Monday, 28 January 2013

I gotta live with that...500 words from Lisa Szabon-Smith

Lisa Szabon-Smith is a pretty talented chick.  Decent athlete (check out her blog, and find out more about her sporting history here).  Not great...decent.  Seems she’s pretty talented at some other things, though. Who knew?  

Funny how you become defined by the things you do - or more suitably, the things you show.  Sorta like Freud’s ‘iceberg metaphor’ .  We only show 10% of our true selves - while the other 90% remains hidden from view.  For instance, not many folk know I was a DJ for 20 years.  Or I went to art school. Or I fathered 9 Mexican children.  Go figure...

Similarly, Lisa has recently unearthed all these special talents that were hidden for so long that we’re now surprised by their ‘sudden’ appearance! Like she just woke up one day last week, and was magically an expert graphic designer and writer...

Of course, we know it doesn’t quite happen that way.  And since we’ve heard from Lisa before, we knew (at least since last July) that she could write (in fact, her post is the second-most read on mcmillanspeed history).  So I asked her to write another one.  

Last week, Olympic Gold Medalist, Classroom Champions founder, business consultant, and another all-round talented dude, Steve Mesler, shared his thoughts on Lance Armstrong.  I have invited Lisa to do the same. And then... more Lance.  Like Junior Byles said “he who seeks of only vanity...shall fade away...fade away”...into the ether...
Never to be heard from. Spoken of. Or thought about. 
Ever again.
(yeh right...)

“I Gotta Live with That” - Lisa Szabon: 
(Stu originally set up his blog to be 500 words or less, so this perpetual rambler has 
challenged herself to do just that. 500 word response to a black cloud that hovers over 
not just the cycling world, but every athletic world...)

“I gotta live with that”: Five words that trickled from Lance Armstrong’s lips as he shared with Oprah what 99% of the world already knew to exist. 

These are words I have chosen to think about before making any choice in my life:

Can I live with this? 

Can I continue to live my life with the step I am taking right now? If I even falter at answering YES then I hope to the heavens I will stop.

I’m a clean athlete. I even refused Creatine for the lack of long-term knowledge on what the increased intake (additional to that of which my body naturally produces) would do to me. The most I supplemented with was protein and a one-time ingestion of Beta Alanine -of which the physical reaction from was enough for me to say “this is not for me.” 

I chose to be among the strongest females, third fastest female pilots (in a physical sense) and powerful athletes of the Canadian program at the time of my involvement with terms that I could live with.

There is no secret that there is cheating, banned substance ingestion, doping and many other unethical and down right inappropriate behaviors that happen in the world of sport. Cycling is not immune. Bobsleigh is not immune. Track and Field is not immune. No doubt swimming is not immune. We are all human and we make mistakes but are they mistakes that we can live with?

Despite being human and prone to making mistakes, we are still given the foundations and the ability to make choices; the right choices hopefully. 

We all like to win.

No high level athlete will tell you that second place, third, fourth and so on down the line is ok. No high level athlete will tell you that they can handle looking up to the top of the podium rather than looking down from the top. We all want to win.

But at what cost? 

Are we in a society that is so desperate to be number one that we make choices that 5, 10 years down the road we may never be able to look ourselves in the mirror again? At what level of desperation do we go forth and become frauds?

It seems to me that almost every person I have heard of, watched, or read about in regards to doping/cheating was already an amazing athlete before they began to dope. So what changed? 

What made this already powerful and talented athlete think, “If I take this banned substance - that I know is wrong - I’ll be #1”. Do they forget that there are always repercussions when dancing with the Devil?

Call me na├»ve or perhaps too grounded for ultimate success (after all, I missed out at going to the Olympics) but I’d rather know I missed the podium because I made a choice I can live with; not one that brought me a title that, in reality, 10 to 15 years later will be forgotten.

Because after all, I gotta live with that.

(510 words - I can live with that)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

16 random thoughts...

1. Why is being a ‘celebrity trainer’ some sort of badge of honor?  Like you’re supposed to know something because you train Madonna - or - Oprah?

