So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Head On A Swivel

While I'm not one of those persons who considers myself a great driver, I would say I'm at, or slightly above, the above average ability. Yes, my wife would probably disagree with my assertion; perhaps my father, too. But I've done more than my share of driving in both large and small cities...and yes, had accidents in both large & small cities over the past three decades I've been entrusted with the controls of automobiles or motorcycles.
However, I've only been at fault in three...with inexperience, foolishness & inebriation being the main root causes...all in accidents which occured in the first ten years of driving. You get past those halcyon days & it's been the stupidity of others to blame.
Two whack-ups in the past two years, however, hasn't helped my sense of paranoia when climbing behind the wheel. Especially in this town.

Why is it I can go on a road trip to a large city, & drive with a fair amount of confidence through their streets that I won't be the target of a T-Bone-To-Be-Determined-At-A-Later-Time, yet when I come back to my fair city I have to drive with my head on a swivel & engage in hyper-defensive driving? I swear, I'm ready to see if DRMO has any warehoused rocket launchers I can mount on the roof of my car.
When driving down the central thoroughfare, near the center of town, I encounter the operator of a large suburban (f)utility vehicle who decides, not only to punch a right-hand turn into the intersection, but to punch it into the left-hand lane...where I am steadily approaching at 30-to-35 miles per hour...

Or, a divided secondary artery which divides two subdivisions becomes a regular dart half way across in between the medians...if we're lucky we'll continue the dart all the way across location. On two separate days in succession I've had this happen at the same exact intersection...I would almost swear with the same driver.
Funniest one had to be the other morning, on a commuter artery which bisects the city from northeast to west. If you approach an intersection with a red light & four vehicles waiting to make a left-hand turn, common sense & logic dictates you would enter the turn lane & wait, correct? Nope, not this knucklehead...this guy turned right into the left hand lane of travel, shot past the other four vehicles & turned left against the opposite oncoming traffic. All I could do when I rolled up to the intersection was shrug my shoulders & look at the car at the front of the left hand turn lane with a look of what the heck can you do about THAT!?

The comforting thought was they were laughing in amazement...or frustration...like I was.
I guess the best thing I can do, barring a change in my employment situation to telework, is to keep my head on a swivel. 'Cause heaven knows there are some folks out there who certainly aren't.

Oh, could someone please tell the lawn care guys who decided to park their big-@$$ truck AND trailer in the access lane of the local sub shop...stop it, for crying out loud?! Okay, not that I was in a rush to get back to work, but neither I nor my insurance provider is ready to pay for more body work on my car. Thanks!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Who...Or What...Do You Love?

The missus & I had another chance to get away from it all...here, taking the kids & grandkids to New Orleans. I had to teach a seminar on Friday, so driving over on Thursday afternoon was naturally out of the question. However, it also provided me a few hours of my Friday afternoon with nothing better to do than point my trusty Scion xB in the proper direction, listen to some of the tunes I'd recently downloaded to my iPod & think deep thoughts.

It occurred to me I had not talked to my father in five weeks (his seventieth birthday), & it was not like I was going to be disturbed by much at that particular time...might as well burn a few cell phone roaming minutes, no? After a healthy dose of touching base with him, & getting safely past the casinos along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, one deep thought led to another & I wanted to know what some of my New Orleans friend/s were doing.

