Sunday, 15 April 2018

Very Stable Idiot Week 15: April 9-15 2018


“Interest in local news, world news, politics, and media of any sort is a waste of a human life

Never in the history of civilization has man had more opportunities to squander his existence

Whatever news you hear, you will always default to your default state” (of needing more)

Kapil Gupta

Most of Gupta's writings are super-annoying.  His pseudo-profound BS reminds me of Deepak Chopra; but his fluff somehow ends up on my Twitter timeline, and I connect with the above.  

He writes a lot on 'the Truth'; I will offer my thoughts on this in upcoming weeks - especially how it relates to a talk given at ALTIS this week by 3-time Olympic medalists, and former world-record holder, South African swimmer Roland Schoeman. 

“My sincerity and desire to live a sweet spot of a life, is to the absolute point of desperation. I do not want a single moment of a day to go by, that I do not truly feel immersed.” - Kapil Gupta

sorry ... I call bollocks to that


The Morning Shakeout
- Mario Fraioli

Last week I wrote a little about my journey; and how in my opinion, young coaches are too impatient these days; in too much of a rush to make money, they don’t experience a long enough apprenticeship - and then once you’re in a paying gig, the increased pressures on getting results means it’s more difficult to continue learning / experimenting / collaborating 

This week, Mario Fraioli posted an interview with my friend Danny Mackey on his blog. 

Danny is an awesome coach - doing some fantastic things with the Brooks Beasts for comparatively small budgets (relative to the major players in the sport, anyway).  He’s super-curious, works hard, and is not afraid to try new things.  

Danny talks about his own coaching journey - and if you ask him, there are no regrets.  

Even though he sent out 209 (!!!) resumes, receiving not a single offer, he has risen to be one of the top coaches on the planet. 

The journey made him.

It makes all of us.

Take a shortcut if you like - but you’ll be worse off for it. 

Danny from the interview:

“I remember being at the office. Jesse Williams [head of sports marketing at Brooks] texted me and he’s like, “Hey, you got a second?” I thought he was going to ask me something about Katie or what she’s going to do racing-wise in the fall. He goes, “I think I have the budget approved for setting up a pro group. Would you be interested in being the head coach?” And I was like, “Are you kidding me?” He was like, “No I’m serious. I just want to know because I don’t need to interview anybody else if you want this job.” I said yes before I even asked how much it paid. I was like, “Yeah I’ll definitely do it.” And then I was like, “Wait, this is paid right?” I think I made like $200 total in my coaching career in eight years at this point. He goes, “Yes, it’s paid.” 

“If no one’s going to hire you and you know you’re going to be good at what you do, just do it yourself. And then wait, and maybe somebody will come along and pay you for it. If not, you can still coach and still feel fulfilled on that side.”

“The one thing that was the key thing—that I like about coaching—is that it’s so hard and there’s so much on the line. It kind of scratches an itch that keeps me a little bit settled. Coaching helps me because there’s so much going on all the time. It’s intense, and humans are really unpredictable. We could do the same workout, the same time of year, three years in a row and then the fourth year it doesn’t get a response. Then you’ve got to figure out why. What caused it to be different? I love that. I love that there’s stuff on the line.”

Heuristics & Anti-fragility

When dealing with complex systems, it is by definition almost impossible to accurately predict cause and effect.  The complexity of coaching speed (the athlete, the coach, the skill, and the interaction between them and the environment), makes decision-making a difficult undertaking.  

Coaching decisions are often based on subjective, intuitive (often sub-conscious) feelings; a standardized comprehension of a few well-chosen heuristics can assist the coach in consistently making more robust decisions.  

As detailed by Gigerenzer, one advantage of heuristics is that they are less prone to calculation and estimation errors; and, as discussed by Taleb, while heuristics do not try to be perfectly accurate, they guide our decision in the right direction - minimizing the chances of getting it spectacularly wrong - maximizing ‘anti-fragility’. 

(ones that came up in conversation this week)

  • In a 100m, the athlete that’s fastest between 60 and 90 will generally win the race
  • In a 200, the athlete that covers 90-120 the fastest will generally win the race 
  • We have a finite amount of energy available to us for the task at hand
  • Our job is to maximize the efficiency of how we use that finite amount of energy
  • 'Efficiency' is athlete-dependant; some need to work the front-end of the race - while others will need to work the back-end; what is efficient for one sprinter  will not necessarily be efficient for another
  • The shorter the distance of a training input, the more maximal the required intensity must be for adaptation to occur
  • A system cannot be understood by the sum of its parts; our complex biological system requires an iterative approach to therapy; the dynamic oscillation between movement and input (active or passive) leads to a relatively more efficient movement solution

“Complex systems demand an iterative understanding, as opposed to instantly and completely figuring out the biochemistry. They don’t operate under a misguided assumption that a system can always be understood and engineered into submission.” - Samuel Arbesman, The Human Body Is Too Complex for Easy Fixes (You don’t need to be hacked)

Michael Pollan heuristic:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” 

Dr Michael Joyner heuristic (which doubles as a haiku):

“Run a lot of miles 
Some faster than your race pace 
Rest once in a while.”

Who’s game to come up with a sprinting heuristic haiku?

From chaos to obvious

Coaches should look into Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework.  It provides good insight into decision-making concepts - differentiating between obvious, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains. 

According to Snowden, these domains give us a “sense of place” from which to analyze behavior, and make decisions; the framework discriminates between ordered, unordered, and disordered.  As knowledge expands, we can move from chaotic (no understanding of cause and effect) to complex (cause and effect only seen in hindsight) to obvious.  

