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Spelunking & Coaching: Coaching Is Not Therapy

My dad and I not stuck in a cave

Most things you do as a parent are firsts, and spelunking was a first for me. I was on my belly, army crawling after my seven-year-old son in a cave 200 feet underground. I was second from the end of a line of students, teachers, and foolish parents crawling through a narrow tunnel.

Away from the tunnel entrance, and too far away to see the end, I stopped. I stopped because I could not go. I felt a tingle in my legs, and could not take a deep breath. I wanted to back out of the tunnel, or pass the students ahead of me, but the tunnel was one-body-big. I was low-key paralyzed, as the entire class of students made it to the end without me.

The teacher behind me asked why I stopped. I told him I felt funny, and I didn’t know why I stopped. What he said stunned me, “You have claustrophobia.” Claustrophobia!?!?!? I knew what claustrophobia was, but never felt it myself. In my imagination, claustrophobia was more dramatic than what I was experiencing. The teacher helped me change my mindset from claustrophobia being the climax of a crime drama to a reasonable reaction to a new experience.

This silly spelunking experience is a reminder about the difference between coaching and therapy. I was stuck, in a new situation, experiencing an unfamiliar sensation, and trying to reach my goal. I did not need a deep dive into my pathology and childhood with a therapist. I did not need a doctor to scan my brain and prescribe medicine (though I have needed those kinds of help in the past).

In this new situation, I was having trouble moving forward. I needed encouragement and context. The teacher’s patience, observation, and questions helped me make it out of the tunnel, even if it was not glamorous. I was the only person who could get myself out.

Coaching can be just like my claustrophobic spelunking adventure. It was a small problem, with an easy fix, and the answer to the fix helped me in other places in my life, not just at the bottom of a cave.

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