By Mike Smith
I’ll admit it, I’m a control freak. I like to be in control. I’m always planning ahead trying to manage all the variables. Earlier this morning I was solidifying my spring track schedule before any of the meets have officially been listed. I’m simultaneously trying to structure next season’s cross schedule before this one is even done. Always being ahead of the game.
This is how I end up with so much on my plate as well. By having everything “ready to go” I already know where the gaps in my schedule reside, allowing me to take on more tasks I wouldn’t normally do because I have the time to do them. Along with coaching the high school, I teach, coach a youth running program and an adult running program, am a track official, serve on the NHIAA spring track committee and help out the NHCC and NHT&F website with both content and camera work. Oh yeah, I farm in the summer and I’ll be the team sales liason for Runner’s Alley as soon as we get that up and running. You could say I wear a lot of different hats.
It’s a lot but I enjoy it all. If I decided to remove a couple of these “hats”, I’d only likely add something else in the mix so for now I’m going to keep on doing what I do.
But I have noticed a shift in my coaching over the last few years. At first I was worried I was losing some of my enthusiasm for the sport, in the day to day grind. But when I stepped back and thought about it, I realized I had only upped my involvement with the sport, at the youth level, and that it certainly wasn’t a loss of enthusiasm. Maybe after years of putting off family events, missing out on dinners with friends and family, that I was missing some of the growth one has as they grow more mature? But I wasn’t attending any more missed dinners with friends so that must not be it.
What I’ve come to realize as I’ve matured as a coach is two part. Firstly, I now realize in cross country, I can’t manage all the variables. Athletes are all different, and respond differently to their coach as they do to the workouts. And different than they did when they came in as a freshman. Different than the day before. Parents perspectives change. What used to be common practice fifteen years ago is not the norm now. Districts views change.
And then there’s the weather. Last year was a real eye opener in that department. I remember the monsoon of 2006 as my girls benefitted from those conditions but I never foresaw last year. How do you deal with 35 degree weather, heavy rain and high winds when the common uniform is thin nylon that barely covers the body at all? And to have that three weeks in a row. I couldn’t have envisioned that then but I’ve certainly taken steps to mitigate that for the future.
Secondly, I’ve begun to realize I don’t want to manage all the variables. Yes I want to make sure we’re prepared for anything coming our way, hence the 8 person ice fishing tent with portable propane heater purchased after last year. But in stepping back from controlling exactly how the workout goes, allowing my athletes to grow into themselves as athletes, to find out what makes them tick, what inspires them, while scary for me, pays off so much more for the athlete themselves. It empowers them to take ownership not only in their performance but in what it takes to get there.
This year I’ve probably had my most eclectic set of kids in my twenty years of coaching. Their “clan” has grown close through a fictitious belief they are part of some primitive woodland tribe. They do their easy runs out in the “Holy Land” and wage epic battles against some fabricated foe. They’ve made a video of one of their “battles” and the “celebration ceremony” that commences after. Their tribal call has made its way to the start line, something I’ve always been against. Do your talking with your feet is the way I feel but I even let go of that, realizing that it’s good they’re behind something, and maybe, just maybe, it might be their key to success.
In letting go I’ve found that my athletes take responsibility for their performance more. I’m not exactly sure why but it could be they understand the process better, the value in the workouts, the value in recovery days, the value in listening to their bodies. In doing so they make coaching easier, with it easier for us to have meaningful dialogue about their training. And once we’re there I can step back and provide counsel, not control.
And this makes for better results.