Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Coaching Dramatic Athletes

We had an event recently on the UD track team that brought some of my own ideas to light. One particular high profile athlete created some drama. In short, he left the team and said some undesirable things and then desired to return to the team and a communal decision with the entire men's team in the style of Occupy the Track was made that at the present time he was not welcomed back. I realized that my view of my role as a coach was different than many coaches.

I am an incredibly forgiving person and I will welcome a person back over and over again if he or she quits and changes his or her mind to come back. Part of my reasoning is that this team likely means something to him or her and without it that person might become involved in less constructive activities. I prefer to keep kids on a team rather than wandering around causing trouble. Another aspect of my reasoning is that at my core I believe that a person has the ability to repent and be forgiven an infinite number of times. In practice this is much harder to implement. How much harassment must one person or a group take before the decision is made to excommunicate the offending person? Part of the problem is that the offender in this case said things on Facebook and Twitter which are unsavory and demeaning to a number of the people currently involved with the team. I haven't read them even though I spent three minutes trying to find the remarks. Additionally, he had done things in the past that were not consistent with a strong team player.

In trying to reconcile my thoughts I tried to relate this to other aspects of my life to figure out how I might have managed the situation, had it been my responsibility. I will try to relate everything to stock and investors because the relationship between an investor and a stock is very simple. The investor desires to buy a stock for a low price and sell it for a higher price later, with the exception of dividend stocks that you might desire to keep for your entire life because they are continually rewarding. Here are several examples from life: the relationship between an employer and an employee is a two way stock-investor relationship. The company invests [money] in the employee, which is the stock and who can be replaced, similarly the employee invests [time] in the company, which is also a stock and can be replaced. A [college] student invests [money] in teachers and a school, which are the stocks, in the hopes for an education which can translate into a nice occupation after college.

Similarly, an athlete invests in a coaching staff and hours of training with the hopes of success. I view myself as the stock. Any successful athlete will incorporate a number of stocks [books, articles, coaches, experts, doctors, family, friends, etc.] in the portfolio for success. However, I feel that a valid view of a coach is as the investor as well. The athletes are the stocks which are invested in and eventually sent off with someone else at graduation. It is a different concept because in any example the investor's interests are always more important than the stock's interests. Although, the hope is that both succeed so that the situation is mutually beneficial. However you see the dichotomy, the investors have many stocks to choose from and can easily choose other stocks or none at all, while the stocks need investors or they will be worthless. In other words, I see myself there for the athletes, not for myself. Coaches, myself often included, love to talk about the successful athletes they have nurtured, and it can be very egotistical. Engineers and doctors are all the same. People love to think they are the greatest because of some amount of success. I have been there many times. Unemployment was really good for my ego. I needed some humility. I am sure that I will be egotistical again and need to be humbled again.

One of the complaints of this particular dramatic athlete was that the training that we were doing was not as good as what they did last year with a previous coach. My solution to the problem is to ask the athletes what they want to do. I do it all the time. A happy athlete is typically a successful athlete. However, I do understand the training process better than any of the athletes I work with so overall I feel I know better what stimulus will provide more improvement on any given day. Yet, once again less physiological improvement with significant psychological improvement is preferable to the converse. Again my training theory:

  1. Stay Motivated
  2. Stay Healthy
  3. Train Hard
Once you lose the motivation forget everything else. Chris Lukezic was a middle distance runner that ran very fast and was still young when he left the sport of running to do something else. I have been reading about "financial engineering" a lot recently and comparing it to my present job where I am rewarded for the hours that I work, not any of the additional contributions that I bring to the workplace. I see people older than I doing work very comparable to what I do now and I wonder, will I do this the rest of my career? Could I instead sell myself to the "brain drain"?

This all goes back to motivation. How do you foster and nurture and promote motivation and direct it? In the corporate world we think of money as the simple motivator. However, in college NCAA D3 athletics money is certainly not the motivator.

Circling back to the athlete in question, I feel there was a lack of positive motivation involved. How do you keep a successful person motivated? What performance standards must be regularly met to keep a person interested and feeling progressive as well as what goals must be placed after a significant success? It will depend on the person. In this case I certainly don't have the answer.

As an after note, I feel a great measure of coaching success is athletes setting personal records. This past weekend we set at least one school record and had a large percentage of the team set personal records in their events. This is significant because when a high profile athlete leaves the team because he feels the coaches are not doing a great job, it gets my attention. However, the results that are being produced this season are speaking for themselves, we may not be winning the meet as a team, but we are winning races and nearly everyone is setting personal records. 

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