These tests are a big psychological builder. When the athlete has control of her times, she also controls her own psychology and physiology.”
The beauty of Athletics is that you must eventually get people better. Talent matters of course, but what keeps me hungry is the fact that great coaches have humbled so many by producing such wonderful performers. I am frankly tired each day waking up and getting emails from people asking about stuff that is more fluff than fact. I ripped apart a warm-up that included breathing exercises and hyper isolated activation and mobility motions. Later I felt bad as the coach was just 23 and he was trying his best, but the internet poisoned the well. My blog is not about sharing what I do, but like Brent McFarlane years ago, it’s about sharing the community with coaches that share so openly. I love the way Henk, who will be sharing his experiences this weekend at the Virginia seminar, teaches history. Sport Science is not just about biological adaptation or kinetics, it’s also about history of what coaches do. History doesn’t mean that something is true, it’s just that one must look at what people are doing to get results and see what we can get from that.
I believe that we don’t have a drought of good coaches, but learning is not about libraries, coaches education schools, or the internet. Learning is best acquired by one’s feet by traveling. It’s tough to use vacation or training time to get better, but without that we get stale and too comfortable. In the past I have been destroyed (sometimes publicly) by coaches wanting the best out of me. It hurt, but it was tough love because I was going down the wrong path and now I am so grateful. I remember at the Level II school my volumes and intensities were diluted for a 400m runner because I wrongly adjusted it because of the endurance demand. My instructor cut me down like the watermelon training scene in Glory (see below) and it made me realize that the weight room is connected, but not an energy system room.
I have been on the track to see great lessons beyond hurdle drills, watching an athlete show up out of shape struggling to stay in the sport and getting challenged. I have seen grown men cry when the coach has to share news about time standards that were not in favor of a July result by fractions of a second. The coach is there. This is not about dashboards, ANS, or russian periodization, it’s the real human element and it’s not something you can find in a 2 week mentorship program. I am sorry that people spend money on education for two week intensive programs only to go home and realize they bought a time share that was overpriced and next to a tourist trap in Orlando. The realities is that I think coaches are born and not made, but anyone can get better. Passion or sometimes near addiction, is the flame that drives people get better because they do it for the athlete, not for the opportunity to fly first class to the conference or track meet. I do think sport gives back opportunities like traveling to Europe, but great coaches are about the city you are in, not the city you want to go to.
So what to do? I am mentored by a few coaches and it takes a lot to get out of inertia of being content. I work with a coach who is way ahead of me and I travel once a year to pick his brain or see what practice looks like. If I visited training earlier I would be confused what the big deal was with doing a 300m run after 20 minutes rest. The big deal is it was done! I think people get upset about how track is not rocket science. Everyone feels better if they see the left hip flexor not functioning or that the nervous system is not recovered. I certainly do because it’s objective, but I also suspect an ego thing. It feels great to have super vision and look at compensation at 11 meters per second and plop them on a table and do a chiropractic adjustement to the foot, especially if it’s in front of a small crowd. Not everyone can do that and this is why people love to see Dan Pfaff or others speak. Dan is Dan, you are you. Coach Pfaff is a driver of innovation and a genius, the less talented coaches like me must learn from others as I don’t have his experience or success, and need to video and problem solve later. It doesn’t feel good to be average, but knowing you are gives you a chance to be great.
My final thought is that if you coach like nobody is watching or nobody gets credit amazing things will happen. Unfortunately one must realize that accountability must be there as well, because when one is hurt it’s amazing the finger pointing or the hot potato game starts. The opposite is true when one is successful. Soon history is rewritten and people want to get involved or lay claim to why the athlete is successful. The hyenas and vultures will be there waiting when the meat is ready, and so many times good coaches get their athletes poached when someone is struggling with an injury or have a bad season. I am not sure what this blog is about, I realize it’s part reflection and a bit of a rant, but the truth of the matter it’s about learning from great people and they are still out there.
NOTE: The watermelon scene can be found here (3:15), and I suggest renting the film and see it from a coaching perspective. The earlier part of the clip you can see how training needs context, as anyone can execute during ideal conditions. When we were doing exchanges with a young 4×1 group they were confident that they would break the school record as the previous year the girls program broke it. I am sure confidence came from the fact they witnessed the program succeed but I was worried their experience would find themselves exposed when the big meets would surface. So learning from the film I had some of the distance and throwers that were hanging out watching exchanges scream and distract the guys doing the baton work. What went from textbook went to less than ideal, but eventually it paid off at the class meet with a gold medal from the outside lane. A year later the same group lowered the school record with a coach who I helped get on the right track when I left to coach another team.