So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Adapt or Die

Lately, my wife has been looking into business plans; big picture strategic stuff which (in the past) used to make my head hurt. Hurt. Bad. Worse than any workout I ever ran under my old coach, or as part of my own training. Bad enough to drive me to that high-end coffee emporium you can find on nearly every corner in a good-sized city. At that point, my business plan was to go in, grab a four-dollar latte, & think pleasant thoughts about long, easy runs on shady, tree-lined lanes with no automobiles, no dogs, & toilet facilities at each mile marker. Silly to think I'd have to resort to fantasy to ease the pain of reality, right? Then I began to think about how they expanded from a few stores in one city to this big, honking, megalithic corporation with stores everywhere...all part of a big, honking, audacious business plan a bunch of smart business-types sat down over their lattes and drafted out years ago.

So, my wife was talking to me in between my workout and my hurried rush to be late for work...again...about things like micropayment & free-riding... I vaguely remembered from my college economics course about free-riding; it's like banditing a road race. For the uninitiated, bandits are unregistered, unofficial race participants. They don't have a bib number so their performances aren't officially recorded. Most of the time, these bandits won't grab drinks at the aid stations or run through the finish chute; the occasional cup of water taken by a bandit might not adversely affect a race promoter's profit margin, but when they run through the chute it causes headaches for the timing crew...especially if their timing system is antiquated.
Of course, the bandit is of the opinion 'hey, the police coverage is going to be out there for everyone else, what's so wrong with me using the race as a fast training event? I'm not drinking the beer or eating the bagels, am I?' Most race directors, at least here, turn a (semi-)blind eye on the banditry because it usually doesn't screw up their event as a whole. However, if the individual participant looked at it as 'dude, someone isn't paying their fair share...' perhaps race directors would be a little less benign about the whole thing. The difference between 300 persons paying for a 350-participant race and 350 persons paying for a 350-participant race, if we're talking a 5,000-meter run with a $20 entry fee is (before the expenses are taken away) $1,000, right on the edge of 15 percent potential additional income. Or, the race director can do something really cool, like keep the registration closer to $18. Imagine what the average, run-of-the-mill race participant would think about a $2 decrease in entry fee?

It's hyperbole, but it's easier to think about the difference when you start tossing big numbers.
Is it crazy to provide content, services, or goods for free? It depends on the provider's intent; if the hope is the (potential) customer will reach for value-added items, available for a small fee, then providing content for free is acceptable. If the seats in the auditorium (to borrow a theater analogy) are filled with non-paying customers, in order to keep up the appearance of a successful business, then you know eventually the business is going to do one of two things in order to survive:

1. Change or discontinue certain content.
2. Charge for content.
Adapt or die, say the business theorists, who borrow from theories of natural selection.

And it appears many on-line coaching services cannot help but agree. You might be able to find cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-most training plans - or parts of them - on the web sites of coaching content providers, but a modicum of your paycheck is going to have to be parted with if you want the entire picture, which may or may not include a coach to answer questions, provide guidance & counsel, & help you to figure out what you need to reach your own athletic performance goals.
And books with coaching advice & training plans? Well, you have to purchase those, too, so you're putting the money out one way or another. A coach who I know performs his craft strictly for love of the sport has written, & sells, a training manual - so a dichotomy can exist in athletic training consisting of altruism & venality...better yet, let's say altruism & capitalism. :)

Any coach who doesn't consider charging a reasonable price for the service they provide:
1. Does not want to place their reputation behind their product (perceived worth), or
2. Is independently wealthy (altruism), or
3. Has no need to make a living from their craft (libertarian ideals), or
3. Does not care enough about developing potential clientele (selectivity).
Simply put, gains in athletic performance, & striving for athletic/fitness goals, costs you in time, in personal committment, & in finances. A good coach can help you get there - better than you can do it on your own - because they've seen the pitfalls from their perspective, & many have made the common mistakes in their own experience. A good coach is like a Sherpa; you pay them to guide you up the mountain, they work hard so you don't have to expend as much effort or risk the chance of dying on the journey.
(POSTSCRIPT - My coach reminded me last night there are coaches who do what they do solely for love of the sport. The statements above sound mercenary, but they are theories, much like the theory of natural selection. Day-to-day practice may or may not align with the above-mentioned theory.)

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