Coaching More Vital Than Ever - Mark DeCotis for DistancePreps.com
Coaching More Vital Than Ever
Coach Doug Butler, Holy Trinity (L), Coach Bob Perry, Melbourne (R)
Photo Credit : Sherri Enders (L) and Robert Vanelli (R)
With athletes performing at higher levels thanks to technological advancements, improvements in training and the instant availability of information- an environment ripe for the role of a coach to be diminished - coaches find themselves more vital than ever.
After all, someone's got to separate fact from fiction, keep friction for the athlete at a minimum and be the lighthouse when the kids are heading toward the shoals.
"The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is only six inches, the distance between the ears," Doug Butler, multi-time state championship cross country and track coach at Melbourne's Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, wrote in an email.
"I think I have learned how to build more confident athletes which in turn makes them better athletes. There are several keys to building that confidence that will help them succeed. Kids are very hard on themselves, and then you throw in parents that can be hard on them as well.
"Kids want to do well, they want to please you. Girls are not confident athletes at all and it doesn't take much to destroy their self-esteem. As I told one girl after her race, 'It's only a race.'"
But 'just a race' becomes so much more with information on the results of peers, friends and rivals so readily and easily available and supposed remedies on how to overcome any deficiencies in those results so accessible.
"With technology comes good and bad in all aspects of the sport," veteran runner and coach Ceal Walker of Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High wrote in an email. "It is nice to be able to show an athlete proper techniques in hurdle drills right there at practice on your iPhone, but at the same time it can be a hindrance when an athlete reads some random training tip off of the Internet and decides that he/she needs to train the specific way of 'so and so' to be good."
That can be maddening and leads to different approaches from coaches.
"Coaches and kids can get advice or complete training plans from anyone anywhere in the world and some do," Bob Perry, track and cross country coach at Melbourne High School, and former cross country coach at Florida Institute of Technology, wrote in an email.
"I remember my college coach put out a weekly publication called 'Good Times.' He would spend hours on the phone calling other coaches to find meet results, typing them up and mailing them out to colleges so we could get some info about what was happening out there. Seems archaic, but that was it. Now . . . in a matter of minutes (I) know more than I need about any team.
All this certainly leads to coaching changes to some degree, although I personally feel most comfortable coaching by 'feel.'”
And coaching by feel extends beyond reacting to a kid's facial expressions, charting his or her practice and racing times and finishes. It encompasses a coach truly knowing his or her athletes and knowing that what motivates one might not motivate another.
It also involves being involved to an intimate degree with an athlete's approach and thought process and how he or she deals with the pressures inherent in competition.
It also extends to perhaps the most vital facet of athletic performance: nutrition.
"Nutrition is huge and I harp on my kids all the time," Butler wrote. "Kids have gone the other side of the fence with it. Some eat too healthy. I know that sounds weird, but they eat all this health food, avoid red meat, and don't get in enough calories. Sixty percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. But they are avoiding the fat.
"And then some of them are having low ferritin levels because of no red meat. That is the bonding agent in your iron that allows your iron to rebuild after hard workouts. You pound the red blood cells when you strike the ground, and that's where the oxygen is. If they don't replace that iron, they become anemic."
To that end, the coach's role is vital when it comes to sorting everything out and pointing the athlete in the right direction.
"It seems that we are more versed on nutrition these days, but I don’t believe that the athletes are healthier with this generation, because I think that the food available is convenient, but it is more processed and unhealthy," Walker wrote. "With the switch in family dynamics, most families don’t feel that they have the time to prepare nutritious meals on a daily basis, so the convenience of eating out or making a ready-made dish is inviting. Also, some of the advertised 'healthy' performance bars and drinks are full of sugar and unhealthy ingredients."
The shift in family attitudes also has an impact in other areas and forced coaches to react and adapt.
"The attitude towards training and competing has changed with the different dynamics of the world that we live in today," Walker wrote. "The sport seems to have remained the same, but this generation of runners seems to have a different idea about the team concept and the approaches towards training.
"I have changed my coaching slightly over the years to accommodate a changing shift in athletes' attitudes. It is a different game than it was in the 80s and 90s. There is definitely a different attitude towards sports from a parental and student athlete aspect. I see parents and club coaches try to steer athletes from a very young age to specialize in a sport or an event, when sports should be fun and experimental at a young age. This creates more of an atmosphere of individuality, instead of a team mentality. The team loyalty aspect has suffered and that seems to be a societal shift as a whole."
So, in the end, what's a coach to do?
"Looking back, I feel that I have picked up a lot from the coaching style that I was exposed to as an athlete," Walker wrote. "The major theme that has stuck in my head was to set the bar high. The more you expect out of your athletes, the more you will get. Nothing sets them apart from any of the other athletes in the state. If they believe that, and they believe in themselves, then they will achieve it. My coaches always told us that we were expected to be one of the top five teams in the state, so that is always what we believed and what we worked towards . . . and it worked."
Contact Mark DeCotis at firstname.lastname@example.org