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, December 17, 2013

So Ya Wanna Be A Coach?

We all want to leave something permanent after we, er, "leave," something which says "this is my essence. This is what I'm about." The fortunate often have the knowledge others enjoyed the fruit of our labor; something as brief as a three-minute guitar solo, enduring as a social policy or a book, or ephemeral as a philosophical stance. A swim coach friend reminded me years ago, 'Mike, everyone likes the idea of having an event named after them, but they forget that in most cases for it to happen they have to DIE.' Psychologist Erik Erikson described our lives as stages which continually needed resolution, with the eventual development of virtues like hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care and wisdom.

At this coach's stage the conflict between generation and stagnation comes to the fore: Some call it a mid-life crisis. I prefer to call it a desire to pass what little I've learned to someone else. The young man on whom I've focused training this past year, Ashley, says he wouldn't mind coaching other runners. I wondered how to talk about this until re-reading a piece written by chef/writer/travel program host Anthony you really want to be a coach, eh?

First off, I love coaching. I learned to love it from coaches who invited me onto their teams, spent their free time running, drinking coffee, Gatorade and...yes, the occasional beer...with me. That kind of love gets me through days when athletes crash and burn spectacularly for no apparent reason. The rare public compliment and thanks from the athlete for, say, helping them to qualify for Boston, or run a personal best, or finish a marathon or an Ironman triathlon outweigh any paycheck I could imagine receiving. If I were to hire an accountant to determine the benefit and the cost, I probably spend more money and invest more resources into working with others than I receive.

Nobody in their right mind - from the volunteer track coach at the local high school all the way up the food chain to Alberto - goes into coaching with the express intention to make money. Coaching to get people through the door of your business? Do you plan to work with elite athletes, or up-and-comers? I guess if you are in the running biz you'll get to rub shoulders with the elites, who are, from my limited experience, really neat people.

Unless you go into coaching after collegiate or post-collegiate elite running, or your mission is like Alberto's, the Hanson brothers', and a few others, you'll most likely work with people with real lives, 40-hour-a-week demands and limited resources. Like panning for gold, working with the citizen-athlete involves lots of digging for that one little sparkle which vindicates all the effort.

How to get in? If you're affiliated with a college program, or a really good high school program, or a really good citizen-athlete program, communication with the coaching staff is most likely the foot-in-the-proverbial-door. Ask if you can help out, observe how the staff work with the athletes, ask lots of questions about what they believe and how they came to that point. Most importantly, listen. Training seminars through USA Track and Field (USATF) and the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) provide a certain cachet and networking opportunity, especially if you plan to work with citizen-athletes.

Every coach has a short list of titles which they've read and learned the basics of running form, physiology, psychology, which lays the foundation of how to work with athletes. Visit the local bookseller and perch in the coffee shop to thumb through ones you don't have yet; make friends with the local used bookseller to keep their eyes out for your wish list. I've purchased books from authors with whom I've fervently disagreed, but I read it to know what the rest of the world thinks. And not just training books, or books on physiology and fitness are my grist. Biographies of athletes and coaches provide great insight into what worked, what failed, and what failures...when modified, worked in a different situation.

Did I ask whether you were prepared to spend every weekend, or every evening, standing along the edge of a track facility when your spouse and kids wanted to do something else...with you in attendance? Sacrifices sometimes have to be made. Speaking of sacrifices, how about your own training? The coaching act is more zero-sum than most think. And will you run the same races as your athletes or stand along the side imploring them to go one second faster? What about the moments when the athlete just doesn't have the day which you or they hoped, and they hear the snarky comments? The coach needs to exhibit a grace bordering on being thick-skinned and deaf toward those persons criticizing the training and the athlete from the outside, as well a sense of empathy and compassion to those inside the group. And when the athlete decides it's time to move on to another group or another coach, it's especially more important to exhibit both empathy and the grace.

Ask any guy or gal who has been addressed at least once as "coach," who has stood along the side of a roadway, a track curb, or a finish chute if they'd want it any other way. Most likely they'd tell you 'no.'

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