to higher levels of complexity that includes and transcends previous levels of understanding, being, and doing. Sometimes, as coaches we lose sight of this basic objective, as  formulated in this equation of economy of movement. However, this simple equation translates into a comprehensive three pronged plan that includes the biological sciences, psychology, and meditation. Utilizing this approach produces movements that appear to be effortless and strikes a balance between the focus on the objective and following a disciplined process.

The science of coaching that addresses the complexity of the sport process,  is integrative, and includes knowledge from the various sciences, including Physiology, Psychology, Training Methodology, Biomechanics, Philosophy, Nutrition, Movement Training, Training Methodology, and Mind Science. This awareness of the expansiveness of science and its relationship to sport would come years later through my college experience. The planning and organization of the training are analytical and linear; the conduction of the plan requires the use of our intuition, and a holistic perspective; as coaches, we must be able see the forest. The metaphor for the analytical or scientific is the horizontal plane and for the intuitional, pre- rational, spiritual, and holistic aspect, the metaphor is the vertical plane. Thus we can be both immanent and transcendental at the same time. In the latter case, we try to move beyond the solid base of the former. The prospect is exciting as the end result is an athlete who his moved to a super conscious level of existence. It is imperative that the coach be an active participant in this type of approach in guiding the athlete. The result is comprehensive, with the body, mind and spirit integration completing the evolving product.

Another practical source of information for the coach is his own personal fitness routine on the erg, in the weight room, in the shell or in his or her daily runs or reflective, mindful walks. It is also helpful for the coach’s development to reserve some part of the day for solitude and quiet reflection.  The coach’s reflection opportunities are also enhanced if he sits in meditation with his athletes on a daily basis. By using this exercise on a daily basis they are working hard on their Spirintel. So you can see that for both the coach and the athlete, effective programming demands a varied, qualitative, as well as quantitative process.

How do the coach and athlete engage in integral athletics? This is the key and critical question. It begins with the coach’s knowledge of this approach to training. Thus, it is critical that the coach utilize all his resources, including the artistic, the ethical, and the scientific in order to execute his responsibilities as a teacher and leader. The coach should be familiar with yoga, meditation, relaxation, visualization, meditation and mindfulness training. He should also engage in studying depth psychology in order to understand his athletes.  The new emerging field of neuroscience is providing valuable additional information in this area. The outer development of the athlete refers to both his physical development including good strength, endurance, speed, quickness and flexibility, and the acquisition of technical skills that demonstrate his waterman-ship in both the sculling and sweep rowing.   This outer fine tuning of the body is accompanied by the toning of the body’s inner vessels through proper nutrition, regeneration, acupuncture, and massage. The sciences of the body, depth psychology found in Western and Eastern sources, and the science of consciousness constitute the three major sources of information and the foundation for rational training. The important study of the spirit or consciousness is the emerging science in the 21st century. As we learn more and more about the evolution of our planet,  we must learn more about ourselves espoecially the inner man and how this connects with our movement development. There is a disconnect here. It is a suggestion that in rowing we have been much too conventional for the past 50 years in this respect. Our sport is lagging behind in consciousness awareness development. This is an area that could be extremely fruitful and challenging.

A limited approach of employing only Western science is referred to as Scientism or Flatland.8 A practical rowing example of this approach or mentality is the sole use of the all-pervasive ergo meter score as a fitness indicator. There are multiple ways to look at the sculler, as a runner, as a weight lifter, as a cyclist, as a skier, as a swimmer, as a meditator, and as a dancer. Have I exhausted all of the possibilities? This list is a subtle recognition of the various ways by which we can train the athlete throughout the year. So that coaching encompasses much more than simply recording ergometer scores. This is hardly a sufficient foundation for effective training. This ergometer approach is much too limiting. Scientism is unwarranted extrapolation of scientific method, making the method into a worldview and an exclusivist canon of all knowing. The drift into scientism from the principles of science by the coach may be one of the prime reasons for rigidness in coaching methodology. There should be a balance struck by the coach between the science and the intangible element of conservation and consciousness training.