2. Do less....just do it better

3. 2013 is the first year since 1987 that has all digits different from one another

4. Generally, we place too much importance on scientific evidence, and not enough on intuition and experience

5. Don’t confuse silence with ignorance. Or kindness for weakness

6. Nutrition underpins everything related to health.  Yet doctors know nothing about it;  instead waiting for disease, then treating it guided by big-pharma

7. Have a philosophy. Revisit it daily

8. Figure out what is good for you (not easy).  Go do that

9. Take chances.  Growth comes at the expense of safety and comfort

10. Take action.  Fake it till you make it.  Do it often...with purpose

11. What we do is not impregnates everything around us

12. What do we really know? 
Knowing. Thinking. Guessing. All just varying degrees of certainty

13. Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.  Sometimes it’s OK to wing it

14. Evolution requires stronger leadership than a revolution

15. Work-life balance is bollocks. If you don’t enjoy your job to the point where it doesn’t feel like work, then quit.  Find another job. There is no separation between work and life
It’s just life...integrated

16. He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother

Monday, 21 January 2013

you played yourself...guest post from Steve Mesler

Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Mesler, Justin Olsen, & Steve Holcomb
(photo credit: Charlie Booker

I had the good fortune of coaching Steve Mesler for eight years.  Beginning in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and stretching through two more Olympic quadrennials, culminating in an Olympic Gold Medal in Whistler, 2010, Steve epitomized everything a coach could want from an athlete.  He was professional.  He worked hard.  He was focussed.  Disciplined. Dedicated.  An enthusiastic and supportive teammate.  And he was honest.  He understood the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport.  In his sport.  We all did.  There was no denying that drug use in sport was (and still is) a problem.  It’s not as bad in winter Olympic sport, as it is in some summer and professional sports - but it was still an issue.  But Steve was never tempted.  He enjoyed sport too much.  He enjoyed the training too much.  The 6am wake-up calls.  The 6 hour practice sessions.  The warming up in -30 degrees in the snow.  The friendships.  The rivalries. The competing.  The winning.  And most of all, he understood how little any of this would have meant had he used drugs.  

I asked Steve if he could share some of his thoughts on a certain former seven-time Tour de France winner.  Over the last week or so, we’ve heard from a few athletes in radio, TV, and print interviews regarding their thoughts.  Most detail that they think they should lock him up and throw away the key.  That he cheated not only his teammates, but the sport.  Steve takes a slightly different view.  
He cheated himself...

"I can remember sitting in a doctor’s office in Calgary one afternoon in 2007. It was a summer day and my team was right in the middle of a big training block. I was going into year two of my third Olympic quadrennial. I was tired all the time. I was sore all the time. I was hungry…all the time. And on this particular day, I was feeling a bit sick. 

As I was waiting in one of the waiting rooms, the doctor walked in. He was a young guy -mid-30s I’d say, and always in tremendous shape - I knew him well. We started chatting about training and how things were going, and I spoke about how run-down I was feeling. He started talking about a new workout regime he had started and shared that he was using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to supplement his training; and he was “feeling amazing.” He talked about a patient he had, who was in his mid-40’s, that was using HGH as well – you know, because he was aging and was deficient, so supplementing him with HGH was safe and healthy.

I never did have anyone specifically tell me to take performance-enhancing drugs or explicitly offer them to me.  But it’s subtle situations like I just described how people let you know they can be “your guy.” 

Everybody wants to be somebody’s “guy.”

And it happens just that simply. Some athlete says, “You know, I’ve always thought about trying that…” and away goes the conversation down the rabbit hole. 

But I made a decision that day to change the subject. 

I made decisions plenty of other days and in plenty of other offices to change the subject. 

I knew what cheating meant and in 2007, after having been to two Olympic Games and coming away empty handed, I knew that I wanted to do it the right way no matter what. Being able to hold my head high when I walked into a room was something that I consciously thought of and made decisions based upon.
So it’s with those decisions in my past that I have the right to talk about how I feel about Lance Armstrong. Any athlete that did it the right way has that right. I stepped to the top of an Olympic Podium and screamed, smiled and cried all at the same time. Just a few hours earlier, as Curt Tomasevicz, Justin Olsen, Steve Holcomb and I crossed the line my mind wandered to the experiences that brought me to that moment and I smiled at where I came from.

