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.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teach Me To Lose, Coach

lose (transitive verb) 1. Miss and not know where to find. 2. Be deprived of; be parted from. 3. Cease to have. 4. Cause or suffer defeat in (a game). (intransitive verb) Suffer loss; be defeated.

"just learned to play this tune. i think you might like it," said the text message on my wife's cell phone.

Suzanne asked me to surf over to YouTube to check out a bluegrass song yesterday morning. After sweating my way through my long run of six miles (still on the mend, my friends!) and pushing my (seventh) anniversary present (a push mower!) around the back yard I was in no mood to spend excess time wrestling with a video which may be little more than a slide show with music in the background.

If the song is really that good I might want to buy it.

I decided instead to use the streamlined (and user-friendly) iTunes interface. What came through my speakers was a nice, hopeful but sad song. I instinctively thought of the joke: 'What happens when you play country music backwards? You get your job back, your house back, your spouse back, and your drinking problem is resolved.'

Then I considered the source. My young relative is struggling with the recent dissolution of his marriage. There's no doubt in my mind he's hoping for a "happily ever after" reconciliation. I've been there; at least the songs he's listening to are more musical than the ones I used to buck myself up almost two decades ago. No sooner do I get out of iTunes and go to my social media account to see what the rest of the world is up to, and find another friend's thirty-year marriage has gone to the rubbish bin.

Then, my phone pings a text message: The mother of my good friend Aaron Boudreaux passed away the previous evening after a struggle with cancer. Nothing you can do but either mull over the fleeting nature of our existence or go stand in the sunshine and appreciate it. Back to the yard, at least for another couple of minutes.

After my wife went off to spend the morning with the grandchildren I turned on the television and channel-surfed through the mens' and womens' college basketball tournament, as well as a spring one-day classic cycling race. The sprint finish of a spring classic, or even of a one-to-three-week stage race places victory and defeat, struggle and suffering, failure and success out for all (who care to understand) to view. Especially when the guy who finishes second or third, nipped at the line because of tactics, pounds their fist on the handlebar in disgust.

Earlier, before the cycling, I surfed over toward Ted Turner's classic movie channel. I'm not an old black-and-white movie fan but the title, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," naturally earned my attention. The book is (supposedly) a classic, as well as the film. I regret that to this point in time I had neither read the book nor seen the movie (either in the original black-and-white or the re-make), so I can't comment about the entire story. I happened to catch the last fifteen minutes of the film, which definitely is not a "feel-good" finish. The ending of this movie is as gloomy as the end of "The Graduate." Why the young reform schooler didn't go for the win is beyond comprehension, especially to his schoolmates and the masters at the school...until you follow (playing in the young man's mind as he approaches the finish line) the struggle of the young man to remain true to himself. In fact (and my wife reminded me this morning) it probably had to do with the small scrap of power or control he had over his destiny, the choice of whether to follow his will or the will of others.

So, do coaches teach their charges about loss?

I was thinking about the types of loss; from the simple and often silly "hidden in ones' sock drawer disguised as..." loss, which if we're lucky turns into an eventual find...usually after we spend money to replace it, to the very painful and very permanent departure of a loved one. Teaching about loss and losing happens it's one of those "oh, by the way" things. More often than not the role of the coach is thought to be like the role described in Kenny Moore's screenplay "Without Limits," the story of Steve Prefontaine and the relationship with his coach Bill Bowerman. One of the goal-setting sessions early in the movie (didn't make the "Memorable Quotes" section of the Internet Movie Database, but...) is a great rhetorical statement of the coach's role:

Bowerman (Donald Sutherland): What do you think a coach does, Pre?

Prefontaine (Billy Crudup): He teaches you to run.

Bowerman: To run a store? A business?

Prefontaine: To run a race.

Bowerman: In order to...?

Prefontaine: win.

Bowerman: Yes. That's what I thought.

So few coaches teach how to lose because loss is more common in life. We all run the race, but there can only be one winner: the rest of the participants who were not the first across the line have lost. Race organizers and teachers and coaches can go ahead and put a silver lining on the dark cloud by giving age group awards, grading on curves and looking for the positives, but coaches need to teach, from personal experience and by illustrative example, that loss and losing varies in pain, in duration, and in permanence. The most painful and permanent losses are the ones from which the individual athletes decides not to learn, and decides cannot be remedied.

It's only a loss if you continue to allow yourself to be defeated.

(P.S. My condolences to the Boudreaux family. It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. B. Rest in peace.)

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