Leon Wieseltier has this to offer the students at the recent graduation ceremonies at Brandeis University:

For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method. We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work….

The machines to which we have become enslaved, all of them quite astonishing, represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: they are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep.

Our glittering age of technology is also a glittering age of scientism. Scientism is not the same thing as science. Science is a blessing, but scientism is a curse. Science, I mean what practicing scientists actually do, is acutely and admirably aware of its limits, and humbly admits to the provisional character of its conclusions; but scientism is dogmatic, and peddles  certainties. Owing to its preference for totalistic explanation, scientism transforms science into an ideology, which is of course a betrayal of the experimental and empirical spirit. There is no perplexity of human emotion or human behavior that these days is not accounted for genetically or in the cocksure terms of evolutionary biology. So there is no task more urgent in American intellectual life at this hour than to offer some resistance to the twin imperialisms of science and technology, and to recover the old distinction — once bitterly contested, then generally accepted, now almost completely forgotten – between the study of nature and the study of man.

Thus, the biological science of the body, physiology, is accompanied by the science of the mind, depth psychology and eastern philosophy along with the emerging science of consciousness. The latter is reached through  meditative practice and reading of the timeless works of wisdom that have an extensive history in both Western and Eastern literature. Teilhard de Chardin wrote in the Phenomenon of Man, “…we have recognized the existence of a conscious inner face that everywhere duplicates the ‘material external face, which alone is commonly considered by science.”9

The French philosopher Henri Bergson early in the last century recognized “the insufficiency of the abstract intelligence to grasp the richness of experience… and the inner depth of the psychic life which cannot be measured by quantitative methods of the physical sciences.”10 If our attention and training focus only on the physical component, then the effect is only partial. If there is no psychological dimension to the overall training, a significant element in our training and a potential source of power is missing. For every exterior element in the training of the athlete there is a corresponding interior element.   This refinement of our power requires planning a sound and comprehensive training program that contains knowledge from various sciences and Eastern Movement Theory. The latter field can be viewed as our Achilles heel in the west, as we are not familiar with the timeless literature and practice of the Eastern arts. This is the deeper source of information for the effortless power that coaches seek in their athletes. The coach needs to be a choreographer of the various movements for the athlete. His role is similar to that of the dance instructor and more difficult because the dance occurs in an unbalanced shell. Ernie Arlett would tell the crews to dance like ballet dancers skipping across the water.11 It is Gandhi who reminds us, “That you must become the change that you seek in the world”. There are many coaches in sport, who are still active, sculling miles, running marathons, entering tri-athlete competitions, or simply remaining physically fit with a daily regimen.

In devising a comprehensive, balanced and integral training plan, the coach is forced to be creative in combining the exterior and interior elements, the important sensor-motor and the wisdom elements, and the rational and the intuitional. This approach produces a fully developed and powerful athlete. The more complex the exterior movements become the more subtle and refined the interior consciousness develops. There is a direct developmental correlation. We need this interiorization. The actual practical application of this method involves specific training for the body, the mind and the spirit. For the body: good posture, timing and coordination training, rhythm work, endurance training, speed work and quickness exercises, concentrated yoga, a sound nutritional plan and regenerative strategies. The training of the mind includes reading and study, quiet sitting for slowing down, and concentration and mindfulness practice, visualization and relaxation practice, stroke simulation, stroke analysis and understanding, and an intensive development of the senses.

The central premise of the integral coaching approach recognizes that all disciplines and theories contain some measure of the truth, so everything has value or partial truth for the athlete at some stage in his training and in his life. It is a case of understanding the level that the athlete has reached, and the appropriate strategies for that stage of his development: so from a psychological perspective employing Freud is appropriate at one stage, and Jungian practices at a deeper level.12 For example in technique training, the coach might incorporate some aspects of the Old English Orthodoxy into his technique training, but, would race with a thoroughly modern approach.