I often wonder what people like Lance Armstrong have going on deep inside their minds when they experience those moments of victory. They have worked hard, cheating or not - there’s no arguing that - but is there a place in their psyche that is filled with self loathing from guilt? 
Or is the psychosis that what they did was ‘ok’ set in so deep that it doesn’t even cross their minds? 
Lance isn’t sad or ashamed of having cheated. Lance is sad and ashamed because he got caught. Because getting caught means he’s not perfect. He’s flawed. 
It should be the other way around, but it just doesn’t seem to be.
A lot of people have asked me how I feel about Lance Armstrong. 
My answer is a simple one...a four letter word – I feel pity. Unending pity that such a tremendous athlete could rob himself of such an amazing feeling all because he didn’t have the foresight to decide to change the subject in some office, somewhere, when someone, wanted to be “his guy.”

Steve wrote a guest post back in July of 2012 on potential pitfalls of the post-sporting career.  You can read it here.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

on performance therapy...

Dr Gerry Ramogida with sprinter Christian Malcolm
I'm going to take a little break from the on-going series on 'self-organization' and input, etc., while I share some thoughts on 'Performance Therapy', which I first discussed back in June of last year.

One of the things that the ‘North American Contingent’ (Canadians Gerry Ramogida, Kevin Tyler, Derek Evely, and myself, as well as American Dan Pfaff) brought to the UK three to five years ago was the use of therapy on the side of the track prior to- and during many training sessions.  It has been termed - erroneously, in my opinion - ‘track-side therapy’ (I prefer ‘performance therapy’, for reasons I will discuss later).  

It’s curious to me how this single factor seemed to cause so much controversy here. It may be that is indicative of a larger philosophical difference, that may stem from an ignorance of the system (no disrespect is all ignorance - it is borne out of misunderstanding), a failure on our part to integrate it properly into the culture, or a lack of understanding of high-performance, creativity, and expertise.

Regardless, it has never quite ‘stuck’, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts on why I think ‘track-side’ therapy is an essential factor in the development of the high-performance track and field athlete.

(I think that traditional views on track-side are analogous to traditional views of nutrition, biomechanics, supplementation, sports psychology, etc. - i.e. they are best left for the specialists, and are ‘not a coaches’ problem’).

Performance Therapy can be described as an attempt to normalize-optimize function by integrating the therapeutic intervention into the athlete’s sporting movement - i.e. the warm-up and training session.

Together, the coach, athlete and therapist periodically interrupt training (through manual intervention) whenever a ‘movement dysfunction’ (or particular movement pattern) lies too far outside the athlete’s individual ‘bandwidth of normality’ (or - as I prefer - typicality; for ‘normal’ just doesn’t exist).  

It is important that the integration of all is seamless, and that the athlete-coach-therapist partnership understand the specific goal of these interventions, to which I have identified three:
  1. By integrating mobility and stability intervention (‘the treatment’) into the training environment, we positively affect motor control, and thus can lend a permanence to the intervention that would not exist if these were treated separately. The instant feedback from the treatment leads to a greater kinesthetic awareness of how the athlete's body feels and moves. When the treatment is performed in the clinic separately from the training environment, the athlete often has trouble ‘connecting the dots’, and ‘true’ feedback (both for the therapist and the athlete) is delayed until the next training session.  With performance therapy, feedback is instant.  
  2. A necessary part of the optimization of the training session.  The human high-performance system has often been compared to that of a Formula 1 car;  where continuous ‘treatment’/tweaking is necessary for optimum performance.  Most athletes receive some type of therapeutic intervention prior to a race; why would they then not receive similar intervention prior to an important training session?  Both serve the same purpose (i.e. to optimize the performance).  To perform a therapy intervention prior to a race, and not prior to an important training session is not logical.
  3. Additional information on the ‘state of the athlete’ that can be used by the coach-therapist to better determine the details of the training session.  The more information, and the more directions that the coach-therapist can look from, the more educated decisions that are made.  For example, the athlete may have poor ‘feel’, and report being ‘ready to go’ - the athlete may move well, without visual dysfunction - in effect, everything suggests that the athlete has recovered well from previous session load, and is ready to be loaded again.  However, in many cases - especially at the elite level (where the better the athlete, the better they are able to ‘hide’ such things) - the therapist-coach will identify muscle tonus discrepancies-abnormalities, athlete sensitivities, etc. that paint an entirely different picture. It is with this additional insight that the coach can make a better, and more informed decision regarding the session.  This fact cannot be over-looked.