They had been on a cruise ship for a week with two dozen or more of their closest relatives. What had me marveling even more was the fact they were able to make it through that week without throwing anyone overboard...or consuming adult beverages. I knew they had cut back during the spring in Central Florida, but didn't know they had made the decision to cut back in that drastic a manner. They have their reasons, which are quite valid (even if I disagreed, validity is in the mind of the beholder), & I strongly applaud them for it.
The ramifications or the rationale for such decisions hadn't quite hit until I was driving on the trip home...Then I began to think about it all: You see, we didn't drink anything around the family because being (at the least) loose around the children and grandchildren didn't seem like a good example. There were enough people on the streetcars & on the major thoroughfares who were loosened up during the weekend, right? We went out for a bite to eat & to walk around with some of our friends after the kids drove home, sufficient opportunity to loosen up and enjoy some of the more adult-oriented venues we occasionally enjoy. And while I was loose enough to not feel major pain I couldn't help but see some of the really loose denizens of the place/s we visited, most notably the crowd in one of the city's most popular karaoke bars. Believe me, there are way too many people who think they sing well. Add an abundance of adult beverages & it's a Capt'n Fun Happy Birthday Song Audition Night, minus the cake (Robin Williams' 2002 routine about Japanese men in a karaoke bar after a couple of shots of Jack Daniels' says it best.). When you see them you begin to think to yourself, 'dude, is THAT what I look like when...?'
Right now I can say I do not have a drinking problem. There was a time in my life when you could probably say I did, but I think age & a beer-related accident (I thank God no police were around to see!) a long time ago (as well as a recent beer-related accident where we were the victims!) converted me from the quantity drinker to the quality drinker. That means I still spend the same amount of money on beer at 48 as at 18; I share/enjoy the six-pack of microbrews more than I did bogarting a case of Lone Star. I like beer a great deal, & there are days when there's nothing more wonderful after a very hot run or workout than a very cold beer. Of the friends I have, the ones for which I would say I would go through hell in a gasoline suit are very small; & the vast majority of them drink probably the same amount, give-or-take, that I do. I have many colleagues & acquaintances, however, who are perhaps one (stumbling?) step to the left or to the right of the classic hash house harrier definition: a drinker with a running problem. Love 'em, but it's the truth.
And THAT'S where my worried mind begins to operate. I know a person's character can be molded & shaped by the people they spend the most time with. Think about it: Influence of Others -> Thought -> Decision -> Action -> Habit -> Character -> Influence on Others. I've told folks on more than a few occasions we are what we consume, spiritually as well as physically. So, can you control your own cycle? Or would you rather smash the mirror?

'Beer commercials usually show big men, manly men, doing manly things: "You've just killed a small animal. It's time for a light beer." Why not have a realistic beer commercial, with a realistic thing about beer, where someone goes, "It's five o'clock in the morning. You've just @*#d on a dumpster. It's Miller time."' - Robin Williams (1986)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Once A Coach, Always A Coach – OR – Sometimes, Sport Ain’t Pretty

Some time back I began to read the occasional blog posting from Brett "Doc" Sutton, an Australian coach who has guided a number of athletes to success in the world of swimming, as well as ITU and long distance triathlon. At this point in the 2010 season a number of his TeamTBB athletes have been setting the triathlon world aflame.
One of the first blog posts I read from Doc was entertaining, but difficult to follow, because he (as many of his athletes will tell) has an atrocious writing style. So, I took it upon myself to edit it for public consumption. I think Doc will be pleased, or at least minimally miffed, at the fact I hadn't chopped it up too much...I felt spelling and minor word cobbling would suffice. Enjoy!

Ol’ Doc has been getting a bit frayed around the edges lately, so his ever-suffering wife bought him a set of golf clubs. Seems she had heard him say that back in the old days his doctor used to prescribe hitting golf balls rather than punching bags when the anxiety level started to rise.
Recently his team was on fire, namely the daily “fires” athletes and coaches deal with to make the magic happen on race day. Putting out those fires was starting to take its toll on Doc. So after a little track set, his wife suggested he take the new golf clubs to the driving range and test them out, while she took the kids to the lake. She told him, ‘don’t think about coaching for the rest of the day.’
So Doc went off, bag in hand, down to the driving range. He bought his bucket of balls and proceeded to deal with the anxieties of coaching a’ la Tiger. Right beside him was a group of folks ranging from their mid 40s to about 80 years of age. They were all decked out in their new golf attire, with their beautiful clubs and the immaculately dressed golf pro who was giving the group a lesson. The pro had the group stretching and doing all these drills, and it appeared like they were having fun.

