Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coaching, Racing, Running and The Scarcity of Attention


A complex situation arises in the world of coaching distance runners. It is one of the few sports, like swimming, tennis, gymnastics, or wrestling but completely unlike football or basketball where the coach can compete alongside her or his athletes. Not only can the coach compete with the athletes, the coach can train with them. This gets complex because not everyone on a team trains at the same level. While training with a handful (1-5) of athletes gives the coach an intimate idea of the training of those athletes the rest are almost neglected. 

The scarcity of attention is the problem. Attention comes in waves. Immediately following a race the urge is to give splits and congrauations and jump up and down and hug crying, well.. that might be a little exageration, but it gives a good picture of the emotions I feel when someone who wants to break the 10 minute barrier runs 9:59.78. The point is, how does one divide the scarcity of attention amongst the team? Does the top runner get twice as much attention as the second best runner? If that runner is qualifying for nationals and the second best is nowhere near that level perhaps it is warranted. However, when the group as a whole is basically on the same level the answer is not so clear. Some athletes need more encouragement than others. Some athletes will find me to talk to me while others will just talk to their friends and other teammates. Then there are the slowest or most often injured members of the team. We know they exist, but it’s hard to give them so much attention when there is no indication they will be able to race anytime soon.

Coming back around to racing, some coaches compete with their athletes sometimes. I compete more than most. It is inconvenient to my coaching and taking splits to run a race and have a warmup and cool down. That being said, I get more than a handful of comments from athletes that they like to see me race or ask when I will race with them next. Many coaches don’t compete in the same event as their athletes so that they can focus on their athletes. That is a very valid perspective on coaching. I struggle with it. I want to be there and watch and see and understand what my athletes do, but frankly I am more invested in my own personal running success than theirs. Which is to say, I've been working on this for twelve years and I'm as close to a 2:18 as I have ever been. That being said, I cannot compete at important meets like conference and nationals, so I do get to watch their most important races. 

On the just plain running side, I train with the runners, but again I can only see a handful of them during any given day. That is a problem when trying to determine what kind of shape people are in based on the workouts they have done. Yet another hazard of running with the athletes. That being said, my high school coach ran a whole cross country season with the men’s team and the women’s team ended up winning the state title. In other words, the women, who I perceived got less attention, did better than the men who received more attention. 

I do not have a clear answer to how to deal with the issue of how to deal with racing, running, and how I divide my attention amongst the team. I like to imagine that I give everyone on the team the attention they deserve from their coach, but I know for a fact that I end up spending a lot more time with some athletes than others, specifically, I spend more time with the faster men than the slower men or the women. 

The scarcity of attention is really the issue here. Each one of us has only so much time, about 24 hours a day, to divide amongst all of our relationships, including ourselves (think sleep). My friends, the future is attention, reputation and time. Each person has only so much time. There are approximately 10.1 trillion minutes of time available per day of human attention in the world. Approximately 60 of those minutes, or 0.0000000006% of the time in the world every day is spent reading this blog. It is strange to give it a measurable part of the time in the world. Bringing this concept to my coaching, how much time per day or week does each athlete warrant? Four minutes? Or perhaps it is a ratio, for every 20 or 30 minutes the athlete puts into the sport they "earn" a minute of my attention? In other words, those that work harder in the off season get more attention than those that actually take the summer off. Obviously this is an exaggerated concept. If an athlete I don't even coach, but who is on our team has a breakdown and I can in anyway help she may get an hour of my undivided attention, while my normal athletes briefly go without any attention. 

Get used to hearing "the scarcity of attention" because in the world of new and measurable media, that will come up more and more. Applied to coaching, it's not a perfect science for me yet. If you have any suggestions leave a comment or better yet talk to me in person. I enjoy discussing my blog in person far more than through comments. Regarding my readers, THANK YOU!!! You give me your time. Regardless of who you are, your time matters. I do not take your time for granted.

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