Performance Therapy is not:
  1. Created to make the athlete ‘dependent’ on the treatment.  Often, therapists and coaches can use such an opportunity to ‘validate’ their reasons for being at the track; not comfortable with the sometime necessity of passivity, they allow their egos to inform their process. Instead, performance therapy is used to hold the athlete more accountable.  With daily intervention, the coach-therapist has constant information about the athlete’s tissue, and can better recommend ‘homework’ (such as stretching, foam and ball rolling, hydro-therapy, etc.) so the athlete can begin to take more responsibility in their preparedness.  The goal of performance therapy is to reduce the amount of time needed on the treatment table - not to increase it.
  2. A replacement for other - more traditional - forms of therapy.   It is not simply moving the treatment room to the ‘track-side’ (thus my issue with the terminology). 
How I outline it, sport therapy can take one of three forms: 
    1. performance-based
    2. regeneration-based
    3. rehab-based
All are necessary components in the health-optimization of the athlete.   Ignoring any of these is fool-hardy for the high-performance coach-athlete, but I feel that ignoring the performance- form is the worst mistake, as a lack of performance therapy leads to an increase in the importance in the other forms (i.e. better performance therapy leads to more efficient movement, better optimization of training session, less systemic load, less movement dysfunction, etc. - all having a positive knock-on effect for regeneration and rehab).

The challenge:
True integration and understanding between athlete, coach, and therapist is essential for performance therapy to work effectively.  All three must understand what the goals are, what the goals are not, and the difference between ‘mechanical-movement dysfunction’ and ‘technical fault’ - as it is often difficult to observe. The distinction between the two is the driver of any intervention: a technical cue for a mechanical-movement dysfunction can only lead to further compensatory patterning; while an acute therapeutic intervention of a technical fault may affect an otherwise finely-balanced mobility-stability equilibrium – each enhancing any injury risk.

It is not a question of whether performance therapy works or not.  It clearly does (again - if it doesn’t, then why do almost all athletes receive pre-race treatment?).  The only question - for me - is who is charged with its implementation?  I have traditionally been heavily involved out of necessity (lack of quality therapists, usually) - as have many others. I have been in situations, though, where I (and the athletes I have been coaching) have had access to quality ‘track-side’ work (for example, the last three years in London, with Dr Gerry Ramogida and Andy Burke).  Even in this situation though, I have found that my occasional input serves a multitude of purposes; the main one being it gives me more information on the athlete’s ‘system’, its response-adaptation to loading, and its ‘readiness’ for subsequent loading.   For this reason, I feel it is imperative that high performance coaches at least have a rudimentary understanding of treatment protocols; and specifically ‘track-side’ - performance therapy.  

I am quite positive if you asked any coach who has applied such work into his practice, if it has made him a better coach, he would reply in the affirmative.  This should be enough for its justification, but I feel it goes deeper than that, and involves the very nature of high-performance, expertise, and creativity generally...

to be continued...

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

...on Gambetta, Pfaff, Weingroff, Socrates, and Humpty Dumpty

“Should we try to teach every movement and then coach it? Or should we allow the athlete the joy of discovery through exploration. There seems to be a worry about them getting it wrong! My answer to that is: What is wrong? There must be a spontaneity and anticipation in movement, not a robotic-programmed approach. It has been my experience working with athletes at all levels in a wide variety of sports that athletes will find their own best way of doing something if they are put in a position where they have to adapt. They are very adaptable. Every athlete has a movement signature which is unique to their body type, mindset etc. We need to encourage an extemporaneous approach much like a great jazz musician improvises. At the younger ages we need to emphasize a free play approach that results in fluidity and improvisation in movement skills as a basis for specific sport skills”.

