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 2, 2012

Fun With A Capital "F"

"'Coach,' can you tell us some tips how to run today?"

The question was new for a number of reasons:  First, it was not coming from an athlete I had advised in the past.  Second, it was not coming from an adult athlete.  Lastly it was coming from my grandchildren.

That's right.  The grandchildren.  Both the six-year-old and the three-year-old...and their parents...address me as 'Coach,' but that's a story for another sitting.

I smiled and calmly gave them the advice of ultrarunning legend Walt Stack ("start slow, then taper off"). Their "Grammy," however, rarely listens to the totality of my coaching.  She thought I told them to start slowly and pick up the pace near the end.  However, since it was the kids' second-ever fun run the emphasis was on fun with a capital "F."

Some nine minutes later I could tell they had fun, because it was the first time I got to see them run.  If not for five days of flu-like symptoms I probably would have run along with one of them.

"Why aren't there more fun runs and kid-focused events?"  Suzanne asked.  I stopped my e-mail reading. She had opened up her laptop to search through running club event calendars and was busily writing event dates down.

I took a deep breath, then shared my own perceptions: "First of all you have to follow the money.  Who put on today's event?  What expense did they put into it? And, most of all, what will they get out of it?"

Some cities or running clubs are more kid-friendly or family-friendly when it comes to events and such.  Others give little more than a wink and a nod.  It probably has more to do with a club's or sponsor's ability to take the pulse of the surrounding community and decide to do the greatest good for the largest constituency.

I pointedly reminded my wife that kids are not (necessarily) primary consumers.  While their interests might influence parents to a small degree, it is the parent or adult family member who has the real purchasing power.  While the child might think I'm the coolest for giving them a trinket it's their parent or responsible adult family member I want to bring their money through my doorway.

If the culture which surrounds a club/race is more beer-drinking and adult-flavored socializing than family-oriented - and there are many clubs/events which focus more on the social than the athletic - it is a strong possibility families are not going to bring their kids to runs.  I can think of a handful of popular local run events to which I would never, ever take my grandchildren. If they're going to see adults drink beer it's going to be family members acting in a responsible manner.

I have a friend who works with youth athletes, mainly track, and when I've received a phone inquiry from a parent I've sent the parent his general direction.  In spite of the fact I've been background-checked into the boards so many times I wear hockey pads to my real job, USA Track and Field adds insult to injury and ask for youth coaches to endure one more round of hoop-jumping.  With the amount of bureaucracy above and beyond what the typical club-level coach endures (being a former bureaucrat I know useless bureaucracy when I see it), I decided to not advise or coach any runners under the age of 16.  Yes, even the older youth athlete still has the occasional "little league" parent for a year or few - the college freshman chaperoned by either mother or sibling, the grandparent who asks for your advice within earshot of the runners' present coach - but in most cases the athlete will make decisions for themselves.

I tip my hat in the general direction of the men and women who give of their time and energies to make running a sport which is more than a punishment for ball sports athletes.  And I hope my grandchildren get the chance eventually to see "Coach" at a performance level a little more close to his old self...perhaps they'll see a person who just so happens to like running for its own reward.

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