Doc proceeded to put his bucket of balls down, took a club out of the bag, and started to hit the balls. Being a professional in another ball-sport, He never considered hitting a ball that isn’t moving to be much of a problem. After about 20 strokes he found the ball to be moving off the tee quite well, but his anxiety wasn’t subsiding one bit.While his shots were going more or less in the proper direction, the golf students next to him were sending their balls, er, sideways. They had become a danger not only to themselves, but to everyone nearby.

After a 9-iron slice missed Doc’s temple by about an inch (which pleased an elderly lady in the group; she finally hit a ball that was not a “worm burner,”) he decided checking a few e-mails was the better part of being pole-axed by an octogenarian would-be Nancy Lopez. What’s a 20-to-30-minute delay on such a nice day? He knew he’d end up taking care of coaching business, but at least he was exercising his obsession at the golf club rather than at the track.
As he answered the last of the e-mails, Doc realized this group was booked for an hour lesson. So, with mortal fear he returned to whacking a few balls, but with his eye constantly on the group, just in case. The pro teacher had provided this group with all the correct golf form tips money could buy; but these middle-aged hackers were lucky to be able to strike the ball, much less the broad side of a barn. They all had back swings as big as John Daly, turning their hips exactly like Tiger, and were still fortunate to get the ball 15 yards downrange. Most of the shots were “worm burners,” except when they tried the 9-iron; those were the moments Doc feared emasculation.

He kept thinking to himself, ‘what is this bloke doing with these people?’ He had long gone past the point of being upset for no particular reason. But the anxiety and frustration the foursome was experiencing as an outcome of trying so hard to emulate the technique of the world’s best golfers, as espoused by their instructor, was quickly becoming pandemic. Even with the language barrier, Doc knew the French word ‘merde’ was not ‘I love that shot.’ Time to answer a little more e-mail, thought Doc, to avoid their frustration becoming his. When the old pensioner let out the English version of the earlier French interjection, Doc said nothing, but sat there and kept boiling on how these people were being coached.

The elderly woman came and sat on the bench five minutes later, to light up a cigarette. Now her – and Doc’s - anxiety had gone out of control. He said, ‘that will kill you,’ in English. He knew she understood only too well. She bounced back with, ‘not before the golf does.’
Doc learned during their conversation the woman’s husband wanted her to learn to play golf and improve her health; he bought her new clubs and 30 golf lessons. She was so embarrassed to not be able to hit the ball. At her age, she felt it was silly trying to learn something difficult, just for fun.
She then waxed on, ‘Look at you. You walk up, don’t stretch, don’t warm up, you don’t practice. You wear lambskin boots for golf shoes, and you just “bang, bang, bang.” The balls fire out like its nothing. How much have you practiced to do that?’ Doc said he had picked up the clubs two or three times in the last ten years.

While this dowager might have had a $3,000 set of clubs and Nike equipment, she was a Yorkshire “angler”; her biggest catch was the husband with the Swiss bank account. They might have been in Montreaux, she in her 70’s, prim and proper, but she still told Doc he was full of it.
However, he was serious: ‘If you really want to hit the ball time after time and enjoy it, I can help you.’ She said, ‘Oh, now you’re a pro golfer too?’ Doc explained while he wasn’t a pro at golf, he could have her hitting ten fifty-yard shots in succession within 30 minutes. ‘When he leaves with his band of merry payers, go buy another lot of balls. But you have got to do as I tell you; forget all that clap trap the instructor said.’
‘Did you see me try to hit that ball or you just blind? That was my 28th lesson and I have yet to hit one that far and more than three in the row that went anywhere.’ Doc said, ‘well, you got one off the ground which nearly took me out.’

‘So what’s the point? Do you want to be better than you’re doing now, or just look good?’ She said, ‘Yes, of course.’
‘Well make your mind up; I have to be back at the lake in 45 minutes.’
So, over she went and bought the balls. The first ten minutes passed with Doc instructing, ‘do you want to hit it or look like a golfer that air swings all the time?’