- Vern Gambetta

It’s difficult to disagree with Vern’s words per se, so forgive me for speaking out of turn against the ‘Great Gambetta’, but personally I’m just getting a little bored with the whole ‘Siff-speak self-organizing-spontaneous-extemporaneous’ thing that - while possibly rooted in theory - rarely exists in reality...
(*yes - I realize that I used similar terms in my last blog, but I’m allowing myself to argue against myself)

I haven’t met the old dude, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful -  I have enjoyed reading much of his work, and from what I understand, he does a fantastic job of mentoring coaches - but I have to question whether he lives in the actual, real, and elite sporting world...

...his analysis of sport at youth levels?  For sure - most coaches are probably guilty of ‘coaching out the freedom’ of the young athlete....we see it all the time: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing - it’s one of the reasons the Jamaicans are so good - they don’t have a bunch of volunteer wannabe coaches telling their kids to get ‘front side’, or ‘up on their toes’, etc...

(no disrespect to volunteer coaches - they are the driving force behind our sport.  They just need to be better ‘educated’ - and by ‘better’, I mean ‘worse’)

bwoy - dem jus’ run!

But the elite world is different...
(at least in the countries I have worked in) this world, mid-career athletes are so jacked up from years of poor mechanics,  poor coaching, poor sports medicine, poor lifestyles, etc. that just letting the body ‘self-organize’ its way to efficiency-health is no longer an option....

...and let’s be honest - as upsetting as this is - it is the reality...this is the (new?) normal.  More and more - as our profession is increasingly diluted, and coaching quality disintegrates - this is what our roles have become -

  • we are ‘all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men’...
Humpty is the new world order...and we are charged in the re-build...

Increasingly, it’s not about ‘bigger, stronger, faster’...instead, it’s “can we get this guy to Sunday? how can we prolong this dude’s career?  get him a few more pay-cheques? run a 6 month-long ‘maintenance’ program?”  And anyone telling this story differently lives only on the keyboard, and not on the track or the field...

Instead, we inherit ‘reclamation projects’ (to use a Pfaffism), where our management skills, our ability to Plan B, and our lateral knowledge are fast becoming our best (and most-used) tools...

...and increasingly, as our coaching roles evolve, sports medicine practice is evolving also - both of us the proverbial trains traveling toward one another.  The new way of sport medicine requires deep understanding of the sport, the skill, the athletes, and movement...the old generation sports Docs, PTs, and ATs are being the new generation explodes: the functional- and corrective- exercise specialists, the kinesiologists, the DCs, the ARTs etc...all melting into one giant soup of sport and exercise enhancement...

“Everybody trains.  
There is no rehab.  
Only regressions and lateralization from your best program”. 
  • Charlie Weingroff

...and Vern! 
“what is wrong?” (see quote at beginning of this post)  

Well - if we (as professional coaches) cannot figure out “what is wrong”, (or at least come up with a pretty good theory), then we probably shouldn’t be coaching.  Not at this level, anyway...

Because - sorry Vern - that’s pretty much...our jobs - to figure out “what is wrong”, and to formulate effective strategies to fix it...passivity is not a viable strategy.  Standing idly by, and expecting the ‘wisdom of the body’ to somehow self-organize all the jacked-uppedness into an efficient and effective movement machine is pure folly.

...for the essence of self-organisation is that structure (at least in part) appears without external pressure or constraints...therefore, to truly allow for self-organization, what can we do?  what are our roles?  sit on a fold-out chair with a whistle and a stopwatch and yell?  (don’t laugh - it clearly works for some!)
The application of chaos to our coaching does not absolve us of fact, I would argue the opposite.  Because we are working with the dynamical system...because the body is a ‘self-organizing system of inter-connections and inter-dependencies’...because, we have (apparently) moved away from the Newtonian, mechanistic, materialistic, reductionistic, linear-causal, and deterministic viewpoint of the past...we take on more responsibility.  The daily dealings of the non-linear system requires deeper understanding - which brings us back around to:

not whether we intervene - but when.

...and for that, we need to do some digging.  We need to ‘examine’...

...for ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ - Socrates

But this is a slippery slope...we often find that the price of examination is too high - indeed, the price for Socrates was his life.  So we have a choice - we can stand idly by, relying on ‘the spontaneous, super-intelligent, self-organizing self’, or we can act.  We can examine.  

