In course of numerous conversations over the past several days at the track coach’s convention the conversation inevitably turned to the problems in the sport of Track & Field and sport in general. Invariably for those of us who have been coaching over thirty-five years it then turned to the “good old days” and what made them special. No question the good old days in Track & Field were special, seeing 75,000 people in the stands at the LA coliseum for the Coliseum Relays was special, Ryan versus Snell on the front page of the sports page and on and on. Some of us were very fortunate to have experienced that, but and it is very big but, those days are over and will never be back. Literally and figuratively we are in a new century. As coaches young and old, experienced and inexperienced we must turn our full attention to contemporary challenges and orient ourselves to finding solutions. Problems are very clear, we know them, but we need to focus on finding and implementing solutions, we must do it with a laser like focus and a great sense of urgency.
Some solutions are simple and relatively easy to implement and other are uncomfortable. I believe in starting with small steps, achieving little wins and the big wins will fall into place. We need to reverse the trends of declining physical fitness and the alarming rise in obesity across all ages. Start simple, motivate yourself and those around you to start with vigorous physical activity for fifteen minutes a day. If you are a school teacher institute the “Five in Five” program originated by Greg Thompson in the Farmington school district in Michigan, five exercises in five minutes to start the class, each class history, math, and english not just physical education. If you own a business get your employees doing “Five in Five in the morning and mid afternoon, you will see productivity rise and medical expense reduced. The positive benefits will be quickly evident. As coaches we have to set the example. How can you lead if you don’t lead by example? Get out and get yourself fit!
“Five in Five” should be a relatively simple win, and then we have to start a massive effort to reinstitute mandatory daily physical education in the schools. That is going to take a massive reallocation of resources. It will force colleges and universities to train teachers again, not pseudo sport scientists that have no jobs upon graduation. It demands an effort like the President Kennedy’s mandate for the Peace Corps in the1960’s. Everyone must get behind this. When I say everyone I mean big business, intellectual thought leaders, politicians, the medical industrial complex, the military, all concerned with the future health and well being of the nation. The curriculum must be physical and educational. We will have to unclog those unused showers in the schools because the kids will actually sweat. It can be done; I hope to see this in my lifetime.
We need to get elementary, middle school and high school sports back under the control of the schools. Youth sport should be an educational experience not trophy hunting expeditions to satisfy adult egos or mini farm teams for colleges and pro’s. This solution might be tougher than reinstituting mandatory physical education, but it must be done. It is going to be tough because youth sport is a big money industry. We need trained coaches teaching and coaching our youth, coaches who understand growth and development, sportsmanship, skill teaching and training progressions.
Certainly as professionals we can focus our efforts and we can get it done. I am a realist; I have seen things in my 63 years that no one would ever have believed would happen. We need to rededicate and reenergize ourselves and focus on solutions. Join my colleagues and me, lets go out and get it done. Look for smal wins in your community. The “good old days” are past; it is up to each and every one of us involved in sport to do our part to reverse the alarming trends that are occurring. I am going to do my part will you do yours?