‘I learned a terrific lesson a lot of years ago when I went to a golf tournament to watch my brother-in-law hack about. I watched a 69-year-old lining up; my brother-in-law filled me in: “This guy is the local legend. He can hardly walk now, so he never finishes the second round of the tournament, but he won it three times; twice before the war and one time afterward. He never became a pro as the war wrecked him and his lungs.” Of course I followed him instead of the brother-in-law, and it was the best 18 holes I ever walked. Now, that is another story, but it taught me plenty about hitting a golf ball.’ So Doc told the lady of this old guy and what the old guy showed him, then she started to really listen, not like before. She must have thought there was some English common sense in that.
So, they got rid of the John Daly backswing, told Tiger Woods to piss off, and decided the follow-through was over-rated. That ten minutes was hopefully the turning point in Amy loving to play golf as in the previous ten minutes; not only did Amy hit ten straight balls but at least half of them went beyond the 50 mark.
She was astonished, but when she went to go, Doc said ‘hang on. It was all ten past that mark. Get your wallet out, old girl, and get some more balls.’ Some traits die hard. ‘We are going to nail this before we leave here.’ She hit two more lots of ten, and the last lot went past the 50-yard sign every time. They grounded in the "Amy Swipe," as it was christened: a technique that revolutionary needed to have a name. Amy was having a ball whacking the balls every time, like a Swiss watch. The old girl had a bit of talent; the “Amy Swipe” was a thing of beauty. The back swing was not higher than her hips - sorry, john. Her hip turn - well we lost that, sorry, Tiger, and her follow-through stopped also at the hip but she hit 30 balls. She never missed one and over half went 50 yards or more, all in a straight line.
They packed up, and she said, ‘I just paid that guy - or my husband did - 1450 Swiss francs for 30 lessons and I still could not hit the ball. What can I get you, Doc?’

‘Well, I am pretty thirsty. How about a can of Coke?’
‘Done.’
There are a couple of morals to the story:
First, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
Second, do you want to look good, or do you want to be better?
I think that sums it up.
As for the anxiety, well, Doc returned to the lake, and his wife said ‘You look much happier. See what happens when you take just a little time off from coaching? I am proud of you!’
Doc said, ‘me too, me too.’

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Do You Want Me To Be Today?

"When the school bell rings, the learning day is done. It's time to trash the books, and work on having fun. Through the door comes Jimmy, with hopes and dreams of his own. But little does he know that they'll be crushed when he gets home. There's so much he wants to share. But his parents they just don't care. You see his daddy never made it...and momma thinks she could have....Always telling him who they think he should be; now they're left alone with a desperate written plea, that says: To Whom It May Concern: Who do you want me to be today?" (Stuart Hamm, 1991)Athletic coaching is a blend of art & science; the coach, ideally, has learned all of the physiology, psychology, sociology...and maybe even a little early childhood education...either through a formal learning process in a high school or college, or on the fly under the tutelage of their coach. Naturally, the art side of coaching comes to the fore when dealiing with the individual athlete. Each is an experiment of one.

And not every coach is - or should be exactly alike. If it were so that all coaches were, there would be a world of athletes without 'em. It's why athletes (sometimes) move from coach to coach throughout a career; the relationship gets stale or old, or the parties realize what was a great fit at one time wasn't quite so years later...maybe when goals changed or modalities didn't. My coach(es) & I are completely different people, socially, politically, geographically, emotionally, and even to a small degree athletically. They communicate with me a lot differently than I do with my athletes. I try to give the athletes I coach the feedback I felt I needed as an athlete...sometimes it's too much, or at the wrong time. Once again, I guess that's where the human element comes in. If I were the perfect coach I'd be a robot.
I've friends who are coaches, in running as well as in other sporting disciplines, and we've bounced thoughts across each other at times, just to get a sniff test. Some of them are gentle, yet open and a little gregarious. Others are a touch more guarded and cautious. Yet the common thread which appears is that of success on the part of one or more of their athletes. Can you define success without resorting to the hard numbers of wins and losses, lowered finishing times, longer throws and higher jumps?