The coach can begin the integral process modestly by engaging a local strength coach, and someone who knows yoga for stretching, and a nutritionist can be found and the college strength coach can be enlisted. The major challenge for the coach is laying out this cohesive training program, with an integral mindset laying out this mosaic becomes easier. However, once initiated, then he or she is on a path of learning, implementing and expanding this coaching approach. It becomes clear to the coach and the athlete that an integral coaching approach takes one into the unknown areas of body, mind and spirit. It is a wonderful odyssey, and like the early explorers from history who discovered the un-chartered waters, we experience immeasurable rewards.

Sensitive sculling can involve four of our five senses with every stroke: we feel the run of the shell and the invigorating breezes of early spring: we enjoy the various smells emanating from the banks.  We see the levelness of our stern and the bubbling effect of the shell’s wake; our subtle touch to the handles eventually becomes masterful with our handling of the sculls with fingers and with flat wrist sculling. We must try to stay in touch and connected to nature around us. Recently, I asked a sculler to feel the power of this connection with the earth through the water with a series of strokes. The blades are actually tapping into a sphere of energy.

Our sense of touch reaches a deeper level of being because we are seated inches from the the water’s surface through the flimsy membrane of the shell for long periods of time in our training. We are resurrecting our primordial nature. Where the primates once sat on the earth for extended periods, unfortunately, we now sit on elevated chairs for much of the day. So the rowing seat engages our ancient sensibilities allowing us as an animal to operate adeptly, embedded in our earthly cosmology, not on it but in it.  In addition, each time we bury the blades we are touching the earth; this is eco-sculling.

With good sitting posture, a mindset that thinks upward, we resist the downward pull of gravity, and open ourselves to love of sculling, and indirectly, in a small way to the love of the earth. So it is essential for the athletes to have meditative experiences in the fall, late spring, and summer, outdoors on an earthly cushion, and in the winter months on the floor. My crews would follow this practice at the completion of a water session in the fall and late spring by retreating to a grassy circle position adjacent to the boathouse, thoroughly regenerating themselves through this quiet concentration session.

Sitting on the ground, or in the shell, or on the floor returns us briefly to a forgotten state of being; we revive the union between our animate spirit and the earth. The implications of the sculling seat is mainly overlooked because we lack an understanding of the profound importance of sitting in a shell, or on the floor, or on the earth’s carpet and the benefit to our larger more holistic life. For the coach and athlete, this mental, physical and spiritual experience has a deeper purpose that optimizes the individual’s performance and personal development.  Many of our college programs have the physical resources of a National Team training Center with tanks, weight rooms, running tracks, ergometers, but do the coaches have a training center attitude? Are they really interested in producing an excellent, holistic, educational, experience for the athlete that parallels and integrates with their academic opportunities? Much of their teaching and coaching ought to be readily transferable to the classroom in the form of focus, visualization, mindfulness, and concentration on the subject matter.

Noteworthy, is the reality that this particular approach of integral coaching, surfaces in many areas of life, including law, business, science, the arts, education, and medicine. For example, Integrative Medicine uses traditional Western methods augmented alternative medicine. This includes acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, and physical therapy. New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital has an excellent Integrative Medicine Program under the capable direction of heart transplant specialist Dr. Mehemet Oz addressing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of health.13 Dr. Oz has been known to employ meditation, mindfulness training, visualization, yoga and relaxation practices with his cardiac patients, holistic, Integrative medicine.