Clear in the understanding that by choosing so, we are ‘learning how to die’...

to be continued...

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

the voice of the silence...

to paraphrase Nice & Smooth, sometimes I can coach, sometimes I can’t can’t can’t...


...forever trapped in an allostatic state, I vacillate between knowing too much, and knowing too little...coaching too much, and coaching too little...saying too much, and saying too little...

I had a discussion with one of my former athletes a couple of weeks back, who is now coaching an elite group of sprinters.  He recently began working with a dude who has been pretty successful, but has plateaued in the last few years.  Clearly needing both a technical and a philosophical change, he made a 3000 mile move west to try something a little different.  

Problem is - this dude is old; and you can’t teach an old dude new tricks...right?  
(some would argue that you can’t even teach new dudes old tricks; or new dudes new tricks, etc...but that’s another story for another day...)

So how to manage the mid- or late- career athlete requiring a technical overhaul to reach the next level?  
Just teach him new stuff, you say? It’s that simple!  
Well - I would argue that the ‘old dog’ cliche - like all cliches - is a cliche for a reason...’s just not that easy.  

Older athletes have a career-full of moving in a certain manner.  Of sprinting in a certain manner, that has become their ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ way of moving.  Changing this is a delicate and difficult process - even for the most experienced coach.  
But - and this is key - it must be done!  

If the athlete is to progress to the next level, and is clearly limited by mechanical  or technical inefficiency, then a change must be made. You are doing the athlete - as well as yourself and your profession - a disservice if you do not intervene.

In my own coaching career, this has probably been the most demanding element - when to step in...when not to...when to talk...when not to.  
The ‘whens’ are clearly more challenging than the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’.  

As a younger coach, I often looked at coaching as an opportunity to prove how clever I was.  Dragged along by the inflated ego, I was the classic ‘over-coacher’.  Believing my brain contain insight infinitum, I saw coaching as simply regurgitating its contents into the athletes’ eager open beaks.  Obviously, as I matured, I got better at this, and began limiting feedback to only that which I thought necessary.  

The ‘over-coaching’ instinct, though, will never leave me.  The knowledgeable coach will spend his entire career focussing more on what not to say than what to say - how and when to hold back. He will forever struggle with knowing just what the right amount of feedback is.  When to step in...and when to stay quiet.  

But, like Miles Davis proves, the art is in the silence - the space between the notes"Don't play what's there," he told young musicians: "Play what's not there;" or "don't play what you know, play what you don't know". 

Over the course of his career, Miles was constantly frustrated by his saxophone sidemen, famously asking fellow legend, and one-time band-mate, John Coltrane, who was renown for his endless soloing: 
"Can't you play 27 choruses instead of 28?" 
"I know, I know," Coltrane replied,
"I play too long...
but I get so involved I don't know how to stop."

"Why don't you try taking the saxophone out of your mouth?" Miles advised.

His frustration with his side-men continued; 20 years later, when he asked tenor sax player Bob Berg why he had soloed in a place where he was not scheduled and had never before played, Berg replied "It sounded so good...I just had to come in."
"Bob," said Miles, "the reason it sounded so good was because you weren't playing."

If you listen to any of Miles’ earlier work though, you’ll wonder what drugs Miles was on when he said this - as for the first third of his career, the pace of his music cannot be described as anything but frenetic.  It wasn’t until he matured as an artist that he began to appreciate the power in silence. Similarly, it’s the sign of a mature coach who knows when to respect the silence...when to allow the athlete to find his own way...when to trust the process...

“Before the Soul can hear, the image (man) has to become as deaf to roarings as to whispers, to cries of bellowing elephants as to the silvery buzzing of the golden fire-fly.
Before the soul can comprehend and may remember, she must unto the Silent Speaker be united just as the form to which the clay is modeled, is first united with the potter's mind.
For then the soul will hear, and will remember.
And then to the inner ear will speak —
- H. P. Blavatsky (1889)

My grandfather was a keen gardener, but for some reason one Autumn he was having trouble with his turnips.  They just were not growing quite as nicely as he had expected.  So one day, he digs a few of them up, inspected them for faults, and gave them a nice clean.  He patiently clipped some unruly roots, and replanted them.  Still the turnips didn’t respond well, so he repeated the process - digging, cleaning, clipping, and re-planting. Once again though, they didn’t behave as expected. My grandfather continued this process over and over until finally, the turnips just stopped growing completely. Devastated, my grandfather never planted, nor ate, another turnip for the rest of his life.