I used to think I needed to mold all-around renaissance athletes to be considered a good coach. When my coach's coach mentioned something along the lines of 'I just want to build a better machine' I realized the rest of the person - especially when dealing with athletes over a certain age (since I deal with runners older than age 16, I'll say adults) - was probably coming to me already developed. My chance to reinforce (or undo, in some cases) the work of parents, teachers, preachers and other outside influences was pretty much out of the question.
And yes, I know that in the case of school athletics coaches, there is that need to live (as my friend Dr. Ed Cloutier would say) a PG life. But I don't think there's a great divide between a person who lives a more liberal life and a person who is more conservative in their dealings.

Give me a coach who will make me a better engine. I'll trust my family and my preacher to help me in the rest of the categories...if they haven't been successful in influencing me up to this time it might be a little too late.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Inner Child Left Behind

There are a number of careers I've considered...after I retire from the one which pays the overwhelming majority of my bills. Frankly, none of them have to do with (making a living in) education or coaching. I have many friends who spent the vast majority or entirety of their careers in the K-12 realm, many of them asked the rhetorical 'why in heaven's name would you want to go into teaching?' question during the years I spent in undergrad study. Naturally, I provided the wide-eyed true believer, Christa McAuliffe "I wanna make a positive influence on the future" answer.
But I could really see the handwriting (spray-painted, probably!) on the wall, as did my professors. I was vehemently opposed to standardized testing even during my undergrad time, which was reinforced by my self-imposed reading regimen of books like Joseph Sacks' Standardized Minds, as well as the raft of Maxine Greene, Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, & John Dewey articles/books willingly loaned to me by my professors. It never made sense that a person who taught for six hours a day, then worked an additional three to six hours a day, should be judged on their ability to make a positive influence on learners who they might worked with for two hours a day (in the case of middle/high school teachers).
It kind of feels like being a coach of adult runners. I can work with a person for 90 minutes a day, three-to-five days a week (depending on the schedule & their interest), but I'll never have the complete control over the other 160-plus hours which are taken up by their rest, real employment, home life & need for something that appears to be a normal social life. So, if the runner is doing well at races & achieving their personal goals, I cannot help but be pleased. If they're not doing well, & unwilling to make changes because it doesn't fit what they want to do with the rest of their life, I probably (in a perfect world) should not be looked upon as a bad coach.

That's another good reason for me to not deal with youth runners. I work with young adults fresh out of high school now, & the only difference between their 17-to-22-year-old intellect (which probably differs little from that of my nephew who did NOT graduate from a "little technical college on the banks of the Severn River") & my intellect when I was their age...I think I was a little less stoopid. Well, maybe not stoopid, but maybe less derisive of my elders. Ah, but I digress.
When you're dealing with - coaching - youth runners, you often (unlike the middle/high school History teacher I aspired to be) deal with a second wanna-be athlete, living vicariously through the accomplishments of young Johnny/Susie. They want instant, unparalleled success worse than their kid does. Truth. Admit it. How many times have you seen the "my kid is a..." bumper sticker on the back of the car? I realize it's not just a thing which lasts through elementary school (my father tells stories about the latest run or triathlon I've completed every so often, too...), but I think the little league parent syndrome is more common between ages 5 & 25.

You could be deeply involved in the training of a kid, & the parent is asking the opinion of another coach. Personally, it would drive me up the wall. Kind of like bringing a barista into the local coffee shop with you, and asking them what they would do to make the cappuccino you just sweated bullets over better. Come a little closer to this little steam nozzle & I'll make you another one. How 'bout that?Besides, the day coachiing looks, feels, smells, acts, or tastes like work is the day I get the hell away from it.