Our world is creative and is constantly in motion and developing and the coach needs to synchronize with this evolving world by being imaginative and creative. Using an integral approach is ambitious and demands a comprehensive effort both intellectually and physically from the coach and the athlete. Eventually the philosophy embraces our total being, a lifetime commitment that enhances the enjoyment, education and challenges for athletic training and coaching. This general overlay of the more specific levels that include matter, body, mind, and spirit has only evolved as discipline in the last twenty five years, in large part due to the profound and prodigious work of great evolutionary thinkers and philosopher, such as Sri Aurobindo, Alfred North Whitehead, Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Bergson, and Jean Gebser, and depth psychologists, such as Ken Wilber and A.H. Almaas. From each of these deep 20th century thinkers we will find some passage in their writings that pertain to the crew experience so it is important that we dig deeply for our athletes.

The emphasis of this type of coaching approach is clearly on the individual’s development both as a person and as an athlete. So any performance concerns are primary with the process. Winning is secondary. It is helpful to be reminded of the words of ChuangTzu, the ancient Chinese Taoist master in poem, The Need To Win:

  When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or he sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.14

I reminded my sculler to work on being above the anxiety level in his consciousness, especially, before he races. This level of consciousness he is attempting to reach is far above his petty concerns and projections.  He, like Herrigel, should focus on process and totally enjoy the moment with an open heart and open mind. Before a race the sculler does his stretching, he takes a few minutes to meditate in a quiet spot; he does some fast arm extensions at 40 strokes per minute. When he arrives on the water he does a little playing with coming out of bow with the correct sequencing, he feels for the marriage of the swing and the shell run, and he does some stationary dropping the blade into the water. In other words he does some process work as a body and mind reminder. He is present and above any anxiety. He is looking down and away at the anxious moments. He does a few short starts and he is ready to perform.

Our holistic selves and the level of our empathy undergo great evolutionary development. Ultimately our being evolves beyond the individual self to eventually encompass the total environment, so that in sculling the total body blends with the oars the shell, the water in a rhythmic dance of flow, with the stroke cycle recognized as a polyrhythmic movement of intricate parts; a direct parallel to the Spinozist world of nature that embraces us.  Here is where we can marry matter and spirit and engaged our environment in a non-materialistic fashion.

This progression through the major levels of consciousness is a roadmap that begins with empathy for the self and continues to the family, the community, the nation, the world and finally to the planet. A deepened empathy is the main root for developing this spirit in the self and in the team; we learn to hold our self and our teammates without judgment and with deep compassion and hopefully with understanding. Wilber refers to this Integration of the body, mind, spirit, the environment, and eventually the Universe as Unity or Cosmic consciousness. Elevating the athlete’s consciousness is the ultimate objective for the integral coach and a small beginning on the road to Unity Consciousness. Coaching and athletics can become the origin and the detailed roadmap for the athlete’s personal improvement, development and eventual evolutionary growth in consciousness. All of this educational development had its roots in those Saturday mornings on the lush field of West St. Catharines Station Park.


1 Steve McIntosh, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution, p.282

2 Percy Wells Cerutty, Athletics: How to Become a Champion (London, UK: Stanley Paul, 1960), p.13.

3 Larry Myers, Training with Cerutty, p.169

4 Phil Jackson, Sacred Hoops, p.45

5 Percy Cerutty, Athletics: How to Become a Champion, p.15

6 J. Krishnamurti, Inner Revolution, p.138

7 A favorite dictum from Ken Wilber

8 Huston Smith, The Forgotten Truth, p.34

9 Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, p.58

10 William Barrett, Irrational Man, p.15

11 Story related by former Arlett oarsman, Arlett.

12 Ken Wilber’s sound advice

13 Ken Wilber, Where Wilber At? Ken Wilber’s Integral Vision in the New Millennium, p.238

14 Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, p.122

James C. Joy
Over his long career as athlete, coach, teacher and mentor, Jimmy has touched directly and indirectly thousands in the rowing community. From novices to national, world and Olympic champions, and for coaches at many levels, all have benefited from his holistic and technical approach to a cyclical non-fragmented stroke where there is a strong bond between body, shell and the water creating a state of flow within an integrated whole.
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