It is important to understand, through, that simply trying to philosophize our way from chaotic to obvious will not work - we are governed by the current rate of knowledge construction; the drift from unknown unknowns (chaos) to known knowns (obvious) does not readily lend itself to complex systems - that are, by definition, complex, and cannot be reduced. 

Sometimes, we simply do not have the knowledge; we must admit to this, and do our best to make decisions based on the best-available evidence, with an understanding of the iterative nature of this process.


- TED Radio Hour

(Actually from September 27, 2013)

Speaking of complexity, the TED Radio Hour pod replayed a show from 2013 this week, which discussed three really interesting TEDTalks:

Monbiot briefly discussed the Gaia hypothesis - the theory, put forward by James Lovelock (1972), "that living matter on the earth collectively defines and regulates the material conditions necessary for the continuance of life. The planet, or rather the biosphere, is thus likened to a vast self-regulating organism.” 

Turns out Lovelock has a webpage, which included this update on the original paper.

This led me to this review by Andrei Lapenis, which discusses older work by four Russian scientists on the interrelated hypothesis of the coevolution of life and the environment. I thought both of these were pretty interesting.  I don’t yet know if-how this will color my coaching thoughts - but I’m intrigued enough to do some more digging.  Stay tuned on this one. 

"The more humble we are in the face of our experience with the natural world ... the more we're going to find a healthy coexistence with it." — Bernie Krause, bioacoustician

The FEYNMAN technique of learning:

STEP 1 - Pick and study a topic
STEP 2 - Explain the topic to someone, like a child, who is unfamiliar with the topic
STEP 3 - Identify any gaps in your understanding 
STEP 4 - Review and Simplify 



“training is like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. 

Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.” 

“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree” - Elon Musk

We should be sure to understand fundamental principles - THE ROOTS of a tree - before moving on to the details: the trunk, the branches, and the leaves.  

Everyone loves the leaves.  They’re the prettiest.  They are what we look at first.  

But we cannot have a deep understanding of them without knowing the root.

This is a continuing challenge for me.  

I often dive deep into a subject without clearly understanding the root of it.  

I get there eventually - but the process is slower. 

Or maybe by starting at the end, this gives me a better road-map from which to base my journey on?


I like to begin at the end. 

 “In everything, one must consider the end.” 
French poet Jean de La Fontaine

Others like to write and react; there is something to just getting started, and allowing your progress to dictate where you go.  Plenty of successful folks don't sit down and build a road map - many just start. And perhaps that is where the main determinant to success lies - starting. 

American novelist John Irving takes years to write a novel; planning and researching can take over five years before he even sits down to begin. 

Interestingly, Irving writes the final paragraph last - giving himself a destination from which to work towards. 

Conversely, British writer Lee Child (the Jack Reacher series) begins writing each October 1st without the first clue of even an outline of what he will write about. 

Both are extremely popular, well-respected writers - each with entirely different means to writing their books. But each has a consistent philosophy that they return to each time they begin. One builds a road-map; the other reacts to what is in front of him. 

What’s best?

Whatever our philosophy, perhaps the key is simple:



“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.” 


  1. Thanks for what you share via the blog! It's been an awesome and inspiring push in my learning over the years. Really appreciate it!

  2. Coach, I can not say I agree or disagree with some of your thoughts on how you feel about the paths some coaches take. There are some moments when I almost feel insulted because of the path that I think I want to take, and others where I felt drawn to a journey more similar to yours. When at the January ACP in Phoenix a few months ago, I even proposed some questions at the poolside chat on how to advance a career and find a new mentor to some level of intrigue.

    Where I become frustrated is that I started my actual career late. I went back to school at 28 after working for VS Athletics for a number of years. However, I was never removed from sport or from learning from coaches. In all truthfulness, my "training" started when I was nine. The observations made of my Pop Warner football coach and how he treated athletes sticks with me to this day. As a high schooler, the internet was my greatest tool. Reviewing video of Mo Greene and his contemporaries, became my homework. I learned enough to help my own coach help coach the rest of the team by my junior year, and so, on went my education. Learning while I was an athlete from Pop Warner, to high school track, to collegiate levels, then speed skating after college. My research and curiosities have evolved along the way to the point where I was able to land my graduate assistant position and a full time position after that ended a year ago.

    In these past three years my "apprenticeships" have paid off. My athletes saw success quickly and that puts a young coach in a precarious position. What, if anything, did I do right? Anything at all? It is easy with early success to get caught on a specific set of ideals. I personally believe that might of happened to my last mentor and I do not want to repeat.

    I have struggled with what I need to do next all year. After working in management before I went back to school, I am confident I can serve a larger role at another college or institution while continuing to learn. Research and curiosity are habits Im happy to keep even while responsibilities grow. There is also the matter of being married. My life is no longer all about me. I would like to contribute with my wife. So, fining a place to be volunteer under someone I respect is a hard option to look at.

    The Altis apprenticeships are something that I have considered heavily. I love the culture, I respect the coaches and athletes, and felt while I was there that I could learn, which is what I crave most.

    My point I guess is, all coaching journeys are different. Some people can be thrown into the fire and succeed, some cannot. Some of us are confused on how to go about the journey for different reasons. For me its the responsibility to my family, a motivation to succeed and lead at high levels, and to learn more from people I respect, such as yourself.

    I have applications out to other institutions right now as I feel as though it might be time to leave, but I wouldn't rule out me falling on Altis' door step begging for any type of position that would allow to to take in more knowledge.


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