The desire for control is a difficult instinct to suppress. Like my grandfather, we feel the need to intervene when things don't proceed as we might expect...but sometimes, all that is required is a little patience...trusting the process....just letting the turnips do their thing.  

As coaches, we often over-estimate our ability to influence the process and determine the outcome - all we can do is try to influence the distribution of possibilities.  This starts by letting go of our admitting - like Socrates - that  "the only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing" recognizing not only the self-organizing and self-regulating properties of the athlete’s variable and dynamic system, but also our limited role in influencing it.  

This is where we most often get it wrong.  

We must admit we cannot control, interpret, nor influence the organization - the  intricate arrangement of interconnections and interrelationships of the physical components - of the system.  

We must respect the implications of individuality...without getting distracted by causes: complex systems don't have causes. There are only potential paths of possibilities; our job is to influence the possibility of traveling the right path at the right time, by exposing the system to ‘envelopes of serendipity’ -  those ‘happy accidents’ that only exist when you remain open to the unexpected. By sweeping away the superfluous, periodically letting go of outcome expectation and trusting in the process, we allow more room for serendipitous events.  

There is a skill to this.  It exists in the space between art and science...where timing is key, and where most of us fail. influence ‘dysfunctional’ movement, we simply must step in.  Our job is to correctly recognize this correctly recognize our potential role in influencing it...

...and then to crack open the safe of autonomy - returning the system to cognition, where we can re-start.’s just that simple!

just take the saxophone out of your mouth!

Monday, 7 January 2013

indoor insanity...

best therapist ever...

It’s that time of year again when folks get either far too excited or far too depressed about the outcome of races that matter very little to what will happen when the real track season comes to its apex later in the Summer.  

Spending 20+ years in the Great White North, where the ‘outdoor’ season is barely 2 months long, I fully understand why some athletes get overly excited about the ‘indoor’ season.  In Canada, for much of the athletic population, the indoor season actually takes precedence over the outdoor season - as if you are on a University team, this is your only chance at competition with other Universities, for instance.  In many parts of the country the outdoor season is not only short, but the weather can be horrendous.  If you live in the prairies, for example, good luck if you’re a sprinter.  Rare are the race days when you will have a legal tail-wind.  You’re either running into a headwind, or it’s blowing a gale behind you.  If you’re on either coast, you lack both sun and competition.  Basically, your only chances of running qualifying times are the few opportunities in Ontario (or the rare and lucky legal race in Alberta), or by traveling south - a constant source of frustration for Canadian sprinters over the years - especially those lacking funds to travel.  And since the greatest density of US competitions comes fairly early in the spring (LA area in April-May, for instance), many athletes use the indoor season to gain the necessary competitive opportunities so they can be ready in time.  

So in Canada - I understand it - this obsession with the outcome of different events 6 months and more from what you might actually be racing once the real season is kicking off.

But in the UK?  I just don’t get it...

The outdoor season is long here.  There are racing opportunities all over the country pretty much every weekend at pretty much every level.  If you want to get away, there’s plenty more opportunities to race a whole different set of people in Italy, France, Spain, etc. 

Most athletes feel they need between 6 and 10 races to be in competitive shape (i.e. have become comfortable with the unique pressures of competition, have imbedded any technical-tactical changes, etc.), which is easily done without having to race a full indoor season.  

So why the obsession with indoor?  And what’s the big deal anyway?  Why is this a problem?

