What can coaches learn from a water sports holiday?

How venturing out of our comfort zones on holiday can give us confidence back at work.

This summer, my family and I had the fantastic pleasure of a wonderful week away doing water sports and wild swimming, and I learned some valuable lessons to apply to my coaching practice.


Our favourite activity was sea swimming with @thewildswimmingbrothers.

We loved the adventure, and it led to some interesting insights to apply back at work.


  1. Learning happens outside our comfort zones

 The session began with a short talk, a few tips and a demonstration of breathing techniques. They were very encouraging and enthusiastic throughout, and it was great fun. Then we embarked on a group swim along the spectacular coastline.

When we had finished, the first question middle brother Calum asked was,


“Who felt out of their comfort zone during the swim?”


It was a good question and led to an interesting discussion. Several people confessed that they had felt out of their comfort zone. Others were well within theirs, and could have gone further and faster.


Most of us have heard of this concept of the comfort zone, but fewer of us know that when we step out of it, we move into our stretch zone. This is where learning happens but by definition, it is an uncomfortable place to be.

As a coach, it is my job to, supportively, take my coachees into their stretch zone, to question their existing beliefs and behaviours and learn and practice new ones. What I don’t want to do is take them one step further – too far – whereupon we reach the terror of the panic zone. The typical reaction when this happens is to retreat as fast as possible back to the safety and security of the comfort zone: the opportunity for learning and growth is lost, and trust is gone.  We need to consider the Goldilocks principle of just enough stress and pressure but not too much. At work, stepping out of your comfort zone, and taking a risk requires support, encouragement and above all trust.


  1. The outer edges of the stretch zone can be a scary place

Satisfaction and achievement come when we move into the stretch zone, but the key is to recognise that everyone’s panic zone is different. Great empathy is required when others struggle with something which is easy for us.

The Swimming Brothers managed this well, with warmth, humour and brotherly banter providing a good balance between reassuring us with the extent of their knowledge and experience, without intimidating us with the huge size of their own swimming comfort zones.

In her inspirational TEDxStanford talk Life Begins At The Edge Of Your Comfort Zone, Yubing Zhang entreats us to step out of our comfort zones and reap the benefits of personal growth. She declares  “every day is a battle against the safety of my comfort zone.” (watch it here)


While I was reasonably happy with the swimming element, my own personal panic zone loomed large when the session started with a cheery “let’s all jump off the jetty one by one, while we film you!”. Social media + me in a bikini does not = my comfort zone, and I rapidly disappeared out of shot.


  1. Increasing our comfort zones on holiday can give us courage back at work

The adventure swim pushed many of us well into our stretch zones, and we all felt a great sense of achievement when, as a group of 40, we emerged from the water having swum about 1750m round the island. Everyone gave a huge round of applause.

When you regularly push yourself outside your comfort zone, the comfort zone itself gets bigger and your panic zone gets further away. I am no adrenaline junkie, far from it, but confidence gained from activities like wild swimming helps me when I face challenges at work.

As Susan Jeffers wrote in her hugely influential book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, “With each little step you take into unknown territory, a pattern of strength develops. You begin feeling stronger and stronger and stronger


I picked up my student son this week from the airport: he’d been to Vietnam to travel with his sister who’s having a post-graduation gap year. He had been nervous about flying alone, but when I collected him, he seemed subtly different. He’d ventured way out of his comfort zone, he’d succeeded and, I could see, he felt stronger.


In summary, there are 3 key takeaways from my wild swimming adventure:

  1. Learning happens outside our comfort zones. It is important to tune in to people’s varying comfort, stretch and panic zones, to help them develop and achieve their best.
  2. It’s scary in our stretch zones, but with support, trust and encouragement, we can achieve more than we ever thought possible.
  3. Increasing our comfort zones on holiday can give us courage back at work.


And finally, do try wild swimming. It’s a great experience. But preferably with an experienced guide, as we’re looking for a stretch not a panic!


Thanks to the wildswimmingbrothers. Great job!

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