On more than one occasion I've lauded the simplicity of lifestyle of my retired racing greyhound-cum-household companion, Rubin. Given his inherent limitations - lack of opposable thumbs, inability to communicate in the English language, and occasional bouts of selective hearing - he's taught me a great deal about how to train, a good amount about how to coach, and a little bit, even, about how to maintain relationships.
Lesson one - consistent lifestyle. Rubin awakens at five o'clock every morning to take care of his immediate needs, determines whether extra rest is necessary, and continues his plan of the day accordingly. I've never heard him complain that he feels guilty about postponing a workout (in his case, a morning walk) in favor of a little extra rest, or deciding to settle for a trot around the back yard in place of a walk in the park. There are cases where his decision leads to a less-than-desirable outcome, but those are few and far between. Sometimes the weather conditions factor in, sometimes what he had for dinner the previous evening, sometimes even the availability of his "training partner." Still, his ability to adapt to the infrequent vicissitudes of greyhound life are a lesson to me.
Lesson two - sometimes a look says enough. Greyhounds are not known for barking unless they perceive a threat, so facial expressions and posture make up for the quiet nature. I've told friends on occasion: 'when an 85-pound greyhound stands between you and the television screen, you listen.' There are a number of different looks I've learned to translate, from the 'gotta go out' stare to the subtle look toward the box of Milk-Bone biscuits sitting atop the refrigerator. He's a tad more physical with Suzanne when she moves through the hall or works in the kitchen; a look with me often works where velcro dog is the preferred means of communication with my wife.
Lesson three - trust never sleeps. Greyhounds have two time contexts: Now, and forever. Really. Any dog owner can tell you. When do dogs want attention, food, walks, pets, ear scratching, belly rubs and the like? Now. How long has it been since the last treat, walk, bit of attention, or your departure from the house? Forever. They trust you're going to do the right thing, all the time; even if you fall short of their expectations (if dogs have expectations...) they still love and honor you.
So, for me? What do I think this means for individuals/athletes?
First - lifestyle consistency cannot be stressed enough. Rest if you're beat up; back off the effort if you're less than beat up, listen to your body and the conditions.
Second - communication between two people in a relationship (even between coach and athlete) is an individual matter. Some prefer lengthy chats a'la James Joyce; others prefer succinctness a'la Ernest Hemingway. No matter how you decide to communicate...
Third - do the right thing...be honest with everybody. It's simpler than trying to remember what story you told to what person.
Thanks, Rubin. Take two Milk-Bones out of petty cash.