I personally feel indoor competition can be potentially dangerous for at least three reasons:

1. Model Challenges

Speaking as a sprint coach, and how it relates to sprinters specifically, I feel that running 60m races effects your 100m race model to the point where it can be very difficult to adapt to the increased patience required of the longer race once the real season begins.  The world is full of 60m specialists - those dudes who think they’re world-class because they ran 6.6 in a 60, putting them top-whatever in the world.  Problem is most ‘real’ sprinters don’t run them, so they get this false sense of superiority - a false sense of being on the right path (or even worse - a false sense of being on the wrong path if their 60m times are slower than previous seasons, while working on changing to a more efficient 100m model; this situation has bitten me personally as a coach on more than a few occasions).  Come the real season (the one that the rest of the world cares about; the one that has a real World Championships, real Olympic competition, with a more competitive population, etc.), where you stand at 60m of your 100m race (or for that matter, at 60m of your 200m race) has very little relevance to where you are at the end (and very little correlation).  Unfortunately for some, they don’t stop and hand out medals half-way though the race.  

The fact is the way to run a fast 60m is different to the way to run a fast 100m.  

The experienced coach-athlete will attempt to run the same model - i.e. just run the 60m race the same way you will run the first 60m of the 100m - but this is difficult for even the most experienced sprinters. Placing the finish line 40m closer automatically changes the way you run the race.  Most sprinters will go through their phases more quickly, rushing to ‘get up’, and sprint.  Where in the 100m, athletes know they have plenty of time - in the 60m, everything becomes rushed. 

The ‘60m specialist’ will often be sitting in great position at 60m of their 100m races, but end up going backwards over the last 40m having ran out of gas - not from a lack of speed endurance (- and this is important -) - but for a lack of an efficient 100m race model.  The inexperienced coach-athlete will not recognize this fact, and instead of working on the model, will add more speed endurance work.  Well - more speed endurance work added to a poor mechanical model just adds to additional strain on the system, injuries, and ultimately decreased performance. 

2. Outcome versus Process Focus

I’m not one of those coaches that preaches purely process-driven focus.  At the end of the day, the outcome determines an athlete’s success.  But without an understanding of the process - without periodically letting go of the outcome, and immersing oneself in the details of your sport - the outcome is a shot in the dark.  For me, an effective balancing of process- and outcome-focussed practice is one of the keys to effective coaching.  All process, and the athlete gets lost in the details; all outcome, and the athlete loses sight of what is necessary to get there.  

There is reams of literature on how best to structure practice, but for me it all comes down to the coach working with the athlete to best identify what works best for that specific individual.  Some athletes require more time spent on process; some require very little.  Finding the balance is what it’s all about.

What I do know is that - for many - the false importance placed on competition during January and February - conscious or not - steals too much focus away from process, placing it on the outcome of a race that is different from that of the competitive one - at a time that would be better spent developing consistency and confidence in the specific model. 

3. Race Burn-out

There are a few athletes who are ‘racers’ - those unique folks that just seem to get faster and faster through the season - racing themselves into shape, and actually often enjoy their best performances after their major championships.  Most, though, have a finite number of competitions that they can perform at peak level, before performances begin to decline significantly. Whether the burn-out is emotionally, psychologically, or physiologically driven is a moot point - most dudes just can’t keep it going for months on end.  Adding a 6 or 8 week indoor season to this is too risky for me. 

Can select indoor competitions be useful, though?  I think so - in the right situation:

1. Model Rehearsal

If you’re attempting to bed-in a new model and want to see how it will hold up in a higher pressure situation, an indoor race can give you the opportunity for that insight - as long as the athlete goes into the race with his focus entirely on process - knowing what the goal is.  Then - if the model breaks down; whether this comes from a lack of faith in the model, lack of experience, or some type of psychological mishap - at least you learn something.  

2. Monetary

The reality is - for some - the indoor season also gives the opportunity to make some much-needed cash.  With an overall less-competitive opposition, picking up a few nice cheques can provide too great a temptation to resist. 

3. YTP Details

Some coaches also employ a double-periodization model, where indoor competition is written into the YTP; in essence acting almost as a rehearsal period for the second ‘peak’  - the main competitions later in the outdoor season.  Although this is not necessarily how I would plan the year, such systems are used quite often, and can be successful. 

Whatever the coach and athlete do, it must be well-thought out, justified, and individualized. My general thoughts, though, would be to kill indoor.  More than just the reasons I mentioned above, I really feel the over-emphasis placed on the indoor season in the UK has been detrimental to the long-term development of the nations’ sprinters.  Guys become indoor specialists.  Their models develop in this manner, as do their mind-sets.