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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rockin' In The Free Will

"There's colors on the street / Red, white and blue / People shufflin' their feet / People sleepin' in their shoes / But there's a warnin' sign on the road ahead / There's a lot of people sayin' we'd be better off dead / Don't feel like Satan, but I am to them / So I try to forget it, any way I can. / Keep on rockin' in the free world..." - Neil Young (1989)
My coaching focus is and has always been on adult runners. It's not that I don't like youth, I just prefer to deal directly with the athlete goals, limitations, choices, & strengths without the filter or static of well-meaning (but often meddlsome) parent-figures. It's enough of a challenge to explain the concept of patience and steady progress over the long haul with a new or inexperienced runner who shows great potential; a parent or grandparent who believes their ward is the next great hope for American running always wonders two things:

What can you do to make my child faster?

Why isn't their present coach doing anything?I've had parents who had the nerve to ask me - within earshot of their child's present coach - to work with the child. The last thing I want to be is the guy blamed for a good kid leaving a perfectly good coach.

Adults, on the other hand, have the option of free will. As long as there are no financial or educational constraints they are pretty much free to come and go as they please from training group to training group, from coach to coach. I'd like to say adults are easier to coach because you can be completely honest with them. But sometimes, honesty can be the biggest problem with coaching adults.Sometimes it's too much honesty: My wife reminds me on a regular basis to love and appreciate the people who continue to train regularly with me after five years. There have been times in the past I've stood at the side of the track with an apparently sour look on my face, more to do with nearsightedness coupled with watching running form from 200 meters away. Just like a grimace from a distance can masquerade as a grin, a squint can look like a scowl from afar. Not like my former coach was one to show his hand during a workout; inscrutability was his watchword. I, on the other hand, come from demonstrative fields of endeavor - drama, music, and education - and I'm genetically disinclined to to hold back with my opinion (regular readers are crying out "noooooo...").

Sometimes it's a lack of it: I recall a couple of former training mates/athletes, who when asked about the degree of injury or "beat-upness" before or during a workout, responded with a level much, much less acute than my perception. Others would hold back and appear to struggle during the front end of a workout, then cut loose with a repeat (usually the last ones) at an intensity far beyond what I assigned. After time, I learned whose word to take at face value and whose evaluation needed a little adjustment to the high or low. The "face value" athletes are refreshing, even when they decide to move on, they will tell you exactly what you need to know about how you're doing as a coach.Coaches, unfortunately, don't have the option of having as free a will as the athlete. We can't assign workouts just to see if we can break athletes - our "profession" is much like that of a doctor, with the guideline "First Do No Harm" indelibly etched into our mind. In fact, every action and decision should be made with the best interest of the athletes who have trusted themselves to us. I have a coaching partner who's more laid-back in nature than I am; in the interest of expanding our training group we talked about and instituted a group workout in the community close to his home on a weeknight. He has a good turnout, depending on the time of the year...very few during the winter, more during the spring and summer. While we don't directly collaborate on what workouts we're going to assign, the similarity between his workout and mine on many occasions can be astounding. Blame it on good coaching, I guess.

But, moving back to free will...a coach can't just take a night off because they feel like it, or because they hear (second-or-thirdhand) an old coaching friend has hit town. When I say with honesty, "I'm sorry, I have athletes to coach," it means, "while I would like to spend the evening drinking beer with an old friend, the marathon training of this athlete...the fitness level of this athlete...and the triathlon performance of this athlete...are more important to me - and to them."

"And their goals and desires, their free will, have become mine."

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